Remember this immensely popular guest post from last year? Click on the image for my interview of its hardworking and inspiring author, body-image activist Min-ji Kim. Frankly, it’s well overdue!
(Source: Heal Yourself, Skeletor)
I’m just sick of Bora’s boobs.
Okay…no, not really. They’re just a constant reminder of the curse of blogging about sexuality and popular culture. Thanks to them, “Consent is Sexy: SISTAR, slut-shaming, and sexual objectification in the Korean idol system” is literally my most viewed post—but also, per view, probably one of the least actually read.
You’d never think it took a month to research and write, and that I consider it one of my proudest blogging achievements.
Ironically for the frustration that causes now though, it too was born out of the frustration of two weeks of watching interviews of SISTAR members, naively hoping that they would reveal something about the extent to which they consented to—indeed, hopefully played an active role in choosing—the sexualized costumes, choreography, and so on provided by their management company. Instead, I was left with nothing more substantial than learning their favorite flavors of ice-creams, and a firm resolve never to watch any more of the crap that counts as most K-pop entertainment.
But finally, nearly a year later, I’ve just learned of two interviews where girl-group members were able to talk about their jobs like actual human beings.
The first, on the new show The Spokespeople (대변인들), where Rainbow’s Jisook, Stellar’s Gayoung, and Dal Shabet’s Subin, from roughly 8:00 to 26:00 (it’s—grr—unavailable in Korea; click here to overcome that) discussed their recent ‘sexy concepts.’ It’s a still a little frustrating in places, the MCs being “spokespeople” for the “weaker people who can’t speak out” apparently meaning that guests should shut up while the MCs speak for them instead, with poor Subin barely getting a chance to speak at all. But when they did, all three sounded quite genuine:
Next, as Asian Junkie put it:
And you can read a breakdown of the interview there, including those eating disorders, her complete lack of input into her image, and the debts members are sometimes left with.
Finally, it’s not a recent interview, but The Learned Fangirl just did a review of Nine Muses of Star Empire (2012), which I also covered in last year’s post. While that documovie may sound dated by K-pop standards, it easily remains the most revealing look inside the industry, and I completely agree with the authors’ conclusion:
Interestingly, Billboard‘s Jeff Benjamin had a very different take than us on the documentary, calling it a film that would cause “k-pop haters [to] completely shift their paradigm.” We doubt that — instead it will make a manufactured music form seem manufactured. It’s a warts-and-all look behind the curtain of music industry, and is an unsentimental look at what it takes to create pop star fantasy.
- Consent is Sexy, Part 3: Female President by Girl’s Day #FAIL
- (Part 2) Consent is Sexy: SISTAR, slut-shaming, and sexual objectification in the Korean idol system
- (Part 1) SISTAR19: Begone, Calling Them “Objectified” Any Longer
Yes, it’s back on, and
I promise that none of my relatives will be in hospital this time!
Once again, please see Disruptive Voices’ Facebook Event page for more details and RSVPs, or if you’re not on Facebook then please feel free to ask any questions in the comments here, and/or to just turn up to Bar Carmen in Itaewon on the day. (Note that it’s not on the main drag though, but on the other side of the hill: see here or here for maps.)
And I’ll be the guest speaker! Please see Disruptive Voices’ Facebook Event page for more details and RSVPs, or if you’re not on Facebook then please feel free to ask any questions in the comments here, and/or to just turn up to Bar Carmen in Itaewon on the day. (Note that it’s not on the main drag though, but on the other side of the hill: see here or here for maps.)
Blogging-wise, unfortunately the timing is terrible sorry: my father-in-law is having a major operation in Seoul in a few days, and my wife will be attending to him, leaving me to look after our children until the night before the workshop. A demanding enough job even when we’re both here, that means that all my spare time will be spent on preparing my presentation (yes, they really do take that long!). So, apologies to readers, and I’ll get back to writing here as soon as I can.
