“우리는 할수 있다!”

With permission, allow me to present Jen Lee’s Korean version of the iconic “We Can Do It!” poster:

(Source: nabichan@instagram)

I know: you’ve just got to have one, right? Unfortunately though, Jen, whom many of you will already know and love as the author of the Dear Korea webcomic, doesn’t offer it as a poster yet. But I’m hoping that so many of you will join me on her Facebook page in demanding one, that she’ll just have no choice but to find a way to print and sell them online ;)

Meanwhile, I hope you all had a great International Women’s Day (which is also my birthday BTW!), and sorry for not having a post up on Monday—I’ve just been very busy with the start of the new semester, and my wife has just started a new job too. But I’ll be back to my normal posting schedule next week.

See you then!

Update: In case you can’t get access to Jen’s personal Facebook page, please try her at her Dear Korea one or at her Instagram instead.

Update 2: It’s working! To help Jen work out the logistics, please click on this one-minute poll to give her an idea of what size you’d prefer, and if you’re inside or outside of Korea.

Update 3: Success!

Feminazi Killjoys Target Cute Children’s Song

And I’m one of them:

%ec%95%84%eb%b9%a0-%ed%9e%98%eb%82%b4%ec%84%b8%ec%9a%94

(Source: Instiz)

Here’s a transcript:

‘아빠 힘내세요’라는 동요 아시죠.

Anchor: You know the song Cheer Up Father, yes?

어깨 축 쳐진 아빠에게 아이들이 용기를 줬던 노래인데 이 노래가 양성평등을 저해한다는 판정이 나와 문화관광부가 해명자료까지 내는 소동이 벌어졌습니다.

This is the song which gives encouragement to exhausted, depressed fathers, but it has been recently criticized for hindering gender equality. In response, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism issued a statement clarifying what the song is really about.

무슨일인지, 박철현 기자가 보도합니다.

Park Cheol-hyon reports:

“아빠 힘내세요, 우리가 있잖아요”

1997년 발표된 동요 ‘아빠 힘내세요’입니다.

“Dad, cheer up/be strong, you have us”: this is the children’s song released in 1997.

“IMF때 굉장히 많이 들어봤고요. 아이들이 보자마자 불러줬을 때 저절로 힘도 났고..”

Cho Hong-joon, Person on the street #1:

“I heard this song a lot during the IMF Crisis. It  cheered me up when my kids sang it to me”.

그런데 문화관광부는 이 노래가 우리 사회 양성 평등 의식을 해치는 대표적인 사례 중 하나라는 연구 결과를 발표했습니다.

However, in a statement of research results released by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, this song was given as an example of something hindering gender equality awareness.

이 노래가 경제활동을 하는 것은 남성이라는 고정 관념을 키워준다는 겁니다.

This song encourages the notion that it is only men that should partake in economic activity.

특히 엄마가 요리하면서 아빠를 기다리는 만화 동영상은 여성은 가사 노동만 한다는 선입견을 심어줄 수 있다고 지적했습니다.

In particular, a popular accompanying video for the song depicts women cooking while waiting for their husbands, perpetuating traditional gender roles.

[James: Actually, only one of videos shown in the report does that; it can be viewed here.]

“여자들도 많이 일을 하고 더 힘들어요. 여자가 들어봤을 때는 별로인 것 같아요.”

Park Hyeon-joo, Person on the street #2:

“Women work a lot, and it’s harder for us. When they hear it, women don’t care for this song.”

하지만 황당하다는 반응이 많습니다.

But many people replied that the criticisms were nonsense.

“노래는 노래일 뿐이지, 거기에 그런 의미를 부여한다면 그게 더 문제..”

Jeon Byeong-rok, person on the street #3:

“This song is just a song, it only becomes problematic if you read too much into it.”

노래를 만든 현직 초등학교 교사 한수성씨는 가사는 아내가 썼고 이 노래로 국무총리 표창까지 받았다며 황당해했습니다.

