Adidas’ “Me, Myself Campaign”: Refreshing Body Images for Korean Women?

아디다스의-2009-우먼스-캠페인-미, 마이셀프And here’s the other reason I have the focus on the blog that I do!

Seriously though, while I am never lacking for pictures of attractive Korean women in sportswear and bikinis to attract “readers” to the blog with if I do so choose, there is still reason to single out this week’s Korean launch of the global Adidas ”Me, Myself” (미,마이셀프) campaign here. Consider its claimed raison d’être, however perfunctory its sentiments may be in practice (source, right: Naver):

Impossible standards of beauty continue to be foisted on young women today. Flip through any fashion magazine, and you’ll find super skinny supermodels on almost every page. Not to mention on billboards, on television and movies and the Internet. Young women feel pressured to live up to this standard of beauty, often to the detriment of their mental and physical well being.

Instead of pressuring women to conform to this impossible standard of beauty, sportswear giant Adidas wants to inspire women to be themselves.

With its new campaign philosophy, ”Me, Myself,” women are encouraged to be healthy, happy, fit, full of life and be true to who they are. It celebrates women’s individuality, confidence and motivation.

To launch the ”Me, Myself” campaign in Korea, adidas staged a unique fashion show featuring its spring/summer women’s wear line at Kring, Daechi-dong, southern Seoul, Wednesday. Korean celebrities like singer Solbi and girl group Afterschool were spotted at the event.

And crucially (my emphasis):

Unlike in most fashion shows with gaunt-looking models, the Adidas models were healthy and glowing. They showed that women could look stylish while working out at the gym, doing complicated yoga moves or swimming in the pool.

Granted, it comes from a blatant advertorial, but that last is much more important than it may sound at first. As while on the surface modern Korean exercise culture is very similar to its Western counterpart(s), albeit naturally with more of an emphasis on hill-walking and, in turn, free open-air facilities in those hills for its rapidly aging population to use, in practice Korean women have generally interpreted the modern Western imports of gym culture and health consciousness through their preexisting notions of consumption and feminine passivity (see here, here and here), often with quite startling and absurd results.  Indeed, one could argue that their gym-going merely serves to allow many Korean women to feel a certain sweet self-satisfaction in the mere act of doing so, never actually having to face the challenge of exercising to the extent that, say, sweat interferes with the cosmetics that many wear while doing so, or that it burns off excess fat. Instead, a vast and unregulated industry of passive dieting methods (e.g. diet pills, aroma therapy, diet crème, and diet drinks) takes that place, overall giving the impression that dieting is simple, easy, quick, and effective without pain, so long as women consume various products.


(Sources: 아이뉴스; Artsnews Paran)

Which is not to say that all Western women (or men) don’t also waste a lot of time at gyms, nor that the act of attending one isn’t also de rigeur for the trendy modern urban professional, and much less the quality of the exercise done there. But…well, as those links above make clear, these things — like so many other trappings of modernity here — are just so magnified here, almost like a hyperreal parody of the goals of modernity itself. In this particular case though, lacking an educational background of critical thinking, Korean women are to a certain extent its victims, which again renders any alternative message of self-agency and of being proactive in naturally achieving one’s desired body image worthy of getting out to as wide an audience as possible.

I dare say, however, that that message could have been done somewhat more effectively had anything at all about the campaign been included on Adidas’ Korean website (let alone in Korean), especially as news coverage seems to have concentrated rather more on the celebrities that attended instead. Being in the job-market myself soon though, then I’ll gladly take on that responsibility of ensuring that the site is regularly updated from now on (there’s my contact details in the top-left corner!), but until that point then I guess that this post and these Korean videos of the event will have to do.

Update: I’m afraid those videos didn’t embed very well: try watching here instead.

Update 2: Thanks to commenters, I now realize that the choice of models (specifically, their body types) should have been much more diverse, preferably with some real athletes included. See here for a follow-up post exploring precisely that, focusing on female boxers.

9 thoughts on “Adidas’ “Me, Myself Campaign”: Refreshing Body Images for Korean Women?

  1. Damn, you beat me to this. I saw the KT article and noted the contrast between the mention of impossible body image in the text and the really hot women in the photo. Then I ran a naver news searh for 미 마이셀프 and found almost nothing but attractive bikini models. Well, plus a few pics of “After School,” the new girl group that’s in the video above.

    Women generally seem disinterested in fitness and working out, at least in the Western ways we’re familiar with. You did a nice job in your earlier analysis, but I wonder how much also has to do with them not having time as teenagers. At my school, as with practically most others, there is no such thing as student athletics, whereas loads of young women in my alma mater were into track, cross country, soccer, basketball, and the half-dozen other sports. By the time they get the . . . time, in college, I wonder if they simply haven’t picked up the sports culture.


