“Kang So-ra! When Are You Going To Stop Being So Fat?!”

(Source: Metro, Busan edition, May 31 2012, p. 11)

One of the great advantages of Erving Goffman’s Gender Advertisements, I tell students in my lectures on gender roles in Korean ads, is that it’s not language-based. Whether the ads are from Korea, Kenya, or Khazakstan, I rhapsodize, it’s all about the pictures, making cross-country and historical comparisons possible.

In reality though, culture and language are still important. The tendency towards positioning men higher than women in ads for instance, implying their superiority (just think of the purpose of thrones), can pale against a seated matriarch’s greater social status. Also, ads may allude to popular books, movies, or songs that a foreign observer is unaware of, and/or the text make a pun about the images that a non-native speaker would struggle to understand.

In short, Korean ads can be far more subtle than they may at first appear to someone like me, let alone less gender-stereotyping.

(Source: unknown)

With that in mind, I decided to quickly re-examine K-Swiss’s “S-liner Polo Shirt” ad with Kang So-ra (강소라), that I’d previously dismissed as just yet another example of the ridiculous poses Korean advertisers put women in to show their S-lines off. After all, however unlikely, maybe she’s done a humorous Walk like an Egyptian dance at some point in her brief career (say, in the popular movie Sunny last year), and was parodying that? Or maybe there was something in the text to explain her pose?

Alas, no. Judging by the TV commercial above, the ridiculous pose and dance were definitely just for K-Swiss. And as for the text, that doesn’t redeem the ad either…although I’d have never guessed it would have taken me, my wife, and two of her friends nearly half an hour to figure that out!

It looked easy enough: “강소라” is Kang So-ra’s name, “언제까지” is “until when”, and “살텐가” is “will live”, as in the more formal form “살거예요”. But “통짜로”? Literally, it’s the adverb “wholly”, but that made no sense. So, with the logic that perhaps 22 year-old Kang So-ra formerly lacked feminine curves then, but now, as per the dictates of Korean consumerism and gender roles,  she’s compelled to show them off at every available opportunity, we decided it meant “통” as in the Hanja character that means a (usually cylindrical) container (i.e. a body), “짜” which can often mean “thing” or “person” (see pages 263 and 374 of the Handbook of Korean Vocabulary respectively!), and “로”, which in this case would mean “as”, or “in the manner of”.

Putting aside what role such exhortations may or many not have in Koreans’ intense body dysphoria for a moment (uniquely in the developed world, Korean women aged between 20-39 are becoming more underweight than obese), we were pretty proud of ourselves for figuring that out. But then my wife’s second friend arrived, who pointed out that “통짜” is actually a sort-of adjective means “fat”, as in “통짜몸메가 있어”. Specifically, after a lot of time arguing about whether it actually more meant “curved” than fat per se (recall what “통” can mean above), it means a fat waist, regardless of how curved the rest of the body is (or not — it can be used to describe me men too).

So there you have it: literally, the appalling “Kang So-ra! Until when —  fat person as — going to live?!”. But suddenly, as I type this, I have renewed doubts: was Kang So-ra considered fat previously? Even if so, surely she is indeed no longer living as a fat person, in the ad? And so on.

So by all means, I admit I may be completely mistaken, and would welcome any alternative translations and explanations of the text. But either way, I doubt it provides a very body-positive message.

Meanwhile, if it’s true that 통짜 bodies lack the shapely breasts and buttocks of an S-line, then perhaps there’s something to the photo of Uee (유이) above that show’s that there’s actually two concepts of the term? In the diagram, it says that men think it refers to the blue whereas women think it refers to the red, but the results seem pretty mixed at the original post on Facebook.

Which do you think it means?

18 thoughts on ““Kang So-ra! When Are You Going To Stop Being So Fat?!”

  1. I like your blog and the topics treated. Have you ever thought to talk about homosexuality, a very big issue in Asia and in SK especially because of its advanced technology but contrasting with its narrow mindness in certains areas such as sexual orientation. You might want to read this http://www.courrierinternational.com/article/2012/06/29/lecon-d-homophobie-au-lycee it’s in French though. It says how two girls still in high school have to hide their relationship and one of them witnessed her teacher denouncing to the whole class “be careful X is gay”. Many students denounced stopped school after. I think it’s a very interesting topic.

  2. First, a response to your last question: I did naturally assume an S-line followed the woman’s back, but as more and more busty women (with the average Asian rear end) showed up in examples, I began to doubt my assumption. Then when I saw a previous explanation of yours, I thought, “Oh, of course that’s what men want. Why would I have thought otherwise?”

    As for Kang Sora, she looks much thinner in the photo and CF than I remember her to have been. But I think part of that is simply the fullness of her face – I think people tend to think of her as more plump than she is simply because of her face. I’ll tell you what: I wouldn’t have recognized her if I’d encountered this image on my own. Here she looks like a tenth member of SNSD (in their Gee or Oh! days, of course).