The song writer Han Soo-seong, who is an elementary school teacher, said that the lyrics were written by his wife, and pointed out that he received an award from the Prime Minister for it.

“가사가 그렇게 깊은 뜻을 담고 있는 지 몰랐습니다. 말도 안되는 거죠”

“I don’t think that the lyrics have that deeper [sexist] meaning. It’s ridiculous to say so.”

논란이 커지자 문화관광부는 양성 평등 교육에 참고하라고 진행된 연구 결과일 뿐 유해 가요로 지정한 건 아니라고 해명했습니다.

In response to the controversy, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism clarified that the research was only conducted to further the cause of gender equality, not naming and shaming. (End.)

This report is actually a few years old. But the topic still regularly pops up in my Google Keyword Alerts and on Twitter, albeit usually only leading to Ilbe and DC Inside users having a good laugh at the feminazis. Emboldened perhaps, by the Ministry’s criticisms falling on such deaf ears.

Because it’s still taught to just about every Korean child, even those too young to understand it:

Demanding it of guests is still part of the repertoire of the variety-show hosts, used to elicit infantilized gender performances from girl-group members. For instance, from 20 year-old Yoo-a of Oh My Girl below (which is not to say her tears aren’t genuine):

It’s still such an ingrained part of Korean culture, that even insurance company employees will name their project teams after it, and the media will raise it in reports about the dutiful daughters of male politicians (as well as commenting on their beauty):

yoo-seung-min-yoo-dam-daughter(Source: Asiae)

And finally, because Korean fathers still work among the longest hours in the world, and wish they could be home in time to see their families. As this recent feel-good advertisement makes clear:

Who else but a feminazi would deprive Korean fathers of such a small source of joy?

But wait. Most of those examples above aren’t exactly compelling reasons to continue teaching the song to children. What’s more, even if you still don’t find the song problematic, or how it’s used, there remains the inconvenient fact that MOTHERS WORK TOO:

%ec%95%84%eb%b9%a0-%ed%9e%98%eb%82%b4%ec%84%b8%ec%9a%94%ea%b0%80-%ec%97%ac%ec%84%b1%ec%b0%a8%eb%b3%84-%eb%ac%b8%ed%99%94%ea%b4%80%ea%b4%91%eb%b6%80-%ed%95%b4%eb%aa%85%ea%b9%8c%ec%a7%80(“Women work a lot, and it’s harder for us. When they hear it, women don’t care for this song.”)

Is Park Hyeon-ju referring to work inside the house, outside, or both? A song about the former would hardly challenge traditional gender roles. Yet even that would be an improvement on something that only acknowledges the work of men. Twenty years after Cheer Up Father was written, it’s high time to acknowledge its flaws, and to begin teaching children something much more inclusive.

My suggestion is for the government to arrange a national songwriting competition. It should be determined by popular vote (the public tends to be better judges of what’s catchy), with the winning entry to replace Cheer Up Father in kindergartens and elementary schools.

Do any readers know of any examples like that from other countries? How did they go?

Update: A friend mentioned it would be a pity to lose such a catchy song, and jokingly suggested replacing appa “아빠” (father) with eomppa “엄빠,” a combination of appa and eomma “엄마” (mother) which is actually a word already, although one of those ones everyone knows but has never actually used. But I’d be all for that, especially if the videos and songbook illustrations were changed accordingly. While using the word would be awkward at first, much of this blog is about Korean companies’ and the media’s proclivity for inventing new labels and buzzwords, many—most—of which were also very awkward at first, but some of which have definitely stuck. So why not?

Related Posts:

Korean Students Challenging Slut-Shaming and the Madonna-Whore Complex

ewha-madonna-whore(Source: ‏@smile_ystkyrk)

Today’s post is a collection of encouraging images and words from the incredibly woke students of the Ewha University Women’s Committee (이화여성위원회/@ewhalovewom), which were used in their 16th Feminism Festival.