Update, Saturday 22nd: PRESENTATION HAS BEEN CANCELLED — I’m not used to this sort of thing sorry, so I’ll just say it: I’m afraid my father-in-law’s condition has rapidly deteriorated, and there’s a possibility he may not make the night. I’ll keep you posted, but of course I can no longer give the presentation. Sorry everybody, and thanks for understanding.
Update, Sunday 23rd: To clarify sorry, the workshop itself is still going ahead.
My father-in-law is still in critical condition.
Update, Thursday 27th: There were some very scary moments, but I’m happy to say that father-in-law recovered earlier in the week, and is due to be discharged today :)
Sometimes, I wonder if I exaggerate Korea’s alphabetization craze. Then I come across advertisements like this one:
Tight chestline, Sleek braline; Slender waistline, No-cellulite bellyline; and Attractive y-line, Smooth legline. Fashion’s Complete Body! Summer Event. 10% Event Discount.
I couldn’t have put it better myself.
Please see here and here if this is the first you’ve heard of “alphabetization” though, with the latter link focusing on Western historical parallels and the Y-line specifically. Alternatively, see here for more on the physically impossible X-line!
(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)
If you are a person living in Korea, you are likely to have had your weight or appearance commented on. “You have gained/lost weight!” is a customary greeting. Dieting is the most common topic for daily conversations. Ads promote unrealistic beauty standards for both women and men. Worse, if you don’t look like them, you are likely to be discriminated against or dismissed as some who needs to get some work done. Self-love is prohibited unless you look like a Barbie doll. There are voices and messages everywhere, both internally and externally, that arouse insecurity around your looks. Body-policing is a common practice.
Overwhelmingly obsessed with thinness, I dare to call Korea an eating-disordered society. I know this because I have been struggling with eating disorders for 9 years, now marching on the road to recovery. Living here, staying on the recovery-track is extremely difficult because all the internal eating-disordered voices and negative self-talk, which I have worked so hard to detach myself from, become real external voices to attack my vulnerable psychological wounds. On the other hand, recovering from eating disorders in this country is double-strengthening my immunity to these eating-disordered voices. I am well-aware of how self-destructive and unproductive these voices are, and how I can protect myself from them.
But, what about those who haven’t been consoled? So many Korean people, especially women of all ages, believe there is no other way to be loved or socially recognized without dieting or getting plastic surgery. Men believe women should naturally look like the ready-made Barbie dolls in fashion magazines or entertainment shows when they are in fact extremely unrealistic. I guarantee there is not a single woman in this country who hasn’t felt insecure about her looks or body parts. Under such circumstances, women and men are likely to fall victims of eating disorders. Statistical data can’t speak for the reality because people are not even aware that these voices are ‘disordered’ voices. Obsession with thinness, extreme dieting, judging others by appearance and feeling insecure about their natural looks feel too ‘normal’ for people to acknowledge them as problems. Walking on the streets, I would hear fat talk or negative self-talk 99% of the time. These voices kill me, even more so to realize that there are so many souls who are suffering from from-mild-to-severe forms of eating disorders but are not even aware of it (Source above — unknown; source, below).
The need for body image activism in Korea is dire, for the consequences of continuing the eating-disordered talks in public are obviously disastrous, both for individuals and the society. So, I have brought the Operation Beautiful campaign to Korea to counter the prevailing negative self-talks. I have been posting about it on my (Korean) blog Your Stage is the World, Not the Scale, along with my personal stories of overcoming struggles with distorted body image as well as critiques on dieting ads that make one feel insecure. I am working on compiling these stories to publish a book under the title, Surviving Eating Disorders Where Barbie Dolls Reign Supreme (but I think this will take decades). Currently, I am planning workshops for improving body image, to create safe space to talk about struggles with negative body image, to promote body diversity (healthy-at-every-size approach) and media literacy. I don’t want to force people to stop dieting and start loving themselves immediately. Instead, the most ultimate goal for all these activities is to give people agency over their own bodies and self-esteem, which will allow people to see what really matters and what is there to enjoy in life regardless of how they look.
