Korean Sociological Image #56: Start ‘Em Young! (Updated)


Apologies for the continued slow posting folks, but I have several good excuses, one of which involves spending a lot of time in doctors’ waiting rooms. Unlike most normal people however, that’s actually something I look forward to(!), as it gives me the opportunity to peruse the hundreds of advertisements in the notoriously thick women’s magazines there.

Like Laedygyeonghyang (레이디경향; Lady Trend) for instance, which at 8200 won (US$7.32) a pop, is normally much too expensive to buy just for the sake of a few pictures. But then I saw the February edition, and was hobbling to the nearest bookstore literally as soon as my bandages were changed (the nurses had to call me back inside for my injection).


You see, February to March being the start of the school year in Korea, then the first 30 pages or so had 6 full page advertisements for children’s schoolbags. And all of those aimed at girls stressed how attractive or pretty they would make them look, whereas all of those aimed at boys stressed how they could help them achieve their dreams, their appropriateness for rough and tumble play, and so on. Perpetuating gender stereotypes in a manner much more reminiscent of the 1960s and ’70s than something you’d expect to see in 2011, this was really quite shocking, and an indictment of how – in terms of socializing children at least – advertising has definitely regressed in recent years.

Unfortunately, the magazine was no longer available, but as you can see above I did manage to find at least the 2 K-SWISS (케이스위스) ones online later (the other 4 were from HEAD {헤드}). Paraphrasing just a little, the Korean on the girl’s ad reads “What style shall I choose today?!”, while that on the boy’s reads “Through [this bag’s] strength/firmness and lightness, achieve children’s dreams!”. Sigh.


Update 1 – Of course, those messages were pretty obvious from just the visuals. And given that, the fact that Caucasian models were used, and that K-SWISS is an American company, then I was curious as to if this was in fact an American ad that had been used in other markets, with just the text translated. A quick check of its main website though, shows that only the Asian branches had kids’ lines, but which still leaves the possibility that they’re generic ads for the East Asian region.

Have any readers based there seen their own local versions? Or – wherever you are – any other children’s ads like these?

Update 2 – With my thanks to the staff of Dr. Lee’s Orthopaedic Clinic, I was allowed to take the magazine home to scan. While my memory had been a little faulty – the advertisements for school bags were in the first 100 pages, not 30; there were also advertorials for them later; and there were 3 advertisements from other companies that were fine –  I’d made no mistake about the HEAD ones:

The title on the left reads “Adventurous Children”, and that on the right “Romantic Children”. In the next ones they (literally) say “Imagining Children” and “Dreaming Children”, which technically speaking is fine I suppose, but then just look at what each child is imagining…

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Images series, see here. Or, for more on the Korean women’s magazine industry specifically, please see here)


22 thoughts on “Korean Sociological Image #56: Start ‘Em Young! (Updated)

  1. The 경향 in 레이디경향 is supposed to be a translation of “Urbi et Orbi” (京鄕), reflecting the parent newspaper’s Catholic origins. It’s not religious any more, but it’s considered one of the more progressive newspapers.


  2. (1) Yeah. Simply jaw-dropping.

    (2) Speaking of bad photoshopping, check out the main picture on the K-Swiss Kids page. I’d say the line is not so fine between “lovely green eyes” and “demon possession”, but somehow they’ve crossed it.


    1. Not really related to photoshopping or images sorry, but another interesting thing I learned from the K-Swiss site while I was preparing the post is that the South African branch is the only one that doesn’t even sell women’s clothing (let alone kids’). I wonder why that is?


  3. I would have to do a lot more research to be able to come to any real conclusions, but I suspect that the (re)turn to more gendered advertising has to do with the rise of prominence of evolutionary psychology in the coverage of popular science. I can see why – it easily provides punchy, attention-grabbing headlines, even when the research is bad or doesn’t actually say what the editor decides the science reporters write-up says it does – but it presents a narrative of innate gender difference.

    I remember that growing up in the 80s in the US, there was a lot of emphasis on creating gender equality by controlling images in textbooks, advertising, etc. but this seems to have fallen by the wayside. Given a seemingly scientifically verified narrative of gender difference, there’s been a regression in social emphasis on equality in advertising images of children. It’s science! Girls like pink and are social! Boys like blue and are adventurous! Now advertisers just argue that they’re playing to what people really want – but before, what people wanted was images that challenged this, and that’s what some advertisers did. It’s sad to see the waning of public demand for such images.


    1. The fact that the K-Swiss boy’s ad has an astronaut theme is especially unfortunate since South Korea’s first and so far only astronaut, Yi So-Yeon, is a woman.


    2. @Gomushin Girl – Likewise that a lot more research is required, but for now I’d have to completely disagree sorry: I think you’re grossly overestimating the impact of evolutionary psychology (or at least headlines in the media) on advertisers and/or the public.