I hope you’re inspired by them, and I’d love to hear of any similar examples, and/or of anything else you’d like translated. Especially if they’re related to my birthday International Women’s Day that is coming up in a couple of weeks, and will help spread the word about Korean events :)

ewha-16th-feminism-festivalThe title of the festival poster reads “Becoming a slut.” (Lit. “The technology/method of weaving/making a slut.”)

(Source: @ewhalovewom)
ewha-madonna-whore-2(Source: ‏@smile_ystkyrk)

From a noticeboard at the event.

ewha-madonna-whore-3(Source: @ewhalovewom)

It reads:

A word for a “male slut” doesn’t exist. If you search for it on Google, you’ll only find “transvestite.”

“Slut”: there’s no more powerful word for criticizing women. It has the power to destroy them. In practice, it is used in so many ways to attack women.

We are going to think about that at this festival. Everyone’s situation is different, but we need to talk more about the words “slut” and “prostitute,” and to redefine them. When even the most trivial things about women are used to attack them as sluts, rather than avoiding the word shouldn’t we instead reconsider the images the word evokes?

Although what we have written is not eloquent, please enjoy reading it.

Let’s begin the 16th Feminism Festival!

ewha-madonna-whore-4(Source: @ewhalovewom)

ewha-madonna-whore-4aIf you don’t look naturally at the many varied forms of women’s lives, but only look at them through one twisted lens, then that is a form of misogyny. In the end, it’s not that people hate women living alone or studying abroad per se. I think it’s more that people look suspiciously at women who are not under the protection of their families, calling them sluts.

“Nobody can avoid being accused of being a slut.” (Hee-da)

ewha-madonna-whore-4bHow can it be convincing when you say that “The cause of sexual violence has nothing to do with women’s exposure” on the hand, but on the other hand say to women “Don’t wear such revealing clothes”?

“DON’T DO THAT. Don’t do that!” (Yeol-mae)

ewha-madonna-whore-4cIf you talk about women working as tenpro* by just using that label, as if they were just numbers rather than real women with real names, then you’re dehumanizing them and indirectly criticizing them. Instead, we can talk about why they became tenpro, and how come that kind of profession exists.

“Even if they are numbered, their names are not numbers.” (Bam-cha)

*This means “high class prostitute”; am embarrassed to say this was the first time I’d ever heard of this surprisingly common word.

ewha-madonna-whore-4dA teacher and a prostitute. Or, a prostitute and a teacher. I hesitate at the point where these two subjects meet. But the more I hesitated, the more I thought I should write about this. This is about my fear and insincerity when I met a prostitute.

“This is about those things.” (Sung-hyeon.)

ewha-madonna-whore-4eTo victims of sexual violence, people commonly recommend saying that they were virgins. They have to prove that [they didn’t deserve it a little by showing that] they are not bitches, they are not women who exploit their sexual attractiveness, they are not women who just play around and don’t listen to people, and that they are not the kind of women who deserve to get raped, and so on.

“Our society’s S-line.” (Rumble.)

ewha-madonna-whore-4fTo a woman, labeling her a “prostitute” is like a warning to other women, which forces those other women to act modestly and appropriately. Ultimately, it functions to control women.

“A phase of the university festival.” (Yeon-o)

ewha-madonna-whore-5(Source: ‏@smile_ystkyrk)

This one, a test for whether you’re a saint, a kimchi-girl, or a slut, looks like a lot of fun, but formatting it for this post looks a little difficult sorry. But I’ll happily try if anyone asks.

