Korean Sociological Image #57: Perfect Upper Bodies, But “Healthy” Legs

(Update – to download the video, click here)

Normally, I’d reserve something like this for the next Korean Gender Reader. But then as a friend aptly put it, this video is “totally fucking reprehensible”, and deserves highlighting. And indeed, if it’s not removed from Youtube soon, then we’ll both be contacting ArirangWorld to complain about it.

A quick language note before you begin watching though: a mistake many Korean learners make, including myself, is to complement someone by saying “건강해 보여요”, or literally “healthy [you] look”, not realizing that “healthy” often has connotations of being fat in Korea. And as you’ll soon see, this is carried to simply absurd proportions in the video.

For further context, see Korean Sociological Image #21, on popular calf-reduction surgery.

Update 1: I wrote the following in 2 comments on the ArirangWorld YouTube channel. Or rather, I tried to, as although they registered in the comment count, they never actually appeared. Creating a new account and trying again, for some reason still only the 2nd paragraph squeaked through. Sigh.

As the author of thegrandnarrative.com, the most well-read English language source for information on Korean gender issues, almost every day I learn of the often tragic consequences of the incredibly damaging messages about health, weight, and body image that the Korean media promotes, and have very real concerns about raising my two young daughters here. Will they never exercise, because videos like “Twist in Figures” tell them that toned, healthy legs are unattractive? Will they too, like fully HALF of Korean high school girls, end up so malnourished and anemic from dieting that they are unable to give blood?

I implore ArirangWorld to remove this video immediately, and suggest that an alternative video outlining Korea’s problems in this regard, but also – crucially – demonstrating what positive steps various groups, organizations, and individuals are doing to correct these, would be a far better way of promoting Korea to the outside world.

For more on the shocking statistic about high school girls, see here. And you may also find this advertisement from 2009 interesting:

Update 2: The video has been made private. Which does mean that it can’t be watched at least, but on the other hand choosing to do that rather than simply deleting it could be construed as refusing to admit how problematic it was. Certainly ArirangWorld has yet to make any kind of formal apology for it.

If anyone would still like to see it, then I did save the video before it was made private, but unfortunately at 55MB it’s much too big to send via email. I can send it via Skype though, so please feel free to add me to your list of contacts and request it (my id is “Jtur001”).

Update 3: Although I’d wager I’m a much more pleasant middleman than most(!), you can now avoid me and download the video directly here.

Update 4: See here for the Korea Studies community’s reaction to the video.

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


41 thoughts on “Korean Sociological Image #57: Perfect Upper Bodies, But “Healthy” Legs

  1. Utterly disgusted by this. Not just the idea that they have an edema – which implies a serious health condition,but that healthy translates as fat. I don’t even have the words to express myself on this right now…


    1. my thoughts exactly – edema = fat/muscle? like, WTF?? though anyone who would quote someone who calls themselves a “figure management specialist” deserves some serious side eye. not that there isn’t everything wrong about this entire segment.

      I have more to say, but I’ll save it for later when I’m more eloquent and less raging mad. wish i had a punching bag right about now.

      also, Ha Ji-won? really? they’re criticizing HER body?? I give up. I’m done. I refuse. Never watching Arirang ever again.


  2. I wanted to respond to this blog for quite a very long. Sadly I’m quite busy these days. Even now I don’t really have time, therefore I’ll make it short- I had an eating disorder in the past. It wasn’t caused by wanting to look like a skinny celebrity as many ppl would think, but rather from unpleasant events from the past. Actually, most ED sufferers don’t care much about models.

    The thing is, I’ve noticed that South-East Asian societies tend to set ‘thin’ as the godly goal. Well, as far as I can see, many models, especially Korean, Japanese etc. are super skinny and most probably have an eating disorder. There is no way so many models were naturally born this thin. It’s a cause of over exercising and calculative eating. Just so everyone would know- most of the models are probably constantly hungry, thinking day and night about food, their hair falls due to anemia, their muscles hurt while they’re are asleep and so on.

    I can detect the nuances and I must say- all SNSD members suffer from anorexia, there’s also this group of guys- Shinee the boys suffer from it too. And those ‘healthy’ looking girls shown on the video above are just in the border of ‘healthy’ and ‘underweight’.
    Please do not criticize me, it took me a long time to recover from it.

    And just one more to note- I’m basing my deductions of what I’ve seen. I don’t have the links to the videos and I don’t really have time to look them up right now. Maybe I’ll come back and reply again in order to post the links.


