Lee Hyori: Korean Pin-up Grrrl #1?

Lee Hyori Pin-up Grrrl(Source)

Out of all this week’s stories, up tomorrow in the Korean Gender Reader, probably one of the most important — but also the most under-appreciated — is the news that Lee Hyori (이효리) will no longer be doing any commercials for products that conflict with her animal rights, environmental, and/or vegetarian beliefs.

This excludes her from working with so many companies, that her agency had to clarify that she hadn’t given up modelling or endorsements altogether.

Certainly, she’s already well known — and liked — for being so outspoken and sassy, which is very rare for female celebrities here. But this is still a significant step, because it’s difficult to think of any other Korean celebrity explicitly rejecting the endorsement culture upon which their agencies so heavily depend. Let alone someone who was once the country’s biggest sex-symbol.

Lee Hyori and Dog(Source)

Moreover, while she’s open to charges of hypocrisy, as it’s undoubtedly much easier to take an ethical stance on endorsements after years of making millions from them, she did at least acknowledge this contradiction in a recent interview, and at only 33 could have continued to do them for decades. Also, with “We can’t help but be subjected to the power of the companies when we sign a contract. Hara, please don’t forget my words,” her tweet of advice to Goo Ha-ra (구하라), one of her replacements as a soju model, she indirectly criticized companies’ excessive power over their endorsers — recall Ivy (아이비) being sued for an completely non-existent sex-tape for instance, or Choi Jin-sil (최진실) being sued for going public about being a victim of domestic abuse, and then being sued again after she committed suicide — and/or entertainment agencies’ willingness to enter into such arrangements regardless. And, albeit perhaps unfairly, has put the onus on much younger celebrities to be more discerning with their own choices (or, rather, to challenge their agencies’ choices).

Can anybody think of any other Korean celebrities that have made similar ethical stands and/or critiques of the media and entertainment industries? I admit I don’t have much time to follow Korean celebrity news, and would be happy to learn that Lee Hyori isn’t as exceptional as I thought!

(Update: Also, if anybody come across a Korean source that places Lee Hyori’s decision in that above context, that would also be appreciated. Unfortunately, apparently they’re just as rare!)

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