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

Park Shin-hye and Doll Source, edited

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

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

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

skeletor bullshitSource: Heal Yourself, Skeletor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bagel GirlSource: How do ya like me now?

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

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

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

Donga Ilbo (via Naver), November 2, 2003

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

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

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

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

Lolita Cover DetailSource

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

이미연 (Lee Mi Yeon) and NieceSource

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

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

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

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

얼굴에 담긴 메시지 The Message in a Face

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

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

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

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

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

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

Western vs. Eastern Ideals of BeautySource

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

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

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

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

The Revealing the Korean Body Politic Series:

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

Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 3: Historical precedents for Korea’s modern beauty myth

Y-line Choi Yeo-jin(Source)

“Building a Body” isn’t my favorite track off Marnie Stern’s third LP, but I think it’s one of the most important.

It plays with the idea that a woman’s body is a canvas; a thing that is often viewed or regarded as a tool, an asset, a means to an end. Still. There’s the acknowledgment that we can choose how to construct our own image. However much anxiety is involved in the process.

($30 Project)

As often discussed on TGN, Korean beauty, dieting, and clothing companies are constantly promoting idealized body shapes for women to aspire to. And, although they’re just following the universal logic of creating new perceived wants and needs in the minds of consumers, their alacrity — and audacity — in doing so can still be nothing short of remarkable sometimes.

With new “lines” appearing almost as quickly as the girl-groups used to endorse the ensuing products or services though, it’s easy to lose sight of the utilitarian, utterly reductionist view of women that this alphabetization process relies on.

This post is about some recent stark reminders of both. Easy to dismiss as frivolous, or mere semantics, it’s also about what’s occurring in Korea today nevertheless has strong historical precedents in North America and Europe in the 1920s-1950s. Which, as Jill Fields explains in An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie, and Sexuality (2007, pp. 80-81), “not only affected women’s everyday experience of their bodies, but also transformed the construction of feminine identity,” sparking public discourses and expectations surrounding women’s bodies that endure to this day.

S-line vs. Corsets(Sources: left, right)

What’s more, not only is what’s best for women never the main concern —

There is ample feminist discussion about shifting cultural definitions of what the female form is supposed to look like in order to be the most appealing to a (predominately) male gaze….intimate apparel was often marketed as scientifically advantageous to women’s health, but the sexual function of breasts was always the bottom line. Binding them down, lifting them up, pushing them together – none of this had anything to do with encouraging the natural state of a woman’s breasts. No wonder women’s liberationists threw their bras in the trash can.

(Nursing Clio)

— but the Korean case also coincides with a rapid increase in (overwhelmingly female) objectification in popular culture; and highly visible, palpable resistance from men against (largely only perceived) increased economic competition from women. Bearing a striking resemblance to — à la The Beauty Myth (1991) — what occurred in North America and Europe in the 1980s, the combination proves as fascinating as it is alarming.

Angry Hello KittyA Woman’s Body as a Canvas

The first reminder comes from Rob Walkers’ discussion of what makes Hello Kitty so attractive to consumers, in his book Buying In: The secret dialogue between what we buy and who we are. Because however indirect, if you replace “Hello Kitty” with “women’s bodies,” and “consumers” with “advertisers,” an eerie — and disturbing — parallel emerges (2008 ed., p.18, emphases added; source, right):

A perceptive study of the Hello Kitty phenomenon by Tokyo-based cultural scholar Brian J.McVeigh suggests an interesting theory that is implied by his paper’s title: “How Hello Kitty Commodifies the Cute, Cool, and Camp.” While he notes factors like “accessibility” and consistency, the most compelling factor he isolates is “projectability.” Hello Kitty’s blank, “cryptic” simplicity, he argues, is among her great strengths; standing for nothing, she is “waiting to be interpreted,” and this is precisely how an “ambiguous”—and, let’s be frank: meaningless—symbol comes to stand for nostalgia to one person, fashionability to another, camp to a third, vague submissiveness to a fourth….Belson and Bremner return to this theme repeatedly in their book on he business of Hello Kitty. “What makes Hello Kitty so intriguing is that she projects entirely different meanings depending on the consumer,” they write. The cat is “an icon that allows viewers to assign whatever meaning to her that they want.”