Underneath, people are encouraged post about taboos and unwritten rules they’ve heard. The three examples at the top read:

  • “Don’t go on a working holiday to Australia, people might misunderstand [your reasons for going].”
  • “Isn’t that lipstick shade too slutty-looking?”
  • “Don’t wear that short skirt!”
ewha-madonna-whore-6(Source: ‏@smile_ystkyrk)

Apologies that the festival was actually held two years ago BTW, as eagle-eyed readers will already have spotted. But those images still resonate, which is probably why they somehow surfaced in my Twitter feed last week. So too this tweet below, which I think is speaking about stereotypes of passive Korean women, but am not sure if it’s critiquing them or perpetuating them sorry (even my wife struggled with its meaning). Hence this post, just in case in was the latter!

asian-women-western-women-false-dichotomyRelated Posts:

Why Korea Has so Many Celebrity Endorsements, and Why That’s so Important for Understanding Korean Pop-Culture

korean-celebrity-endorsement(Source)

To find out, please check out my journal article “Just beautiful people holding a bottle: the driving forces behind South Korea’s love of celebrity endorsement”, which has just been published in Celebrity Studies. There’s only a very limited number of e-copies available unfortunately, so please get in touch if you have any problems accessing it.

Part of a special cultural report on (South and North) Korean celebrity, it’s only 4000 words long, which, alas, makes it at least 4000 words too short for the topic. I’m especially gutted that I had to cut out a paragraph about the “Metal Tray Karaoke Room” segment of the first season of Happy Together. So, let me mention it here instead. For if you really want to understand the strong humanizing streak in Korean celebrity culture I discuss, which underlies why there’s just sooo many ads featuring them, then there’s no greater example than that of a variety show which:

  • regularly featured A-list celebrities and/or sex symbols (e.g. Cha Tae-hyeon, Son Yae-jin, and host Lee Hyo-ri below)…
  • wearing traditional high-school uniforms…
  • in a set made of egg cartons…
  • singing obscure children’s songs…
  • and getting metal trays dropped on their heads if they made mistakes.

It also just happens to exemplify just about everything I love about Korea:

All that said, only having 4000 words to work with (actually supposed to be only 3500, but my long-suffering editor gave up on me) does force you to—ahem—get to the point, and to only cover the bare essentials. If you have any questions about the article then, and/or would just like to know more about anything covered in it, please let know in the comments, and I’d be very happy to get into greater detail.

korean-variety-shows-scripted(Source)

Related Posts:

Voyeur (보여) by Na-mi (나미): Lyrics and Translation

na-mi-voyeur(Sources, edited: Mediapaper, YouTube, Bonik)

I’m going to let my hair down this week. And I do enjoy covering Korean artists or groups who deserve to be much better known by English speakers. Even if they reward me by disbanding as I type this, or by never replying to my tweets.

Here’s hoping I get a different reaction from Na-mi, probably the coolest ajumma you’re ever going to meet. Allow me to present her dance/club anthem Voyeur, released in November 2013:

One of the most popular and famous disco singers of the 1980s, if you’ve spent longer than a month in Korea you will undoubtedly have heard one of her songs. Most likely, this one:

Naturally, I first heard it myself via Lee Hyo-ri:

T-ara did a version in 2012 too:

For Korean speakers, here’s a quick taste of her history:

Before Voyeur, Na-mi last performed live in 1992, and last released any new music in 1996. So you’d have imagined her comeback would have been a very big deal indeed. Unfortunately though, Voyeur just didn’t take off. Na-mi has faded back into obscurity since, closing her Twitter account and rarely updating her YouTube channel.

In hindsight, Euro-dance-pop was unlikely to appeal to her middle-aged fans. And you need more than one song and a remix to sustain the interest of any youthful converts.

Still, it’s my party, and I’ll dance to the coolest 58-year-old I know if I want to. If you want to join in, here’s my translation of the lyrics to help you sing along:

나미—보여 (Voyeur)

아련히, 너 한동안은 없었어

다 잊었다고 생각한,널 보고 있었어

Looking back nostalgically, you weren’t here for a while

I thought I’d gotten over you completely, but really I was still watching you

Chorus:

외로이, 혼자 있는 그림자

잘못 본 게 아닐까, 다시 찾아왔어 난

I’m your voyeur 보여, 너밖에 없잖아

I’m your voyeur 보여, 내겐 너뿐이야

보여 보여 보여, 날 찾아 왔잖아

보여 보여, 이젠 날 놓지마

I was lonely, I saw your shadow everywhere

Maybe it was just my imagination, but I came to find you again

I’m your voyeur, voyeur, I have only you

I’m your voyeur, voyeur, you’re the only one for me

Voyeur, voyeur, voyeur, you came to find me

Voyeur, voyeur, don’t let go of me now

아직도, 날 떠난 네가 그리,워

흔들린 너의 표정이 내 마음을 움직여

Even now, even though you left me, I miss you

Your shaking expression moved my heart

(Chorus)

보여 보여 보여 보여 보여 보여

Voyeur, voyeur, voyeur, voyeur, voyeur, voyeur

(Chorus)

And as an extra bonus, these videos too:

The Remix:

Behind the scenes:

The dance routine:

If readers know of any other singers, groups, or songs that deserve more attention, especially if they seem a little yahae, then please let me know in the comments. I can’t guarantee I will cover them sorry—a weekly posting schedule leaves little room for maneuver—but if I like them then I will definitely try!

17-Year-Old Tzuyu: “A Special Gift for Korean Men”

Turning Boys Into Men? The Performance of Gender for South Korean Conscripts, Part 4

twice-tzuyu-kookmin-bank-a-special-gift-for-korean-men-1       “Do one thing everyday, that scares you.”

My personal motto adopted from Wear Sunscreen by Baz Luhrmann (1999), without which I wouldn’t be in Korea now. Nor have had sex in a lot of strange places.

Now a middle-aged parent though, it’s difficult finding scary things to do during my daily routine. So, I force myself to take photos of interesting ads in public. It’s just terrifying you see, knowing that everyone in the bank or subway carriage will peg me as a perverted samcheon fan.

Did I mention that all Korean phones have a faux shutter sound by law?

This ad however, seemed well worth my pain and shame. Much like Chou Tzu-yu’s ads for LG last year, taken when she was only 16, it can take a moment to realize she’s not actually the product being sold here:

twice-tzuyu-kookmin-bank-a-special-gift-for-korean-men-2The header, with the red, reads “A special gift for Korean men.” The subheading in the center, with the black in bold, adds the Catch-22 that: “To qualify as a Korean man, you need a Kookmin Bank Korea Love Card”, which provides discounts at various cinemas, coffee shops, restaurants, language institutes, and stores.

Now that’s patriotism.

But humor aside, it would have been more accurate to say that only those with military experience qualify as “Korean men”, as the card is only available to current or former soldiers who had their physical after January 2007 (i.e., mostly 20-somethings). This link to the military is made more obvious in the following ad, the top line of which reads “Anyone Can Be a Youth That Loves Their Country!”, under which it says you can apply for a card at a military recruitment office in addition to KB banks:

twice-tzuyu-kookmin-bank-a-special-gift-for-korean-men-3(Source)

In fairness, even the most innocuous of Korean ads and government slogans often sound very much like propaganda when translated into English. Also, no-one is denying the great sacrifice made by young men doing their mandatory 21-24 months of military service. What clearly isn’t fair however, is how ad campaigns like these effectively label women, the disabled, openly LGBTQ individuals, conscientious objectors, and (until just 6 years ago) mixed-race Koreans as incapable of “loving their country”, which only serves to justify denying them various privileges given to former soldiers later.

Starting with this card. There’s many more reasons why women end up so excluded from Korean economic and political life of course, with modern, democratic Korea being ranked a shocking 115th out of 145 countries in gender equality by the World Economic Forum. But examples like this one undoubtedly form part of the process.

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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 12)
kim-yuna-golden-ratio-body-s-line-tweet(Source: @niiaebi)

Did I tell you how much I love following Korean feminism on twitter? I’m completely addicted now. Add some sexual attraction to the buzz, thanks to my becoming acquainted with a self-professed loud and proud “fertile woman” (a.k.a. 나는 가임여성 이다/@niiaebi), and my body was all set to receive one powerful hit last week:

좆나 크리피하고 토악질나온다 무슨 재단사세요? 정육점 고기 품평하세요? 하 좆팔 김연아 선수는 외국에서 태어나셔야했다

“That [picture below] is so fucking creepy, I feel like throwing up. Are you a tailor or what? Are you judging her body parts like cuts of meat? Fucking hilarious. If only Kim Yuna* had been born in a foreign country. [Because they wouldn’t write about her like that there.]”

