Researchers Announce Beauty Ideals Based on 3D Photos of Miss Korea and Miss Paraguay Contestants—Get Repeated Uncritically by Korean Media

3D facial photography is a promising new approach for researching beauty ideals, but studies based on beauty pageant contestants alone should not be presumed to speak for entire populations.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes. Photo (cropped) by JC Gellidon on Unsplash

Last week saw a textbook case of how not to report about beauty ideals.

The catalyst was a press release by the Catholic University of Korea (CUK). Widely copied and pasted across the Korean media, the title of the sole English translation was “S. Koreans Prefer Women with ‘Oval Face, Wide Forehead, and Small Lips’.”

The problem is, they don’t, necessarily.

Rather, what should have been reported was that a joint Saudi, US, Paraguayan, and Korean Dentistry and Orthodontics research team, including one professor from CUK, had announced they’d discovered commonalities in the facial differences between Miss Korea 2012 and Miss Paraguay 2013 contestants.

Then, when the announcement went straight to the researchers’ conclusions, as in this article from Yonhap

연구팀은 미스코리아 54명과 미스파라과이 34명을 대상으로 3D 카메라로 얼굴 정면과 측면을 특수 촬영해 길이 및 각도를 측정했다. 측정값을 기준으로 인종에 따른 심미성 차이를 평가하고, 두 결과를 서양인의 대표적인 황금비(golden ratio)와 비교했다.

The research team measured various lengths and angles of the faces of 54 Miss Korea and 34 Miss Paraguay contestants by using special photographs of the fronts and sides of their faces using a 3D camera. The differences in racial beauty standards were determined based on the differences in the measured values between the two groups, and each groups’ results were also compared with the golden ratio, [a representative ideal of facial beauty for Westerners].

Source: Biz Khan.

그 결과 한국인은 전반적으로 갸름한 얼굴형과 넓은 이마, 작은 입술을 선호했지만 파라과이인은 약간 각진 얼굴에 큰 입술을 선호하는 것으로 나타났다. 두 국가가 선호하는 얼굴은 서양에서 이상적인 비율로 판단되는 황금비와도 차이가 있었다.

As a result, it was found that Koreans generally preferred a slim face shape, wide forehead, and small lips [left], but Paraguayans preferred large lips with slightly angular faces [right]. The faces preferred by the two countries were also different from the golden ratio.

…Reporters should have inquired on what grounds researchers made wide, sweeping pronouncements about the entire Korean and Paraguayan populations’ beauty ideals, considering their study was just on a handful of beauty pageant contestants. Either by simply asking, or reading the study for themselves.

I realize to have expected either was incredibly naive. Quick content and clickbait titles are key these days, both of which are all the more effective if they confirm readers’ stereotypes. Plus, in fairness, the academic English of the study would have been beyond most Korean reporters.

They could at least have linked to it though. Some reporters provided no identifying details about it whatsoever.

So, I sought it out and read it myself.

Photo by Nicola Fioravanti on Unsplash

That study was “Comparison of facial esthetic standards between Latin American and Asian populations using 3D stereophotogrammetric analysis” in the Journal of the World Federation of Orthodontists, Volume 9, Issue 3, 2020, Pages 129-136, by Mohamed Bayome, Jae Hyun Park, Ahmed M. Shoaib, Nam-ki Lee, Victor Boettner, and Yoon-Ah Kook (please contact me if you can’t get access to any of the studies I mention here). Further adding to the likelihood that no reporters actually read it, last week’s articles included either a picture of CUK Department of Orthodontics Professor Yoon-Ah Kook and/or the earlier graphic supplied by the university (note the watermark), neither of which were in the study.

In short, the researchers make—justify—their mental leap on their argument that beauty pageant judges are objective and representative (p. 130):

“These beauty contestants reached the final stages of the contests based on selections made by the competition panels consisting of media figures, artists and producers, famous plastic surgeons and orthodontists, as well as other community influencers. This means that their opinion plays a principal role in forming the general public opinion.”

Indeed, writing in the Korea Time about the 2019 Korea pageant, Lee Han-na mentions that the “judging panel consisted of experts in the areas of fashion, music and entertainment, joined by actresses and former Miss Koreas.” Which I don’t deny sounds diverse, nor that, say, cosmetic surgeons in particular play a huge role in shaping general public opinion in Korea.

That such groups may be bringing their own subjective preconceptions, worldviews, and agendas to any discussion of beauty however—let alone the six Dentistry and Orthodontics professors involved in this study—seems not to have occurred to them.

Moreover, in the Korean case in particular, beauty pageant judges’ role as gatekeepers is further undermined by the public’s utter disinterest in the event, as well as by ironically choosing a 2018 winner who was far too “fat” for many Korean netizens’ standards. Also, to counter charges of objectification and lookism, contestants’ academic backgrounds, personalities, and performing abilities have been given much more prominence in judging since the early-2000s.

I’ve only been able to find one reporter, Go Jae-won at Donga Science, who suggests that the researchers’ conclusions shouldn’t be taken for granted. To say that journalists were not doing their job here is an understatement:

이번 연구는 미스코리아는 2012년 참가자들의 얼굴을 대상으로 미스파라과이는 2013년도 참가자들을 대상으로 분석이 진행됐다는 점에서 최근 참가자들의 트렌드를 반영하고 있지는 않다는 한계가 있다. 또 미스코리아 참가자들이 한국인들의 평균적인 미적 기준을 반영하고 있다는 근거도 부족하다는 지적도 있다.

