Korean Sociological Image #36: Beauty and the Beast

( Sources – left; right: K-popped! )

A pair of brief but revealing juxtapositions to ponder this weekend.

First, earlier in the week it was reported that Ha Si-eun’s (하시은) performance as a character with cerebral palsy in the popular historical drama Chuno (추노) was so convincing, it persuaded her representatives to arrange a photoshoot with Maxim, lest “it affect her career.”

My first reaction to this news? Naturally, that I’m never averse to seeing an attractive woman posing in her underwear…but heaven forbid that she become better known for her acting skills. To play devil’s advocate however, in my experience Korean actors do tend to be typecast by the public rather easily, and indeed a representative did express concerns that fans would be unable to dissociate Ha Si-eun’s image in the drama from real life:

하시은 측 한 관계자는 3월 29일 오전 뉴스엔과의 전화통화에서 “‘추노’의 뇌성마비 이미지가 너무 강했던 터라 하시은의 평소 모습과 작품 속 모습을 연결시키지 못하는 이들이 많았다”며 “부족한 점이 많지만 새로운 모습을 선보이고자 이번 화보를 촬영하게 됐다”고 밝혔다.

Given the frame of mind that put me in though, I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of the advertisements accompanying this article in the Korea Times that I read 5 minutes later:

Part and parcel of the tabloidish tone of that newspaper in recent months, those advertisements are not confined to just that article of course. But still, it’s almost worthy of FAIL Blog, yes?

(For all posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)


7 thoughts on “Korean Sociological Image #36: Beauty and the Beast

  1. When I lived in Korea in the 1970s and again in the late 1980s I was struck by the intolerance of, and lack of accoodation for, the disabled. Hard to imagine, even in drama, a focus on a disability without shame.


    1. Confess that that angle never occurred to me, but it certainly could have played a role. And unfortunately things seem to have changed little since you were here; I haven’t investigated whatsoever, and one should always bear in mind confirmation bias, but in my own personal experience I’ve run into many less disabled people in my daily life than I did back in New Zealand, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re hidden away at home so to speak.

      Having said that, Korea is a very disabled-unfriendly country in terms of facilities etc. etc., as numerous documentaries I’ve seen on TV have pointed out. So in a sort of feedback loop effect, it’s very hard for disabled people to get out and get the education and jobs and so on that would earn them that respect. Instead, they’re often reduced to begging on the subway.


  2. I’ve watched most of Chuno, and she was, to someone who knows next to nothing about cerebral palsy, convincing. How much of that is my ignorance and how much is her skill is unclear. It is interesting that her management was so worried that they had to make sure that people were reminded that she was hot and ‘normal’. If she puts on a fat suit next role then there will have to be dozens of photo shoots to remind everyone that she is thin.

    And those ads – unintentionally hilarious, and I doubt that the paper has any idea why, or has even noticed.


  3. Not seeing the contradiction between the ads and the article. Desiring to be thin and attractive isn’t an obstacle to workplace equality. The only disturbing visual on the page is the “before” picture of perfectly round, appealing buttocks. Almost as disturbing as the perception of normal as fat in Korea is the perception of fat as normal in the West, exemplified by a weight loss ad that appeared next to my Yahoo inbox yesterday. The woman in the “after” picture appeared to be at least 20 pounds heavier than the range maximum for her height. Thirty years ago, that would have been a “before” photo. At least the image was probably close to what the woman really looks like and not photoshopped too much.

    The British media reported recently that more Brits dieted thirty years ago despite the fact that they weighed much less. Far from being contradictory, lifelong vigilance is probably one reason why previous generations were slimmer.


    1. Oh I quite agree about it not being a contradiction per se, but I did still find it symptomatic at least of how women’s appearances were inordinately valued over all other attributes in Korea, which underlies that gender gap. Likewise, I’d personally be very surprised to find similar advertisements at all on any Western newspaper ‘s website, although I’m prepared to be corrected by anyone that reads them more regularly than I do from Korea.

      Agreed about the perception of fat as normal in the West too: was astounded at what I saw on my last visit to Australia in December 2008, first time back there in 18 years, and certainly put paid to my image of the people as healthy and sporty.


    2. Hard to say about whether or not such ads would appear on a similar media story in the Western press. Ads are cookie-dependent. I often see weight loss ads on various US-hosted webpages, probably because I frequently visit health and nutrition-related websites and read related stories. For two months, there was this annoying “Lose 30 lbs following this weird old tip” ad, iillustrated with a pregnant-looking woman’s belly alternating between shrinking and growing. Website commenters complained about the ad, and a few actually clicked to satisfy their curiosity.

      I do agree that Korean women are judged on their looks much more so than Western women. Unfortunately, it appears that the present trend is not a lesser weighting of looks for women but rather a heavier weighting of looks for men, who now must be tall, thin, and well-dressed with a stylish haircut in addition to being economically promising.


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