I know, right? If only I wasn’t already married. But she wasn’t finished yet:

진짜 국적이 죄다 국적이 죄야. 대체 왜 사람을 고기처럼 분석해놓는 거냐. 그리고 개쳐웃긴 점이 냄져몸은 ^절대^ 이렇게 상세히 나누고 재단하는 꼴 살면서 단 한번도 못봤음. 여성을 사람으로 안보고 인형으로 본단 걸 아주 당당하게 기사로 냈지요?

“It’s her nationality that is the real crime. Why on earth was she measured like meat? But the funniest thing is that I’ve never seen men’s bodies measured like this. Not even once in my life. The fact that this is from a news article clearly shows women are seen as dolls. Is the author proud of this article?”

I was so mesmerized, I kim-yu-na-golden-ratio-s-line-bodycouldn’t have agreed more. But then I glanced again at the images of Kim Yuna skating, and suddenly sobered up: didn’t she retire 3 years ago?

She did. It turned out, the left image came from a 7 year-old Chosun Ilbo article, which was also translated into English. And both are as vacuous as they are problematic. Rather than digging them up again, I began coquettishly tweeting back to @niiaebi, she should have burned them and buried the ashes. Lest they grow back again in the form of some mammoth blogpost somewhere.

Then I noticed that there was one crucial omission in the English translation, and it was too late.

Also, perhaps remembering that objects of your affection are not usually impressed if you have no opinion of your own and simply agree with everything they say, later I realized the articles weren’t problematic for the reasons @niiaebi mentioned, but were for exciting new ones that you will totally want to learn about.

I shouldn’t come on too strong though. So, let’s warm up to those with that omission first. It’s in the second paragraph:

서양인 못지않은 김연아의 ‘황금 몸매’의 가장 큰 특징은 긴 팔과 다리다. 1m64의 키에 체중 47㎏인 김연아의 하체 길이(허리~복사뼈)는 96㎝. 목 아래에서부터 허리까지 잰 상체 길이(50㎝)의 두 배에 가깝다. 패션 스타일리스트 김성일씨는 “일반인은 상·하체 비율이 4.5대 5.5만 돼도 다리가 긴 편에 속한다”며 “이렇게 다리가 긴 덕분에 똑같이 회전을 해도 회전이 크고 우아해 보이는 것”이라고 말했다.

In the English version:

Standing 164 cm tall and weighing 47 kg, Kim’s lower body from waist to the ankle bone measures 96 cm, almost double the length of her torso, which is 50 cm. Fashion stylist Kim Seong-il said, “With normal people, if the ratio of the upper and the lower body is 4.5:5.5, we consider them long-legged. Because of her long legs, Kim’s jumps look bigger and more elegant.”

It’s the first line that’s missing:

서양인 못지않은 김연아의 ‘황금 몸매’의 가장 큰 특징은 긴 팔과 다리다

“The most notable trait of her ‘golden [ratio] body’ is her long limbs, just like those of a Westerner’s.”

I admit that sounds pretty innocuous in itself. People use races and ethnicities as shorthand for body types and features all the time. In this case, author Jeong Sae-yeong is alluding to the common knowledge that Westerners are taller and have longer limbs than Koreans, and that Western women have larger breasts too.

But journalists shouldn’t be using such lazy stereotypes. This binary hinders more than it helps understanding, and can even lead to genuine harm.

For a start, because in practice “Westerners” usually only means “Caucasians.” Next, because Caucasians alone have a wide range of body types and sizes. Also, because even if the comparison was once broadly true, changes in Korean health and diets meant it was already out of date in 2010 (let alone in 2017).

Why do such obvious things need to be said? To someone purporting to explain bodies to us?