By analyzing 2012 Miss Korea and 2013 Miss Paraguay participants, the study has limitations in reflecting recent trends. In addition, some point out that there is a lack of evidence that Miss Korea participants reflect the average aesthetic standards of Koreans.

Another issue was the researchers’ liberal use of overgeneralizing terms such as “Westerners,” which are particularly useless and misleading when talking about beauty preferences and racial differences. So too, was perpetuating the myth that the “golden ratio” is a signifier of beauty, for which there is actually inconclusive evidence at best that it plays any role in attractiveness whatsoever. To be sure, technically they acknowledged that lack, which their study further confirmed, but—jumping ahead—they and/or CUK should have anticipated the ensuing “Westerners just loooove the golden ratio in their women” style of reporting.

Photo by Evelyn Chong from Pexels

But given that the other, explicit aim of the study was “to compare the facial esthetic standards between Paraguayan and Korean beauty pageant contestants,” that was clearly too much to ask. For they were no less careful to restrict their conclusions to only beauty pageant contestants than any tabloid news reporter. For instance, consider the loose generalizations from the introduction (p. 129-130, my emphases):

Attractive Asians are characterized by longer faces than the general population and with less height of lower lip and chin and smaller volumes of chin and cheek. On the other hand, attractive Latin Americans are distinguished by less nasal prominence, large nasolabial angle, less protrusive lips, and less prominence of the chin.

And from the conclusion (p. 136, my emphases):

“From our results, it may be claimed that most Latin American individuals, in general, prefer rectangular faces with wide mouths and large lips, especially the lower lips, whereas in general, most Asian individuals prefer long tapered faces with small mouths and lips [see below]. Even though it might be well-known that the Misses are not selected solely based on their faces, as these contests include various measures, it is quite unlikely to have a qualified finalist who did not have a beautiful face.”

In between those six pages, many various nationalities and racial groups are mentioned, but none are defined. Are Paraguayans included among the Westerners they mention? The Caucasians? It’s all very confusing, and particularly irresponsible for an academic journal article.

Photo by Ike louie Natividad from Pexels

This is a shame, for I believe 3D facial photography is a promising new approach into researching beauty ideals, and have no reason nor inclination to dispute the results of this study. Indeed, I’m now overwhelmed by all the intriguing “related articles” to pursue. But the researchers’ conclusions in this one? Peruse the sources used, and conspicuous for their absence are any from sociology, gender, or media studies. Had there been some input from those fields, perhaps the researchers would have been more rigorous with their definitions. In turn, they may have been more restrained in their beliefs that beauty pageant judges were objective and representative, upon which their conclusions rest. And more circumspect in going to the media with them.

These flaws are also evident in a similar study by different researchers published just a few months earlier in The Journal of Cranofacial Surgery (Volume 31, Number 3, May/June 2020. (Which, because of reporters’ unprofessionalism/laziness/crushing deadlines, for a long time I thought was the one actuallybeing referred to.) In that study of 44 Miss Korea and 22 Miss Paraguay contestants (competition years not given), the researchers were ironically much more forthright about the difficulties of determining racial beauty ideals. Yet ultimately, they ended up even more convinced that the beauty pageant contestants possessed objectively-determined, universal-shared racial beauty ideals, a conclusion perhaps facilitated by the cheat of simply referring to Koreans and Paraguayans as “Asian” and “Western” throughout.

Yet it was three of the same researchers behind the first study who already demonstrated the potential of 3D facial photography in an article published in the March 2017 Korean Journal of Orthodontics (47(2):87-99). Specifically, the faces of 52 Miss Korea 2012 contestants and 41 young adult female students of a nursing school at Wonkwang Health Science University were compared, and no overarching conclusions extending to entire Korean population were made.

What they did say? Again, please let me know if you can’t get access, and we could discuss the differences between the groups in the comments, or make them the subjects of another post. Either way, let me be forthright with my own biases from the beginning. Isn’t it uncanny how page 95’s “proportional diagram of the average face from the Miss Korea group (A) and another from the general population group (B)” instantly reminds you a young and middle-aged Jang Yoon-ju? Or is it just me?

With apologies in advance for the unflattering picture, please let me know in the comments!

Sources (cropped): dlscks98, YouTube.

Related Posts:

Busting the Myth of Jeju Island’s Topless Divers

Free The Nipple in Korea? Why Not? Uncovering the history of a taboo

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 7: Keeping abreast of Korean bodylines

Those Damned Double Eyelids…

Korean Sociological Image #49: Lee Hyori has an Asian Bottom?

Why We Need to Stop Talking about “Asian” and “Western” Women’s Bodies—The Series:

Part 1

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

“Lingerie Advertisements Deflect the Danger of Homoeroticism by Using Models with Averted Eyes.” Huh?

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes. Source, left (edited): Emm’s Vintage Lingerie (CC BY 2.0). Source, right (edited): Moose Photos from Pexels.

