The Kafkaesque Korean Beauty Trends of 2009

(Source: Unknown)

Confused about all the new buzzwords used to describe Koreans’ bodies these days? Here’s my translation of an article that gives a quick guide.

The author implies that most of them arose organically from the public’s interest in certain actors in Korean dramas. Whereas in reality, it’s companies and the media that are overwhelmingly responsible, as they’re in a constant quest to create new consumer trends (read: new reasons for people to feel dissatisfied with themselves). Yet while most of these have no basis in reality, are essentially useless, and/or are so contrived as to be quickly forgotten or ignored, some do stick.

Of those that do though, if they have some English in them then it often makes them more interesting from a sociological standpoint. For whether by accident, mistranslation or design, they both reflect the way the term is already usually misused in Korean and further influence they way in which related English-language popular culture gets filtered into its Korean counterpart.

A good example from this article would be chongsoon-glaemor (청순글래머), or “innocent glamor,” which at first glance doesn’t seem all that strange: in her television commercials for instance, the ice-skater Kim Yuna (김연아) below manages to project an innocent image while having a seemingly glamorous lifestyle (I wonder if she’ll find the former stifling as she grows older however, like actress Moon Geun-young?). But it emerges that “sexy” would be a much better translation of the English word “glamor(ous),” and although I’m sure readers are well aware of the number of ways  in which women are presented as pure and innocent but somehow also lustful in Western popular culture, and effectively are in Korean, there are still problems with assuming that that is what the term means, as the word “sexy” isn’t construed quite the same way here. Instead, we seem to be left with an obscure term for Korean women that look more virginal than normal(?), but yet still do the mechanical “sexy dances” virtually required of them on Korean talk shows.

Anybody with more familiarity with the term and/or the actress Shin Se-kyung that supposedly spawned it, please feel free to correct me on my interpretation: after all, this is the first time I’ve looked at its origins, and just based on one article at that (Update — with thanks to Seamus Walsh for pointing it out, I did indeed make a mistake: “glamor” actually means “busty” in Korean). But with the proviso that the next means I may be cherry-picking the facts to suit my own views, it does still seem very consistent with the Korean media’s overall trend towards discouraging or outright banning of assertive displays of women’s sexuality, i.e. genuinely sexy behavior.

꿀벅지·미중년·꽃남…2009년 연예계 뷰티 트렌드는? 2009-12-31 by 두정아

올해 연예계 트렌드를 이끈 핫 키워드는 무엇일까. 꽃남과 미중년, 꿀벅지, 베이비페이스, 청순글래머 등 어느 해보다 개성있고 다양한 트렌드가 공존했던 한 해였다.

드라마 ‘꽃보다 남자’로 ‘꽃남’이라는 단어가 사람들 입에 오르내렸고, ‘내조의 여왕’의 윤상현은 ‘미중년’이라는 찬사를 받으며 남성들의 뷰티 열풍을 이끌었으며 그룹 에프터스쿨 멤버 유이의 매끈한 허벅지를 일컫는 ‘꿀벅지’와 배우 신세경의 ‘청순글래머’ 등은 여심을 자극하며 바디 열풍을 일으켰다. 여전한 ‘V라인’ 강세 속에 동안(童顔) 열풍 또한 이어져 ‘베이비페이스’라는 단어가 자주 회자됐다.

What were the hot keywords that led trends in the world of entertainment in 2009?

With kkotnam (flower man) and mijoongnam (beautiful middle-aged man), ggoolbokji (honey thighs), babyface and chongsoon-glaemor (innocent glamor) emerging, there were many very distinct trends compared to most years.

From the drama Boys Over Flowers the term “flower man” was on everyone’s lips; from Queen of Housewives the actor Yoon Sang-hyu received a lot of praise for his looks, spawning the word “beautiful middle-aged man” and a strong following among men wanting to emulate him; and women were similarly interested in the After School member UEE’s smooth and velvety thighs known as “honey thighs” and actress Shin Se-kyung’s “innocent glamor.” Finally, in addition to the eternal “V-line,” a strong interest in youthful faces has been shown by the new word “babyface” that is often talked about.