    1. oh woooww, jealous much. you can not detect ANYTHING by looking at a person. i am beautifully thin and i have NEVER EVER dieted in my life. it is GENETICS and healthy eating. maybe if u weren’t such a pig and got anorexia for ur lame attention seeking reasons (why wud u post about it here) then maybe you wud have used ur brain and known that there are people in this world WHO ARE NATURALLY SLIM/ SKINNY! dont hate just cuz ur a fatso now.


      1. I am appalled by how you choose to present your opinion. You personally attacked this individual instead of the facts she stated. She said it was highly unlikely that an entire group of 9 girls all had this type of figure. She politely asked others not to judge or critize her personally because she struggled to overcome this issue in her life. Thanks to women like you constantly berating and flaunting the fact that you are naturally a walking stick figure does not help her in her goal to get better and stay that way.


  3. I’m so glad you’ve posted about this. I watched the video today and it really shocked me. I was relieved when I scrolled to the comments though, I’m glad that this one wasn’t fashionably put down to ‘cultural differences’ once again. I sincerely hope Arirang removes the video and apolagises.


  4. – Sorry to double post, couldn’t find the edit option..

    Its interesting to wonder why thin legs are so desirable.. most female (and male) body traits that are generally considered attactive relate to how able they are to have a child and how healthy that child will be. But thin legs.. I can’t see a logical reason as to why they’re so sexually valuable. Even the S-line figure kind of makes sense because it gives the impression of a woman standing in a position that makes her easier to inseminate. (Crude, but makes sense I think if you look at how a woman instantly appears ‘sexier’ when she curves her back inwards and sticks her chest and butt out rather than hunches and pulls her hips forwards.) Any insights as to the straight up and down legs trend?


  5. “Her fatal fault! Her thick ankles and calf muscles”

    Possibly one of the most hateful celebrity gossip videos I’ve seen in a while. I think I may be giving Arirang tv a call as well.


  6. Assuming the woman speaking Korean commenting on the stars isn’t an Arirang employee, what’s wrong with capitalism? She’s probably got a deal with Arirang in hopes to promote calf muscle removal/plastic surgery. I like women who have strong legs myself, and I wouldn’t be interested in a woman who had her calf muscles removed, how stupid!


  7. I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help but laugh everytime he said “healthy”. Does he think we all view this the same way, or is he just really, really bad at concealing what he actually means?


  8. On the positive side of things, it’s the first time YouTube comments have made me feel better about humanity.


  9. Spending 7 whole minutes nitpicking the muscular legs of young Korean female stars. I’d like to see the legs of the clowns who put this together. I wonder if a toned, muscular, athletic look will ever be seen as attractive for women in Korea. Ideal body types have changed in the West over the decades. I don’t see why Koreans can’t change their notions about preferred body types.


  10. Unbelievable! I knew that Korean celebrities are scrutinized for tiniest imperfections, but this…
    In response to Jojo, perhaps the rationale of this fashion is to compensate for the recently found economic power of women and make them helpless again by artificially limiting their activities by mutilating their bodies–an analogue of binding feet in china in the past


  11. (facepalm)… what’s next? leg-stretching braces for all female children? Because God knows healthy-legged, radish-calved girls have to be modified to meet the approval of the male gaze. Must get rid of those fatal flaws! I swear the level of social-retardation shown in this video just blows my mind.

    Ironic isn’t it…that many Koreans believe that mixed-race marriages will produce birth defect babies, yet the cultural-physical-ideal seems to be completely OUTSIDE of the race’s DNA. Tall with round-eyes, double lids, V-line face and S-line back (bootay) and long legs without musculature. These characteristics occur naturally in..maybe…6-7% of the population, and that’s a generous guess.

    Of course ALL cultures tend to set their *ideal* on the rarest features (my personal U.S. pet-peeve is massive silicone implants)…but this video depicts young, beautiful women (slender and gorgeous, by any standard) and claims that their leg muscles are fatal flaws ~ really?! I mean WTF?


  12. reprehensible stuff, certainly. but it’s a change to see Arirang airing something that hasn’t been through the cleansing process. their programming is usually sanitized garbage.

    thumbs down for the sexism
    thumbs down for arirang

    and i second the comment pointing out how all of Korea’s ideals for beauty being unattainable without surgery and starvation. sick shit, for sure.