I’m a big fan of Jill Fields’ 2007 book, An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie, and Sexuality. It’s where I first learned of the corset industry’s creation of new body types for women to conform to in the 1910s to 1930s, presaging the Korean media, beauty, and fashion industries’ creation of “S-lines,” “V-lines,” and so on in the 2000s. But I’ve always been skeptical of this common feature of lingerie advertisements she alleges, and especially her explanation for it (page 16):

And in that Chapter 5 (p. 211):

What models do with their eyes is important. When they return your gaze, they seem to own the room. Whereas if they don’t seem to be paying attention to anything in particular, or if they’re depicted without their faces at all, the temptation to dismiss them as people and focus only on their bodies is all the greater.

It can also be a mechanism by which advertisers perpetuate stereotypes of different sexes and races. Take what Kyoungtae Nam, Guiohk Lee, and Jang-Sun Hwang discovered from their survey of Korean girls’ magazines in 2011 for instance (p. 234):

“Gender Stereotypes Depicted by Western and Korean Advertising Models in Korean Adolescent Girls’ Magazines”, Sex Roles (2011), 64: 223.

No-one’s saying models staring into space is bad in itself. Nor can advertisers of fashion and beauty-related products really be faulted for wanting to focus attention on the products, or on their alleged effects on the consumer. But if you know anything at all about advertising and gender, you’ll know that regardless of what’s being advertised, women tend to be depicted much more passively than men. And herein lies the first of two fatal flaws in Fields’ argument. For she bases her conclusions on no more than (fn. 70) an unspecified “survey of ads” in various magazines and catalogues from the 1900s to 1960s, although she also asserts that “[c]urrent issues of the Los Angeles Times provide almost daily evidence of the continuing importance of these evasive postures in ads.” Or in other words, she provides no evidence whatsoever that the tactics she describes “to dispel the homoerotic impulse” are any more prevalent in lingerie ads than in other kinds of ads, whatever period she’s talking about. And sure enough, those same tactics can quickly be found in other ads just through, say, a simple walk down the average city street. Here’s some with “women alone, turned away from the viewer” and/or averted eyes in Korean soju ads for instance:

I’ve often wondered what on Earth is Jang Yun-jeong looking at exactly…

In 2010, I discussed those and many others using Erving Goffman’s Gender Advertisements framework. Specifically, those particular ads are illustrations of one aspect of the “Licensed Withdrawal” category, as described by Images of Women in Advertising:

[One] way in which women are disempowered is by displaying them as withdrawn from active participation in the social scene and therefore dependent on others. This involvement with some inner emotional processing, whether anxiety, ecstasy or introspection, can be symbolized by turning the face away, looking dreamy and introverted, or by covering the face, particularly the mouth, with the hands….

….Rather than being portrayed as active, powerful and in charge, females are commonly shown in this licensed withdrawal mode, removed into internal involvements, overcome with emotions, or symbolically silenced with hand over the mouth….

….In another variation, females are frequently shown withdrawn inwards into some dreamy introverted state; they pose, become things for others to gaze at and desire. Males will stereotypically be shown active, engaged, and in charge of the situation. They are not so much objects for others’ to gaze at, as actors with occupations and professions….

The point being, although no motivation for these depictions is explicitly mentioned here, advertisers wanting to avoid provoking homoeroticism seems a rather unlikely one—the second flaw of Fields’ argument. Because are lingerie advertisements really so salacious, and really so sexually transgressive, that homophobia needs to be invoked to explain the depictions commonly found therein? Are they really so different to all other kinds of ads, that explanations for the depictions of women in those ads wouldn’t also apply?

I know—boobs. Maybe there is something to them that prevents (male-dominated) advertising teams and advertising standards authorities from thinking rationally. I’m not dismissing any special considerations they have for lingerie ads out of hand, and indeed Fields provides a wealth of examples of precisely those, albeit with expressions of their worries about evoking homoeroticism notable only for their absence. But she hardly persuades in addressing those alternative explanations for lingerie ads’ typical features by deliberately ignoring them. And I do mean deliberately, for in fact she does mention Goffman earlier (p. 210):

And by all means, these are things, well covered in Gender Advertisements (see my earlier post for examples from soju advertisements). But to have read the book and demonstrated that she’s taken note of those various categories of its framework, only to fail to mention that one of its largest categories—Licensed Withdrawal—already well accounts for her claims about lingerie advertisements? She doesn’t have to agree with it, but she does have to acknowledge and respond to it. Otherwise, her shoehorning of an alternative explanation evoking homophobia seems very disingenuous.

Sources: Emm’s Vintage Lingerie, left, right (CC BY 2.0).

In fact, the foundations of the whole chapter may be equally tenuous. Its title, “The Invisible Woman: Intimate Apparel Advertising” refers to the tendency of early-20th Century lingerie advertisers to show only parts of women or not at all. But reviewer Jane Ferrell-Beck argues there was actually a very practical reason for this:

And reviewer Kristina Haugland goes further, arguing that “the author’s interpretation of the material is a serious concern” of the book as a whole. She cites no examples from Chapter 5 though, so let me just leave you with her conclusion:

Words to live by as a colleague, our student assistants, and I wearily plod through our own survey of Korean women’s magazines advertisements this summer, of which this post is admittedly but an extended version of one of its footnotes. Thanks for reading it!