(Source: Unknown)

‘꽃남’·’미중년’, 남성 뷰티(美) 열풍

KBS 드라마 ‘꽃보다 남자’ 신드롬에 힘입어, MBC 드라마 ‘내조의 여왕’ 태봉이 (윤상현 분)가 일으킨 ‘미중년’ 열풍까지 남성들의 뷰티 열풍이 어느 해보다 뜨거웠다. 이를 계기로 남자도 외모 관리를 해야 한다는 인식이 공유되기도 했다.

거친 남성다움보다는 부드럽고 세련된 귀족적인 이미지를 선호하는 분위기로 바뀌며 성형외과나 피부과를 적극적으로 찾는 남성들도 크게 증가했다.

경제 성장을 이루던 90년대에 사회생활을 시작한 현재 30대 후반부터 40대 초반의 중년들은 전통적인 부모 세대와 달리 중년이 돼서도 문화와 여가를 즐기고 자신을 가꾸는 노력에 적극적이기 때문이라는 해석이다.

Combined, the flower man syndrome caused by the KBS Drama Boys Over Flowers and the beautiful middle-aged man craze caused by the character Tae Bong-ee in Queen of Housewives have led to men taking a great interest in their bodies. This is how the notion that men, like women, also have to take care of their bodies and appearance has become accepted wisdom.

In turn, as the preferred image of Korean masculinity has become softer and more polished, refined and noble, cosmetic surgery and skincare clinics are reporting a great upsurge in interest from men.

One additional reason for this is that even though men that grew up and entered the workforce in the 1990s are now in their late-30s and early-40s, they are very different to their parents’ generation, and choose to enjoy culture and their free time more, which includes taking a greater interest in themselves.

‘꿀벅지’ ‘소시지룩’ ‘청순글래머’ 바디 열풍 선도

올 한해 주목할 트렌드는 바디 열풍이다. 소녀시대의 지(GEE) 열풍과 함께 유행한 일명 ‘소·시·지(Gee)룩’. 몸매가 고스란히 드러나는 초절정 스키니진에 타이트한 티셔츠를 입은 여성들이 패션을 주도하면서 여성들의 S라인 욕구는 상승했다.

뒤이어 그룹 애프터스쿨 유이의 건강미 넘치는 탄탄한 허벅지가 주목을 받으면서 꿀이 발린 듯한 매력적인 허벅지라는 뜻의 ‘꿀벅지’라는 신조어까지 탄생했다.

또한 요즘 주가를 올리고 있는 단어는 ‘청순글래머’. MBC 시트콤 ‘지붕 뚫고 하이킥’ 출연하고 있는 신세경은 청순한 매력과 섹시한 관능미를 동시에 지니고 있어 ‘청순 글래머’의 대명사로 불린다. ‘포스트 김혜수’로 주목받으며 휴대전화, 화장품 광고 모델 자리를 꿰차는 등 그 인기를 입증하고 있다.

이에 대해 그랜드성형외과 유상욱 원장은 “과거 여자 톱스타들의 상징이 ‘화장품 모델’이었다면 2009년은 이효리, 신민아, 송혜교, 손담비 등 청바지 모델로 그 중심이 바뀌었다”며 “이 같은 변화는 요즘 대중들의 관심이 바디로 옮겨지고 있다는 증거”라고 설명했다.

2009 was a real year of body trends. First, there was the very popular so called “sausage look” of Girls’ Generation. Hiding nothing, the ensuing fashion of wearing extremely skinny jeans and tight t-shirts among women has sparked an intense interest by women in their S-lines.

(Update — “Sausage look” may be a mistake, as the “소시”, or “soshi”, in “소시지(Gee)룩” is also the Korean shorthand for Girls’ Generation, and the “지”, or “gee”, the name of one of their most iconic songs. So the term may mean “sausage look”, or it may mean, literally, “how Girls’ Generation looked in the Gee music video”, in which they happened to wear skinny jeans. Either way, it’s a good pun!)

Next, as a lot of interest in After School member UEE’s firm, smooth and very healthy-looking thighs emerged, the new word “honey thighs” was coined to describe thighs like them.

Another word that’s stock is rising is “Innocent Glamor.” This comes from the actress Shin Se-kyung that appeared in the MBC sitcom High Kick Through The Roof, described as the icon for women who combine a pure and innocent image with sex appeal. Considered a second Kim Hye-su also, because of her popularity she regularly appears in cellphone and cosmetics commercials.

