In the News: Korean Celebrity, Ethnic Nationalism, and Beauty Ideals

Kim Yuna may well be the “Ad Queen” in South Korea, but the reality is that precious few female athletes have the face and body-type necessary to get noticed by Korean advertisers. Whereas for male athletes, they just have to be good at their sports.

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes. Image source: YouTube via Humoruniv.

My writing is pretty erratic these days, because reasons. Sorry about that. One of those reasons is worth mentioning though: I’ve been fielding lots of inquiries from journalists instead. Here are some of the results:

First up, from “In Pyeongchang, a surprise visit from Queen Yuna” by Nathan VanderKlippe in The Globe and Mail:

For “Korean advertisers, all their Christmases came at once when Kim Yuna became popular,” said James Turnbull, a South Korea-based author who writes about Korean feminism, sexuality and pop-culture.

By at least one measure, celebrity matters more in South Korea than elsewhere. Roughly 60 per cent of the country’s advertisements feature endorsements, some six times higher as those in the United States. Former South Korean advertising executive Bruce Haines once called the country’s advertising “beautiful people holding a bottle.”

Mr. Turnbull is critical of the unfair standards this imposes. South Korean Ahn Sun-ju was among the best golfers in the world, but South Korean advertisers said she needed plastic surgery if she wanted to appear in commercials.

Ms. Kim, however, “was tailor-made for Korean advertisements,” Mr. Turnbull said. She is “young, attractive, photogenic, a figure skater – thin, tall – whose body is the type they want.”

“The question isn’t so much why she retired so early as why she retired so late,” he added. “Because really, did she enjoy what she was doing?”

There’s lots to unpack in that short segment. Starting with giving credit to Roboseyo for the point about advertisers’ love of Kim Yu-na, who wrote that in 2009:

Kim Yu-na…is a teen-aged figure skating phenomenon out of Seoul. She’s only eighteen years old now, and she’s been kicking the crap out of the ladies’ singles category for a few years already. She’s telegenic and cute: she appears in TV commercials here in Korea and sells, better than most of Korea’s other “Best in the world/Korea at X” stars, for example Park Ji-sung (family name Park), the Soccer (that’s Football to the rest of the world) star who is holding his own impressively on Manchester United, but who’s so ugly, and un-charismatic in front of the camera, that they can only make commercials like this [long since deleted example—sorry]: keep the camera at a distance, and show him kicking stuff, because that’s the only time he looks impressive. (Notice at the end of the ad, when the close-up is as short as they can make it and still have him be recognizable, as if the camera’s afraid to get close to his face).

Catch me on a bad hair day, and I’m hardly charismatic in front of a camera myself. I’m all about widening the media’s narrow range of beauty ideals too. But it’s objectively true: even at his physical peak, Park Ji-sung’s face would never have launched a thousand ships. As a male celebrity however, his phenomenal popularity for his sporting prowess meant that advertisers still flocked to him nonetheless, especially after it became apparent he was responsible for one million new Manchester United-branded Shinhan Mastercard accounts. Add various other factors responsible for that world-high celebrity endorsement rate of 60 percent of TV commercials (see my journal article), plus—in this case—Koreans’ (in)famous toleration of blatant photoshopping, then you can hardly blame Gillette for joining his bandwagon in 2009:

Sources: Hidomin (2006), Betanews (2009).

Like Park Ji-sung, golfer Ahn Sun-ju was one of the best at her sport in Korea. Unlike Park Ji-sung, she was cursed with being a woman, which meant advertisers were very concerned about her appearance—and her body type didn’t fit their narrow requirements. Frustrated with her ensuing lack of corporate sponsorship, she ultimately chose to compete in Japan instead, where—to my shock and pleasant surprise—advertisers were more interested in her sporting achievements. As The Korea Times explains:

…[Ahn] said that when she competed in Korea, her ability as a golfer was never enough.

“Some (potential Korean) sponsors even demanded I get a plastic surgery,” she said. “Companies did not consider me as a golf athlete, only that I was a woman. It mattered most to them was whether my appearance was marketable. I was deeply hurt by that.”

Ahn her made pro debut with the KLPGA in 2006 and won six tournaments before jumping to the JPLGA. But despite her stellar play, she struggled to find a corporate sponsor in Korea.

“As you can see, I do not have a pretty face, I am not thin, I am not what you would call sexy,” Ahn said. “But does that mean I shouldn’t be playing golf?

