Korean Sociological Image #60: “Beautiful” Female Athletes

Noticed playing on the televisions on the KTX train, on my trip to Seoul on Wednesday.

Granted, technically it’s only one female athlete being described as a “beaut(iful) bird” (미녀새) here. And arguably that – or rather, beautiful soaring bird – is indeed an apt metaphor for any pole vaulter. Let alone Yelena Isinbayeva, “widely considered the greatest female pole-vaulter of all time”.

But still, can you imagine it actually being applied to a male pole vaulter? Or a male athlete of any sport ever, first and foremost, being described as “handsome”?

Definitely a gender binary to keep an eye on as the Daegu 2011 IAAF World Championships approach!

Update 1: Here’s a similar recent example from the US Yahoo! Sports website.

Update 2: @TheSocyCinema and @landrist discuss another example from Adidas.

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


19 thoughts on “Korean Sociological Image #60: “Beautiful” Female Athletes

  1. That one is difficult for me. Appearance in athletics plays a role. If you grow up with it you zoom in in people, you know the muscles, you see if one is training well. You judge people by the shape of the body. Do they practise sports seriously or are they just into body building? Sometimes you can see what kind of sports someone does. High Jump is very different from Long Jump. Handsome, yes, well, I personally wouldn’t prefer a swimmer outlook. An athletics perspective.


  2. Well to be quite honest humanity has always been drawn to beautiful people. Athletes *tend* to be in that category because they’ve had to get rid of all of their body’s “inconsistencies” and “extra baggage”; namely fat, pounds, etc.

    Our hunter-gather ancestors from Africa had, HAD to be fit in order to survive. Running from predators, defending the family/tribe, whatever. So my personal theory is that athletes are simply humans who have push themselves to be the best humans in the way that they know it – through their bodies. And naturally, they will be “beautiful” (very subjective here).

    Our psychology has not changed one bit in millions of years. You see it everyday, celebrities can change their bodies all they want with plastic, surgery, etc., but a truly “beautiful” person has had intense, consistent, AND constant physical activity throughout their lives.


  3. Sorry, but I think you’re missing the point Andrew. I’m not disputing that athletes will have attractive bodies, but it’s female athletes that are far more likely to be described in terms of those bodies and/or their general appearance, whereas male athletes get described in terms of their athletic prowess.


  4. Well, beauty is much more important for women. An ugly man can be attractive but it’s very difficult for an ugly woman to be attractive (well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder). It’s a law of nature that women need beauty to attract men and men need strength to attract women. Why are there so many magazines with naked beautiful women and there are almost none with handsome naked men? Because men and women are different – men like what they see and women like what they hear. A woman can rarely be attracted to man only because of his looks but a man can easily be attracted to a woman just because of her looks. The two sexes are just different and are attracted to different things. We need to accept that.


    1. Hey, I’ll be the first to admit that men and women’s different physiologies and different reproductive roles mean that they will logically find different things attractive. But not only are most of your (implied) self-evident truths actually quite disputable (see here and here for how it’s often in a woman’s best interest to choose a skinny rather than a muscular man to father her children for instance), but, just like Andrew, frankly you seem to be completely missing the point: sports are not beauty pageants, so female athletes shouldn’t constantly be discussed as if they were in one.


      1. It doesn’t matter if a woman is an athlete or anything else. She is still a woman so everyone will be interested to talk about her looks. It’s not the most important thing, yes, but I think it’s the first thing a man notices when he meets a woman is whether she’s beautiful. And men don’t need to be handsome, they need to be strong, that’s why it’s rare that someone mentions a certain man is handsome. Strength doesn’t only mean muscles – it can be something else like money for instance. It’s no secret women like rich men just as men like beautiful women. That’s why a handsome man does not have as much power as a beautiful woman – inn every culture I know people fancy beautiful women so it’s no wonder that it is discussed even when it doesn’t really matter – athletes for example. It’s the same when students discuss how beautiful a teacher is – beauty has nothing to do with teaching skills but everyone talks about the georgeous teacher. A woman’s beauty and physical attractiveness cannot be left unnoticed no matter what the woman does (well, unless she wears a burqa I guess, haha).
        I am a woman btw.


        1. Unless they are meeting over the phone or the internet, the first thing anyone notices about another person is whether they are physically attractive. It’s not like women have blinders on until they evaluate a man’s “strength.”

