Korean Sociological Image #80: Fashion’s Complete Body!

Sometimes, I wonder if I exaggerate Korea’s alphabetization craze. Then I come across advertisements like this one:

Korean Body LinesThe advertisement on the left reads:

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)

Guest Post: Challenging Korea’s Body Image Paradigm

Korea Body Image(Source)

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.

Prospecs W Get Slim Kim Yuna GIFOverwhelmingly 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).

Men like thin pretty womenThe 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!

Minji.

Talking Points: From Music Downloads to Sweaty Crotches

Feminist Media Criticism Problems(Source)

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:

1. Will saving Korea’s music business end up killing it?

Korean Digital Music MarketIn 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.
Koreans and waegookin(Source: unknown)

2. “Gaijin”

Leah of The Lobster Dance is featured in a (heavily-commented) Tofugu article about the usage of the word “gaijin,” which she has used in the past but now rejects. It begins:

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).

3. Tasteless Ad or Brilliant Marketing?

Johnny Walker is capitalizing on the 40th anniversary of Bruce Lee’s death by rendering him in CQI for a Blue Label commercial:

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.

Lee Hyori Dazed and Confused August 2013(Source)

4. Lee Hyori for “Dazed and Confused”: Appropriation or Appreciation?

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.

Meanwhile, I’m going to buy a copy to see if there was any rationale to that “vulgarity,” which I find rather charming myself…

5. 9Goddesses are Hot for the Military

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.

Pregnant Korean Bride6. Premarital pregnancy gets trendy

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.

What’s more, according to the Korea Times, now they’re more common than ever. Some excerpts (source, right):

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.

7. This Dude’s Response To Female Crotch Sweat Shame Is Perfect

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?

“Body Changing” Diet-Drink Generously Donated to High School Students

(Source)

Young Korean women — not men — are the only demographic in the OECD that are getting more underweight than obese.

Call me making a mountain out of a molehill, but diet-drink companies being allowed to donate their product to teens, out of supposed concerns for their heath? And plastering their classrooms with ads of heavily photoshopped women in the process? Those may just have something to do with that:

청정원 홍초가 수험생 여러분을 응원합니다 / Chung Jung Won’s HongCho Cheers For Students Taking University Entrance Exams

by Kim Jong-hoon (김종훈), Asia Today, November 4 2012

대상은 자사의 브랜드인 ‘청정원’ 홍초가 수능시험을 앞둔 고3 수험생을 응원하기 위해 오는 7일까지 서울시내 20여개 학교를 찾아 다니며 홍초 2만여개를 무료로 나눠줄 계획이라고 4일 밝혔다.

On Sunday, Daesang’s brand Chung Jung Won [English website here] announced that to support 3rd year high school students about to take their university entrance exams, they would visit 20 high schools in Seoul before the 8th (the day of the exams) and donate 20,000 bottles of HongCho to students (source, right).

청정원측은 오랜 시험준비로 지친 수험생들이 좋은 컨디션으로 시험을 볼 수 있도록 응원하기 위한 마음으로 기획 된 행사라고 설명했다. 수능이 끝난 이후에도 홍초를 내세운 다양한 마케팅 활동으로 그간 고생이 많았던 수험생들을 지원할 계획이다.

Chung Jung Won explained that this is an event for tired students that have been preparing for the exams for such a long time, so that they can be in good condition on the exam day. Also, that even after the exams, the company plans to continue supporting those students that have suffered so much, through various HongCho marketing events.

한편, 홍초는 피로회복 등에 도움이 되는 기능성 원료인 콜라겐과 헛개나무 농축액, 그리고 식이섬유를 풍부하게 함유하고 있는 건강기능성 음용식초다.

HongCho is a healthy vinegar drink that includes collagen, liquids extracted from the Oriental Raisin Tree, and a lot of fiber, and is very helpful for recovering from tiredness. (end.)

For sure, HongCho does sound quite healthy. And, technically, it is not a diet-drink:

Diet drinks: Include calorie-free and low-calorie versions of sodas, fruit drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, and carbonated water, consistent with definitions reported by the National Cancer Institute and U.S. Food and Drug Administration food labeling guidelines. Diet drinks do not include 100% fruit juice or unsweetened teas or coffees.

(Source)

However, a quick perusal of the Chung Jung Won website demonstrates that it is explicitly being marketed as a “body-changing” drink, with — especially after photoshopping — exceptionally tall and skinny Jun Ji-hyun (전지현) endorsing it most recently (that’s Kim Hee-sun/김희선 from 2010 above). Also, the following website screenshot (from 2011) and commercial show that the body-changing theme is no mere Konglish accident:

(Source)

There also appears to be a sponsorship deal with the Diet War program:

(Source)

Meanwhile, girl-group Kara (카라) are promoting the drink in Japan, with much the same theme. Which is ironic, considering that these are the same women who admitted that they can’t even drink water on the (frequent) days that they’re required to wear revealing clothing:

What do you think? Have any Korea-based readers had similar promotions at their own schools? How about overseas? Are concerns and issues different there? I know that in the US for instance, it is more sodas that are the considered a problem, and that if students drank HongCho instead that would probably be considered a blessing. From TIME back in March (my emphasis):

If some public-health advocates have their way, sodas could become the cigarettes of food. Doctors already dislike the sugary drinks for their teeth-dissolving properties and for the role they may play in childhood obesity. There’s a constant struggle to get soda vending machines out of public schools, with administrators often forced to choose between losing sponsorship money from big soda companies and dealing with overcaffeinated, less healthy kids. Given the sheer size of the American soda industry — 9.4 billion cases of soft drinks were sold in the U.S. in 2009 — it’s not a war that will end anytime soon. Especially if a certain C word starts getting thrown around.

Update: From the picture, I got the impression that is was only girls’ schools that were targeted, but the advertorial (I can’t bring myself to call it a news report) only mentions 20 schools, and is repeated verbatim across newspapers. If readers find any more information though, please pass it on here!

Update 2: It’s not really related to the original post, but if you read that TIME magazine article above, you may also be interested in the recent findings that one of the main reasons for US children’s obesity is that they’re eating away from home so often, and (of course) that they’re mostly eating junk food when they do.

Related Posts:

Radio Interview on Korean Cosmetic Surgery Tonight, 7pm

(Source)

Tonight at 7pm I’ll be on Busan e-FM’s Let’s Talk Busan again, this time talking about Korean beauty standards and cosmetic surgery. You can listen on the radio at 90.5, or online here (please note that you’ll have to download Windows Media Player 10 first), and I’ll add a link to the archived version once it becomes available.

Sorry to those of you who tuned in 2 weeks ago, only to hear me speak for just a couple of minutes in total: 7 guests was far too many. But I’m happy to report that there’ll just be 3 of us this time!