One Size Fits All in South Korea, As Long as That Size Is Small

body parts psychologist couch(“Une illustration pour cet article sur le site d’Urbania.” Source: Pierre-Nicolas Riou, via

Sorry for the slow posting everyone: exploring some interesting side-possibilities revealed after embarking on last month’s project, I tumbled headlong into an aegyo-filled labyrinth, from which I’ve only just emerged. (Also, I’ve been grading.) Rather than present the treasures I’ve discovered now though, when everyone’s busy with Christmas and New Year’s, let me round off the year with some shorter posts instead.

This first is a link to Maxine Builder’s article of the above title at Racked, which I was interviewed for. It’s a good read, and quite thorough. So, assuming you’ve read it, I’ll just elaborate on my own comments:

According to James Turnbull…”There are almost no average-sized female K-pop stars.” This matters when these idols’ images are plastered on every TV screen and billboard. Turnbull estimates that approximately half to three-quarters of all advertisements are celebrity endorsements.

“Time and time again, I see opportunities for Korean entertainment companies to take some plus-size woman… or just someone different, and celebrate their difference. But they just don’t do it,” said Turnbull — because that skinny, sexy look sells. “It doesn’t give them any incentive to take that risk, and that’s why we get the same again and again.”

Frankly, I was worried that my comment about no average-sized female K-pop stars might have been a bit of an overgeneralization, and/or revealed that I’m out of touch with new groups. But if Omona commenters didn’t call me out on that, then I guess it still holds true. (Yay?)

Amber Sulli(Source: Pinterest)

As for not celebrating difference, I was mostly thinking of the Piggy Dolls debacle, and S.M. Entertainment’s and advertisers’ overuse of the very young, very thin Sulli—despite f(x) also including Amber, just about the only “tomboyish,” non-thin, and frequently mistaken as lesbian woman in K-pop, who appeals to many demographics otherwise completely ignored. Although I haven’t really followed the group in a while (partially because of that, partially because of poor Luna’s dramatic, ongoing weight loss and excessive cosmetic surgery), I’ve always been struck by the waste, and would be happy to hear she’s finally been receiving more endorsements and greater attention now that Sulli has left.

And/or, of any other entertainment companies that are diversifying their groups’ make-ups, however tentatively. One I do know of is DR Music, who added half-Caucasian, half-Black Alexandra from the US to Rania last month. Does anyone know of any more?

6 thoughts on “One Size Fits All in South Korea, As Long as That Size Is Small

  1. On the subject of diversifying groups, there’s Somi (Ennik Douma), whose father is Canadian. She was a contestant on JYP’s survival show Sixteen but didn’t get selected for Twice, although she was popular with the audience. Now she’s popped up again as a contestant on the mega-survival show Produce 101. She’s also done a few acting roles, including a part in Ode to My Father.


    1. Thanks, I’ll have to check her out.

      Related, honestly I’ve never watched any Korean survival or reality-based music shows, although I know they’ve been great for challenging the big three’s stranglehold on popular Korean music. Would Sixteen and/or Produce 101 be a good place for me to start, or would you recommend something else?


      1. I’ve never watched any of those shows either, sorry. I just know what I’ve read online. Somi certainly has a vigorous international following, but I’ve no idea about her popularity in Korea.


      1. Thanks again. By coincidence I just heard of Cosmic Girls for the first time today, and was surprised to learn in one of your links that they had 12 members, which seems a big jump in size for a K-pop group (were/are 9Muses and SNSD the biggest?).

        Also in one of your links, the style of some of her pictures looked familiar, and sure enough the photographer turned out to be Rotta. So far, I’ve found all the controversy about his photos a little hypocritical and strange, as they’re not particularly provocative by K-pop standards, of course ajosshi/samcheon fandom is based on unspoken Lolita themes, and on top of all that all the models of Rotta’s I’ve seen were adults. Photographing minors though, naturally I do have some misgivings about, as although Cheng Xiao’s own photos don’t seem objectionable (there’s only 2 or 3?), you do have to wonder if she or anyone else is ever in a position to refuse S. M. Entertainment’s plans for their photoshoots, which may well sex-up once she turns 18.

        But whatever the morals of that though, I guess from a marketing perspective it’s pretty savvy to court controversy by posting older-teens like that, for both Rotta and his subjects. (But, contradicting myself, again not that new really, given all the photos of So-hee and Sulli and so on from when they were 15. So again, what was with all the attention on Rotta photographing adults? Just too blatant about the Lolita themes maybe?)

        p.s. Thanks for reading all that!


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