Newsflash: Korean Idol NOT Starving Herself!

It’s said that the fashion industry has favored skinnier and skinnier female models over the years because it’s dominated by gay men, right?

But since when are all, or even most gay men attracted to such androgynous figures? In reality, their tastes are just as diverse as heterosexuals’, and you don’t need my own experience of living with gay prostitutes to know that. Or that one’s sexuality doesn’t preclude an aesthetic appreciation of healthy curves either.

On the other hand, it’s also true that there’s a price to be paid for challenging the waiflike norms for models in the fashion industry, the corollary of which would be that it attracts people who share those norms. But how did those norms arise in the first place? And again: why the trend towards thin?

Taking for granted a symbiotic relationship between fashion and consumerism, then a better explanation for both is the constant financial imperative of related cosmetics, clothing, and dieting companies to create false needs in the minds of consumers, all the better to sell new products to them that (supposedly) help them fulfill those needs.


I concede that that may sound simplistic, even conspiratorial. But take the classic Korean example of the “X-line” for instance: a body-shape completely impossible outside of Photoshop, but which creators Amore-Pacific will sell products to help you attain nevertheless, aided by articles like this from the Korea Times that cheerfully reported that the X-line was hugely popular among young Korean women.

Despite the only “evidence” for that coming from Amore-Pacific itself.

Also, the thinner models are, then all the more dieting products and services that are needed to reach their weights. Which is not to say that Korean consumers are any more or less likely to follow anonymous models’ examples than you or I are, but when 65-75 % of Korean advertisements feature celebrities, with a demonstrable influence on media narratives about body ideals, then the potential is certainly there.

(Sources: left, right)

Enter Girls’ Generation, who have 12001500 calorie a day diets despite one member being 9kg underweight, and probably Yuri on the left above too (Brave Girls‘ Seo Ah’s pictures on the right speak for themselves). Or T-ara’s Hyomin being anorexic and weak, yet repeatedly showing off her body to endorse a swimming resort. Or actor Jeong Ryeo-won endorsing Giordano while looking like this. And so on.

Are these women both personification and culmination of the trends mentioned above? It’s certainly tempting to think so (and just between you and me, I do). But it’s also true that while Girl’s Generation, for instance, have indeed endorsed beauty products, even going so far as to prominently display one in a music video, they’ve also endorsed pizzas and fried chicken. So if there is a relationship between those celebrities’ weights and consumerism, in Korea it’s clouded by management companies relying heavily on endorsements – any endorsements – to make profits.

In the meantime, Korean women are already the slimmest in the developed world, to the extent that 1 in 5 are undernourished, and fully half of teenage girls are too anemic and malnourished to donate blood. If you’ll forgive the pun, such exacting standards for women don’t magically appear out of thin air.

Nor are they often challenged, let alone by celebrities themselves.

Which is why it was so exceptional last week for Uee of After School to not only reveal that she was eating enough, but to also pass on the common-sense that:

Many people starve themselves when they are on a diet, but that doesn’t help. You have to eat well in order to lose weight more easily.


Seriously, I’m at a loss to recall anyone else in K-pop making such a, well, revolutionary statement(!), so I’ll certainly forgive her complicity in the objectification of her body by the media (it does go with the job after all). Korean speakers, see roughly 4:30 of this Youtube video to hear her for yourself, or the Dailymotion video if you find that unavailable in Korea for copyright reasons (I’ve saved it for posterity).

And on that note, hopefully you can appreciate why I felt some context was necessary before passing on the news (UEE EATS FOOD! READ ALL ABOUT IT!). But is she indeed the first celebrity to speak out like that? Or can any readers think of any others? By all means, please prove me wrong!

Update 1 – While she’s not quite as well-known, I forgot about the example set by Koyote’s Shin-ji last year (see #7 here).

Update 2 – With thanks to xtristessa for passing it on, R&B singer Hwayobi recently confessed to having suffered from bulimia.

Update 3 – And to Seri, for mentioning Hwang Jung-eum. She’s not exactly my favorite celebrity, as she’s endorsed Sketcher’s completely useless  “Shape-ups”, but I suppose that’s no worse than UEE reveling in the attention given to her “honey thighs”.

Update 4 – YG Entertainment’s exclusive trainer, Hwang Sung Chan, briefly discusses Park Bom’s diet here. While it’s good that he mentions how the media often distorts information about celebrities’ diets, widely reporting that she only ate watermelon rather than a lot of watermelon for instance, unfortunately he doesn’t give any details about what she does eat.

23 thoughts on “Newsflash: Korean Idol NOT Starving Herself!

    1. Okay, changed: I suppose the original text could possibly have been construed as saying I grew up in a family of gay prostitutes. But still, it made a hell of a lot more sense than joking that my mother was “a [gay] prostitute”…


  1. It’s like a parallel universe, where eating adequate food (which they can certainly afford and is available) is EVIL because it makes you ‘fat’. How strange that this goes on in a world where there are many people who can’t afford food which isn’t available…

    Is it any wonder that so many of them collapse and get rushed to hospital? Lack of food combined with heavy workloads is, not surprisingly, bad for them. Love how the management companies obviously aren’t concerned about the health and well being of their charges, as there seems to be regular “star rushed to hospital” events. Why let them do things like work less than 16 hrs a day, and have an occasional holiday when they could be out there making you more $$$. Seems like a recipe for “burn brightly, fade fast” showbiz careers.