According to “Grand Cosmetic Surgery Clinic” owner Yu Sang-ok, “in the past the symbol of top female stars was the cosmetic model, but in 2009 women like Lee Hyori, Shin Min-ah, Song Hye-gyo and Son Dam-bi have been mostly modeling jeans instead,” and “this is proof that the focus of people’s attention has moved to star’s bodies now.”

(Source: Naver)

‘V라인’ 강세, ‘베이비페이스’가 위협

올해도 ‘V라인’ 강세는 여전했다. 뭐니뭐니해도 ‘동안’, ‘V라인’, ‘작은 얼굴’은 사람들이 가장 선호하는 이미지이기 때문이다. 갸름하고 부드러운 V라인은 첫인상부터 편안하고 친근한 장점도 있다.

MBC 드라마 ‘선덕여왕’ 미실 역의 고현정은 소름끼치는 연기와 더불어 나이를 가늠할 수 없는 ‘베이비페이스’로 주목을 받았다. 투명한 피부는 물론, 볼륨감이 그대로 살아있는 생기있는 얼굴은 아기 피부 같다는 찬사를 받았다.

‘베이비페이스’는 ‘어려보이면서 입체적인 얼굴’을 말한다. 그 특징은 얼굴 옆이 아닌 앞쪽으로 볼륨감이 살아있는 얼굴로 콧등의 높이와 균형을 이루는 부드러운 곡선 모양의 탐스러운 이마 그리고 갸름하고 조금은 짧은 듯한 턱 선이 생명이다. 이러한 ‘베이비 페이스’의 열풍은 2010년에도 지속될 것으로 전망된다.

Last year, the emphasis on the V-line remained unchanged. After all, the preferred image is to have a dongan “youthful face [for one’s age],” V-line, or jakkun-olgool “small face.” And if you have a long, slender face with a V-line, people’s first impression of you will be softer and friendlier.

Hence the interest in the “Babyface” of actress Ko Hyeon-jeong, who played the character Lady Mishil in the MBC drama Queen Seon Duk, and whose acting was so good that she gave viewers goose pimples. With clear skin and glowing, firm cheeks, she has received a lot of praise for having a face as good as a baby’s.

But a babyface has been described as a “solid, 3D face.” In particular, it’s not just the volume of the cheeks on the side but also the balance with the bridge of the nose, the softness of the curves and the desirability of the forehead that make it look youthful. They look set to remain popular in 2010. (end)

(Source: Naver)

Like I said in an earlier post, I was embarrassed at not realizing how sexist the term honey thighs was when I first heard the term, but I doubt I would have if they’d been described like that instead. And continuing with the theme of  sexual discrimination, I was surprised not to see “chocolate abs” for men also; unlike the commercial that spawned it, perhaps the term itself is more 2010 vintage?

Regardless, please let me know if you can think of any others, and especially if you have alternative explanations for where any of the above ones came from!

26 thoughts on “The Kafkaesque Korean Beauty Trends of 2009

  1. “Last year, the emphasis on the V-line remained unchanged. After all, the preferred image is to have a dongan “Youthful face [for one’s age],” V-line, or jakkun-olgool “small face.” And if you have a long, slender face with a V-line, people’s first impression of you will be softer and friendlier.”

    There is nothing soft or friendly-looking about a sharply angled jawline and pointy chin. Adding a chin implant enlarges and lengthens the face. Small faces are considered feminine while long faces are seen as unfeminine. It would be interesting to display images of young Korean entertainers to Koreans and non-Koreans to see if there are any differences in ratings of attractiveness. My guess is that Koreans would rank cosmetically altered v-line faces more highly than people of other nationalities owing to the influence of Korean media images.


    1. Yes, I thought that was a bit odd too.

      That would indeed be an interesting experiment you suggest. It reminds me of a conversation I was having on Twitter a couple of days ago about this experiment which showed that women wearing make-up were approached more often in bars: I wondered if Korean women wearing skin-whitening products would similarly be more often approached by Korean men, or if instinctive desires for red cheeks (like you and I discussed) would still trump cultural preferences, even though the men might claim that they were more attractive with light skins if they were asked in a different setting.