    1. Damn, you beat me to this.

      LOL. Although I am above such worldly things as Golden Kimchi awards, nevertheless I feel compelled to point out that I’m sure *cough* that I would have won all my categories by convincing margins if I’d actually told my readers about the competition like everyone else, and also that nevertheless beating you to that is but one of the first of my small acts of revenge for you winning yours!

      Seriously though, you need to add some Korean tabloid crap blogs to your Google Reader: for instance, I first found out about this myself as early as Wednesday through Allkpop, although I didn’t know what to make of it at the time.

      Finally, I’d have to agree about the lack of time (and sleep) as teenagers, and that’s a definite gap in my earlier posts on the subject. Given how much having an S-line and so on is drilled into them from such an early age though, in hindsight it’s really quite surprising that more young Korean women aren’t even more addicted to gym-going than many of their Western counterparts. I think that again it just goes to show how important instilling critical thinking is in students, as without it they have little reason not to believe that consuming “diet pills” and so on – like in that article I discuss in those earlier posts – is the most effective way to lose fat (not that they’re usually “fat” in the first place, as this graph starkly demonstrates).


  2. I’d wager a meal at your favorite restaurant that this incredibly clueless ad campaign was designed by men, not women. Few Korean women are overweight, yet nevertheless, few have the tall, perfectly propotioned, unblemished bodies of these models, two of whom appear to be of at least partial Western ethnicity. I wonder if the clueless ajosshis who created the ad campaign were inspired by Jockey’s real women underwear ads, which did feature women of different ethnicities, heights and figures, including chubby apples and pears; however, none of the models appeared to be clinically obese like 1/3 of American women.

    Regarding Korean women’s aversion to real exercise, I think some of the problem lies in the fact that secondary school students have little time for physical activity. High school graduates spend the winter furiously dieting off high school fat before they hit the active university dating scene. Many Korean women have told me that their boyfriends, husbands, and parents put them down because of their weight. One independent-minded university student dumped her boyfriend for nagging her about being too fat. She was about 5’4″ and probably weighed about 115 lbs. I think part of the reason why Korean men put down their girlfriends and wives is to assert their dominance in the relationship. A woman of low self-esteem is more likely to put up with the man’s sh*t.

    Unlike young women, ajummas are enthusiastic participants in hiking and other physical outdoor activities. i wonder if the aversion to exercise is something young Korean women outgrow or if this is a permanent cultural change. Korean media images of beauty celebrate extreme thinness without an ounce of fat or muscle tone. Silicone boobies are okay since they’re not real fat.

    During my long stay in Korea, I only ever saw two Koreans who were big enough to buy plus-sized clothes. Both were female university students in the department of church music. They were significantly larger than other students, the Korean equivalent of an American 500-pounder rolling around in a cart. Their unusual largeness in a country of thin people suggested some metabolical disorder. If women of normal healthy weight are assailed as fat, I cannot imagine what kind of verbal abuse those poor women got.


    1. I think you’re being a little harsh, although a distinction does need to be made between Adidas’ global campaign and it’s expression in Korea itself, and I may well have been influenced by the buzz of the former to notice the series deficiencies of the latter. Like the KT article says:

      The worldwide ad campaign features ordinary women, alongside sports stars like Serbian tennis player Ana Ivanovic, American basketball star Candace Parker, Mexican taekwondo athlete Iridia Salazar and Japanese beach volleyball player Miwa Asao.

      But I wonder if those names are in fact the sum total of all the athletes it hired for the campaign? Regardless, while I’m not suggesting that they should all have been flown in for the event, their faces were noticeably absent at the fashion show and in the so far non-existent marketing, and so for all the campaign’s supposed celebration of female athleticism all Koreans have seen of the Me, Myself campaign so far has indeed been of something no different to any other fashion show. Complete with Caucasians too, whom I have nothing against per se but who do seem de rigeur for all Korean fashion shows, as I’ve explained here.

      Having said that, I don’t have any problems with most of the models per se. This may sound facetious, but I am a heterosexual guy, that by definition spends much of his day looking intently at women’s bodies, and with the athletic-looking Korean women that I’m attracted to being so rare then I do tend to notice them in particular pretty quickly. And I have to say, the some of the models aren’t all that different from indoor volleyball players especially, who could easily and probably should have taken their place.

      I hear you about the lack of time teenagers have for exercising like Brian and I said in our earlier comments, and I think you’re quite right about men putting down their wives and girlfriends as a form of dominance. I’d add that my wife and female friends say that teachers of both sexes make disparaging comments about students’ weight too, behavior which would obviously get them fired in many countries.

      As I typed that I realized that a good example of a result of that are all the negative comments about Wondergirls singer Kim Yoo-bin (김유빈), criticized for becoming “too fat” after these photos of her appeared although in reality she’s merely turning into a grown woman instead (she’s 21 now).

      Finally, I’d be more age specific about the exercising ajummas though, who in my experience tend to be retirees (or of that age) with the spare time.


  3. Aw, I voted for you!

    I don’t think high school’s stresses itself are enough to keep women off exercising during the early part of their lives ~ sports and fitness were a huge part of daily life at both boys high schools I worked at, and even the ones aiming for prestigious colleges spent time playing sports both as an organized activity and as recreation. But if you’re a boy, you’re inundated with images of men who are fit, encouraged to emulate sports heroes, and you know that professional sports are a possibility for a career. If you’re female, the range of professional sports you can aspire to is very limited (and much less socially appreciated), you have few sportswomen to look up to, and the images are all of women who are slender but muscular women are nowhere to be found. Many of my friends avoid certain exercises lest they develop “big calves” or “too much” muscle in their arms. Which is what pisses me off so much about these models ~ they’re not exactly showing off much muscle.


    1. Thanks, and I agree with all of what you say above, especially the avoiding of “big calves” and “too much muscle”, which I hear time and time again. Also, you do have a point about the models lacking muscle, and which combined with young girls’ relative lack of sporting role models just goes to show all the more how real Korean female athletes should have been used.

      It’s kind of bizarre that they weren’t really: until about halfway through the 2002 World Cup, even most Korean male soccer players made less than most newbie foreign English teachers here, and I dare say that most female athletes here are even less well paid. So it definitely wasn’t expense preventing Adidas Korea from doing so.

      Sigh…as you and Sonagi have made clear to me now, Adidas Korea really did know how to ruin a good idea.

      P.S. I checked, and Adidas Korea still doesn’t have any information about the campaign on its website, unlike that of Adidas New Zealand for example.


  4. Like you, James, I’d rather look at attractive people of both sexes in clothing ads. However, Adidas described its new marketing campaign in these words:

    “With its new campaign philosophy, ”Me, Myself,” women are encouraged to be healthy, happy, fit, full of life and be true to who they are. It celebrates women’s individuality, confidence and motivation.”

    Ftiness strongly implies muscle tone and endurance. I don’t see any muscle tone in those skinny arms and legs. Sticking a barbel into Barbie’s hand doesn’t fool anyone into thinking these women are athletic. Women’s individuality? Gimme a break. They’re all tall with Amazonian legs. Motivation? To do what? Skip a meal?

    If Adidas weren’t framing this ad as a celebration of vigor and individuality, I wouldn’t object in the least to these models. There are real athletes with amazing figures. Dara Torres comes to mind. Using real athletes, with the exception of that ex-volleyball player who had her boobs inflated to stripperesque proportions, would made the new campaign credible.

    I used to live very close to Yonsei University and would hike up the little mountain at the back of campus every day. There I saw mostly middle-aged hikers of both sexes along with a few young men, some of whom would occasionally bring their girlfriends, stopping frequently to rest, huffing and puffing all the way up. Ajumma-style, I would breeze past these skinny ladies on my way up to the top.


  5. Sonagi ~ were they wearing high heels? I’m always amused to see girls trying to walk up these mountains in their five cm heels and miniskirts.


    1. Sonagi, sorry if I wasn’t clearer in my reply to your last comment, but I’m actually completely agreeing with you! I think our difference is just in degree rather than in kind, as I can *cough* name several Korean indoor volleyball players who at first glance wouldn’t have looked at all out of place among the models at that show. I accept though, that if I saw them a bit closer and put them all side by side that the former would indeed probably be healthy and muscled and the latter “skinny fat.” And like I said, if Adidas Korea had made any effort at all to live up to the professed spirit of the campaign (other countries appear to have been much better in this regard) then I see no reason for them not to have hired the former.

      What you’re saying about Yonsei reminds me of Pusan National, spread out all over a steep hill. I don’t live there myself, but I’ll ask a friend who does about his impressions of the people who are hiking there. Gomushin Girl, I’m sure he’ll confirm that many of the women do indeed wear high heels!

      When I lived in Jinju in 2000-2003 though, I never saw any young people hiking, even though it’s well-known as a student city and has something like 12 universities, and I don’t see any in my neck of Busan these days either, although it’s true that the national park I go around is quite a hike in itself from most universities.


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