Related Posts:

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

(Review) Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams (2013)

Judy Garland & Lana Turner, Breasts Florence Williams(Source, left: Bombshell Bettie. Source right: unknown)

Many years ago, I was perusing the “Last Word” section of a New Scientist magazine, where readers submit and answer each others’ science questions. If memory serves, that week the questions were about why men are soooo attracted to breasts, and why human females’ are disproportionately large compared to other primates’. Much commentary ensued, in hindsight entirely by men. (And, entirely British men at that—but that’s a subject for another review.) Then, someone who actually had breasts stepped in, and said something along the lines of:

 “It occurs to me that few of the previous commenters have ever suckled a baby. If they had, they’d realize how important the shape is to prevent babies from suffocating while nursing.”

All of a sudden, I realized that much—probably most—of what I’d ever read about the evolution of breasts had been written by men, centered around sexual selection and the all-important male gaze. This lack of women’s voices meant I’d missed out on many obvious observations and insights, which strongly challenged theories I’d long taken for granted.

Much the same experience can be had from the first chapter of Breasts, greatly aided by Florence Williams’ similar, no-nonsense style of writing. For instance, from pages 22-23:

…there are problems with making sweeping statements about evolution based on studies about male behavior in pubs. For one thing, I am still hung up on the nubility hypothesis, which might as well be called the sag hypothesis [that age, gravity, and successive pregnancies take their toll on breasts, signalling to other men that younger women with perkier breasts might be more suitable mates]. But speaking from personal experience, I can report my breasts actually got bigger and fuller after pregnancy. I really can’t say they are sagging, not yet anyway. I am well past the age of what anthropologists call “peak reproductive value.” Does a man really need breasts to tell him a women is getting on in years? Aren’t there more obvious signs that don’t require awkward social glances? And as anyone who’s been to a public shower or springtime college campus can tell you, there is an enormous, and I mean enormous, variety of breast sizes out there. I’m talking 300 to 500 percent differences in volume, and these are in women of roughly the same age. What other body part is so variable, I ask? If breasts were such important communicators, wouldn’t they be more on the same page?

Further complicating the picture, there is also great variety in men’s tastes. [A male scientist interviewed] conceded that male preferences aren’t as universal as he’d hoped…

Nor does she simply critique such theories, but discusses several other equally plausible ones centered around health, fat deposition, and suckling babies. Indeed, “With breasts,” one anthropologist she interviews concludes, “men are just loading culturally a set of symbolizations onto something that really evolved for more direct reasons. We’ve got to be more scientific about it.” That’s a refreshing new perspective, and much-needed imperative, given all the misinformation about breasts out there.

Yet she overcompensates I think, in ending that chapter by rejecting the combined, complimentary roles of natural and sexual selection. Instead, she goes to the opposite extreme, completely dismissing the (literally snowballing) role of breasts’ sexual attraction to men in their greater and greater size over time (pages 34-35):

What if instead of men selecting breasts, the breasts selected the men? It’s possible that…Early Man loved lots of different specimens of Early Woman, some with no breasts, some with small breasts, some with hairy breasts, whatever. Man, for all we know, is sometimes not that picky. Then, for the [physiological] reasons described earlier…the women with the enlarged breasts and their infants gradually outlasted the others…

Consequently, the people who could talk and sing and have the biggest, best-fed brains were the ones born of women with breasts. It makes perfect sense that we would grow up to appreciate and enjoy breasts, eventually putting pictures of them in eye-trackers machines in universities.

Perhaps, all along, the breasts were calling the shots.

It’s just an off-the-cuff conclusion really, but it reminded me that with a breezy, persuasive writing style, tends to come arguments and examples that are often much more debatable than authors make them appear. It also felt alienating, because here she seems less concerned about scientific plausibility than in playing to her likely overwhelmingly female audience, justifiably sick of men lecturing to them about breasts.

To understand what I mean, imagine, say, a male author dismissing women’s preferences for tall men as having had no influence on humans getting taller over time. Rather, tall men just happened to do better in the competition for mates because of physically defeating shorter, weaker rivals for sexual access to passively awaiting women.

As for women’s own sexual preferences, and what they had to say about who they had children with? Or how those sexual preferences arose in the first place? Pfft.

Maybe I’m just making mountains out of molehills. But it helped me realize her book is only a starting point really.

On a first reading though, you’ll be much too busy enjoying it to care.

First, because of the wide variety of topics she covers. I’ve only concentrated on the first chapter here, because of the strong impression it left on me. But, if curves don’t do it for you personally, there’s 13 more topics on various aspects of breasts which may have have a similar impact on you, such as changes during pregnancy, feeding, development in puberty, toxins, cancer, and so on.

Those strongly reflect Williams’ background as a science journalist, so readers hoping for in-depth discussions about fashion, lingerie, and/or cultural attitudes may be disappointed to encounter mentions only in passing (albeit frequent mentions). But I’d still encourage them to buy the book. Because these are breasts we’re talking about. Whatever your sex or sexuality, you do have an interest in and/or some opinion about them, in which case there will be something—probably many things—in this book in for you. (I have so many post-its in my The best moments in reading -- Alan Bennettown copy, it looks like I read it during a ticker-tape parade.)