      Naturally I’ll reconsider if there’s evidence to the contrary, but I’ve never heard of advertisers using that justification (in response to complaints) personally. And even if they did, I’d argue that it would only ever be a (very contrived) justification, and certainly not causative. For that, I’d blame the Lolita Effect as I discuss here: in short, encouraging girls to worry about their appearance etc. etc. (and adopting the appropriate gender roles) at younger and younger ages so as to sell things to them, the partial corollary of which would be a reemphasizing of the boyish, masculine “other”.


  4. Not related to Lady Kyŏnghyang but I just saw your foot and — damn! — that’s a bloody mess.

    This is only peripherally related to the main topic, but as far as targeting kids are concerned, I can’t recall if your repertoire of advertisements includes television commercials aimed at young kids. In the US, it is appalling how much commercialization is geared toward kids. In Korea, I never really sat down and watched much children’s television to see if the same thing was going on there.

    Do you catch those much? If so, do you think they fall into those gender stereotypes from decades past?


    1. Yeah, it was, but just on the day of the operation fortunately. It’s looking pretty damn ugly as I sit here typing this though, the first day after the stitches got removed.

      As for children’s TV advertising, I’ll certainly try to notice it more in future, but unfortunately my own kids only really watch various British and Canadian DVDs we bought for them. They did use to watch Pororo though, which I discuss the gender roles of a little here, and they also used to watch the Disney Channel much much more. Many shows in that are quite okay – my favorite is The Little Einsteins – but in particular Divo the Gift Dragon gives me and many other parents misgivings, because the two girls in it love cooking and being pink and pretty respectively, unlike the inventive and car-loving boys.


  5. James,

    Upon arriving here a few weeks ago, I’ve become really interested in the intersection of Christian evangelism and consumer capitalism in Korea. I have a few (very introductory and probably totally wrong) thoughts up on the subject: http://wp.me/p1o0z6-L

    Any thoughts you might have–or especially suggestions for avenues of research–would be greatly appreciated.

    As always, thanks for all the work you do here at The Grand Narrative. I really enjoy your articles and am glad to see such a specific theme explored so deeply.


    1. Thanks, and you’re welcome. And I’ll try to read that post of yours whenever I can, although unfortunately I have over a week’s worth of emails and comments to catch up with first sorry!


  6. I think the lyrics to this song will interest you!! And DJ Doc isn’t some unknown artist either. :)

    “Are appearances always a girl’s ability?” .. “Do you have to get plastic surgery in order to get a job?” …. things you talk about concurrently…


    1. Thanks for passing that on. Unfortunately I’m about to head out as I type this, but rest assured that I’ll listen when I get back and that it’ll probably be going in the next Korean Gender Reader!


  7. Sorry but I simply must ask: Why are almost all the models in korean advertisements White?

    Are there no Korean models in Korea? Are Korean women employed in some other type of work? Are there government restrictions against Korean women appearing in Korean advertisements?

    Are there no Korean children handily available to appear in Korean adverts?

    Please enlighten me. I am dying to know. And if possible could someone please tell me why the same situation also appears rampant in Japanese magazines and advertising? All the models in Japanese magazines are white women.

    I am confused.


    1. Sugabelly,

      The prevalence of Caucasian models in Korean advertising is something James has written many posts on. If you search the site for “caucasian models” you should be able to find some of the posts.


  8. The update, I cannot believe things like this are still allowed! Ugh!! Makes me scared to ever think of having children.

    You know, I had to have an inspirational speech to my younger male cousin about gender roles. Luckily he’s a perceptive child but it’s so scary the ideas he had before about boys and girls at such a young age.


    1. If it’s any consolation, despite my best efforts, my eldest daughter’s favorite color is pink, and last time we went to our local department store she refused to look at the non-pink section of the toy aisle, saying she didn’t like “boy’s toys”. Once we got home though, I brought out all her cars, trucks, and lego spaceships and so on and asked if she wanted to play with them with me, and – seemingly forgetting our earlier conversation – she happily got stuck into them, which makes me think there’s hope for her yet (she is just 4 and a half years old after all). It’s also interesting how and where she picked up her notion of separate boy’s and girls’ toys, even though she clearly doesn’t fully understand what those supposedly are exactly yet. Probably kindergarten…


      1. I don’t think anyone can resist trucks, cars and lego though… they are *the* type of toy. It’s better she’s confused about the ideas so you can explain later on in life though. It’s funny that pink thing, as a kid I hated pink and loved blue. I never really saw pink when I was falling out of trees or picking blueberries so it didn’t feel like a “natural” to like it. In terms to my cousin, he was also confused. He didn’t understand why he thought that way and I could see him longing to join in baking and other “girl” activities but sometimes feeling reluctant to join in.

        I think he got it from TV and school because his parents both cook, clean and look after the baby turned cheeky lil toddler.

        I don’t think you have to worry about your daughter if you and your wife are around. Unless it turns into one of those cliche movie moments where the daughter is the moral opposite of the parent. :P


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