          You might that it’s the most important thing a man notices about a woman, but even that is totally debatable and varies from person to person.


          1. Of course it varies from person to person – after all there are even men who are not attracted to women.as well ;) But it’s true for most od the people. I’m a 100% straight girl and I still like looking at beautiful women. Women are just designed to be beautiful. And of course the frist thing anyone notices about another person is their looks – it’s just that it’s much more important for a woman to be beautiful than for a man to be handsome – women can be more easily attracted to an ugly man that a man can be attracted to an ungly woman. It can’t be true for everyone of course but it’s true for most of the people.Men love with their eyes and women love with their ears. And as we are all sexual beings this doesn’t apply only when men and women flirt with each other – it is reflected in everything we do even if we don’t realize it.


        2. (James – In reply to Rumi’s comment just above Andi’s)

          Sorry, but I feel that you’re basically just repeating yourself, and again fundamentally misunderstanding the issue here.

          Just because men constantly think about banging their attractive female coworkers for instance, doesn’t mean that, well, their fuckability should ever be discussed in a professional setting, nor their work performance and so on judged on it. Likewise, if a female athlete is attractive, then certainly I’ll immediately think about having sex with her, but that’s just my own internal monologue: there’s a huge difference between that and what can (or rather, should) be said about her in the sporting media. Indeed, if I flipped on a channel looking for women’s high-jumping for instance, because I was genuinely interested in the sport (which an appreciation of the athletes’ attractiveness doesn’t preclude), but the commentator kept talking about how beautiful she was instead of her sporting ability etc., then I’d turn it off. If I wanted that kind of discussion, I’d have gone to an entirely different kind of channel…

          Perhaps if the media did that sort of thing less often, then teachers also would be less likely to judged for things other than their teaching skills.


          1. Well, I think students did this even before there was any media. But maybe I misunderstood – I thought that they just mentioned it once, not constantly talking about it. If that’s the case, I apologize for the misunderstanding. Of course it’s annoying to listen about someone’s beauty when their job has nothing to do with it. It’s normal to discuss it with friends or in a more casual situation, not during a serious sports event…


  5. At first when I read this I saw “beautiful” and ignored the Korean. Which made me think of all the uses of beautiful in men’s sport. There are a lot of descriptions of malesportsmen as beautiful, but 미녀 is definitely about looks, not beauty in a general way. I think that’s underemphasized in your post.


  6. No doubt that the traditional depiction of female athletes has focused more on their physical beauty than that of male athletes. I’d posit that there are a whole variety of reasons for this that are changing or likely to change in the near future. Probably first and foremost is that the audience for sports has traditionally been made up of men. That seems to be changing, and you can see the effect of that shift in several sports (American football is a good example, with media now pushing handsome quarterbacks regularly, see Tom Brady or Mark Sanchez). But obviously advertisers and broadcasters want to pander to the baser instincts of the men who use their products, and do that by pushing the attractiveness of female athletes.

    There’s also the good old boys networks that make up sports journalists and broadcasters. They are slowly being influenced by more and more female colleagues, but in the largely homophobic field of athletics, the simple demographics of the people talking about sports mean that women are going to be complimented on their appearance more than men.

    For what it’s worth, my Korean co-teacher is a huge baseball fan, and the first thing she wanted to tell me about when I talked to her about baseball was who she thought the most handsome/cutest baseball stars on her team were. She pretty much instantly pulled up fan websites of her favorite team’s heartthrob (Kia Tigers, and if I recall he was one of their outfielders, I’m not a fan, so I can’t be more specific). I think that when the market figures out that they are missing an opportunity to market these guys sexuality, we will start to see more balance on this front. She’s already bought his jersey and wears it proudly, and she’s a married professional woman.


  7. You mean, can I imagine watching a(n American) football game in a mixed group, and having the women’s primary comments be about butts? Unfortunately, I don’t have to imagine.


    1. BTW, I realize that you’re mainly talking about the professional media, but you did also mention the issue of choosing when to air one’s internal monologue. To this kind of straight woman, during football: don’t.


  8. Another point I thought later was that I have heard female sportscasters talk about footballers in quite a sexual way, from way back when a) Trevor Sinclair was young, and b) he was apparently “yummy.”
    It’s pretty hard to imagine a male anchor saying similar about a female tennis player (say) and getting away with it.
    Why do adverts point to female beauty and not male beauty? Because the target market is men. Marketing to women just isn’t as cost effective.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s