Also, because however science-focused, it’s so humorous that you won’t want to put it down. For instance, take how she describes undergoing an examination in a cosmetic surgery clinic, to better understand what it’s like for patients (page 60):

The robe came off, and [the surgeon] pulled out a small tape measure, He measured me from collarbone to nipple, from nipple to under-breast fold, and from nipple to nipple, calling out numbers to [the assistant]. He took a step back and mashed my breasts together with his hands, then squeezed each one like a club sandwich. I felt like I was awaiting the word of St. Peter. I was secretly hoping one of the world’s foremost experts on flawed breasts would be so vexed by my nice, very normal breasts that he’d tell me he had nothing to offer.

That also stood out for me because while reading the first sentence, I had a feeling that if I had breasts, I’d like to walk into a cosmetic surgery and be told that mine were different, better somehow. Maybe even exceptional.

Then with the last sentence, Florence Williams literally spoke my mind.

As well as being funny, it gave me a simultaneously eerie and warmly empathetic feeling. One which I hope I’ve sometimes given my own readers in my own writing.

Or, if not, that’s something to aspire to. Helped along, by also providing much more readable—i.e., shorter—and relevant posts for you in 2016. Starting with reviewing only the books I think TGN readers would be interested in, instead of every book I read.

Any thoughts or questions on Breasts? How about on breasts in general? Anything you’ve been meaning to get off your chest? Please let me know in the comments.

Next Review: Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club, by Anne Allison (1994).

Related Posts:

The Skinny on the Thigh Gap

Mannequins with jeans(Source: Lion Hirth @Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0)

My latest article for Busan Haps, on (mostly) US teenage girls’ latest body image obsession, and why, to my great dismay, they themselves prove to be largely responsible for its success. Researching it taught me a lot about how people negotiate the messages about body image perpetuated by the media — read: never assume any groups are simply passive consumers — and how crucial it is to examine the role of social media to understand body image in 2015.

Also, I mention that, in December, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority forced Urban Outfitters to remove a photo of a model with a thigh gap; since writing, France’s Parliament has also moved to make it a crime to use models below a certain BMI. I’m still not convinced that demonizing one body type (or part) is necessarily the answer though.

What do you think? Please let me know in the comments, either here or in the article.

Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 8: The Bare-Leg Bars of 1942

Liquid stockings nylon world war two(Source, above and below: Rare Historical Photos)

Back in the early-1940s, newly-invented nylon stockings were the must-have fashion item in the US. But supply could never meet up with demand, with 4 million pairs once selling in just 4 days.

Then the US entered the war, and all the nylon available was suddenly needed for parachutes, ropes, and bomber tires. Dupont, the sole manufacturer, retooled all its stocking machines.

Still desperate for the look though, women improvised with ‘liquid stockings’ instead, using foundation, black eyeliner, and eyebrow pencils to draw them on their legs. Stores soon began catering to the demand, adding more sophisticated lotions, creams, and sprays. Specialist ‘bare-leg bars’ followed.

So I read via this great book when I was 15, (although unfortunately that panel didn’t get scanned for the online version), and I’d like to pretend that I was taken aback by the lengths some would go to the sake of vanity, and precocious enough to realize that people were no different in 1991. In reality though, I simply thought that the women were crazy (hey, I was 15!), and didn’t understand how anyone could have been fooled by such a poor substitute.

More likely, women ‘wore’ them because liquid stockings became a pseudo-fashion in their own right—or at least until nylons became liquid stockingsavailable again (sparking the ‘nylon riots‘ of 1945). Either way, they’re another good example of the genuine concerns women had about maintaining a feminine appearance when they started working in factories in World War Two, as well as their cheap solutions (although this particular one would have been used off the factory floor). I’m glad to finally have a name for them, and a wealth of photographs to use in my presentations :D

Anybody know of any similar shortages and improvisations by women (or men!) in Korean fashion history though, which may resonate more with Korean audiences? Thanks!

The Revealing the Korean Body Politic Series:

Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 7: Keeping abreast of Korean bodylines

Park Shin-hye and Doll Source, edited

Yes, I know. Korean bodylines again. Surely, I really do have some kind of fetishistic obsession with them, as my trolls have long maintained.

Perhaps. Mainly, it’s because I’ve been very busy giving this presentation about them at Korean universities these past two months. Even, I’m very happy to report, getting invited back to some, and finally—squee!—making a small profit too. S-lines, I guess, are now very much my thing.

Instead of feeling top of my game though, frankly I’m wracked by self-doubt. I constantly worry about coming across a real fashion-history expert in the audience, who will quickly reveal me to be the rank amateur I really am.

skeletor bullshitSource: Heal Yourself, Skeletor

So, to forestall that day for as long as possible, here is the first of many posts this summer correcting mistakes in my presentation I’ve found, and/or adding new things I’ve learned. But first, because it’s actually been over a year since I last wrote on this topic, let me remind you of the gist:

1) Korea’s “alphabetization” (bodylines) craze of the mid-2000s has strong parallels in the rationalization of the corset industry in Western countries in the 1910s to 1940s.

2) Fashion and—supposedly immutable and timeless—beauty ideals for women change rapidly when women suddenly enter the workforce in large numbers, and/or increasingly compete with men. World War Two and the 1970s-80s are examples of both in Western countries; 2002 to today, an example of the latter in Korea.