  2. the term chocolate abs was used to describe jaebeoms abs in various variety shows the commercial doesnt feature him but like uee hes the original.


  3. “A good example from this article would be chongsoon-glaemor (청순글래머), or “Innocent Glamor,” which at first glance doesn’t seem all that strange: the ice-skater Kim Yuna (김연아) below for instance, would be considered both innocent and yet glamorous by most Koreans, as that’s certainly the image she presents in television commercials… But it emerges that “sexy” would be a much better translation of the English word “glamor(ous).”

    I think that the way the word “glamour” (글래머) is used in Korean is not really equivalent to our “sexy,” it’s actually far more specific than that. A Google image search for “글래머” illustrates this best. I would say that it is almost universally (by Koreans) used to mean showing/having a lot of cleavage. Although this may also be considered sexy in our sense of the term, this is not a prerequisite of the Korean usage of 글래머. And I definitely wouldn’t have said that Koreans would use the term 글래머 to describe Kim Yuna, although they may use the terms cute and sexy, despite the fact that her standard image in the media would mean we (native English speakers) probably wouldn’t call her “sexy,” but we might be more likely to call her “cute” and, ironically, “glamourous.”

    (James: in case any readers are confused, that part about Kim Yuna has since been edited. Thanks to Seamus for pointing it out)

    Naturally, all of this leads me to completely agree with you regarding “For whether by accident, mistranslation or design, they both reflect the way the [English] term is already usually misused in Korean and further influence they way in which related English-language popular culture gets filtered into its Korean counterpart.” It would be a whole lot simpler if they just used Korean terms from the start. I also wished I knew what Koreans felt that the use of Koreanised English brought to advertisements, catch-phrases and pop culture in general. Naturally, we may have our own theories, but I wonder if they correspond with those of Koreans, or if the majority of Koreans even give a second thought to why English is misused instead of just using Korean in some situations.

    “This is how the notion that men, like women, also have to take care of their bodies and appearance has become accepted wisdom.”

    Ooo, so much to take issue with in such a short little sentence. First of all, “have to take care of their bodies and appearance.” Since when does anyone “have to” take care of their appearance?! And why is it they feel no need to justify their stance that anyone would have to take care of their appearance, and also they clearly expect this to be accepted by their readers. Also, I think you’ve been kind the author in translating “외모” as “bodies and appearance,” I would say just “appearance” would suffice. Also, why is it that it seems to be part of some universal and eternal rule that women have to do this, something which is accepted as the preexisting standard by the author? That men now also “have to” do this shows some sense of pseudo-equality (a term that I think is more at home on your blog than it could possibly be anywhere else :-) ), but it still doesn’t negate the fact that there is a hugely sexist slant to this sentence, combined with the notion that appearance is far more important than it should be, added to the attitude that appearance is a currency, built on the basis that everyone should do exactly the same thing in the most uniform way possible – it’s just “accepted wisdom,” don’t you know?


    1. Sorry, I didn’t mean to say that Koreans view Kim Yuna as both innocent and glamorous; rather I meant that us English speakers reading this probably would. I’ll edit that after I finish typing this.

      Other than that, I agree with, well, everything you said really, although I confess that might just be my headache talking sorry; went out drinking for first time in 4 weeks and got to bed at the scandalous hour of 2am, but my daughters were still crawling all over me demanding me to sing to them at 7:30 as per usual…zzz…

      But yeah, I was too kind with the “bodies and appearance” translation, and overall, it really is a simply terrible article.

      Because the mistakes and bias in it are pretty standard for Korean articles I find on the internet though, for a while now I’ve been considering translating articles from news/society-related magazines instead, and this is the final straw. Any suggestions anyone? Luckily I have a scanner now, so I won’t need to type the originals by hand!

      Good to see you finally blogging again by the way.


      1. Indeed, I’ve just got my timetable through for the new semester as well, and it looks like I should have a bit more time to spare to actually put together some posts with some research and thought in them!