“Japanese companies, on the other hand, focused on my ability as a golfer. They are more concerned about my performance and how I treat my fans. I am being sponsored by six Japanese companies, including a clothing brand.”

Writing in Kore in response to that article, Ethel Navales speculates that we can’t “say for certain that Ahn’s decision to move to JLPGA was due to Korea’s inability to accept her physical appearance”, and that she may have just been reacting to one negative experience, so “we certainly shouldn’t assume that the KLPGA puts those expectations on [all] their players.” But personally, I see no reason to challenge Ahn’s stated motivations for leaving. As for the KLGPA, I turned to Transnational Sport: Gender, Media, and Global Korea (2012) by Rachel Miyung Joo to learn more about its attitudes towards its female players, but unfortunately she doesn’t mention Ahn at all, focusing largely on Korean women in the (US)LGPA instead. So, while her descriptions of their Orientalist and sexualized depictions therein are fascinating, and her description of its 2002-2007 “Five Points of Celebrity” marketing drive (a.k.a. “Anti-butch Campaign”), “understood to place a large emphasis and personalities of the players rather than on their performance as athletes” (p. 153), sounds particularly relevant here, indeed we still can’t automatically assume the same of the KLPGA. But she does note that “[i]n the current media climate in South Korea, female golfers are often sexualized through sports tabloids, fansites, and advertisements” (p. 156; see Le Coq Sportif example below). Also, her description of what happened to the Korean image of predecessor Pak Se-ri, “probably the most popular athlete in South Korea at the end of the twentieth century”, is quite telling. Because after Pak left for the LGPA in 1998:

Sources: Kaikaihanno (Pak Se-ri, 1998), Yonhap (Ahn Sun-ju, 2014)

…there [was] a considerable shift in ideas of public sexuality in [South Korea]. This shift can be read in the changes to the public appearance of Pak Se-ri. She was transformed from a dowdy twenty-something golfer at her debut to the tidy player of today through a national makeover. The masculinity of Pak—her broad shoulders, strong legs, dark tan, baggy shorts, and flat short hair covered with ill-fitting baseball caps—did not detract from her initial national fame….[But] [o]ver the years, her public image has been transformed through a wardrobe redo and the use of heavy makeup. She is often featured in women’s magazines in tailored designer sportswear with highly stylized hair and makeup. In the photos, she strikes poses that emphasize her “feminine side”—taking a stroll in the wood, relaxing on a couch, playing with her dogs, or cooking in her kitchen. The transformation of a tomboyish national icon to the womanly figure of today demonstrates that, although femininity was not a requisite for her national importance, she was normalized into public femininity through the transnational circuit of images of professional golf.

“In the current media climate in South Korea, female golfers are often sexualized through sports tabloids, fansites, and advertisements.” One of many long, lingering shots of conventionally-attractive, (now) JLPGA player Lee Bo-mee in a 2016 Le Coq Sportif commercial. Source: YouTube.

In contrast, Kim Yuna shares the body type and looks of K-pop girl-group members, who are specifically chosen for their ensuing, very narrowly-defined suitability for advertising. So it comes as no surprise that, like them, the vast majority of her numerous endorsements appear to be for beauty and dieting-related products.

To note that isn’t to diminish her considerable achievements and hard work. But it’s entirely possible she would never have become such a national icon if her body didn’t fit the part. As was the case with Yi So-yeon, Korea’s first astronaut, whose treatment by netizens and the media was really quite shocking in comparison.

Finally, just for the record, the point about her retirement was actually made by Nathan, but I agreed. Also, it’ll be interesting to see to what extent the Garlic Girls’ endorsements will challenge all these body-standards for female athletes. But it’s time to move onto the (much shorter) second article.

Update, July 2018: While preparing for my interview with Nathan, I remembered that a Korean journalist had made similar comments about a female golfer in 2016, and was consciously echoing him TBH, but I couldn’t find his article at the time. Now that I’ve just relocated it though, I was surprised to learn that he was actually talking about Park In-bee, who by coincidence very closely resembles Ahn. Unlike with Ahn however, one additional factor behind advertisers’ disinterest in her may be that her family moved to the US when she was 12 (she’s now 29), and that she only competed in Korea for the first time in May this year.

Next, again for Nathan, a few days later I was quoted in “Behind Olympic death threats, a South Korean fan culture that takes speed skating seriously“,

It doesn’t help that the South Korean sense of nationalism also “stresses Koreanness through having Korean ‘blood,'” said James Turnbull, a writer and speaker on Korean culture. “This means many Koreans react the way they do because they feel like a member of their ‘family’ has been cheated.”

Admittedly, that last possibly sounds a little patronizing coming from a foreign observer. So I would have preferred Nathan had noted that it was actually my Korean friend Ji-eun that said that, attempting to explain things after I expressed my mystification at the Korean (over)reaction to the Apolo Ohno controversy in the 2002 Winter Olympic Games—which included passers-by harassing my coworkers on the streets of (normally very pleasant and friendly) Jinju. But no matter: whoever points it out, bloodlines-based nationalism is very much a thing in Korea (and Japan), and has led to such oddities as numerous apologies for and a national sense of guilt and shame over the actions of Virginia Tech shooter Seung-hui Cho in 2007, despite his having left South Korea at the age of 8 and absolutely no-one in the US considering him “Korean.”

Left: highly-recommended further reading (source: Stanford University Press). Right: “A BBC poll from 2016 of various countries, asking what the most important factor in self identity was. South Korea has the highest proportion given for ‘race or culture – 25%” (source: BBC via Wikipedia).

Next up, a week later, I was quoted by Diane Jean in “En Corée du Sud, les femmes n’ont pas d’autre choix que d’être belles” (“In South Korea, women have no choice but to be beautiful”) for ChEEK Magazine. As you can see it’s all in French, so here’s a bad translation of my contribution:

“Of course these pressures are not unique to Korea, they are found elsewhere,” says James Turnbull, a specialist in feminism and pop culture in Korea. But without having lived here, where, on a daily basis, your beautician, your teachers, your parents, your colleagues, your bosses constantly repeat to you that you have to go on a diet […], we can not realize how these pressures are particularly harsh for Korean women. “

That Korean women face body image issues will come as a surprise to nobody. But it can be difficult to convey their intensity, especially to overseas observers who are constantly bombarded with negative body image messages themselves. Probably most effective then, is to hear from the victims in person, especially overseas Koreans who frequently express their shock at the level of body-shaming they experience here compared to in their home countries. Listen to Korean-American Ji Eun-gyeong for instance, writing for Ilda South Korean Feminist Journal:

In contrast to the casual attire and revealing clothing of some of the Korean American women in the student program, Korean female students were uniformly slim, wore formal clothing to school, and always had perfectly groomed hair and makeup. I remember gawking at the female students wearing formal suits and heels at nearby Ewha University, something that was unheard of at schools in the US, where it was perfectly acceptable to go to school wearing pyjamas and looking like you rolled out of bed.

In comparison to these women, I was fatter, did not know how to put on makeup “properly,” and was relatively not well-groomed. The physical standards for Korean women were a palpable social pressure on me and the Korean American women, and despite our best efforts to “fit in,” we always fell short. We did not have the skills, energy, or time to put on full makeup, to dress formally for school everyday, nor did we have the slim body types that almost everyone around us seemed to have. Most importantly, we were not “well-behaved” women.

As Korean American women, we were unused to having so many restrictions on our movement and our bodies. One student in my exchange program was slapped for smoking in public, and another was yelled out for having lightly dyed hair. Others were reprimanded for wearing revealing or messy clothing, such as shorts with “holes” in them (shredded shorts). We talked too loudly and laughed too hard. Because of these and the daily judgments about our physical appearance that left us lacking, most of the women in our program felt a demoralized and degraded while we were in Korea. The policing of our bodies was limited to Korean Americans, because we were being compared to Korean women, while the foreign women were help up to different standards.

In contrast, the Korean American men in our program had less restrictions on their dress or their physical appearance. While they were subject to some pressures – ie, having clean-cut haircuts and not being able to wearing shorts – they were subject to less judgment about their bodies than the foreign women.

Admittedly she was writing about 1994, but you don’t need me to tell you that very, very little has changed for the next generation. That is also indicated by the following damning statistics, collected in these slides for my lecture on body image for my “Gender in South Korea” course at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies last summer:

Statistic from “Explaining Underweight BMI and Body Dissatisfaction among Young Korean Women” by Tess Hellgren (2012). Screenshot: “Street Interview – Are you fat? (Asking Korean girls)당신은 뚱뚱한가요? Nicki Minaj VS Yoona” by Joo Won.Statistic from: “18% of Young Women Found to Be Underweight“, anonymous, The Chosun Ilbo (2014).
(Link to Georgia Hanias’s 2012 Marie Claire article in the slide, plus another one to an interesting critique.)

Finally, there was one more interview after that, but I was completely edited out of the article when it was finally published last week. I’ll wisely spare you my rant though, only mentioning it as a final excuse for the delay in posting. So too, that I also did a long podcast interview in March, which will hopefully be coming out in the next couple of months.

Any thoughts? About any of the articles? :)

Related Posts:

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

Korean Photoshop Disaster #9: Soju Goggles (Updated)

(Source)

Pondering questions about excessive photoshopping in ads for a radio interview I’ll be doing next week, yesterday I would have said that Koreans are so accepting, even welcoming of it, that unfortunately little surprises me anymore.

Then I saw the alien that has replaced Lee Da-hae (이다해) on Charm Soju’s (참소주) website

Update – Thanks to Paul Kerry for drawing my attention to these further examples, also available on the website:

Paul at least has seen them in a restaurant (example here), and Lee Da-hae’s endorsement deal also produced a lot of Korean news reports and blog entries back in September, so they’re certainly out there. Unfortunately though, I’ve been searching in vain for any mention of the Photoshopping in them. As they say, the silence is deafening!

Korean Photoshop Disaster #8: The 100% Korean Lady Burger

A photoshop disaster, or a deliberate satire of the way models are typically presented on women’s magazine covers?

Alas, given how difficult it is to find this particular version, then unfortunately probably the former. But with that face held fast between the “A” and the “D”, as if prepped for cosmetic surgery? That X-line? And especially that emaciated look of her skin? Then for her at least, Lotteria’s Hanwoo Lady Burger is a “must eat” indeed.

But much more interesting than the bad photoshopping though, or what the ad says about women’s body images in the media, is the explicit gendered marketing contained therein. After all, you can’t call something a “Lady Burger” – and not even allow men to buy it – without explaining what it is exactly that supposedly makes it only appropriate for women.

Yet there are no physiological reasons why men and women can’t and don’t enjoy the same foods and drinks, so branding is the only real reason many are still marketed to only one sex nevertheless. Woe betide the company that actually admits that though, and hence Lotteria’s public rationale for Lady Burgers below comes across as rather artificial.

As indeed, do Lotteria’s products themselves, and not for nothing have I completely avoided the chain for the last 5 years (source, above):

롯데리아, 女心잡는 ‘한우레이디버거’ 출시 Lotteria Launches the ‘Lady Burger’ to Catch Women’s Hearts

한우레이디버거는 100% 한우 패티에 국내산 쌀 떡이 첨가된 떡갈비 형태의 프리미엄 버거로, 여성들이 선호하는 파프리카, 토마토, 양상추 등의 야채로 뒷맛이 상큼하고 깔끔한다는게 회사측 설명이다. 특히 쌀떡의 쫄깃함과 한우의 고소함의 조화도 느낄수 있다고. 가격은 단품 4500원, 세트 6000원.

As the company explains, the Hanwoo Lady Burger is a premium burger made from 100% Korean beef patty with ricecake made from Korean rice added, giving the form of ddokgalbi [ribs with ricecake added].  To that is added what women prefer: paprika, tomato, and lettuce, making the vegetable aftertaste both fresh and clean, and in particular, the ricecake’s chewiness and the Korean beef’s sesame taste harmonize well. The price for one is 4500 won, and for a set 6000 won.

특히, 전국한우협회가 인정하는 100% 한우만을 사용, 매월 1회 DNA 판정 검사를 실시해 인증을 받고 있다.

In particular, only beef that has been approved as 100% Korean beef by the Hanwoo Association is used, and every month its DNA is examined in order to receive that certification.

롯데리아 관계자는 “‘한우레이디버거’는 철저한 고객 세분화 전략으로 여성의 입맛을 고려한 제품”이라며, “기존의 한우불고기와는 제품에서부터 차별화시켜, 여성을 위한 햄버거로 자리잡을 예정이다”라고 설명했다.

According to a Lotteria spokesperson, “after formulating a strategy based on the segmentalization of the market, the Hanwoo Lady Burger was considered a product appropriate for women’s tastes”, and that “this is a means to distinguish the product from existing barbecued Korean beef dishes, and we expect it to dominate the market for burgers aimed towards women”.

롯데리아는 출시기념으로 세트 구매 고객에게는 치즈스틱과 알뜰 디저트 쿠폰을 무료로 증정하는 행사를 11월30일까지 진행한다. 알뜰 디저트 쿠폰은 콜라, 콘샐러드, 포테이토 등 디저트 3종을 1000원에 구입 가능한 것으로, 해당쿠폰은 12월 말까지 사용 가능하다.

To commemorate the launching of this product, until the end of November customers that buy it will receive a free cheesestick and a “Thrifty Desert” coupon, allowing them to buy desserts of either cola, corn salad, or potato for the price of 1000 won. These coupons will be valid until the end of December (James: yes, those don’t sound like “desserts” to me either).

한편, 롯데리아 한우제품은 한우레이디버거와 한우불고기버거 등 총 2가지로, 일반 버거 대비 1.5배 사이즈인 한우 불고기 버거는 폭넓은 남성 선호층을 확보하고 있다.

This is the second Korean beef product sold by Lotteria, the first being the Hanwoo Bulgogi Burger. In order to make sure to appeal to men’s preferences, that is 1.5 times larger than normal burgers. (end)

And with translating that last, I suddenly remembered this segment about the financial rationale to gendered burger marketing from page 91 of Essentials of Contemporary Advertising, by William Arens and David Schaefer (2007 edition):

Sorry for the poor quality: it was difficult to fit into the scanner. By way of compensation then, I’ve managed to find the 2003 ad with model Cameron Richardson referred to:

See here, here, here, and here for more examples of Korean gendered marketing, and here for more posts in the Korean Photoshop Disasters series. Meanwhile, have any readers actually tried one of those Thickburgers of Hardees’? Only 1,410 calories!

Update 1: See here for a much better version of the original Lady Burger ad, taken of a poster in a Lotteria window.

Update 2: The Bobster also has an interesting post on the Lady Burger.

 

Korean Photoshop Disaster #7: I hate you Lee Soo-kyeong…

(Sources: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, & 4th)

No, I don’t really. But, after eating Special K (스페셜K) for years thinking that it was low-fat, only to just discover that it actually has more fat than regular cornflakes, then it’s high time to call Kellogg’s out on the appalling photoshopping of her that’s been greeting me every morning.

See how she compares in real life to the Barbie dolls above:

( Source )

Don’t get me wrong though: while she could certainly do with a bit more sun, I still find her attractive (and just love her expression at the top-left!). Yet, lacking even a hint of an hourglass figure, why on Earth was she chosen to be the model for a product purporting to give you one? Because of Korean advertising’s over-reliance on star appeal perhaps?

Alas, more likely it’s because Korean consumers aren’t actually all that concerned with photoshopping. For not only do they regularly have it done on their own resume photos for instance, but there are even products on the market claiming to give women an “X-line” too, despite the inconvenient fact that it is physically impossible for a human to ever possess such a body shape:

(Source)
(Sources: left, right)

Of course, photoshopping of print advertisements is hardly new, let alone confined to Korea. What is new however, is that whether through technical improvements and/or decreases in costs, photoshop-like manipulation is increasingly common in commercials too. And this is far more insidious.

Why? Well first, consider Amore Pacific’s commercial for its V=B Program for instance, in which it is difficult to tell if the model’s X-line at 0:23 is the result of digital manipulation, or simply clever lighting, camera angles, and/or the model’s pose. Even after repeated viewings too, which your average consumer isn’t likely to do:

Next, this lame example with Cha Tae-hyun (차태현) and Jessica Gomes for Georgia:

And, as I discussed in December, I would never have realized the degree of manipulation of her body in it without seeing these photos later:

(Sources – left, right)

In contrast, lacking real-life photos of the model in the first commercial to compare and contrast at one’s leisure, then it would be much easier to be deceived into thinking that – God forbid – an X-line was actually real, and hence something to aspire to.

Likewise, that Lee Soo-kyeong had an hourglass waist because of eating Special K:

Granted, that example from March is only borderline (see here for a closer look {source}). But if you also take this example from August though, shot at same time those photos of her on the beach above were, then like me you may find yourself both amazed and appalled that it’s actually the same person:

How did it make you feel? And have you ever come across any other examples like that yourself, either in Korea or overseas? If so, then please pass them on!

(For more posts in the Korean Photoshop Disasters series, see here)

Korean Photoshop Disaster #6: I like it hot, strong, and black! (Updated)

( Source )

Do men pay more attention to men’s chests than women?

As a gym addict 10-15 years ago, I read somewhere in a newspaper that they do. And with my self-confidence back then wholly tied to how much I buffed up, it certainly matched my own experience.

Unfortunately for the sake of objectivity though, it’s been difficult not to remember that every time I’ve seen a topless man ever since. One look at Changmim of 2AM half-naked and holding his crotch in a coffee ad then, and all I could think about was the large, firm package that used to be the weekend edition of the New Zealand Herald.

Naturally enough, most commenters at allkpop and Omona! They Didn’t focused on the one that Changmin was allegedly holding in his left hand instead, and I’m going to take a wild guess that most of those were heterosexual women. Perhaps that explains why so few noticed the appalling photoshop job on his chest?^^

Yet despite men’s greater interest in those in a competitive sense, in reality not only is bilateral symmetry a good indicator of genetic health for both sexes, and hence a heavily favored trait in mates, but even women’s own breasts become more symmetrical during the most fertile period of their menstrual cycle too. So it’s a strange oversight.

And of course for the photoshopper too, who presumably originally aimed to create some sort of languid, fluid-like effect, and I expect the mistake will be corrected before the full ad campaign for Maeil’s “Cafe Latte Americano Dutch” is launched on the 13th (source, above). But regardless, and on a more serious note now, it still has to be the first of the recent spate of Korean advertisements to objectify men that I’ve positively disliked, rather than be merely nonplussed or amused by.

For it is just as lame as it is provocative.

Putting aside how problematic the slogan “Find Your Black” is to English speakers, as described at allkpop the campaign’s basic concept is that various members of 2AM represent “Chic Black”, “Luxury Black”, “Tough Black”, and Changmin as “Sexy Black,” and the first major problem with the ad is also the most obvious: what does a topless idol grabbing his genitalia has to with coffee exactly?

Or indeed, with being “sexy”, and it that sense it also reduces to and perpetuates the notion that sexiness is only a matter of skin exposure, whether for men or for women. A problem which is hardly unique to the Korea media of course, but it is exaggerated here, and so unfortunately I’m wasn’t all that surprised that that was the best that the creative team could come up with.

And yet, would the same ad have actually been possible with a woman? Specifically, one with her hand placed on her crotch, a pretty blatant gesture of intent in anyone’s language?

( Source: unknown )

But why so specific? Well, if there’s one consistent theme to emerge out of writing about Korean advertisements for 3 years, that would be being witness to a long line of firsts: the first erect nipples; the first portrayal of Korean female – foreign male relationships; the first kiss; the first spoof of objectification within ads(!); the first soju ad to portray a woman as, well, really rather slutty, as opposed to decades of portraying them as virgins; and so on. And no matter how difficult it may be to believe for recent visitors to the country, in fact some of those emerged just within the last 3 weeks, let alone the last 3 years.

So, it’s natural to write as if I have almost a perverted fixation on things like crotches sometimes! And indeed, if there’s one thing to take away from Changmin’s ad, it’s the realization that however permissible grabbing one’s crotch is in passing in brief dances on talk shows and in music videos and so on in Korea, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a print advertisement. On women or on men, and hence netizens’ intense interest in Changmin’s ad.

But of course I may be wrong, and so as always, please pass on any earlier ads that you are aware of. But for various reasons, I really do think that an equivalent ad with a woman would have aroused far more controversy.

How about you? Let me finish by providing two related examples to help get you thinking.

First, the the above one with Kim Ah-joong (김아중) from 2006, which at first glance is sexually-assertive enough. But as commenter “huncamunca” pointed out to me 2 years ago (in a post I ironically deleted yesterday!), it is definitely not an example of the sexually aggressive “cowboy stance” that I first interpreted it as:

…I agree that the “cowboy” thumbs in the belt loops make the picture sexual, but other elements of the stance make it sexual AND DEMURE, not aggressive. Usually, in the cowboy stance, the shoulders are relaxed and legs are slightly apart, with weight more on one foot than the other (see for example the picture of the woman on page 240 of the Pease book) [on body language]. However, Kim Ah-jung’s shoulders are raised, as if she is shrugging slightly in a demure way. Her elbows are straight and held close to her body to take up as little space as possible, which is not typical of the relaxed cowboy stance. Her legs are also tightly closed to take up as little space as possible, and they don’t look like they are about to take her toward what she wants. Her head is tilted down so she can look up demurely at the viewer. The combination of raised shoulders and lowered head is similar to the “Head Duck” in the Pease book (p. 235), which shows submissiveness. Also the wind effect makes it look as though whatever she is looking at (presumably a male viewer) is powerful enough to nearly blow her away while she marvels at him and waits for his approach. She doesn’t look like she intends to act, but rather like she hopes to be acted upon–sexual but still submissive.

Not that Changmin looks all that sexually aggressive either of course: indeed, he appears to be protecting himself more than anything else, but either way the ambiguity again points to a lack of thought behind the campaign.

Finally, a female equivalent of gratuitous objectification and/or nudity in a coffee ad provided by Italian coffee company Lavazza, also in 2006:

( Source )

Notorious for ads involving sex and/or the excessive objectification of women since at least 2005, this one was ultimately judged as discriminating against women by the Swedish Trade Ethical Council against Sexism in Advertising (ERK), and presumably forced to be withdrawn:

Sweden’s Ethical Council has a lower tolerance for the use of scantily clad women to advertise products than comparable regulatory bodies in other countries…

…ERK judged “that the woman is used as an eye catcher without any connection to the advertised products, and that it is insulting towards women”.In its defence Lavazza wrote that the 2006 calendar from which the images were taken used humour and irony to recreate a 1950s feel. The company claimed that the images depicted glamour, style and a lust for life and were in no way discriminatory.

[ERK Secretary] Jan Fager disagrees. In his opinion it is not acceptable for an advertisement for coffee to be sexy in the same way as, for example, an underwear ad. He noted that while H&M has come in for much criticism from the general public the company’s Christmas campaigns have never been found in breach of ethical standards…

…In its written judgment the ERK maintained that Lavazza had not lived up to the principle “that advertising should be formed with due regard for social responsibility”

Good for ERK, and yes, I rather like that acronym too!^^ But one wonders what they would make of Changmin?

Update – Unfortunately my English copy is in New Zealand, but see below for more on the cowboy stance, and how intimately sexual and physical aggression can be linked. From pages 236 and 237 of the Korean edition of The Definitive Book of Body Language by Alan and Barbara Pease (2006), it’s easily one of the most helpful book purchases you’ll ever make, although I did much prefer the realistic line drawings in the 1989(?) edition to the cartoon-like ones and photos of famous people in the new one:

And for comparison’s sake, here’s a less disastrously photoshopped image of Changmin:

( Source )

(For more posts in the Korean Photoshop Disasters series, see here)

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Korean Photoshop Disaster #5: Girls’ Generation’s legs too fat for China?

( Source )

Given the clear artistic license applied to the other main image in this series, would you say that here too, the graphic designer deliberately intended for members of Girls’ Generation (소녀시대) to look like virtual caricatures of themselves?

Update: See Korean Lovers Photoblog for the full series.

(For more posts in the Korean Photoshop Disasters series, see here)

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Korean Photoshop Disaster #4: NOBODY’S Perfect!

Probably both a driving force and reflection of the increasing amount of male objectification in the Korean media since last year, then you may have noticed that female authors and commenters on K-pop blogs have become increasingly vocal in their admiration of male celebrities’ bodies these days. And with the provisos that such objectification can be problematic, and more of one sex by no means nullifying the negative effects of that of another, then all power to them, but it does increasingly tempt me to indulge myself a little too!

Hence I was considering presenting some pictures for Lee Hyori’s (이효리) recent photoshoot for Elle Korea here earlier today, but paused when I thought about how to describe her in them: after all, heaven forbid that a male blogger shift from simply using banalities like “she is sexy” when expressing admiration for a woman’s body, to discussing her body parts in the same manner that female bloggers now can and do of a man’s. Or is that just me?

Either way, the sky didn’t fall in the last time I posted a picture of a woman simply because I liked it, and so ultimately I probably would have done so this time too. Well before getting to that stage however, I happened to quickly click between the picture from Elle Korea itself above and that from MSN Korea below, and something much more interesting literally jumped out at me:

In case you’ve missed it, this GIF I’ve created shows how that switch looked:

Yes, not only did MSN Korea feel the need to enlarge her breasts, apparently they also thought that she was too fat too. Anybody else find the change simply more patronizing than sexy however?

Either way, it certainly makes yesterday’s video on Korean women’s perceived need for cosmetic surgery and weight reduction all the more poignant!

(For all posts in the Korean Photoshop Disasters series, see here)

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