Korean Sociological Image #91: Shameless Hussy Corrupts Korean Youth

With the decriminalization of adultery in February, Koreans seem more open about sex than ever before. But advertisers are slow to challenge traditional gender roles.

Motel, Park Ki-ryang, Yoo Byung-jaeThat Korean youth would include my two daughters, just off-camera in these pictures I took at a local bus stop. And the shameless hussy would be cheerleader Park Ki-ryang (a.k.a. “The Baseball Goddess”), intent on hooking-up with SNL writer and comedian Yoo Byung-jae in their ads for 여기어때 (Yogi-oddae, “How about here”), a motel-finding app. For someone whose first Korean girlfriend had a 10pm curfew, and who arrived in Korea the same year singer Baek Ji-young was disgraced for unknowingly being taped while having sex, it was remarkable to see something so brazen.

Ironically though, they were gone from Busan bus stops the next day; I wondered if they had indeed been too much for the Korean public. But I couldn’t find any news about any complaints or controversy, and found another ad in my local university district the day after that:

Motel, Park Ki-ryang, Yoo Byung-jae University DistrictPerhaps the disappearance was simply because the May campaign was wrapping up. Also, its cable commercials, released in June, remained available on YouTube and Yogi-oddae’s Facebook page. As The Joongang Ilbo explained:

19일 관련업계에 따르면 인터넷서비스업체 위드웹이 운영하는 여기어때가 방송작가 겸 방송인으로 활동 중인 유병재를 앞세운 광고를 ‘tvN’ 등 케이블 채널을 통해 이날부터 방송하기 시작했다. 유병재는 최근 대형 연예기획사인 YG엔터테인먼트와 전속계약을 체결하며 주목받고 있다.

유병재의 광고 파트너로는 ‘야구여신’으로 불리는 롯데자이언츠 인기 치어리더 박기량이 낙점됐다. 유병재와 박기량이 등장하는 광고는 ‘불타는 청춘을 위하여’라는 주제로 숙박업종에 걸맞게 ’19금’ 위주로 내용이 구성된다. 관련 광고방송은 이날부터 유튜브 등 동영상사이트를 통해 검색이 가능하다.

위드웹 관계자는 “지난 4월 개그맨 유상무가 등장하는 첫번째 광고를 내보낸데 이어 이번이 방송광고 2탄”이라며 “광고는 숙박앱을 주로 이용하는 20대와 30대 젊은층의 공감대를 이끌어내고 웃음을 제공하는 내용으로 구성됐다”고 말했다.

According to an industry spokesperson, Yogi-oddae, run by the internet service company Withweb, started airing the commercials with Yoo Byung-jae…on cable TV channels such as tvN from the 19th of June. [He] is getting a lot of attention recently, due to signing with YG Entertainment. [The same entertainment company that has signed the likes of 2NE1 and Big Bang—James].

His partner in the commercials is Park Ki-ryang…the theme is “For The Burning Youth,” and, appropriately for the motel industry, have adult content. They can also be found on YouTube.

A spokesperson from Weedweb explained that, “This is the second series of commercials for this accommodation app; the first series with gagman Yoo Sang-moo aired in April. They are designed to get the attention of 20 and 30-somethings, and make them laugh.”

Motel, Park Ki-ryang, Yoo Byung-jae University District Bus Stop(A few hours before finishing this post, all of the bus stop ads were back up. Clearly, someone at Yogi-oddae is just winding me up.)

Based on the bus stop ads, I looked forward to a cheeky take on Korean sexual double-standards, akin to Korea’s first (and I still think only) example of femvertising from 2009. Instead, Park Ki-ryang is much more indirect than those suggested, and grossly overdoes the childishness and the aegyo:

(For non-Korean speakers: in the first, she needs somewhere to wash up; then, she had a nightmare about ghosts, and doesn’t want to be alone; they’re watching (presumably) a sex scene in the movie, and she asks “Is that possible?”; she says it’s late and the taxi is on a more expensive rate, which means the ride would cost 50,000 won, comparable to a night at a cheap to mid-range motel; and finally, her favorite male perfume is his own smell. For Korean speakers, here’s both discussing the making of the commercials.)