        As for what you should translate next, I’m not sure. I don’t think you’re going wrong by doing the sorts of articles you are, though. The thing is, us western bloggers in Korea (although you’re probably one of the obvious exceptions) tend to focus on issues we have a vested interest in, and use sources such as English language news sources which many Koreans won’t have even heard of, let alone use themselves for news. In fact, the majority of my Korean friends wouldn’t even read the major Korean language dailies even if they were plastered all over their walls at home. The simple fact of the matter is that Koreans use the internet for news, current affairs, opinion, venting etc etc even more than just about any country in the world. I remember seeing a BBC article a while back that showed that exact thing through a large empirical study, but I can’t seem to find it again. So maybe to represent the sorts of articles that most Koreans would read you need to stick to the net. But then again, I think many Koreans limit their sources even more than that, to the news feeds and such on the main portals.

        Also, you have to decide whether you want to represent the sorts of articles most Koreans read, or the ones that are the best written, or the most sociologically interesting, or the most controversial, or the most unusual. Personally, I find nothing wrong with the sorts of articles you currently use, but it’s important for people to be able to identify where they fit into the range of information sources in Korea. Really, though, it’s whatever you feel you want to write about or use, and you definitely shouldn’t worry that a poor quality article reflects badly on you, as your readership would show that’s not an issue you need to be concerned with!


        1. I didn’t see that BBC article either, but it reminds me of an interview of a NZ or British academic last year or the year before on MediaWatch, a NZ podcast (any Kiwis out there, I think from the Auckland University of Technology; that is the new name for AIT, right?). He’d been doing research on OhMyNews, and said much the same thing as it sounds like the BBC article did, but in particular that Koreans tended to put a great deal of trust in internet sources “in [his] opinion somewhat naively.”

          About what I should be and/or want to translate and why though, suddenly I’m reminded of how a few months ago I aked readers that emailed me (on unrelated matters) about what they’d like to see more of on the blog, and although most had no idea a couple did say they’d like more Korean voices…to know what Koreans themselves were actually saying about the issues we discuss in English here and all. Me too, but unfortunately with so much more on the internet here like we’ve just discussed, then there’s a much bigger haystack to sift through before finding anything worthwhile (the article in this post is pretty representative of the standard).

          Not to say that good stuff isn’t out there, but with the limited time I should devote to blogging (but invariably devote more, to the detriment of many other things) then I really don’t want to waste time looking rather than writing. Sigh.

          But it may be a moot point, because by chance I’ve found 2 very good articles – on the front page of Yahoo! Korea of all places, with analysis and opinions and so on that wouldn’t look at all out of place if they were in English and written by me! But they’re much longer than normal – they’ll take me a week each to translate, an hour or so at a time – which brings me to the real reason I mentioned this issue in the first plaace I guess: that I’ve well aware that I should put the short but easy garbage to one side, and translate longer, more meaningful stuff – which like I said isn’t that hard to find really – even if it means less frequent posts.

          Well then…thanks for being a sounding board for me I guess!


          1. Agreed that it’s always good to hear from Koreans on these matters, and I know you always intend for your discussions to be open to them, but it can probably be hard for the majority to find their way here on their own and there’s probably not much than can be done about that besides translating all your posts into Korean. I guess you could always conduct street interviews with random Koreans…

            I think the BBC article was saying basically the same thing as your NZ guy, although it wasn’t focused specifically on Korea. It would also seem to backup what I was saying about many Koreans, especially younger ones, completely disregarding the traditional big newspapers, which is really something I think us non-Korean Korea-related bloggers need to bear in mind: if Koreans don’t even see the Chosun Ilbo as a decent news source, yet alone read it, what are they likely to think of the Korea Times and chums? I’d wager that a considerable number of Koreans have never read it, maybe have never even heard of it.

            That was a sidetrack, sorry – but I’m not sure of what the best source for Grand Narrativeable translation material would be. Newspapers I find are often appallingly written (and I’m talking about the Korean language ones as well), the internet stuff that people read is often crap/sensationalist/nonsensical/irrelevant and academic writings are often written in a way which makes you think the authors are trying to form the longest sentences and words they possibly can just to look clever, without really saying very much (a bit like sociologists in English). Maybe more magazines would be good? Although really I stick by translate what you want to read/translate yourself. You’re more likely to do a good job, and people read your blog because they want to see how you think about these things, so I think that’s the only way to go.