  13. If ever there was a video designed to create and promote eating disorders in otherwise normal and healthy Korean girls/women, this would be it. What an absolute bunch of idiocy. The celebrities in this video are already healthy and attracti…ve and the use of the word”‘healthy” to describe their legs is so much doublespeak. Why not just say “These chicks have fat legs and should have muscle removal surgery”? Korea is going to see a huge increase in anorexia and bulimia, and not just in girls, but in boys too, who are urged to be slim and feminine because that’s what’s glamourized in pop culture these days, yet only a few people are genetically predisposed to what’s popular and idolized.


  14. At least they had the wits to remove it. I sent them a complaint through mail before that and I don’t see any reason for not continuing to complain, even if it’s gone.


  15. But now I can’t show my students how the Korean female lower half is sctrutinized on TV etc…, which leads them to feel the need to have their leg muscles removed/cut out.


  16. the use of the word”‘healthy” to describe their legs is so much doublespeak. Why not just say “These chicks have fat legs and should have muscle removal surgery”?

    Nice line. My biggest cringe was at “if she takes care of herself…” — sure, I guess by not walking anywhere, or consuming any dangerous substances like protein. Maybe the veal industry has some helpful advice on keeping the meat from getting tough.

    I did some research on 부종 ‘edema’, particularly in connection with legs. As you can imagine, it’s sometimes hard to separate authentically medical advice about “swelling” from diet craze BS, but most hits seem to emphasize causes like too much sitting (in a modern office) and poor, salty diets — not the kind of things that would produce muscular legs.

    Legs can be divided into three major types of radish, radish muscular legs, fat legs, type of radish, carrot leg edema. To solve the problem of radish legs, the first round for the type of breakthrough!

    This is creepy, though it seems to be translated from Chinese rather than Korean:

    1. Muscular radish legs

    Look after the tweak tiptoes, the calf is very hard, almost pinch the absence of any fat, is the most difficult to eliminate this type of muscle-type radish legs. Most occur in athletes or people with higher physical activity.

    Walking, radish legs is very obvious, like a cabbage shape, very strong leg muscles strong. This type of rejection radish training focuses on muscles, can be through exercise before and after the warm-up exercise and relaxation exercises to reduce muscle cell hypertrophy phenomenon.

    Radish legs to get rid of muscle-type methods[…]


  17. I sent a complaint through their website instead of their youtube channel, and to my surprise got a reply :


    I am Lee, Moon charging in ArirangTV YouTube.

    I thank you for your concern about ArirangTV and sharing your thoughts through Arirang Homepage.

    I had read your message and dropped that content after discussing whether it dropped or not with other staffs.

    We do our best to take the Global Standard and produce high quality contents continuously.

    Thank you again.

    With regards,



  18. Trans-cultural Comparison of Disordered Eating in Korean Women…

    “The results indicate that although Korean American women have the greatest exposure to Western norms and ideals regarding body weight and shape, they have the lowest levels of disordered eating compared with women born in Korea. […]
    Thus, our findings indicate a need to look beyond Westernization to understand eating disorders in
    Korean women.
    Within Korean society, Confucian-based gender roles have limited opportunities available to women.19 Traditionally, women served their parents by marrying into prominent families.20 Modern-day matchmakers (kyol honsangdam-so) rate female clients most highly on physical appearance, whereas men are rated primarily by occupation, leading parents to emphasize the importance of daughters’ physical appearance and manners. Kendall 21 ( described
    that the cultural emphasis on appearance over abilities creates an environment in which
    Korean women who fit the beauty norm are more apt to succeed in marriage and work.

    Thus, eating disorders in Korean women may emerge from native Korean values.
    Beyond native influences to conform to specific ideals regarding appearance, Root 22 hypothesized that individuals in collectivist cultures such as Korea may be more vulnerable to eating disorders.
    Pressures to adhere to the norm in collectivist cultures may create difficulties in differentiating internal states from external expectations that contribute to developing eating disorders. Studies in other Asian countries support that the pathogenesis of eating disorders may involve such non-appearance factors. Whereas the drive for thinness is a central theme in understanding eating disorder pathology in the West, Lee et al.2,23 report that many Chinese women with anorexia nervosa do not endorse weight phobia as a symptom of their disorder.

    Similarly, Pike and Mizushima24 reported that Japanese patients reported lower drive for thinness but greater maturity fears compared with a North American sample.
    Alternatively, the increased levels of disordered eating in Native Korean and Korean Immigrant
    women may reflect a conflict between traditional Korean values and increasingly influential Western values. After World War II, Korea underwent rapid changes in its economy, industry, and society. The spread of Western culture and values to other societies has been associated with an increase in rates of eating disorders in those societies.6 Some researchers posit that these disorders represent culture-transition syndromes (rather than culture-bound syndromes) and occur in societies undergoing such rapid cultural change.25 […] However, the lack of association between disordered eating and acculturation scores suggests that elevated EAT-26 scores in Korean immigrant women may be attributable to native influences rather than acculturation stress.