That said, my wife, very much in the target demographic, actually found them quite funny. I warmed to them too, the more I watched, as every guy can relate to that feeling of sudden realization that he’s getting some that evening. But therein lies the problem: not only do the commercials celebrate traditional dating roles, but they’re all done entirely from Yoo Byung-jae’s perspective.

This emphasis on male consumers was indirectly confirmed by Etoday:

지난 19일 공개한 TV CF 5편의 에피소드 중 ‘응원 편’과 ‘꿍꼬또 편’이 박기량의 섹시함을 익살스럽게 표현해냈다는 평가다. 20~30대 남성팬들에게 큰 호응을 얻고 있으며 CF 영상은 여기어때 유튜브 채널을 통해 빠르게 확산되고 있다.

People say that out of the 5 commercials released on the 19th, Park Ki-ryang’s sexiness is humorously expressed and well shown in the cheerleader and ghost dream versions especially. This has had a big effect on male 20 and 30-something fans in particular, who have been rapidly spreading the commercials via YouTube.

Yogi-oddae is in stiff competition with Ya-nolja, a similar, much older company that has also recently launched its own app, and its previous advertisements were much tamer. So, however much I want to read into the campaign, it’s difficult not to conclude that Yogi-oddae was just exploiting the hype surrounding the decriminalization of adultery in February. Nothing wrong with jumping on that bandwagon of course, but it does frustrate with not delivering on its promise of a shameless hussy. (Not unlike Ashely Madison, which turns out to be a rather unreliable source for would-be Korean adulterers.)

I do concede that they’re just commercials though, and that I’ve got nothing but praise for the advertisements. It’s just that it would be nice to see a Korean advertiser place challenging gender stereotypes at the core of a campaign again. Not in a haphazard, conflicting fashion like in this one, or, like Durex Korea, by occasionally copying positive foreign examples, but quickly returning to its normal, very laddish themes thereafter. I’m also confused by the bizarre lack of attention to female consumers in the commercials, which seems to be an increasingly common trend.

The Reader The Lens The Baggage(Source, edited: Laurence Musgrove @The Illustrated Professor; used with permission.)

But my biases are clear, and perhaps I’ve misjudged how positively Korean women would respond to it. What do you think of them? Or this example by American cosmetics manufacturer Benefit?

As pointed out by Lizzie at Beyond Hallyu (see also: Branding in Asia), it’s much more daring, yet again it ultimately falls short (my emphases):  

This change in attitudes can be seen no more clearly than in this advert. A few years ago even the hint at the idea of a woman having the agency to initiate a sexual encounter with a stranger would have been scandalous. But this is not just a woman, it’s a married woman and it’s not just a hint, it’s a full-on kiss scene which takes up a third of the commercial’s one minute long run.

SNSD on Dating, January 2013Clearly the ad is an example of a massive shift in attitudes surrounding women’s relationship with sexuality that has occurred in recent years in Korea. We’ve seen that lately on shows like Witch Hunt where even female idols have been hinting at the fact they may actually have a sex life.

(James: That’s Girls’ Generation on the right, shortly before some of their members—and seemingly every other K-pop idol—either started publicly dating, or admitted that they’d been doing it all along. Source: unknown.)

But even so, condoning adultery is still a bit of an iffy move on Benefit’s part and I’m not entirely sure how this is supposed to entice female viewers. Perhaps this is supposed to make women feel empowered to make their own sexual decisions but I can’t help but feel it serves mostly just to reinforce the idea that women are liars.

Alternatively, it could be Benefit trying to show how in touch they are with the social issues in South Korea. Or maybe it’s just intended as a clever gimmick to show how long-lasting and non-smudging the tint is.