3) With the exception of World War Two though, when the reasons for the changes were explicit, correlation doesn’t imply causation. Noting that bodylines happened to appear during a time of rapid economic change in Korea does not explain why they came about.

Maybe, simply because there’s nothing more to explain, and we should be wary of assuming some vast patriarchal conspiracy to fill the gap, and/or projecting the arguments of Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth (1990) and Susan Faludi’s Backlash (1991) to Korea. Indeed, arguably it’s mostly increased competition since the Asian Financial Crisis that has profoundly affected the demands on job-seekers’ appearances, of both sexes. Also, the financial demands of the K-pop industry go a long way towards explaining the increased sexual objectification in the media in the past decade.

Which brings me to today’s look at the evolving meaning of “glamour” in American English, which I use to illustrate the speed of those changes in World War Two:

Slide76Slide77Slide78Slide79Slide80Slide81Slide82Slide83Slide84These are necessary generalizations of course, whereas the reality was that contradictory and competing trends coexisted simultaneously, which you can read about in much greater depth back in Part 4. But this next slide was just plain wrong:Slide85With that slide, I went on to give a few more examples to demonstrate how glamour, then meaning large breasts, soon came to mean just about anything. But then I read Glamour: Women, History, Feminism by Carol Dyhouse (2010), and discovered that the word has always been very vague and malleable (albeit still always meaning bewitching and alluring). Moreover, to my surprise, “breasts”—the first thing I look for in new books these days—weren’t even mentioned in the index. Nor for that matter, “glamour” in Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams (2013) either. Given everything I’ve said and written about them, I feel they deserved more attention that that (although Dyhouse does cover them in the chapter “Princesses, Tarts, and Cheesecake” somewhat), but certainly there was only ever a strong association with glamour at best. Also, my timing was wrong, for that association began as early as the late-1920s, and didn’t peak until after the war. (See the introduction or from page 134 of the dissertation Hollywood Glamour: Sex, Power, and Photography, 1925–1939, by Liz Willis-Tropea, 2008.)

For instance, take this excerpt from Uplift: The Bra in America by Jane Farrell-Beck and Colleen Gau (2002, page 103; my emphasis):

The War Production Board severely restricted the use of chromium-plated wire for civilian-use products. Brassiere manufacturers improved fasteners, but renounced wiring. Besides, glamour was not what brassieres were about in 1941-45. Posture, health, fitness, and readiness for action constituted the only acceptable raisons d’être for undergarments-at-war, dubbed “Dutiful Brassieres” by the H & W Company.

Indeed, it turns out those lingerie ads in one of my slides come from 1948 and 1949 respectively (and I’ve no idea what that girdle ad was doing there!). And here’s another excerpt, from The Home Front and Beyond: American Women in the 1940s by Susan M. Hartmann (1983, page 198; my emphasis):

Women adapted their appearance to the wartime look, which deemphasized physical differences between the sexes, but they did not completely abandon adornments symbolizing femininity. While some adjusted to the disappearance of silk and nylon by going barelegged, others used leg makeup and some even painted on a seam line. Women emphasized their lips by favoring dark colors. The focus on breasts did not peak until later, but the sweatergirl look, popularized by Lana Turner and other movie stars, had its origins in the war years, and women competed in Sweater Girl contests as early as 1943.

In short, the trend is still there, and, “much of women’s social history [being] embedded in clothes, cosmetics, and material culture” (Dyhouse, p. 7.), remains fascinating for how, as a product of the era when cinema first began to have a profound impact on fashion, it set the standard of slim waists and large breasts that largely remains in Western—and global—culture today.

But covering all that in a stand-alone presentation, which I’ve really struggled to get down to an hour a half? In hindsight, it’s a poor, unnecessarily complicated choice to get my point about rapid change across.

Bagel GirlSource: How do ya like me now?

Likely, I fixated on glamour because it’s where “Bagel Girl” (베이글녀) derives from, a Korean bodyline that’s been popular for about 4-5 years. A blatantly infantilizing and objectifying term, I was happy to read back in 2011 that Shin Se-kyung at least has rejected being labeled as such (alas, Hyoseong of Secret is quite happy with it), echoing Lana Turner’s distaste at being the first “Sweater Girl.”

Then I discovered the Bagel Girl had a precedent in the “Lolita Egg” (롤리타 에그) of 2003, which, as the following advertorial explains, likewise emphasized the childish features of female celebrities then in their early-20s—who would surely have preferred being better known as adults instead. While I genuinely despair that its authors and interviewees actually got paid for their work (you’ll soon see why!), it does demonstrate the remarkable historical continuity to medical discourses about “Western” and “Asian” women’s bodies, and of the incessant drive to infantilize their owners.