    2. So 글래머 means “busty”? I’d guess Koreans borrowed the word from its use in the terms “glamor model” and “glamor photography.” Kim Yuna is glamorous in her skating costumes, but she is definitely not 글래머 in any attire. I don’t think a woman can be both innocent and glamorous because glamor requires sophistication while innocence implies the lack of it.

      (James: fixed {again} – see below)


    3. Second, thirding, whatevering the association of glamorous with curvy and large-busted. My students regularly used the term to describe me (darling little brats!) and I was forewarned before I ever started teaching that this wasn’t a “good” term for them to apply to a teacher.


      1. Argh! I had read that post already sorry Marilyn, but completely forgot it when I was writing the post.

        I’ll change the text (again!) Whatsonthemenu, because I really meant a glamorous lifestyle. But regardless everyone, “glamorous” meaning “large breasts” in Korean?? And hence a term essentially meaning a woman that “has a huge rack, but also virginal face” entering Korean popular culture, nonchalantly used on all the innumerable talk shows they have here? In no uncertain terms, that is completely fucked up. And perhaps even more so than Honey Thighs, as at least that had a certain logic.

        Kind of makes me realize how bad S-lines are too, but also how much I’ve gotten used to them.


    4. Yeah I agree. “글래머” specifically means a woman has big boobs. And the result of that is considered sexy, but the term itself doesn’t really translate into sexy. And “청순” i guess could be translated into approximately innocent/virginal. So 청순글래머 is basically a paradoxical term meaning that a woman looks completely innocent and virginal but has sex appeal(if you lower your eyes a lil bit).


  4. snsd’s yoona with her ‘desirable egg-shaped babyface’ comes to my mind, to add to this list.

    a while ago i’ve read about the term ‘gold miss’, describing +30 women who have a career, money and options and are thus labeled golden (~ still desirable – my rough translation).


    1. Thanks, and that one for Yoona does ring a very faint bell. It’s quite a recent term, right?

      Meanwhile, I’ve been meaning to write a post about Gold Misses for, well, the nearlly 2 years since I wrote this post on “Alpha Girls,” and even have a manilla folder with some articles and photocopies from books for it in my bookshelf…but have always been put off by the work that it would involve, as I’d really like to put it into the context of all the words like that that have been invented and reinvented since at least the early-1990s (as far back as I’d go!).

      This post has got me interested though, so I really might just dust it off and finally get to work on it this year!^^


      1. yep, you’re right on both accounts! the term ‘egg-shaped’ is fairly new while ‘gold miss’ has been around for some time.

        first i thought ‘gold miss’ was just the name of that korean tv show where the elderly female mcs compete for the affection of their male star-guests. so far i’ve only seen clips. being more used to korean variety tv concepts now, i wasn’t very surprised seeing them do partly embarrassing and not so mature stuff to get the desired male attention.

        a few years ago, when someone would mention a girl with an ‘eggshaped-face’, the image of calimero would pop up in my head but now it’s just another one of these ‘trendy kpop terms’!

        looking forward to your article on ‘gold misses’! i’m sure it’s gonna be another one of your well-researched and well-written piece that digs deeper into the shallow pop-matters and serves as food for (critical) thought! ツ


        1. Nah…the term “egg-shaped” is ancient. Koreans have been using that term to describe the perfect shaped face for ages. Maybe it recently resurfaced in media? I guess “V-Line” is sort of a new way of saying “egg-shaped” in a more trendy way.


  5. There are times when the marketing and media industries seem particularly counter productive for the mankind as a whole. And all to make more $.


  6. My surprisingly honest conversation partner was just explaining the “honey thighs” phenomenon to me! He hates the term because he considers it to be too sexual (he says relating a body part to food and eating is inherently sexual but I’m sure that is not new to you), which I find strange since he’s only in his mid-twenties. And when I brought up the notion of a New Year’s resolution, he said his goal was to have “chocolate abs.” I felt sort of guilty about that because the last time we met, my female classmates (and 선생님, actually) were practically swooning over Lee Byun Hun’s six pack.


    1. Thanks for passing that on, although I don’t really know what to add sorry. But I’ll be interested to hear his reaction when you point out the contradiction to him!^^

      Wait! I’ve just remembered this on how the term “chocolate abs” is increasingly being used for both sexes if you’re interested.


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