    1. Food in and of itself does not make you fat. Your attitude towards your health has more to do with your body shape. Those concerned about their health will not only eat healthy foods, but also it healthily. The main reason one becomes fat is because of overeating (even if the food is healthy food) and a lack of adequate exercise for the food that you eat.


  2. She is absolutely right,

    If you starve your body it will burn less calories since you are not providing enough nutrition and energy. Additionally, it does not burn fat during this time, but instead burns up muscle. If one wants to loose weight, its important to eat an appropriate amount of calories, but the healthy ones, as this will keep your metabolism high .


  3. Forgive me for being kind of slow, but what beauty product is being featured in “Genie”? I was curious and watched the whole video, but didn’t see anything jump out as product placement. (Unless it was the Vicky’s Secret “Pink” shirt Yoona was wearing.)


    1. No problem. It’s the “Meiro Beauty N” soft drink, supposedly good for one’s skin. They were endorsing it at the time.

      There’s a pyramid made of them in the scenes set in a nightclub..


  4. What was the programme that she was makign when she showed her lunch? Did it by any chance involve her dancing around a lot and singing? Because while what she’s eating is clearly healthy food, it doesn’t strike me as a lot or maybe not even necessarily enough either. I would say that someone who has an above normal level of exercise as part of their everyday lifestyle, they’d need a bit more than that, but maybe that’s just me.


  5. Well, try thinking about this from a different perspective. If you agree that fat was considered “beautiful” not because of any aesthetic qualities it had but by the resource access it represented (maybe you don’t), then thinness does the same. As food is no longer a resource that’s difficult for any but the poorest to access, then we must have some other way to physically demonstrate resource access. Looking like you “take care” of yourself is a way of showing easy access to another resource–leisure time, time enough to make your body look as you please or as you want for it to to please others.

    I can’t think of a time or place where muscularity has widely been considered a trait characteristic of females (anyone?), so the alternative then is thinness, as being voluptuous again would show first and foremost access to food, which is no longer a “valuable” resource. And because the vast majority of women have essentially the same bone structure under whatever flesh they’ve got, it’s an easy way to achieve the hourglass that is supposed to represent the zenith of feminine physicality. Following this logic, it’s easy to see how thin became and has remained so “in” in most developed nations. The thin ideal, at least among the aristocratic/upper class didn’t dawn with the invention of mass media. I think it’s worth noting that a pinched waist has been fashionable in the west for centuries, although this obviously brings up issues of cultural imperialism that may be particularly relevant to South Korea.

    I have to say that I’ve always thought that was a conceivable reason for requiring models to be as thin as they are now. People gain weight in different places, and tailoring each piece of clothing to optimally fit women with different body shapes is expensive; essentially, thinness is an efficiency measure in the fashion industry. A bit cruel, but it is what it is, and from what I’ve heard, it’s just considered by many models to be part of the job.


    1. “, so the alternative then is thinness, as being voluptuous again would show first and foremost access to food, which is no longer a “valuable” resource. And because the vast majority of women have essentially the same bone structure under whatever flesh they’ve got, it’s an easy way to achieve the hourglass that is supposed to represent the zenith of feminine physicality.”

      Neither assumption is true. Women of similar ancestries and even within the same family can have different bone structures. Hip width in particular can vary. Moreover, the accumulation or loss of fat may either accentuate or reduce the appearance of an hourglass shape, depending on the body’s fat placement pattern. Some fat is necessary on the top and bottom halves to achieve an hourglass figure.


      1. No fat is necessary. Given the lack of actual bone around the midsection, a person who is thin enough will have a roughly, if subtley, hourglass’d shape by virtue of there being nothing to make the midsection even width or extend beyond the bust or hips. I say this being myself, even as a male, thin enough (and possessing a dearth of muscle development) to have a middle section which is narrower than either my hips or shoulders; given the additional width naturally occuring in the average woman’s hips relative to a man’s, the effect is more exaggerated. As to varying bone structures, I never said they were identical, just similar. Again, it’s not the point of having identical shape or bone structure, it’s essentially ensuring that the only difference that must be dealt with is differences in bone structure.

        I’m not arguing that modelling agencies aren’t selective, but the standards do establish a particularly-shaped population of women to pull from, and from these measurements it’s clear that economic efficiency entered the picture at some point. A more interesting point (though as is often said here, correllation is not causation) is that models have become thinner, they’ve become more diverse.


  6. it took me a while, but I found your site via a german site ^^
    Really love your critical but factual but also humorous writing and all the interesting post about south korea’s culture. Still can’ completely believe that a man would be that interested in asian pop culture *sorry for the prejudice ^^;;* but it shouldn’t be suprising. Most journalist seem to be male. ^^

    anyway, I’m learning a lot from reading your posts and it’s great for my writing work about asian pop culture. ^^

    greetings from Germany!


  7. After the recent revelation of SISTAR’s Soyu, it’s a relief to refer back to this and know there’s someone out there who is relying sensibility on young girls. (Soyu’s company refered to her as chubby after revealing she lost 8KG for SISTAR’s comeback this month. This is a before picture: and


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