The movement is only fresh. I am aware that social change doesn’t come easily or fast. However, I have a strong faith that by transforming ourselves, we can transform the society we live in. We individuals construct the society; we are not to be constructed by it. We are active agents. I want to tell my stories to you and listen to yours. I am collecting personal stories of struggles with negative body image or external pressure to conform to the unrealistic standards of beauty. Then, I want to open up off and online discussions on how we want to redefine beauty that suits us healthily. Hopefully, we can remind each other how beautiful our bodies are just the way they are; encourage each other to love our own bodies instead of fitting ourselves to someone else’s standards to get approval.
Please share your thoughts, stories, comments, anything you want to say about this movement. Thank you!
Sorry for the lack of posts everyone. I’ve been absentmindedly researching many, not realizing that I hadn’t put pen to paper for a while. To remedy that, here’s some interesting links that add new information to previous posts of mine, but which didn’t really justify separate updates by themselves:
In an endnote to my recent “Why the Japanese Don’t Illegally Download Music. Much.” post, I wrote:
Like most articles praising the rapid rise of the Korean digital music market and the supposed success of Korean anti-piracy efforts, this article completely fails to mention how absurdly cheap Korean digital tracks are, as noted by Bernie Cho in the opening quote.
The next week, Yim Seung-hee at the Korea Joongang Daily wrote one of the most comprehensive articles on the Korean digital music market yet, noting a lot of resistance to government law changes aimed at raising prices. Here are just a few of the quick factoids to take away from it (source, right):
- Music in Korea used to cost 73 won per download before the changes. That has now risen to 110 won, which is still less than one-tenth what iTunes costs.
- Gangnam Style only earned 3.6 million won in online royalties in Korea, coming from 2.86 million downloads and 27.32 million streams, which works out to an average of about 10.7 won per download and 0.2 won per stream.
- However, in the US, Psy received the equivalent of 2.8 billion won for 2.9 million downloads.
- Meanwhile, one estimate says that the average indie musician earns just two-to-three-million won a year (about the same as most expat English teachers make per month).
- Streaming accounts for 74 percent of online music spending in Korea (probably because of Korea’s ubiquitous broadband wifi), and downloads continue to fall. In contrast, in the rest of the world downloads dominate, making up 71 percent of the online market.
Gaijin (外人, short for 外国人), or “foreigner” in Japanese, is a complicated word that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
Some people take the word lightly; when the Tofugu team was in Japan and a roller coaster we were riding unexpectedly malfunctioned, we joked that it was because the ride wasn’t designed to hold the weight of our giant gaijin bodies.
But for some people in Japan, “gaijin” can be a hurtful and alienating word. It can mean refusal of service at businesses, a barrier to entry for housing, or even threats of harassment or violence.
I thought that I’d reach out to some bloggers living in Japan to see what their thoughts on the word “gaijin” were. I got a lot of great, varied, and nuanced responses.
See “Korean Sociological Image #46: The Language of Exclusion” for a similar discussion surrounding the Korean term waegookin, or “foreigner,” with links to many other posts on the subject in the Korean blogosphere (as of 2010).
The ad features a startlingly lifelike computer-generated rendering of the revered martial-arts star, who died four decades ago. It has sparked ire among fans, who argue that Mr. Lee was a teetotaler and abstained from drinking alcohol for most of his life.
Critics see Mr. Lee’s personal stance as incongruous with an endorsement for a brand whose blended Scotches sell for more than $200 a bottle.
Johnnie Walker has defended the ad, saying it worked closely on it with Shannon Lee, Mr. Lee’s daughter.
Ms. Lee, meanwhile, told the Journal that while her father wasn’t a drinker, he didn’t think drinking was immoral. She also thought the video would be an “innovative way to get my father’s ideas out.”