Continuing to position a fundamentally flawed representation of one race as the Occidental opposite of all Koreans though, does justify providing a very narrow range of small clothing sizes to the latter. It places the onus on consumers to fit their bodies to the clothes, rather than vice-versa.

This makes its absence in the English version of the article all the more glaring. Why did the anonymous translator not include it? Did they feel non-Koreans wouldn’t be interested? Did they feel embarrassed by it at all?

We can only speculate. But probably there is no grand conspiracy really: the same newspaper wasn’t shy in talking in terms of Western bodies in other English articles back then. It’s still depressingly common in the media today too. Alas, the very sexy quotes from Japanese sociologist Yoshio Sugimoto I planned to give, about the agendas of core subcultural groups dominating the mass media and intercultural-transactions, will have to wait for a more opportune time.

Yet the fact remains, English readers weren’t being given the full story. It’s something to chew on.

meet-the-meat(Sources: left; right)

Moving on to the rest of the article and the image, to my surprise my issue with them was less with the fact that Kim Yuna’s body parts are presented like slabs of meat, as with ice-skating itself.

It’s all Camille Paglia’s fault:

Early on, I was in love with beauty. I don’t feel less because I’m in the presence of a beautiful person. I don’t go [imitates crying and dabbing tears], “Oh, I’ll never be that beautiful!” What a ridiculous attitude to take!–the Naomi Wolf attitude. When men look at sports, when they look at football, they don’t go [crying], “Oh, I’ll never be that fast, I’ll never be that strong!” When people look at Michelangelo’s David, do they commit suicide? No. See what I mean? When you see a strong person, a fast person, you go, “Wow! That is fabulous.” When you see a beautiful person: “How beautiful.” That’s what I’m bringing back to feminism. You go, “What a beautiful person, what a beautiful man, what a beautiful woman, what beautiful hair, what beautiful boobs!” Okay, now I’ll be charged with sexual harassment, probably. I won’t even be able to get out of the room!

We should not have to apologize for reveling in beauty. It is not a trick invented by nasty men in a room someplace on Madison Avenue….It is so provincial, feminism’s problem with beauty. We have got to get over this.

(Sex, Art, and American Culture: Essays by Camille Paglia {1992}, pp.264-5; my emphases in bold.)

Which I take to mean that it is okay to exalt in magnificent bodies, whether for their looks, athletic prowess, or any number of reasons. It is okay to be curious about what it is exactly that sets them apart from everyone else in those regards, and to try to quantify that. So, when Jeong Sae-yeong writes (in the translation) that because “of [Yuna’s] long legs, Kim’s jumps look bigger and more elegant”, that because her arms are very long her “small arm movements look softer and more fluid”, and that “overdevelopment of muscles in certain parts of the body such as upper arms or thighs can make movements look stiff”? And when those certain parts of the body are all sized up in the graphic?

Then so what?

It pains me to say that, but, for all I know, those are all core tenets of figure-skating, and in that sense are no different to observing that, say, you need to be tall to play basketball well. If so, I can certainly disagree with those tenets and the values enshrined in them—short, toned people can’t help but be stiff and inelegant on the rink?—and I can strongly dislike figure-skating for that reason (and also because I believe anything entirely reliant on subjective, corruptible judging can’t possibly be considered a sport). But the point remains that athletes will always be sized up like this. It’s human nature.

Indeed, as @lsjkhj0903 points out in a reply to @niiaebi, it’s done to male athletes too:

초멘나사이합니다..비슷하게 남자도 있더라구요…

“It is similar with men too…”

kim-yo-han(Source: @lsjkhj0903)

What many of you will have already noticed though, is that the graphic doesn’t just give a basic run-down of the lengths her long limbs. As pointed out in a reply by @lifejogipogi:

이건 정도의 차이가 너무 다르네요 김연아 선수는 ‘s라인’ ‘황금몸매’ 등 주관적인 평가가 한가득 들어있고 몸매 평가위주예요 김요한 선수 사진은 사무적이고 데이터의 일종 같은데 김연아 선수 사진은 가십거리 같네요

“No they are very different. The one with Kim Yuna is full of subjective comments, saying she has an ‘S-line’ and a ‘golden body figure’, and it is definitely about evaluating her body. Kim Yuhan’s case is more objective, and more like simple data. Yuna Kim’s photo just looks like a tabloid article.”