Lee Hyori Lolita Egg‘롤리타-에그’ 얼굴 뜬다…2000년대 미인은 ‘어린소녀+계란형’ The “Lolita Egg” Face …Beauties of the 2000s have ‘Young girl + Egg Shape’

Donga Ilbo (via Naver), November 2, 2003

이승재기자, 조경복기자 / By Lee Sung-jae and Jo Gyeong-bok

‘롤리타-에그 (Lolita-Egg)’형 얼굴이 최근 뜨고 있다 The ‘Lolita Egg’ Face Trend Has Been Booming Recently

1990년대 성숙한 미인상으로 각광받던 ‘계란(Egg)’형 얼굴의 연장선상에 있으면서도, 길이가 짧은 콧등과 좁은 턱, 넓은 이마 등 어린 아이의 이미지로 ‘롤리타 콤플렉스’(어린 소녀에 대한 성적 충동·롤리타는 12세 소녀를 향한 중년 남자의 광적인 사랑을 담은 블라디미르 나보코프의 동명 소설에 등장하는 소녀 이름)를 자극하는 ‘이중적 얼굴’이 주목받고 있는 것.

While the 1990s trend for mature, beautiful women with egg-like faces continues, now it has combined with a short nose-bridge, narrow chin, and wide forehead, reminiscent of a child’s. This ‘double face’ stimulates the ‘Lolita Complex’, based on the Lolita novel by Vladimir Nabokov (1955), about a middle-aged man’s insane love and sexual urges for a 12 year-old girl of the same name.

Lolita Cover DetailSource

‘롤리타-에그’형의 대표는 탤런트 송혜교(21)와 가수 이효리(24)다. 또 드라마 ‘선녀와 사기꾼’(SBS), ‘노란손수건’(KBS1)에 이어 SBS ‘때려’에 출연 중인 탤런트 소이현(19)과 영화 ‘최후에 만찬’에 비행(非行) 소녀 ‘재림’으로 나오는 신인 조윤희(21)도 닮은꼴이다.

Representative stars with the Lolita Egg face shape are talent Song Hye-Kyo (21; Western ages are given) and singer Lee Hyori (24). Other women that resemble them include: the drama talent So Yi-hyun (19), who has appeared in Fairy and Swindler (SBS), Yellow Handkerchief (KBS1), and is currently starring in Punch (SBS); and movie rookie Jo Yoon-hee (21), who played the character Jae-rim in The Last Supper (2003).

조용진 한서대 부설 얼굴연구소 소장은 “이 얼굴형은 자기중심적이면서도 콧대가 높지 않아 ‘만만한’ 여성상”이라며 “경제 불황이 장기화하면서 퇴폐적이면서 유아적인 여성상을 찾는 동시에 수렁에서 구원해 줄 강력하고 성숙한 여성상을 갈구하고 있다는 표시”라고 분석했다.

Jo Yong-jin, head of the Face Research Institute affiliated with Hanseo University, explained “While this face shape is self-centered, the nose bridge is not high, making it a manageable female symbol,” and that “While the recession prolongs, people long for a decadent but childlike female symbol, but at the same time also strongly long for a mature female symbol to save them from the depths.”

롤리타 에그’ 얼굴의 특징 Unique Points about the Lolita Egg Face

얼굴선은 갸름하지만 전체적으론 둥그스름하고 부드럽다. ‘롤리타 에그’형은 90년대 채시라와 최진실에서 보듯 갸름한 듯하면서도 약간 네모진 미인형에 비해 특징이 적다. ‘어디선가 본 듯한’ 느낌을 주어 대중성이 강하다.

The face-line is slender, but overall it is roundish and soft. As you can see from images of Chae Shi-ra and Choi Jin-sil, in the 1990s the Lolita Egg face shape The Wrong Deodorantalso looked slender, but compared to slightly square-faced beauties didn’t have many characteristics. It was massively popular, because it gave the feeling of a face you could see anywhere (source, right).

얼굴의 포인트는 코. 채시라 등의 코는 높으면서도 콧등이 긴데 반해 이 얼굴형은 콧등이 낮고 그 길이가 짧아 ‘콧대가 높다’는 느낌이 없다. 다만 코끝이 버선코 모양으로 솟아올라 비순각(鼻脣角·코끝과 인중 사이의 벌어진 정도·그림)이 90도 이상인 것이 특징. 코가 짧은 동양적 특징과 비순각이 큰 서양적 특징(한국인은 평균 90도가 채 못 되나 최근 120도까지 끌어올리는 성형수술이 유행이다)이 동시에 나타난다.

The point of the face is the nose. Compared with the cases of Chae Shi-ra and so on, whose noses are high and have long nose bridges, the nose bridge of a Lolita Egg face is low and short, so it doesn’t give the feeling of a high nose bridge. However, the tip of the Lolita Egg nose is marked for resembling the tip of a bi-son (a traditional women’s sock), soaring upward, and the philtrum is more than 90 degrees (see picture). A Lolita Egg face has a combination of this philtrum, which is a Western trait (Koreans typically have one less than 90 degrees; however, the trend in cosmetic surgery is to get one between 90 and 120 degrees) and a short nose, which is an Asian trait.

미고 성형외과 이강원 원장은 “다소 나이 들어 보이고 노동을 즐기지 않는 듯한 느낌을 주는 긴 코에 비해 짧고 오뚝한 코는 귀엽고 애교 있으며 아이 같은 이미지를 준다”고 말했다. 이런 코는 이미연의 두텁고 귀티 나는 코가 주는 ‘접근하기 어려운’ 느낌에 비해 ‘만인이 사랑할 수 있을 것 같은’ 느낌을 유발한다.