Intentions good or otherwise, the cynic in me sees this as nothing more than a half-hearted attempt at female ‘sexual empowerment’ in order to sell more lipstick.

I agree about the K-pop stars dating of course, best symbolized to me by Suzy, “The Nation’s First Love,” being caught going to hotels with Lee Min-ho after less than a month of dating, and it’s true that celebrities have a disproportionate role in sparking—or legitimating—new social trends in Korea. But, for us mere mortals, has there been “a massive shift in attitudes surrounding women’s relationship with sexuality” though? (My emphasis.) I’m not so sure, and would cite such things as: the female celebrities receiving the brunt of fans’ anger for all those dating ‘scandals’; the government restricting access to the pill for the sake of shoring up doctors’ incomes; the ongoing (re)criminalization of abortion, in order to increase the birth rate (but effectively only making it more inaccessible and expensive for the poor); and Korea’s curious lack of politicians willing to stick their neck out for those and other progressive issues, epitomized by Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon backtracking on his support for LGBT rights.

Which, by coincidence, was also mentioned by journalist and author Daniel Tudor, in an interview for The Hankyoreh that appeared as I was finalizing this week-long post:

The New Politics Alliance for Democracy is basically just the shadow of the Saenuri Party. [In most democracies] if you’re progressive, you care about social minorities, weak people, poor people in society. You care about women’s equality, maybe gay rights, you care about things like that. But I don’t see much of that [in Korea]. These two parties are dominating the Korean political scene.

What do you think? How would you assess shifts in attitudes surrounding women’s relationship with sexuality? What criteria should we use? Please let me know, so that I can finally begin working on my follow-up to Korean Sociological Image #89: On Getting Knocked up in South Korea(!) :D

Addendum: Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed the name Yoo Sang-moo being mentioned as launching Yogi-oddae’s campaign back in April, not Park Ki-ryang and Yoo Byung-jae. For the sake of completeness, he was indeed hired, along with freelance model Bae Da-bin (a.k.a. Lisa Bae), and their own versions of the commercials were talked about in the media in the same heady terms as those by their replacements a month later, with no indication that their endorsements would only be temporary. I suspect they were just quickly and quietly let go then, because:

  • a) Yang Sang-moo looked just a little too goofy in his commercials;
  • b) At nearly 35, he was towards the upper limits of the target market, and had too much of an age gap with 21 year-old Bae Da-bin (whereas Park Ki-ryang and Yoo Byung-jae are 23 and 28 respectively);
  • And finally c), because the popularity of Yoo Byung-jae and especially Park Ki-ryang was just too great to pass up.

Which again points to the campaign being very haphazard, rather than a concerted attempt to smash the patriarchy :(

Addendum 2: Just for readers’ interest, here’s two fun videos about using the Ya-nolja app, found in passing while researching this post. Have any readers also used it, or Yogi-oddae?

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image Series, see here)

“She Accused Me With Her Eyes”: The Sexual Politics of Skirt Length on Korean Subways

Remember this picture from a Seoul subway escalator, from last year?

치마는 가려 주세요(Source: 허지은@limpidlimpid)

For those of you who can’t read Korean, the text accompanying the center image read “Please cover your skirt.” Which seemed to blame the victims of upskirt photos, rather than those who took them.

What’s more, even covering up can be a problem too. Because, as Hwang So-yeon of OhmyNews explained in March, apparently that can really upset some men’s delicate sensibilities:

…백번 양보해 범죄예방 차원에서 치마를 가린다고 해도 또 다른 문제에 봉착한다. ‘마치 뒤에서 올라가는 사람을 치한·변태·성범죄자 취급한다’는 사회적(?) 압박에서 자유로울 수 없기 때문이다.

…even if for the sake of argument, we allow that women do have cover up their skirts, they still face the constant fear that the men following behind them may be deviants or rapists.

치마를 주로 입는 여성들에게 씌워지는 잣대 역시 문제가 된다. “아니, 저 사람은 치마를 입고도 가리질 않네, 경박해라”와 “아니, 왜 내가 뒤에 있는데 치마를 가려? 나를 치한으로 보는 거야 뭐야?” 등의 시선이 동시에 여성을 옭아맨다. 치마를 입은 사람들이 뒷모습을 가리는 것이 아무렇지 않게 받아들여지는 것은 기대하기 어렵다. 가리지 않는 것도 마찬가지다.

Yet while women who wear short skirts are also pressured by people saying things like “That woman isn’t covering up, how trashy”, at the same time they face accusations like “Why is she looking at me like that, for standing behind her? Does she think I’m a pervert?”. It’s hard for women to live up to such conflicting standards and expectations.

이는 온라인에서 이미 오래된 논란 중 하나다. “나를 치한이나 변태·범죄자로 보는 기분”이라며 불쾌해하는 사람들이 많다. 물론 앞에 가는 사람이 뒷사람을 치한 취급하는 듯한 말을 한다면 기분 나쁜 건 당연하고, 나아가 항의도 할 수 있다. 그러나 정말 치마를 가리는 게 뒷사람을 모욕하는 일일까. 대화도 아닌, 단지 행위만으로 ‘일면식 없는 사람들을 무안주는 일’이라고 판단할 수 있는 근거는 어디에 있는지 의문이다.

This has been a long-standing point of controversy online, as some men feel uncomfortable by women covering themselves up in front of them. Of course, if women do treat the men around them as such, and go so far as to verbally accuse them of being perverts, then the men will be upset and complain. However, is just the act of women covering up really so offensive? You really have to ask why something so innocuous could make some men so angry.

나 역시 이 도식을 보고 치마를 가려야 하는 것 아닌가라고 판단했다. 그러나 곧 내 잘못도 아닌데 왜 치마를 가려야 하며, 더 나아가 ‘치마를 가리든 말든 무슨 상관인가’라고 생각했다. 둘 모두 개인의 선택이며, 모두 누군가에게 피해를 주는 행동이 아니다. 애초에 ‘어그로'(짜증 나는 행위를 하는 상대방에게 위협수준을 높인다는 뜻의 인터넷 용어)가 되지 말아야 할 이야깃거리가 바로 ‘치마 가리기’다.

At first, [when I considered this sign], I thought women should indeed cover up. But then I started thinking, “[People’s problems with it] are not my fault, so why should I?”. And, furthermore, “Who cares if women cover up or not? It’s a personal choice, and, whatever they decide, neither choice harms anyone.” So, really, this shouldn’t be an issue at all.

여성이 경험하는 이런 동시성은 에스컬레이터 벽에 붙은 문구와 다르지 않다. ‘치마 속을 촬영하는 것은 범죄지만, 일단 치마를 입은 사람이 나서서 가려야 한다’는 논리가 그렇다. 치마를 가리는 여성에 대한 왜곡된 시선은 ‘범죄는 스스로 예방해야 하지만 내 기분 나쁘지 않게 치마는 적당히 가려달라’는 어투의 연장선이다. 치마를 가리는 일도 어렵지만, 이 모순된 시각 속에서 행동을 결정해야 하는 과정은 더욱 어렵다.

These conflicting standards women are faced with are no different to those underlying the controversy surrounding this sign. So, while it’s a crime to take upskirt pictures, it’s women who are wearing skirts that should cover up? That’s part of the same view that women who don’t cover up are trashy, yet at the same time should never cover up so as to make a man feel accused as they do so.

Covering up can be certainly be uncomfortable and inconvenient. But it can be even more so just trying to figure out what is right to do! (end)

치마는 가려 주세요 A4(Source: Olive@spinach_olive)

Meanwhile, for those of you who were wondering what happened to them, a couple of months later the Segye Ilbo explained that in most Seoul subway stations the offending image and text had been covered with A4 paper. It also added that:

…이에 대해 안행부 관계자는 “에스컬레이터 안전 홍보물을 제작하면서 불법적인 촬영을 하지 말라는 취지로 만든 것인데 표현이 부적절했다”며 “문구가 잘못됐다는 것을 인지하고 ‘촬영은 안 됩니다’로 수정하기 위해 잘못된 부분만 따로 다시 제작하고 있다. 며칠 내로 수정하겠다”고 해명했다.

…An official from the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs said, “Our intention was to make people aware that it is illegal to take upskirt pictures, but the accompanying text was unwisely chosen. The signs will be changed to ‘No pictures allowed’ in a few days.”

안행부에 따르면 이 홍보물은 지난해 12월 산하기관인 승강기안전관리원이 200장 가량을 제작했다. 이후 지하철을 운행하는 전국 광역도시 지하철공사에 배부해 주요 에스컬레이터 벽면에 부착했다.

According to the Ministry, 200 copies of the sign were made in December 2013 by the Korea Elevator Safety Institute, and distributed to cities with subways all over Korea. (end)

Don't Take Upskirt Photos Busan SubwayAnd which brings me to why I’m suddenly talking about this sign over a year later: I was leaving Seomyeon station in Busan recently (Exit #9, if you’re curious), and noticed the changed version above. It was actually the first time I’d seen the sign in person, which I’d assumed had only been distributed around Seoul.

Don't Take Upskirt Photos Busan Subway -- Close-upHave any readers also noticed the changed signs? Or originals that subway staff didn’t get around to? Please let me know in the comments. I’m also curious if men being offended by women covering up in front of them is really a thing, or if you feel that Hwang So-yeon was exaggerating. Have any of you ever encountered such attitudes in Korea, or elsewhere?

Update: To clarify, I’m not talking about simple misinterpretations of men’s gazes by women, which of course do happen, and which, like me, I’ll assume most guys just shrug off. If (some? many?) Korean women are so worried as to not want to offend men by covering up in front of them however, as Hwang So-yeon claims, then I’m guessing that a vocal minority of Korean men aren’t shy about complaining about false accusations of ogling, nor in exaggerating their frequency.

Either way, note that the sign was still well-motivated, as the numbers of cases in Seoul have been increasing rapidly in recent years, as explained by Hwang So-yeon below; also, subway sex crimes in general, of which these upskirt photos make up about a third. However, the increase may also reflect greater policing, awareness, and willingness for victims to come forward:

…서울지하철이 걱정해야 할 정도로 치마는 위험한 옷차림일까. 계단이나 에스컬레이터 아래에서 카메라로 촬영하는 사람들이 당국의 골칫거리이긴 한가 보다. 지하철 역사 내 ‘도촬’ 범죄는 증가 추세에 놓여 있다. 몰래 카메라 성범죄 발생 건수는 2009년부터 807건(검거 인원 716명)에서 2010년 1134건(1051명), 2011년 1523건(1343명), 2012년 2400건(1816명)으로 꾸준히 증가했다. 지난해 8월 말 기준으로는 2766건(1816명)의 몰래카메라 촬영 성범죄가 발생했다.

…Are short skirts so provocative and dangerous that Seoul subway companies have to worry about? It is true that people taking upskirt pictures on escalators and stairs are an increasing source of concern for authorities. The numbers of people being caught for it have been steadily increasing. In 2009, there were 807 cases perpetrated by 716 people; in 2010, 1134 by 1051; in 2011, 1523 by 1343; in 2012, 2400 by 1816; and; up to August 2013,  2766 by 1816.

(Hat tip to Suzy Chung, whose tweet about the original sign first alerted me to the controversy last year.)

Busan Drag Prom This Saturday!

2015 Busan Drag PromSee the Facebook event page or community page for the details (English and Korean). All proceeds to go to ISHAP, an amazing human rights group who provide anonymous and free HIV, AIDS and STI testing; and Queer in PNU, Busan’s first university founded LGBT human rights group, who strive to make the city a safer and brighter place for at-risk gay youth.

I’ll be there again, and mingling. So please make sure to say hi! ;)

Korean Sociological Image #90: Watch Out For Those Italian Men…

Two back-to-back YouTube commercials for SK Telecom’s “T Roaming” Service, which have a blatant double standard:

In the first, actor Son Ho-jun freaks out when his girlfriend tells him she’s going on an overseas trip with her old college friends. First, he asks if any men are coming with her, but relaxes when she reminds him that she went to a women’s college. Only to freak out again when he learns she’s going to Italy:

T Roaming Italian MenWhatever your gender or sexuality, if your partner can’t trust you not to bang your friends or the natives when you’re more than a few days away from each other, then in my book that’s your excuse to move on and do precisely that.

But I’ll grant that it’s just a commercial, and that Son Ho-jun’s reactions are exaggerated for comedic effect. Also, provided you’re not too clingy, there’s nothing wrong at all with staying in touch while your partner’s away.

The double-standard lies in the huge contrast with the second commercial, which shows what Ho-jun needs the roaming service for when he’s overseas: access to a translation app, without which he doesn’t realize the local women are throwing themselves at him.

T Roaming French WomanOr, once he does realize that “With T Roaming, [he] can translate, take pictures, and do anything [he likes]”, that he can set up his own harem:

Foreign Women T RoamingAgain, it’s innocuous in itself, and I’m all for taking advantage of technology to make sure people don’t miss out on any potential liaisons. Given the selling point of the first commercial though, it’s a bizarre choice of follow-up.

Instead, I would have plumped for a more provocative, much more memorable version with his girlfriend and foreign men, showing Ho-jun exactly what she thinks of insecure boyfriends who want to keep electronic tabs on her.

Or, if that was indeed deemed too provocative, then simply two more commercials with the sexes reversed. As the only extra costs would have been the additional male actors and the extra shooting time, then you really have to wonder why not.

Because without those versions, these ones not only seem entirely aimed at men, but it’s very difficult not to contrast his Korean girlfriend’s childishness in the first—and lack of an angry response to his question about her male friends—with the boldness and confidence of the foreign women in the second. It’s also difficult not to place the commercials in the Korean media’s long history of depicting foreign women as sexual conquests, but foreign men as something to defend Korean women against. (Although this has been improving in recent years.)

What do you think?

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image Series, see here)

Two Must-Listens About Korean Popular Culture

Flower of Capitalism Olga Fedorenko(Source: The Korea Society)

First up, I wouldn’t usually make an announcement about an event in far-off New York, but I have no hesitation in making an exception for friend and fellow Korean Popular Culture Reader contributor Dr. Olga Fedorenko, who’s lecturing at the Korea Society on Tuesday evening. As the FB event page and Korea Society website explain:

Advertising in South Korea is often referred to as a “flower of capitalism.” Rather than calling attention to the inherent links between commercial advertising and capitalism, this clichéd metaphor presents advertising as a wholesome, creative medium of public good and positive contribution to society. South Korean’s consume advertising as a product of popular culture and celebrate it for the humanist societal ideals it often promotes, instead of viewing it as an intrusive commercial message. Dr. Fedorenko explores the origins of such attitudes toward advertising through some notable contemporary examples, and considers challenges of using advertising for public good in the twenty-first century South Korea.

I owe a lot to Olga for much of what I’ve written about Korean advertising over the years, most recently referencing her work in my post “Sex, Self-Confidence, and Social Activism: When Women Made Soju Ads” about Korean femvertising, so you have my personal guarantee that her lecture will be very interesting. (You may also find this review of her dissertation interesting, let alone her dissertation itself.)

As I type this I’m unsure if her lecture will be recorded unfortunately, but it probably will—most Korea Society lectures are made into podcasts, and increasingly online videos are provided too. Either way, I’ll provide a link once her’s is/are ready later this week.

Update: Here is the video. It is also available as a podcast here or here.

Next, for those of you who were unable to attend Aliosa Puzar’s lecture in Seoul last month, and frustrated that it wasn’t recorded, I’m very happy to announce that he has just been interviewed on the same topic(s) by the Korea and the World team. (Full disclosure: they’re the cool guys who also interviewed me back in November). Make sure to visit Beyond Hallyu for an excellent review of his podcast first, then you can listen to it directly on the Korea and the World website. (It’s also available on iTunes.)

Aljosa Puzar Coming of Age in South Korea(Source: Facebook)

Once again: what are you waiting for? ;)

Guest Post: So JYP Wants to Know Who My Mama Is

For those of you who watched the music video of JYP’s latest hit, Who’s Your Mama, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

The entire song is a tribute to big booties. When I first read the song title, I immediately remembered Will.i.Am’s song, I Got It From My Mama, which—surprise, surpriseis also a worship song for killer female bods.

Although the feminist in me wants to point out the fact that JYP’s entire song revolves around sexual harassment at the gym, that’s not what I’m going to talk about today.

But first, I need to quickly introduce myself. I’m a half-Korean hapa, who mostly identifies as a Korean. Although I was born in Seoul, the majority of my childhood was spent in Hong Kong because my parents decided to move there when I was 3. But thanks to my mother’s fear of me getting out of touch with my Korean roots, I spent almost every single vacation with my grandmother in Seoul.

Having grown up with in an interracial household, and in a cultural hub like Hong Kong, I considered myself to be pretty open-minded. Literally all of my Korean friends have often told me that my personality was “so American,” and I agreed with them (never mind the fact that I’ve never even lived in the States until I was 18).

But I was still very much tied to Korean culture whether I liked it or not. For example, up until high school, I was naturally skinny. And by skinny, I mean that I was basically skin and bones. But everyone in Korea always commented how my thigh gap was so nice, and how bony my arms were. A friend once casually commented on this by saying, “You have the ideal body—it’s like you have limb anorexia.”

Limb anorexia? Really?

But because the thin ideal is so prevalent in Korean society, I embraced it. I was so glad that I never gained any weight despite eating so much junk. However this “privilege” stopped in high school, when my metabolism completely slowed to a halt. I started gaining weight from my bad eating habits. Having been only used to wearing size 2 clothing, I cried the first time I wasn’t able to fit into my skinny jeans.

The funny thing is, I was never “fat.” It was the fact that I lost my thigh gap and “limb-anorexia look” that upset me. This led me to doing what any normal Korean female would do. I looked up dieting tips on Google and religiously researched any and every diet program I came across.

But this all changed when I chose to attend university in America.

Upon my arrival in the States, I realized that the standard for a “hot body” was much different. Sure, people thought thin people had nice figures, but for the most part—it was all about the curves. Fast forward to Sophomore year, I started feeling so much more comfortable in my own skin. I started weight training at the gym, which led me to discover the amazing sport of powerlifting. Watching my strength and endurance increase with each passing week allowed me to stay religiously devoted to my workout regimen. People started commenting on how “fit” I looked. The best part about weight training was that I could eat a lot more calories without worrying about looking fat. Hello restaurant deliveries.

After committing to a year of serious weight training, I went back to Korea to spend the summer. It was hilarious to hear my family and friends gasp and exclaim at how “big” I looked. My grandma said I looked obese. I tried to explain that it was muscle not fat—but she wasn’t convinced.

I thought I’d find more peace of mind at a gym, so I joined my neighborhood gym right away. It was a rather large chain, so their trainers were all “experienced.” On my first day at the gym, a few trainers came up to me and commented that I was lifting “too heavy.” I just brushed them off.

At least twice a week, some other gym-goer would come up to me to say that I was “lifting too heavy for a girl.” I didn’t care what anyone said. Their comments fueled my workouts. I loved that I was able to deadlift and squat more than most of the men at my gym.

I’d often have ahjussis or ajummas come up to me to say that I was really strong for a girl and that I should probably stop working out too much because I’d likely “hurt myself.”

My girl friends kept commenting on my “huge bicep” and “horse-like thighs” whenever we hung out. They weren’t trying to be mean—they just couldn’t understand why a skinny person wanted to get muscular.

I was in no way large. I finally reached a healthy BMI instead of being underweight. I was finally toned and healthy, and I was getting criticized for it. It’s funny to think that Koreans praise gool-bok-ji, or honey thighs (AKA healthy and toned thighs), but they’re only interested in seeing them on celebrities instead of normal people.

The standard of a fit body for Korea and the rest of the world is vastly different. Let’s refer back to the JYP video—the YouTube comment sections were all filled with non-Koreans exclaiming that none of the girls in the M/V were fit/curvy enough.

JYP Big BootyWhat do you think about these standards? Do you agree with my experience and observations? I’d love to hear your thoughts through the comment section below!

Anum Yoon hails from Korea, where she was raised on spam and eggs (with sesame oil and gochujang of course). She spent the last 4 years in America, tackling her cultural identity crisis, one awkward moment at a time. She’s currently blogging over at Current On Currency.

Update, James: Via Omona! They Didn’t, here’s a video showing model Eom Sang-mi’s reaction to her role in Jay Park’s Mommae MV, which is similarly objectifying. Alas, it’s not about JYP, as I misread when I first saw it, and it’s pretty laddish overall, but Sang-mi’s comments—e.g., “Why are they only showing my boobs?!”—are quite amusing and telling:

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Where Can You Find Spermicide and The Sponge in Korea??

Thought I’d liven up one of the rooms at the OBGYN(“Thought I’d liven up one of the rooms at the OBGYN.” Source: Reddit)

A request for help from a reader, edited for anonymity. Thanks in advance to anyone that can give her any assistance:

******…I don’t want to ask my Korean co-worker for help and all my Korean friends are very religious—so it’s awkward.

Anyways, I don’t take birth control for a multitude of reasons including blood clots with the last time I tried. I also haven’t been sexually active for awhile so birth control hasn’t been a priority to me until now.

I’ve dug into pages on the Internet, but all birth control in Korea searches are about the pill or condom. I went to Dr. Sung’s clinic [in Itaewon], but they were only helpful in regarding IUDs and the pill. I wanted some information about spermicide or the sponge, which I’ve used successfully in the past.

Anyways, I’ve met an awesome guy. He’s great and understands my choice about birth control. He’s willing to try condoms and spermicide combination, which I’ve used in the past with a long term relationship.

He was able to find his western brand of condoms, but I’m at a lost as to how to obtain spermicide or the sponge. Can you get either in Korea…?

An update:

******…I live in the Gangnam area and went to all 4 pharmacies on my way to school and asked for spermicide using Google translate. [Saljeongje/살정제] is the word for it, but at each pharmacy it took about a minute to figure out what I was asking for and locate it.

The first pharmacy was only men and they looked it up on the computer and told me they didn’t have any. The second pharmacy (the one I usually go to) was a young female pharmacist who speaks English but she had to look it up on the computer and then asked me if it was for not getting pregnant and I said yes. All she had were depositories (which are not as good as gel or foam) and they were hidden behind the vitamins. She said she didn’t know if there was a gel or foam spermicide available. The third pharmacy (a large hospital one) all female pharmacists of different ages didn’t have any. The younger pharmacists didn’t know what I was talking about and asked the older one who was a bit confused so she asked an old lady customer who explained what it was. The fourth pharmacy was two older female pharmacists who had to discuss it and then asked why not go to the doctor for “not pregnant medicine” I said “make very sick”. She then digs around in a drawer pulls out a box looks at the ingredients and says “Yes. For no baby.” But this was also a depository.

All in all the pharmacists were very helpful and kind, but slightly confused as to what spermicide is. I am going to start walking into every pharmacy I see ~ maybe only depositories exist and only a limited supply. It’s strange. Back home I can get a huge box at CVS or Walmart!