    In addition to native influences that may increase risk of eating disorders within Korean culture, there may be factors in the United States that protect Korean American women. For example, although Korean American women had higher BMIs than Native Koreans, Asian American women tend to have lower BMIs than non-Asian women in the United States.26 Thus, Korean-American women may feel less pressure to be thin compared with their native counterparts in Korea. Indeed, Native Korean women may not be aware of the actual
    average body size of women in the West and may not realize how unrealistic Western body weight and shape ideals are. Differences observed between Korean-Americans and Native Koreans could also be due to the greater awareness of the dangers of eating disorders in the United States. This has important implications for public policy, suggesting that prevention programs and health education in Korea need to address these dangerous and life-
    threatening disorders.
    This study is the first to the authors’ knowledge to test three theories that address patterns of disordered eating in Korean women. While Western influences may contribute to eating pathology in Korea, it is important to examine traditional values that may put these women at risk. Our results have important implications for conceptualizing eating disorders in non-Western cultures. Keel and Klump27 concluded that while bulimia nervosa appears to be a Western-bound syndrome, anorexia nervosa does not. The current study provides further insight into the kinds of non-Western cultural factors that may explain the ubiquity of anorexia nervosa. Our findings also have important clinical implications: clinicians treating non-Western patients with eating disorders should be open to exploring and addressing psychosocial stressors of non-Western origin.


    19. Park IH, Cho LJ. Confucianism and the Korean family. J Comp Fam Stud 1995;26:117–134.
    20. DeBary W, Haboush JHK. The rise of neo-Confucianism in Korea. New York: Columbia University Press; 1985;
    21. Kendall L. Getting married in Korea: of gender, morality and modernity. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press; 1996;
    22. Root MPP. Disordered eating in women of color. Sex Roles 1990;22:525–536.
    23. Lee S. Anorexia nervosa in Hong Kong—a Chinese perspective. Psychol Med 1991;21:703–711.
    24. Pike KM, Mizushima H. The clinical presentation of Japanese women with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa: a study of the Eating Disorders Inventory-2. Int J Eat Disord 2005;37:26–
    25. Becker AE, Keel PK, Anderson-Fye EP, Thomas JJ. Genes and/or jeans? Genetic and socio-cultural contributions to risk for eating disorders. J Addict Dis 2004;23:81–103.
    26. Barnett HL, Keel PK, Conoscenti LM. Body type preferences in Asian and Caucasian college students. Sex Roles 2001;45:867–879.
    27. Keel PK, Klump KL. Are eating disorders culture-bound syndromes? Implications for conceptualizing their etiology. Psychol Bull 2003;129:747–769.


    In France legislators approved a law against Web sites encouraging anorexia and bulimia –
    the aim is at any means of mass communication – magazines, blogs, Web sites – that promote eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia with punishments of up to three years in prison and €45,000, or $71,000 fines
    What would they say to arirang ..but we are not in France.

    Anorexia is much not only just being thin but also an issue of control; Anorexics start to perceive that they had lost control of their lives. So the Ed is like a veiled protest;
    For a woman who always withholds her opinions and suppresses her needs,
    controlling food and her body may feel like the only way to really express herself.
    Furthermore the anorexic state means success, a false sense of achievement;


  19. So you can image what it means for a woman in Korea to have success –
    She must have success, because it`s a norm to work hard etc. for all – either man or woman.
    But on the other hand the thinness or success of being so connotes willpower and indenpendence and so the anorexic underline her emancipation and strength. This view is also regarded as an act of protest against gender expectations in which a woman is using the only weapon at her disposal: her body.

    However it may also be argued, that anorexia is an act of conformity in which the anorexic becomes a non threating, submissive child in order to please the patriarchy.


  20. omy this this the most horrible thing I’ve watched in a long while. there’s so much emphasis on skinny legs in the industry, but in reality most women have “healthy legs.” and thats a good thing! all of the women shown in the video had AMAZING legs. and i personally find sulli to have one of the best pairs of legs in kpop, so i don’t understand how “healthy” is looked down upon. i hope the korean entertainment industry will soon learn to accept that every person has a different size.


  21. sadly this doesn’t just happen in korea, but also in china. I have a chinese friend who has really skinny legs, and she thinks her legs are thick. Honestly i think if her legs became any thinner it would look really scary. I grew up in south america, and we appreciate curvy legs


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