Migo Cosmetic Surgery Clinic head Won Chang-un said “A long nose gives an impression of age and that one doesn’t enjoy one’s work, whereas a short but high nose gives one of cuteness and aegyo. A thick but elegant nose like that of Lee Mi-yeon’s [James—below] gives a cold, stand-offish impression, but a Lolita Egg one gives off one that the woman can be loved by all.

이미연 (Lee Mi Yeon) and NieceSource

턱은 앞으로 다소 돌출했지만 턱의 각도가 좁아 뾰족한 느낌도 든다. 이는 일본 여성의 얼굴에 많이 나타나는 특징. 28∼32개의 치아를 모두 담기엔 턱이 좁아 덧니가 있는 경우가 많다. 어금니가 상대적으로 약해 딱딱한 음식을 씹는 것에는 약한 편.

[However], while the jaw of the Lolita Egg protrudes forward, it is narrow, giving a pointy feeling. This is characteristic of many Japanese women [James—see #3 here]. But because 28-32 teeth are crammed into such narrow jaws, there are also many cases of snaggleteeth. The molars also tend to be weak, making it difficult to chew hard food.

눈과 눈썹은 끝이 살짝 치켜 올라가 90년 대 미인상과 유사하나, 눈의 모양은 다르다. 90년대 미인은 눈이 크면서도 가느다란 데 반해 이 얼굴형은 눈이 크고 동그래 눈동자가 완전 노출되는 것이 특징. 가느다란 눈에 비해 개방적이고 ‘성(性)을 알 것 같은’ 느낌을 준다.

The end of the eyes and eyebrows raise up slightly at the ends, resembling the style of 1990s beauties, but the shape is different. Compared to that large but slender style, the Lolita Egg eyes are rounder and more exposed. This gives a feeling of openness and greater sexual experience.

얼굴에 담긴 메시지 The Message in a Face

‘롤리타 에그’형의 여성들은 남성들의 ‘소유욕’을 자극하는 한편 여성들에게 ‘똑같이 되고 싶다’는 워너비(wannabe) 욕망을 갖게 한다. 예쁘면서도 도도한 인상을 주지 않아 많은 남성들이 따른다. 이로 인해 이런 여성들은 선택의 여지가 많아 독점적으로 상대를 고르는 듯한 인상을 주기도 한다.

you chumpsOn the one hand, the Lolita Egg stimulates men’s possessiveness, whereas to women it turns them into wannabees. It’s a pretty face shape, but doesn’t give off a haughty, arrogant impression, proving very popular with men. Women who have it can pick and choose from among their many male followers (source right: unknown).

인상전문가 주선희씨는 “낮은 코는 타협의 이미지를 주는 데 반해 선명한 입술 라인은 맺고 끊음이 분명한 이미지가 읽힌다”며 “이런 얼굴은 남성을 소유한 뒤 가차 없이 버릴 것 같은 느낌을 주기 때문에 여성들이 강한 대리만족을 얻게 된다”고 말했다.

Face-expression specialist Ju Seon-hee said “A low nose gives an impression that the owner will readily give-in and compromise, whereas the clear lipline of a Lolita Egg gives an image of decisiveness,” and that women with the latter can gain a strong sense of vicarious satisfaction through using (lit. possessing) and then discarding men.”

최근 인기 절정의 댄스곡인 이효리의 ‘10 Minutes’ 가사(나이트클럽에서 화장실에 간 여자 친구를 기다리는 남자를 유혹하는 내용)에서도 나타나듯 “겁먹지는 마. 너도 날 원해. 10분이면 돼”하고 욕망을 노골적으로 강력하게 드러내는 이미지라는 것이다.

Like the lyrics of Lee Hyori’s song 10 minutes say (about a woman who seduces a man at a nightclub while he is waiting for his girlfriend in the bathroom), currently at the height of its popularity, “Don’t be scared. You want me too. 10 minutes is all we need”, this a strong and nakedly desiring image. (End)

Western vs. Eastern Ideals of BeautySource

For more on the negative connotations of “Asian” bodily traits, perpetuated by cosmetic surgeons and the media, please see here (and don’t forget Lee Hyori’s Asian bottom!). As for the infantilization of women, let finish this post by passing on some observations by Dyhouse, from page 114 (source, right; emphasis):

Nabokov’s Lolita was published (in Paris) in 1955: the book caused great controversy and was banned in the USA and the UK until 1958. Baby Doll, the equally contentious film with a screenplay by Tennessee Williams, starring Carroll Baker in the role of its lubriciously regressive, thumbsucking heroine, appeared in 1956. The sexualisation of young girls in the Glamour Women History Feminism Carol Dyhouseculture of the 1950s had complex roots, but was probably at least in part a male reaction to stereotypes of idealized, adult femininity. Little girls were less scary than adult women, especially when the latter looked like the elegant Barbara Goalen and wielded sharp-pointed parasols. Images of ‘baby dolls’ in short, flimsy nightdresses infantilized and grossly objectified women: they segued into the image of the 1960s ‘dolly bird’, undercutting any assertiveness associated with women’s role in the ‘youthquake’ of the decade.

Did I say you shouldn’t project Western narratives onto Korea? I take that back. Because goddamn, would that explain a lot of things here!

Update: See here for a Prezi presentation on “Trends of beautiful faces In Korea.”

The Revealing the Korean Body Politic Series:

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)