It also provides her bust size, the implication being that only those within a very narrow range can be elegant. Which is absurd, as is finding significance in instances of the golden ratio in the human body. So too with her “well-balanced” waist and silhouette (you have to wonder why the rest of us don’t topple over), as discussed in the article. Which concludes:

Fashion stylist Han Hye-yeon said, “Unlike many other athletes, Kim has a slender, flexible body, so she has the natural ‘S’ curve when she’s performing.” Kim So-yeon, an executive at a modeling agency, said, “She has perfect body proportions for a fashion model.”

That is not okay. It’s quite a leap from discussing athlete’s bodies’ suitability for ice-skating, to positioning Kim Yuna as standard-bearer of a body image ideal for everyone else. Particularly when she’s been hawking diet and beauty-related products for her entire career.

kim-yuna-light-up-protein(Source: YouTube)

I don’t bemoan her for that necessarily, as it’s a rare female celebrity in Korea that has the luxury of being able to say no to advertising offers; although she’s certainly rich enough to reject them now, especially those that make dubious links to their products and her athletic prowess. I’ve also recently learned from reading Autumn Whitefield-Modrano’s new book Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives (2016) about how having very specific statistics for the “perfect” body can even be liberating, in the sense that once you realize you can’t have something, you free yourself from trying (like with my accepting my being bald for instance, which I learned from a friend who’d accepted her own small breasts.)

I remain really struck though, at how this whole notion of ever obtaining such a specific combination of such perfect vital statistics so closely resembles that of a competition in the United States 100 years ago, fought over which college’s female students most closely resembled the Venus de Milo. Tens of thousands of women would be measured for it, and some women would come very close, even filing lawsuits to gain official recognition. But, crucially, none were ever universally accepted as the one and only, 20th century Venus de Milo. Because it’s almost like they were set to fail from the start:

The ridiculous thing about all this—well, one of the ridiculous things—is that these [measurements of women that came close] varied from one another by several inches. Not only that, but they were being compared to different standards, for there were multiple versions of the Venus de Milo’s measurements. Some physical culture practitioners quoted the statue’s bust-waist-hip stats as 39-26-38, while others believed she measured in at 34.75-28.5-36. The only stat everyone could agree on was the Venus de Milo’s height, which was set at 5-foot-4….

…times were changing anyhow—the flapper fashions newly in vogue looked best on tall, slender figures, and the Venus de Milo was starting to look a little too plump. In April 1923, the New York Times introduced the world to the “new Venus, whose proportions have been reduced by the athletic tendencies of the modern girl.” To be a true American modern Venus, women now “must be 5 feet 7 inches in height, a perfect 34, with 22-inch waist and 34-inch hips.” Furthermore, “[t]he ankle should measure 8 inches and the weight not exceed 110 pounds.”

And just like that, the beauty rules changed again. After decades of searching and dozens of contenders, America hadn’t found its perfect living, breathing reincarnation of Venus—because she didn’t, and couldn’t, exist.

Likewise, if they’re no longer presented in terms of their utility for her sport, then what is the purpose of providing Kim Yuna’s vital statistics, which is a combination that only she can ever have?

What else, but to remind women that their own bodies suck, and that they will probably die alone if they don’t at least try?

* For those of you that don’t know: “Kim Yuna” does read like “Kim Yoona” in English, but it’s a misspelling. Her Korean name, “김연아,” should be spelt “Kim Yeon-a,” and it actually sounds like “Kim Yon-a,” with the “on” in “yon” pronounced like the “on” in “on/off.”

The Revealing the Korean Body Politic series: