The Gilded Cage of the “EyeBody” Trend?

My students teach me to reevaluate Korea’s latest dieting trend. Is motivation dependent on selfies necessarily a bad thing, when 20-somethings already feel constantly overexposed?

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes. Photo by @thiszun from Pexels

Before the pandemic, I’d routinely request to take photos of my students in the second class of the semester. No, that wasn’t creepy at all.

It was the only way to learn the names and keep track of the progress of all 120 of them, whom I’d only meet for one class a week. Originally, when I started teaching at my university in 2010, I’d ask them for passport photos, which they’d supply without a second thought. Due to the requirement for resumes and job applications, which still exist today, Korean 20-somethings especially were used to providing passport photos for all sorts of documents, and typically had many stored at home.

Gluing all those photos onto name cards however, was a thankless task. Once in possession of my first smartphone then, I’d eagerly explain that it would be much more convenient to just quickly go around the class with it, taking shots of each group at their desks. Most instantly saw the logic, and seemed to appreciate my making the effort.

Occasionally, the odd female student—never male—would initially be a little nervous. Yet once I made it absolutely clear that they would only be for my own use, and how unethical and unprofessional it would be for me to upload them to social media, they soon relaxed. Generally, taking the pictures would turn into a brief ice-breaking activity, with most students happily posing or just goofing around with their classmates for the camera. The next class, they’d all have a good laugh at my printouts of the photos while attaching their names to them, and that would be that.

A mild example of the photoshopping done to resume photographs. Source: entomol10.

But by 2019, it was no longer a laughing matter. Increasing numbers of female students would be covering their faces as I took their shots, literally wailing. Many would be on the verge of tears, so daunting and so overwhelming was the prospect of an unedited, unfiltered image of them getting out there, no matter how remote.

I am not exaggerating.

So to their great relief, I starting asking everyone to just send me picture files instead. Again, a much more laborious and time-consuming process from my perspective, with many of the ensuing photos being so altered as to render the students unrecognizable. But I’d learned my lesson. When offline classes resume, I will never be asking to take pictures of my students again.

I’m not judging them. I’m not a woman, and I didn’t reach adulthood in the midst of a massive spycam epidemic. I don’t have to bring “specs” like my filtered, digital appearance to play in a desperate competition for jobs with other 20-somethings either. Nor do I mean to imply that young Koreans are any more sensitive on this issue than zoomers in other countries.

Merely, this is the context I bring to the “EyeBody” trend (눈바디/noonbadi) I recently learned of. Here’s a definition from the Naver blog Styler Life:

눈바디란 눈(Eyes)와 인바디(Inbody)의 합성어. 체중계의 숫자보다 ‘눈으로 보이는 몸의 라인이나 근력 상태가 더 의미 있는 변화다’라는 취지에서 나온 단어다. 즉 체중에 연연해하지 말아야 더 건강한 몸을 만들 수 있다는 의미. 눈바디를 이용한 다이어트 방법은 매우 간단하다. 매일매일 자신의 전신 사진을 찍어 기록하는 것. 많은 헬스타그래머가 이 방법을 이용하고 있으며 후기에는 효과를 보았다는 내용이 대다수를 이룬다.

The term “EyeBody” is a compound word of “Eyes” and “InBody.”* It means that a visible change to your body form or muscle strength is a much more meaningful sign of health and fitness than a number on the scales. In other words, it means that you can make a healthier body if you don’t get too attached to your weight alone.

The EyeBody method is very simple. Take a full body picture of yourself every day and record it. Many health-focused Instagrammers use this method, and the majority say that it has been effective in later periods of their training [after big fat losses have already been achieved—James].

*(Initially a sophisticated test of one’s body conditions pioneered by the company BioSpace, the term became so well-known and generic that the company changed its name to it.)

Again, but for the name, the trend is hardly confined to Korea, and you can probably anticipate potential problems. For example, Seoul Economic Daily explains:

체성분이 좋은 방향으로 변화하고 체중이 줄었어도, 거울에 비친 다이어트한 모습에 불만족할 때는 다이어트나 운동의 효과가 없다고 여길 정도로 눈바디의 기준이 절대적이다. 불특정 다수에게 자신의 다이어트 과정을 노출해 동기부여 장치로 활용하면서 생긴 현상이지만 보여주기만 신경 쓰다 보면 자신의 건강을 오히려 해치는 결과를 낳을 수 있다.

Even if one’s body composition changes in a healthy direction and weight is reduced, following the EyeBody practice places exacting standards on you. When you feel that despite your efforts, no changes are visible in the mirror, yet at the same time you rely heavily on displaying changes to a wider audience to gain the motivation you need, you may end up harming your own health in order to seek those changes required.

Yet I was a gym junkie myself once, and constantly wore tank-tops to make sure everyone knew it; it’s difficult to criticize something I would undoubtedly do myself if I were in my early-20s again. Plus, I have several Facebook friends who seem to post nothing but updates on their runs, crossfit routines, healthy meals, and/or selfies of their glorious bodies. Clearly with much healthier habits than myself, their feeds don’t strike me as raising too many issues, provided their goals continue to center around healthy body weights.

Moreover, this exhibitionist approach may in fact be one of the most effective methods, as the Chosun Ilbo explains:

…정씨는 “주로 아침 공복 상태에서 휴대폰으로 사진을 찍어 인스타그램(Instagram) 개인 계정에 기록하고 있다”며 “운동 시작 전 신체와 이후의 신체 변화를 기록하는 게 다이어트에 도움이 될 거라고 생각했고 무엇보다 남들과 비교하는 것보다 내가 남긴 사진들을 보며 더 자극이 됐다”고 말했다.

[Jeong Ah-yeong (30), an office worker from Gyeonggi-do] said, “Mainly, I take pictures with my mobile phone in the morning on an empty stomach, and record them in my personal Instagram. Really, it’s much more stimulating to see those pictures that I left myself than to compare my body with other people’s.”

서울 여의도에서 일하는 직장인 장주은(31·가명)씨도 인스타그램 개인 계정에 식단과 운동 습관을 기록하며 다이어트에 열을 올리고 있다. 장씨는 20대 때부터 ‘1일 1식’, ‘삼시 세끼 닭가슴살만 먹기’ 등 다소 극단적인 다이어트를 시도해왔다. 하지만 체중이 빠졌다 금세 돌아오는 요요 현상(yo-yo effect)을 겪었다.

Jang Joo-eun (31, pseudonym), an office worker in Yeouido, Seoul, is also heating up her approach to her diet by recording her daily habits in her personal Instagram account. In her 20s, she said, she tried rather extreme diets, such as the “one meal a day” one or the “three o’clock, three meals of chicken breasts.” However, while she did lose weight with these, it always quickly returned due to the yo-yo effect.

…장씨는 “연예인들이 한다고 알려진 다이어트는 직장인이 시도하기엔 비현실적인 방법”이라며 “행동과 습관을 바꾸는 다이어트를 시작하면서 변화는 느린듯 하지만 매일 기록하면서 보람을 느끼고 있다”고 말했다.

이들은 걸그룹 아이돌의 극단적인 식단과 같은 무리한 다이어트가 아닌 꾸준히 실천하는 을 택한 셈이다.

…Jang said, “The diets promoted by celebrities are unrealistic for office workers.” Rather, she prefers a straightforward method to the excessive, extreme ones of girl-group idols. “Although the changes are slow with my current diet, which focuses on changing behavior and habits, I feel rewarded as I record my small improvements every day.”

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Of course I do still maintain some reservations. In her Instagram photos featured in the article, Jeong looks unhealthily thin, but I concede may naturally be skinny. Also, Jo Min-yeong, quoted next, heads a dieting and liposuction clinic notorious for its comical fat and body-shaming commercials. And yet her explanation of the rationale behind the EyeBody method, while vague, may make some sense:

요즘 유행처럼 번지는 SNS에 자신의 식단과 운동 사진을 올리는 것 역시 다이어트 비법 중 하나다. 이는 실제 의학적으로는 ‘행동수정요법’으로 분류된다. 식습관, 운동량, 활동량 등 평소 행동 중 비만의 원인이 되는 요소가 있는지 살펴보고 이를 건강한 행동, 즉 다이어트를 위한 행동으로 고치는 방식이다.

‘매일 거울 보기’, ‘다이어트 자극용 사진 보기’ 등도 시각적인 자극을 통해 다이어트 동기를 부여하는 행동수정요법에 해당한다.

One of the secrets to successfully dieting is to upload photos of your dieting and exercising on social media. Known as “behavioral modification therapy,” it is a way to identify and correct what aspects of your life might be causing obesity, such as your eating habits, amount of exercise, and amount of activity. ‘Daily mirror viewing’ and ‘Viewing pictures for diet motivation’ are also considered behavior modification therapy that motivates you to diet through visual stimulation. (Right: “Picture of Dream Body as Smartphone Wallpaper Helps Weight Loss.”)

조민영 비만클리닉 365mc 천호점 대표원장은 “행동수정요법은 체중 감량을 위해 먹고 싶은 것을 참고 억지로 운동하는 것을 말하는 것이 아니라 생활습관을 바꿔 스스로 건강한 음식을 찾고 운동을 즐길 수 있도록 돕는 것”이라고 설명했다.

Cho Min-yeong, CEO of Obesity Clinic 365mc explained, “Behavioral modification therapy is not so much about forcing yourself to eat and exercise to the weight level you desire, but more about encouraging yourself to change your lifestyle and help yourself find healthy food and enjoy exercise.”

조 원장은 “시각적인 자극은 빈도가 높아질수록 더욱 강해지는데 매일 거울을 본다면 자극을 주는 횟수가 늘어나 다이어트 동기 부여가 배가 된다”며 “닮고 싶은 몸매 사진을 자주 보는 것도 비슷한 효과를 낸다”고 말했다.

Cho continued, “The more frequent the visual stimulation, the stronger the motivation. So, if you look at the mirror every day, the number of stimulations increases.” Also, “Seeing pictures of the body you want to resemble often has a similar effect.”

So why “gilded cage”?

Consider where I first heard of EyeBody, which was in a short fan-engagement video by Korean lingerie company Qmomo, as one does. The subject was all the tricks you can use to achieve that perfect EyeBody selfie:

Blink and you’ll miss them though, I recommend watching this longer video by 이지은 다이어트/Jiny diet. The English CC, which I think she writes herself, provide a good translation:

I agree, those are all excellent selfie tips. Assuming that is, you share the body ideals of the YouTubers, which I don’t—I find the model more attractive in the “before” photos in the first video, and have never understood the Korean obsession with small heads expressed in the second.

But that’s not the point.

Normally, I would be very dismissive of a trend like EyeBody. But a book I recently read about sexuality in Japan challenged long-held preconceptions on that subject, which I didn’t realize I had. Still in the same contemplative frame of mind while putting pen to paper for this post, I recalled the dramatic changes to my students’ attitudes to body image and digital media over the last 11 years. So, I looked at EyeBody practitioners in a new light. I saw the agency, confidence, and potential they saw in their bodies, which mirrored my own once. I read too, about why men especially might be drawn to posting muscular selfies in a time of austerity. Maybe, in an environment in which 20-somethings already feel constantly overexposed, why not take control of that for your own advantage? May EyeBody—dare I say it—actually work?

(My own commitment to writing here every Monday in 2021, after all, has already necessitated a radical transformation to my own habits—but, crucially, only because I made it public.)

But those videos. I get it—selfies, in themselves, can be a source of empowerment too. But EyeBody feels a little deeper. Selfies and likes as the method, not the goal per se. Why diminish it? Or, in reality, do its practitioners easily fall prey to the temptations of selfie tricks? Thereby fatally undermining the authenticity that distinguishes EyeBody from other dieting trends?

Until next week.

Related Posts:

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

Why Uhm Jung-Hwa Will Forever Be My Queen—and Now Yours Too

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes. All screenshots: MV via Visualazn.

The “Queen of Charisma” deserves so much better than an 18MB, 240p MV for Tum, one of her classic hits:

To remedy that, go to Visualazn for a 428MB, 720p version to download posthaste. (I’d upload it myself, weren’t YouTube to instantly ban the copyright violation.) Watch that once, then come back here.

(If you’re pressed for time, this 1080p MBC Music Camp performance will have to suffice, which has some clips from the MV. But if it’s your first time especially, I really do recommend experiencing it through the high quality MV.)

I’m only so demanding, because to understand how people really feel about their pop culture, you need to appreciate the circumstances in which they consume it. Especially of when they first encountered it, and the technology that was used.

With Tum (a.k.a. Teum, Crack, Gap), for me it was late-2000, in the small southern city of Jinju. I had no cable or satellite TV, so I was reliant on free-to-air channels. It would still be a year before I had internet on my home computer for the first time, and five more before YouTube even existed. Trance music, my first love, was literally unheard of outside of far distant Seoul. I didn’t even have a radio, feeling there’d be no point given Korea’s surprisingly few genre-specific stations. So, in terms of discovering any new music at all, it felt like I was a child in the U.K. again, frustrated at the long, weekly waits for Thursday night’s Top of the Pops.

Then one night while casually surfing those few channels, out of nowhere Uhm Jung-hwa dancing to her riff starting at 1:53/1:05 appeared, and my terrible, sleepless first year in Korea was instantly transformed into the stuff of fantasy again.

Of course the showcasing of Uhm Jung-hwa’s voluptuous body was integral to that. That’s why the CD I quickly purchased just didn’t cut it. It wasn’t like today, when you’re always just a click away from replaying your own favorite combination of amazing music sung and performed by incredibly attractive people. Back then, even with cable, a second viewing would have involved many tedious hours of watching music channels for those few precious minutes; without it, it was next to impossible. Instead, I had to content myself with the song alone, and accept that once the it left the charts and the music shows on the free-to-air channels, I’d likely never see the MV again.

That’s simply how it was with much of popular culture before the internet, no matter how meaningful it may have been to you. You just had to learn to live with it.*

Yet I don’t mean to elevate or privilege my outdated, distance-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder perspective. It’s neither superior, nor somehow more authentic than that of anyone encountering it for the first time today. It’s just mine, and part of my motivation for writing.

Indeed, the fresh perspective YouTube offers only motivated me further.

This was unexpected. Typically, the replay button is cruel to our most cherished pop-culture memories, and I didn’t expect scrutiny of Tum to be any kinder. Take the above scene from 3:51-3:54 (2:28-2:31 in the performance video) for instance. For the last 20 years, that moment of Uhm Jung-hwa looking glamorous as fuck while being mistress of all she surveys, has been indelibly burned into my brain. Only now though, can I take the time to notice all the hair in her face, which would have obscured her vision. The spell of my willing disbelief has been irrevocably broken—let alone totally ruining my long sought after screenshot.

Yet, truthfully, I’m genuinely stumped at locating any other similar oversights in the MV. It’s not perfect—the pauses are unnecessary and long, and the King Kong theme is only loosely tied to the lyrics—but there are many other objectively charismatic moments of Uhm Jung-hwa moments remaining to latch on to. If anything, being able to see it in such detail now has only further convinced me of how it much holds up after 20 years, and it’s this renewed appreciation that compels me to write. For it deserves far greater recognition as the classic it is, many more dance remixes than the single, terrible one I refuse to link to, and, again, at the very least, a decent quality video on YouTube.

Alas, that last I can’t provide. But I did put several days into finding that download for you. And I can give what is, as far as I know, the world’s very first English translation of the lyrics:

Uhm Jung-hwa—Tum

Track 2, Queen of Charisma, released November 2000.

Composer, lyricist, and arranger: Kim Geon-woo.

난 너의 생각처럼 널 위해 기다렸어 너 만을 쳐다보며 이렇게

나를 오랬 동안 그냥 두지 말아줘 이제 견딜 수 없는 나를 좀 봐

변하고 있는 나에게 너는 아무런 느낌이 없었니?

별다른 이유가 많이 있었더라도 널 생각만 해봐도 답답해

I waited for you like you thought I would, I only had eyes for you

Don’t leave me alone for a long time for just no reason, I can’t take it anymore

Didn’t you have any feelings for me as I was changing?

Even if there were a lot of different reasons for doing what you did, it is so frustrating to think about you

Chorus:

제발 이젠 내게 말해줘 너의 힘없는 얼굴이 내 생각엔

아무런 느낌 없는 너처럼 그저 희미해질 뿐이야 난 이제

더 이상 기다리지 않아 나를 언제나 바라본 널 이렇게

아무런 감동 없는 나처럼 매일 같은 날 일 뿐이야 오 제발

Please tell me now; your powerless face, I think,

is fading away, as if you have no feelings for me

I’m not waiting anymore, as you have always looked at me like this

Every day is just the same, emotionless like me, oh please

그렇게 말도 없이 나만을 쳐다보면 너무나 힘이 들어 이렇게 우린

오래도록 지쳐있긴 하지만 언젠가 끝낼 수 있는 날 있잖아

이젠 모든 걸 버리고 우리만의 기억을 생각해봐

너와 나의 사인 아주 가까웠지만 언제부터 이렇게 멀어졌니?

Gazing at me without saying a word leaves me feeling so tired, we’ve

been so frustrated for a long time— there are so many times when I want to just end things

Please put everything aside and focus only on our shared memories

You and I were once very close, when did you drift away?

(Chorus repeats and end)

I appreciate any corrections—while these lyrics were quite simple, you’ll notice I didn’t provide literal translations, as I felt that would diminish from their intended meaning. Please also do tell me your own rants or raves about Tum, or about any other of Uhm Jung-hwa’s songs (Festival is another favorite of mine!), whenever or however you first encountered them :)

*VCRs were a possibility of course, but their bulk and expense meant few 20-somethings had them.

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

I’m Obsessed with the Collective Amnesia Surrounding EXID’s Sexy Ice Cream Ad

And I’m not afraid to quote poetry to justify it!

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes. Screenshot: YouTube.

You the bride

are a form of grace,

your eyes honey.

Desire rains on your exquisite face.

Afroditi has honored you exceedingly.

Excerpt, Song to Groom and Bride, Sappho.

The word “sensual” has always been a favorite of mine, once I learnt it was brimming with sex. Even just to say it can feel like a carnal act, if you let it. Close your eyes, linger on the syllables as you would on the face of a lover, and the tip of your tongue teases you with memories of all the places it’s been—and hints at the pleasures still left to explore.

Foods that can similarly be luxuriated over then, lend themselves to sensual advertising. Take ice-cream. I don’t eat it like you see in the ads, and neither do you. But I get them. Being allergic to dairy, so not eating my first ice cream until I was seventeen, I really do relish the soy variety when it makes one of its rare appearances in supermarkets here.* I even have a bottle of Kahlua saved specially for just such occasions.

Not unlike Kahlua or even sex itself though, too much of the same thing can easily become boring and routine. That you and I can both roll our eyes at the notion of orgasming over ice cream, only points to how advertisers sexing it up is so routine as to be mindless cliché. Just so routine in fact, that by 2019 Baskin Robbins Korea seemed to have forgotten they were doing it at all, and were forced to withdraw and apologize for an ad where they’d replaced the usual woman with an 11-year-old girl wearing cosmetics.

And I do mean “the usual woman”:

Source: Frankie Huang/@ourobororoboruo.

Issues this gender imbalance raises include the strong potential to infantilize women while simultaneously sexualizing girlishness, and the suggestion that women are just too damn hormonal to think rationally:

[There is a] powerful, symbiotic relationship between women and carnality, as indicated by the preponderance of erotic narratives in advertising addressing women. This is particularly overt in the advertising of products that are depicted as being endowed with the power to enable women to experience intense quasi-sexual pleasure from their consumption. Examples of such product categories include chocolate, luxury ice cream, biscuits, and shampoo. This is a world that reflects a perception of women as ‘consummate consumers’ who are ruled by their bodies and, as such, are less able than men to resist the lure of carnal pleasures (Belk 1998; Belk and Costa 1998).

Source: Pauline Maclaran and Lorna Stevens (2004),”Special Session: Gender and the Erotics of Consumption”, in GCB – Gender and Consumer Behavior Volume 7, eds. Linda Scott and Craig Thompson, Madison, WI: Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 1 to 14. (Download)

But I sense EXID fans are getting a little frustrated by this point. Posting an infamous, bawdy, 2012 Japanese commercial for Gligo’s Dororich Creamy Cafe Jelly in a moment is hardly going to help either.

There is a method behind my madness. First, I needed to take advantage of my recent purchase of a book on Sappho to establish some cultural capital, in the hope I’d have at least a shred of credibility remaining by the end of this post. For what male feminist/feminist ally would ever admit to being utterly transfixed by this?

I hear and share your numerous objections. Accept it not so much as an ad though, but for the sort porn it is, complete with five gravure idols (NSFW), addictive Benny Hill-like music, and blatant masturbation and ejaculation symbolism, and it’s so over the top that I can’t help but revel in its hilarity.

The Korean media couldn’t make that concession however. Take one of the first reporters to cover it:

“CF 영상 자체가 에로틱하다는 것이 그 이유다. 밝은 조명에 우유와 젤리가 섞이는 장면, 청순한 외모의 여성들 뿐이지만 남성들의 마음을 자극하는 요소는 다분하다.” (Herald Economy)

The reason the CF [is gaining tremendous popularity among Japanese men] is because it’s erotic. The scene in which milk and jelly are mixed in bright light, and only women with pure and fresh appearance, all these are enough to stimulate men’s hearts.

Contradicting themselves, even more stimulating elements were listed; alas, those did not include the symbolism of the spurting cream. Later reporters (or their cautious editors), if they mentioned the cream at all, only caused themselves more embarrassment in their Kakfaesque refusal to acknowledge the completely obvious:

“또 사방에선 알 수 없는 흰 액체가 날아온다.” (Korea JoongAng Daily)

“And white liquid is coming from out of nowhere.”

“게다가 우유를 상징하는 하얀 액체가 이 소녀들에게 날아들어 묘한 상상을 자극하게 하고 있어 일각에서는 비난이 쏟아지고 있다.” (The Chosunilbo)

“In addition, it is criticized because the scene in which white liquid that symbolizes milk is being poured over the girls is triggering strange imaginations.”

“또 사방에서는 우유로 보이는 흰 액체가 계속해서 날아든다.” (Herald Economy)

““And white liquid that seems to be milk is continuously being sprayed.”

I realize there may be official or unofficial rules in the Korean news media regarding acknowledging explicit content, even symbolism. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence either, and it would remain a blessing to find an official news source that, in reporting on this commercial, hadn’t patronized its readers over something so trivial.

Be that as it may, the next reason, and finally, is because now you know exactly what went through my mind when I saw EXID’s commercial for Lotte’s Goo Goo ice-cream a few years later:

I only didn’t write about it at the time, because I expected the media and fans to immediately be all over it. Gligo’s Dororich Creamy Cafe Jelly commercial, after all, made quite the splash in social media when it came out. It took balls, I thought, for Lotte to be so brazen about the origins of its own very literal money shot.

Screenshot: YouTube.
Screenshot: YouTube.
Screenshot: YouTube.

But, crickets. Whereas some reporters did point out the new, sexualized direction for Goo Goo’s advertising, most merely gushed about the endorsement choices in their typical advertorials. Social media too, or at least in respect to this commercial, seemed surprisingly reticent on the subject of ejaculation, and to have completely forgotten about the Creamy Cafe Jelly. By the time I realized people just weren’t talking about it, the moment for laying a world exclusive claim to this cosmic connection had passed.

I was loathe to end without a conclusion too. Perhaps on such an indecorous subject though, in which the innuendos came thick and fast as I typed (believe me, it’s harder to avoid them easier to just go with the flow get them off your chest roll with them), there wasn’t one to be made?

Still, the sexy ads and commercials will continue regardless, symbols of orgasming will always be an indelible part of that, and sex and K-pop are synonymous. Indeed, after the 2012 Japanese inspiration, then EXID’s 2015 sequel, 2018 saw JooE of Momoland step up in her commercial for Baker 7. Or rather, her “mother” and gardener:

I invite readers to offer any more examples, and to come to their own conclusions about them. To prepare for the 2021 follow-up, what do you think needs to be said about sexualization in ads, and about the gender imbalance in those selling chocolate, ice cream, biscuits, and shampoo? Is it necessarily bad if they depict orgasms? Please let me know in the comments!

Related Posts:

“Spring Girls,” by Sunwoo Jung-a, Is Both Feminist and as Sexy as Hell. Let’s Give It the Attention It Deserves.

Watching SPICA’s “Tonight” is an Awesome Teaching Moment About the Male Gaze. Here’s Why. (Part 1 of 3)

“Fucking is Fun!”: Sexual Innuendos in Vintage Korean Advertising

“With Throbbing Heart and Trembling Hands, the Groom Undresses the Waiting Bride, to Unveil the Mystery”

• “Fuse Seoul” Clothing Brand Subverts Gender Stereotypes, Offers Women Comfortable Clothing. What’s Not to Love?

Korean Sociological Image #19: Gee, Gee, Gee…Girls’ Generations’ Latest Ad Speaks Volumes About Korean Gender Roles

*If you too are desperate for soy milk ice-cream in Korea, try specialist cafes and CU convenience stores. Supermarkets in my area have sometimes stocked it over the years, but always discontinued it after just a few months.

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

“Fuse Seoul” Clothing Brand Subverts Gender Stereotypes, Offers Women Comfortable Clothing. What’s Not to Love?

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes. Source: Fuse Seoul.

There’s just something about the Fuse Seoul underwear featured in this ad. Why do so many women want to get their hands on it?

One big reason is that despite appearances, the underwear is actually for women, produced by a company not shy about picking and choosing from features standard for menswear to offer women more comfortable options. As CEO Kim Su-jeong explained shortly after the company’s founding in October 2018:

“앞으로도 다양한 체형의 모델을 기용하고, 그동안 남성들만 누리던 ‘의복혜택’을 여성복에도 적극 도입할 것”이라고 설명했다.

“We will continue to use models of various body types and actively introduce the ‘clothing benefits’ that only men have enjoyed so far.”

…퓨즈서울은 단순히 스타일을 넘어서 그동안 남성복에게만 적용되어왔던 자켓 안주머니, 히든 스트레치밴딩, 넉넉한 바지주머니와 밑위길이를 여성사이즈에 맞게 제작하여 품절대란을 일으키기도 한 바 있다고 업체 측은 전했다.

…the company goes beyond just a style, reporting that they’ve been unable to meet the demand for their clothes with jacket inner pockets, hidden stretch banding, generous trouser pockets, and rise lengths appropriate for the wearer’s size, all features which are usually only found in menswear. 

Further elaborating on her motivations in an interview in July 2020 (source, right):

“점점 여성복 사이즈가 줄어들고 있어요. 지난 5년간 눈에 띄게 보이는 현상입니다. 예전에는 27인치가 M사이즈였는데, 지금은 27인치가 L사이즈가 됐습니다. 브랜드마다 사이즈도 다릅니다. 왜 여성복은 규격이 일정하지 않은지, 여성복 디자이너로서 그 이유를 알고 싶었어요.

“The size of womenswear has definitely been decreasing over the past five years. Previously, 27 inches was considered a medium size, but now 27 inches is considered a large. Different brands have different sizes too. As a womenswear designer, I wanted to know how and why the standards were constantly changing.

어느날 남동생 옷을 입었는데 정말 편했습니다. 남자 형제가 있는 사람들은 대부분 남성복이 얼마나 편한지 알 겁니다. 그 때부터 남성복을 연구하기 시작했습니다. 남성복은 여성복에 비해 사이즈 혼란도 변동도 거의 없습니다. 브랜드가 달라도 규격은 거의 같아 편하게 구매할 수 있습니다.”

One day, I was wearing my brother’s clothes, and they were really comfortable. Most people with brothers will know how comfortable menswear is. From then on, I began to study menswear. Compared to womenswear, menswear shows little confusion or change in size. Even with different brands, the sizes and specifications are almost the same, so you can easily purchase what you need.”

Another reason is because they’re tired of the tropes surrounding the advertising of women’s underwear, which this ad completely upended:

Source: @Harang_0601, in response to a since deleted tweet that featured the images below:
Source: Fuse Seoul.

Translation: “I can’t even think of the model as a woman, I thought this was an advertisement for men’s underwear…That just goes to show how much usual women’s underwear advertisements are shot for a male gaze, and how women are so used to that… Only tears remain.”

Sources: @Yuzru12 and @NDG_0_0.

Translation: This the difference between gazing and being the subject of the gaze… One the left is a harmless and passive pose for the male-gaze, whereas the right model has a strong stare back at the viewer. What to make of the exposure of women’s bodies also varies greatly depending how the picture was taken and viewers’ points of view.

On their own Twitter account, Fuse Seoul themselves stressed their deliberate attempt at machismo:

Source: @fuseseoul.

Translation: The aim with this Prince Gwanghaethemed pictorial was to go beyond simple mirroring by using a macho image, formerly considered exclusively for men, in a female photoshoot. But please note this wasn’t intended to be a critique of any specific vendor.

And on a woman becoming king:

Source: @fuseseoul.

Translation: I think that when a woman becomes a king, she can not only become a more effective politician, but can also become a more vicious king.

In hindsight, it should have been obvious that another reason for the attention was that the model, dressed as male royalty and posed with all the confidence and machismo of a typical men’s underwear ad, is a woman herself, a crossfit trainer known as Shark Coach, a.k.a. Shark Lee and Lee Yun-ju (Instagram, Twitter, YouTube). Here’s a video of her preparing for the photoshoot:

And CEO Kim Su-jeong, who has a youtube channel of her own, on some of the elements that went into the shoot:

Yet throughout much of the research and writing of this piece, frankly I was completely mistaken about Shark Coach’s sex.

One reason is because Korean male celebrities were featured in ads for bras as long ago as the early-2010s. Albeit not so much wearing them, as promoting the idea that if women purchase a brand and style he endorses, “it might even be him who one day helps them take it off.” Another is that Korean men’s clothing company Uncoated, for one, uses a female model to model its underwear. So it wouldn’t be too much of a leap for a progressive women’s clothing company like Fuse Seoul to likewise reverse the sexes in its own ads.

Source: donor2222.
Source: Uncoated.

That being said, more relevant are two biases behind my mistake. First, a benign one: due to underwear reviews by YouTuber Daisy, a late-20s Korean woman I’ve long subscribed to who covers everything from cosmetics to sex toys on her channel (In Korean, but she writes her own English and Japanese CC translations), I’ve become very persuaded that the distinctions between men’s and women’s underwear aren’t quite as distinct as those I grew up with. So, again, I wasn’t at all fazed to see a man model “women’s” underwear:

(But because it would be strange to include those reviews but nothing about the Fuse Seoul underwear, here is one I’ve been able to find.)

(And here’s Kim Su-jeong on why this underwear is such a big deal.)

I can’t in good conscience not also mention and highly-recommend “natural-size” model and YouTuber Cheedo a.k.a. Park Lee-sul too, who I’ve also long been a subscriber to (but who provides no English subtitles unfortunately). Despite rarely discussing underwear specifically, she has a lot to say about the escape the corset corset and no-bra movement, further convincing me of the changes to women’s fashions underway. Actually, you may recognize her from a BBC video about that:

But the main reason for my mistake, of course, is because I thought Shark Coach looked like a man.

I don’t doubt for a minute that many of you did too, and I don’t feel embarrassed about it. But on the other hand, just a few days ago Shark Coach herself complained on Youtube about being constantly misgendered. And it’s precisely such gender stereotyping and rushes to judgement that Fuse Seoul is encouraging people to avoid.

Source: @crossfit_shark

I will try. I’m glad to say too, that Fuze Seoul’s approach seems to be making some progress: for a time, this underwear was the most sought-after item of its kind on ZigZag, a Korean app for women’s clothing.

But what do you think of the ad? Will you buy the underwear, or any of their other gender-neutral clothes? How to address the many remaining doublestandards (NSFW) in just the advertising of underwear alone?

Source: @rad_bunsbian.

Please let me know in the comments!

Related Posts:

How Slut-Shaming and Victim-Blaming Begin in Korean Schools

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

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

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

The Surprising Reason Koreans Don’t Buy Red Underwear for Valentine’s Day

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

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

Researchers Announce “Asian” and “Western” 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 by reading the study for themselves.

I realize to have expected either was incredibly naive. Quick content and clickbait titles are key, 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. Yet not only did no reporters offer even this bare minimum, many failed to provide any identifying details about the study whatsoever.

So, I sought it out and examined 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 Times 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 very much 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)

Books I Read in 2020

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes. Photo by Nathan Bingle on Unsplash.

All the books I read in 2020, with my ratings.

Only the titles and links, alas, as my university’s jam-packed December had me receiving frantic phone calls from students as late as Christmas and Boxing Day. But now that I’m free, I’d love an excuse to talk about any of the books you’ve read or are interested in. Please do give me a buzz if so, either in the comments here or on Facebook or Twitter.

Also, I’m itching to atone for my many unfulfilled writing promises this year. To cut to the chase, by posting every Monday from now on, starting with this warm-up.

How? Why? What’s different?

The old me would be answering those questions now, instead of working on coming posts. Whereas the new me doesn’t have anyone’s time to waste, and has already deleted their social media apps on their phone to help them focus ;)

Until Monday then. And Happy New Year!

1. States and Social Revolutions (1979) by Theda Skocpol, 4.5/5

2. Medieval Technology and Social Change (1966) by Lynn White, 2.5/5

3. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (2016) by Mark Manson, 2/5

4. The Female Brain (2007) by Louann Brizendine, 2.5/5

5. The Scandal of Pleasure: Art in an Age of Fundamentalism (1997) by Wendy Steiner, 3/5

6. Beyond the Frame: Women of Color and Visual Representation (2005) ed. by N. Tadlar, 1.5/5

7. Dostoevsky: Reminiscences (1977) by Anna Dostoevsky, 3/5

8. We’re Going on a Bar Hunt: A Parody (2013) by Emlyn Rees, 3/5

9. Gender Voices (1991) by David Graddol, 5/5

10. She Found it at the Movies: Women on Sex, Desire, and Cinema (2020) ed. by Christina Newland, 3/5

11. Social and Cultural Anthropology: A Very Short Introduction (2000) by Peter Just, 4/5

12. The Spheres of Heaven (2002) by Charles Sheffield, 3.5/5

13. Glory Season (1994) by David Brin, 4/5

14. Gender and Genius: Towards a Feminist Aesthetics (1990) by Christine Battersby, 3/5

15. Media, Gender and Identity, An introduction (2nd ed., 2008) by David Gauntlett, 5/5

16. The Years of Rice and Salt: A Novel (2003) by Kim Stanley Robinson, 3.5/5

17. The Dark Knight System: A Repertoire With 1…Nc6 (2013) by James Schuyler, 5/5

18. Modern Romance (2016) by Aziz Ansari, 3/5

19. South East Asia in the World-Economy (1991) by Chris Dixon, 5/5

20. Colonial Modernity in Korea (2001) ed. by Daqing Yang, 4.5/5

21. The Problem of Women in Early Modern Japan (2016) by Marcia Yonemoto, 5/5

22. Disco 2000 (1999) ed. by Sarah Champion, 0.5/5

23. Jiggle: (Re)Shaping American Women (2007) by Wendy Burns-Ardolino, 3.5/5

24. Everyday Sexism (2015) by Laura Bates, 4/5

25. Design as Art (1966) by Bruno Munari, 0.5/5

26. The Male Brain: A Breakthrough Understanding of How Men and Boys Think (2011) by Louann Brizendine, 1.5/5

27. The Complete Poems of Sappho (2009) by Willis Barnstone, 3.5/5

28. Secrets of Grandmaster Chess: An expanded edition of a modern classic (2014) by John Nunn, 5/5

And finally #29 and #30, plus—for the sake of maintaining the aesthetics—my next two weeks’ reading also.

29. Sensual Relations: Engaging the Senses in Culture and Social Theory (2003) by David Howes, 3/5

30. The Erotic Margin: Sexuality and Spatiality in Alterist Discourse (1999) by Irvin C. Schick 3/5

Breasts and Eggs (2020) by Mieko Kawakami

The Politics of Gender in Colonial Korea: Education, Labor, and Health, 1910-1945 (2008) by Theodore Jun Yoo

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