In Part 4 back in February, I mentioned that Korean women were getting less breast augmentation and more breast reduction procedures than their counterparts in the US and Brazil, despite having a genetic predisposition towards small(er) breasts. Add that North Koreans think busty women are “intentionally and lewdly stressing [their] femininity,” and that Wacoal’s ‘Bra That Makes Big Breasts Look Small’ would probably be just as popular in Korea as in Japan, then I wrote that all signs point to “a big disconnect between ordinary Koreans’ — and even models’ — attitudes to fashion, body image, and sexuality and what you may see on Korean TV.”
As Dr. Roald Maliangkay at the Australian National University points out however, it’s very much the same with men:
….The majority of men appearing on posters and billboards are celebrities. Although the wide use of cosmetic surgery is making men look increasingly similar, they are often associated not merely with a product, but also with a popular drama, and in some cases, a steamy bed or bathroom scene. That is not something the average worker would ever seek to emulate, nor be able to, as the nation’s corporate dress code remains conservative.
See “The bra boys of South Korea” at World News Australia for more, which is mostly about the kkotminam (꽃미남) phenomenon, or here for more on the disproportionate role of celebrity endorsements in the Korean media (source, right: Wonbin Thailand).
Next, in Part 4 I also discussed how official North Korean attitudes to women’s clothing have been changing in response to women increasingly becoming breadwinners, generally becoming more restrictive. For more on this “Female Face of North Korean Capitalism,” see Andrei Lankov’s recent lecture at the Royal Asiatic Society in Seoul:
Third, via Lisa Wade at Sociological Images, here is:
…a great short clip instructing women workers newly employed in industrial factories during World War II on how to do their hair to maximize safety. It assumes both ignorance and vanity on the part of women and speaks to the lack of efficiency caused by efforts to remain attractive on the line.
As I pointed out in — yes, again — Part 4, those assumptions about vanity need to be placed in the context of wartime shortages, when attention to beauty and fashion were viewed as extravagant and unpatriotic. But despite that, women’s anxieties about both were still explicitly encouraged, preyed upon, and/or encouraged by industry, and actually even by the government itself. The ensuing contradictions, double-standards, hypocrisy, and backlash are very similar to what has been occurring in South Korea since the 2000s with women’s rapid entrance into the (part-time) workforce, and make comparisons very useful and compelling.
For more on the backlash in Korea specifically, see “The hate underlying the ‘__ Girl series’ and criticism of women’s organizations” at ILDA (in addition to all the links in previous posts in the series). Finally, for more on the wartime US case, first see “The Impact of War on 1940′s Fashion in the USA” at Glamor Daze for a primer on women’s fashions in the period; then, see Bored Panda for rare color photographs of women working in aircraft manufacturing plants in World War Two, taken by:
“Alfred T. Palmer who worked for the Office of War Information (responsible for promoting patriotism, war news management and women recruitment)” whose photos “had to lure young women into the factories by showing women workers as glamorous and even fashionable.” (My emphasis; see example on right).
Update: also see Kathryn M. Brown’s 2010 MA thesis Patriotic Support: The Girdle Pin-up of World War 2 (it can’t be directly linked sorry—type the title into the searchbar) for more on how malleable and adaptable — and, as explained, ultimately hypocritical and contradictory — the language, prevailing standards for, and attitudes towards beauty and fashion proved to be for the needs of government and industry (see Part 3 for modern Korean and earlier US parallels also).
The Revealing the Korean Body Politic Series:
- Revealing the Korean Body Politic Part 12: If You Don’t Have Kim Yuna’s Vital Statistics, Your Body Sucks and You Will Totally Die Alone
- Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 11: 노출이 강간 유혹?…허튼소리 말라 Wearing Revealing Clothes Leads to Rape? Don’t Be Absurd
- Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 10: “An epic battle between feminism and deep-seated misogyny is under way in South Korea”
- Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 9: To Understand Modern Korean Misogyny, Look to the Modern Girls of the 1930s
- Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 8: The Bare-leg Bars of 1942
- Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 7: Keeping abreast of Korean bodylines
- Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 6: What is the REAL reason for the backlash?
- Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 5: Links
- Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 4: Girls are different from boys
- Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 3: Historical precedents for Korea’s modern beauty myth
- Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 2: Kwak Hyun-hwa (곽현화), Pin-up Grrrls, and The Banality of Sex and Nudity in the Media
- Bikinis, Breasts, and Backlash: Revealing the Korean Body Politic in 2012