See Scene Asia for the rest, or my “Raising the Dead: The Future of Advertising?” for a much better example featuring Audrey Hepburn, and many others in the comments (readers made me realize using dead celebrities in ads was surprisingly common).
As for this example, I share The Ethical Adman’s criticisms that “there’s something really disturbing about dead celebrities being recreated to sell brands,” and that “it seems like the ultimate violation of a person’s integrity, at a time when they cannot even defend themselves.”
Most of all, I think it was incredibly hackneyed to use a teetotaler to sell alcohol, no matter how famous he was. And I just can’t believe how incredibly bad the CGI is, despite the accolades.
See Audrey Magazine or Omona They Didn’t! for the details. Or, for a similar example by T-Ara last year, see “Thinking through Korean Appropriation of American Indians” at Sociological Images, which I made a big contribution to.
Would Dazed please stop using English vulgarities on their cover. Thanks. [네이버] 뉴스 : 이효리, 결혼 앞두고 인디언 걸 변신 '수수하게' me2.do/5tO6DPp4—
The Marmot's Feed (@rjkoehler) July 22, 2013
Meanwhile, I’m going to buy a copy to see if there was any rationale to that “vulgarity,” which I find rather charming myself…
While writing my “Korean Sociological Image #72: Girl-group performances for the military” last summer, it proved surprisingly difficult to find actual embeddable videos of those. So, via Omona They Didn’t!, here are 3 with Nine Muses from earlier this year, who are apparently quite popular with the troops.
My 2008 post, Why Korean Girls Don’t Say No: Contraception Commercials, Condom Use, and Double Standards in South Korea, is still my most popular and most-commented, despite being based on 2003 data, and displaying big, obvious gaps in my knowledge of Korean sexual mores. Hopefully I’ve filled most of those since, not least because one commenter pointed out that Koreans have always been quite tolerant of premarital pregnancies, so long as the couple planned to marry.
Celebrity couples such as actor Jang Dong-gun and his wife Ko So-young, and Kim Seung-woo and Kim Nam-joo, have admitted they walked down the aisle with the brides pregnant.
Actress Kim Bu-sun goes as far as to say she approves of premarital pregnancy.
“My premarital pregnancy was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Kim says. “If my daughter becomes pregnant, I will host a party in her honor.”
She believes people should embrace single mothers, whom she considers a minority in need of attention and care.
Nice to hear, considering the Ministry of Health and Welfare defined unwed mothers as “ignorant whores” as recently as 2010 (technically, it was “low levels of education [and] impulsive sexual drives”). Continuing:
But premarital pregnancy is now humdrum, even among people who are not stars.
In a survey that consultancy Duo Wed conducted between June 1 and June 14, one-third of 374 newlyweds questioned said the bride was pregnant when they married.
Of these couples, 92.1 percent said their babies were unexpected.
Read the link for the rest. Note that this doesn’t mean Koreans are necessarily becoming more tolerant of cohabiting couples however (and who face a lack of suitable accommodation anyway), nor of pregnancies that don’t lead to marriage.
See Bust for more. Fortunately, I haven’t seem any similar products advertised here yet, and perhaps that’s because there will never be a market for them, as Korean women generally don’t sweat as much as those of other races. This was discussed in my 2010 “Hot Sweaty Korean Women” post, about a rare Korean commercial that did feature a Korean woman sweating:
Please note I also made some overgeneralizations about Korean (women’s) exercise and gym culture in that post though, and would write it very differently today. But on the plus side, readers soon corrected my mistakes, and it (hopefully) remains useful for the journal study on Korean attitudes to dieting it references.
Also, for a related 2009 post on why Koreans generally don’t wear deodorant, its marketing, and the implications for Korea’s kkotminam (“pretty flower men”), which I recently updated and does still hold up today, please see “The Scent of a Man: What deodorant commercials tell us about Korean metrosexuality.”
Thoughts? On any of stories above?