    • Oh, judging by the comments on FB, it sounds like you were in good company when you thought if followed a women’s back! But I wonder if some company has actually exploited that dual meaning though? If so, it wouldn’t surprise me, considering how companies will frame these lines as pretty much whatever the hell they like, so long as it helps them sell something.

      Thanks for the explanation about Kang So-ra. I didn’t know who she was before I saw this ad, but I see what you mean about her being the 10th SNSD member, and how she’s unrecognizable – as it turns out, I already have a Basic House Summer 2012 Catalogue with her and Won Bin on my desk, and would never have guessed it was the same woman (she looks at least 5 years younger in the K-Swiss Ad). Also, and tellingly, ironically I find her to have far more feminine curves and look far more attractive in that then when she’s explicitly showing off her S-line for K-Swiss (and, unrelated, wonder how she can model for 2 competing clothes brands in the same season?).

      Either way, although I see what you mean about the full face, it’s still appalling that a company would call her fat in order to sell clothes of course. Sigh.

  3. I feel bad for the woman in the black dress. That fingertip amputation must have been painful. Combined with the violent dislocation of her right wrist, I’m surprised the ad chose to showcase that side.

    • To play Devil’s advocate, maybe the fingertip is obscured by her hair? And I can’t see the wrist dislocation myself sorry, although I admit that both of her hands do look a little strange if you look closely!

      • I don’t think so. Her hair ends pretty clearly at her breasts and it’s brushed forward in any case. I tried to mimic the pose in a mirror, just to be sure I wasn’t being misled by a bony wrist. I’m not especially flexible, but I can’t get my palm parallel to the floor and my elbow bent backwards like that at the same time. I encourage you to try it, if you don’t believe me. It doesn’t invalidate the point you were trying to make of course, that being the difference in the intuitive understanding of an “S-line”, but that is a heavily and poorly photoshopped picture.

        • Sorry, I thought you were talking about the woman in the chair in the second picture (don’t know her name sorry). I couldn’t agree with you more about Uee in the third!

    • Thanks for passing that on, and I see what you mean:

      To play Devil’s advocate though, K-Swiss may well have made some sort of deal with them, although of course there is indeed a great deal blatant ripping-off in this part of the world!

  4. I watched a talk show once where Kang So Ra talked about how she lost 20 kg before her debut. Perhaps the ad was referring to that? Well, either way, the ad’s rather disgusting.

    Here’s the link:

    • Thanks, and interesting – how on Earth do you find such things? :)

      With your greater knowledge of celebrities, maybe you would be the best person to clear up if the ad is related or not then, by comparing the other ad in the series (I posted it back in March in a Korean Gender Reader post, but just because her legs were badly photoshopped).

      The text in it basically says (well, you can read it of course, but just for other readers’ sakes!) “Kang So-ra! When are you going to stop being stood-up?”. Do you know if that refers to something in her own life, say in her “marriage” to Leeteuk on We Got Married? If so, then that would imply that this ad had something to do with her weight too.

      • I…spend a lot of time reading Korean entertainment news. ㅋㅋㅋ

        That is…an odd CF, to say the least. I don’t know if it does refer to We Got Married (I haven’t seen her stint on the show), although I get the impression from what people say about that couple that it’s very unlikely that Lee Teuk stood her up. And although this is probably unrelated to the CF due to how new it is, in this article she claims no man (perhaps she means male celebrity?) has ever pursued her before: http://stoo.asiae.co.kr/news/stview.htm?idxno=2012070117262508422

        All in all, I would make the assumption that the CF is just…stupid. ;) But I certainly wouldn’t dismiss the idea of it being related to her former weight.

        This strikes me, however, as being a bit of a contradiction with her other image, that of the Tough Girl (her character in Sunny was the leader of the group of friends and a great fighter). She encourages that image on the same episode of 강심장 I linked to above, by admitting that she is crazy about martial arts comics:

      • I’ve can’t recall an episode in which he stood her up, and agree with daheefanel that it’s very improbable considering LeeTeuk’s approach to their relationship. There was a four-month gap during which they weren’t able to see each other, but that was because of a writers’ strike at the broadcasting company, from what I’ve read. Anyway, during that time I may have forgotten some small indiscretion of his, but I really don’t think so. :)

  5. Hello first of all…I find your blog interesting. I did not know who Kang Sora or Uee were so googled them. I am actually new to your blog so will keep reading. S-line another creepy invention by mad fashion people or crazy advertising companies. What exactly is the S-line anyway and what is the purpose of it? Does it also mean if you dint have it you are less then a woman in SK? Both pics are defo photoshoped ,not sure why, as Sora baby looks like a 13-14 years old (child look alike) here in very unnatural pose which can hardly be seen as sexy or whatever the add is trying to convince us of. No shirt will ever make you look like that anyway..another reason to fire the dude who came up with this concept of advertising:) Sora and Uee stand up straigh t and we all know what I am talking about. No need for stupid looking adds ..make it creative and healthy!!! And for the S-line…I have it whichever way I stand ..no need for silly posing and body of a 12 years old :) Should I contact K-Swiss???

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