If that parallel remains too indirect for some however, recall Dramabeans’ comment (#21 here) about the “Love Your W” event in 2008, “W” being one of the numerous letters used for women’s breasts. The similarities are obvious (emphases added):

…while this practice is seemingly frivolous on the surface, it actually belies much more pernicious trends in society at large, when you have celebrities vocally espousing their alphabet-lines and therefore actually objectifying themselves as a conglomeration of “perfect” body parts rather than as whole, genuine people. You wanna know why plastic surgery is such a big deal in Korea, why actresses don’t eat, why there’s an obsession with thin? It’s because we’re all just Latin letters waiting to be objectified as a beauty ideal rather than living, breathing people with flesh on our bones and brains in our heads.

Why, Oh Why, Does it Need to be Called a “Y-line”?

The next reminder (hat tip to @holterbarbour) was by learning of the simply absurd “Y-line,” via Mundipharma Korea’s ads for gynobetadine, a vaginal cleanser:

Mundipharma Korea are a little coy about what a Y-line is exactly, placing Choi Yeo-jin (최여진) in several Y-shaped poses, and with copy and advertorials speaking of bold, confident — “당당한” — Y-lines. But given the product, and that all those “Y”s center at her crotch, then it’s safe to say that, yes, the term does indeed refer to a vagina.

Choi Yeo-jin Y-lineWhich sounds like something from The Onion.

But to play Devil’s advocate, is it merely a euphemism, rather than a line per se? The ad is, after all, just for a cleanser, not — thank God! — labiaplasty (NSFW) or anything like that. And if so, is it really all that different to similar terms and usage in, say, English-speaking countries? For, as recently explained in “The Myth of the Vajazzled Orgasm”at Nursing Clio (emphasis added):

The popular emphasis on the vagina is certainly on the rise. The explosive popularity of the Vagina Monologues, now regularly performed on college campuses, made many more comfortable with the V word. Social critic Naomi Wolf has recently argued for the existence of the “mind-vagina” connection. Commercials coyly refer to the letter V for various feminine products and sitcoms and singers laud their own embrace of the vajayjay as a way of indicating equal sexual footing with men. “Designer” vaginas are also part of this new emphasis. Cosmetogynecology is one of the fastest growing types of cosmetic surgery.

On top of that, the Y-line appears not to be an invention of Mundipharma Korea at all, as this cartoon (at least) predates its August ad campaign:

Y-line Story(Source)

Yet while acknowledging those, you also have to acknowledge the context. Because whoever was ultimately responsible for the term, it’s safe to assume that they were influenced by the alphabetization trend. And it’s clearly in that commercially-driven, objectifying sense that the term is being used here.

Moreover, just like all the other lines, bear in mind that it’s just one version of the Y-line that has been co-opted by one company (and perhaps others) to sell its product, against which it must compete with other versions used by other companies to sell their own.

But which version — if any — will stick in consumers’ minds? And, like the “V-line,” will it ultimately become so normalized a part of popular culture, so accepted an expectation of women, that one day classrooms will be full of girls working on their own?

V-line Face Rollers Korean Schoolgirls(Sources:left, right)

The contenders include, first, a Y-line lift promoted by a hospital specializing in the procedure (as either a compliment or alternative to the V-line — it’s a little confusing sorry):

Y-line cosmetic surgery(Source)

Next, as breasts, from the line between them. I’d previously assumed that it was invented by the lingerie company Yes’, but it’s also used by others, as well as by cosmetic surgeons:

Y-line breasts(Sources: left; right unknown)

As the crotch:

Y-line crotch(Source)

As the back:

Y-line as the back(Sources: top-left, top-right; bottom unknown)

And finally(?) the buttocks.Now, forgive me if it sounds facetious, but I’ve examined many examples, and never once seen a “Y” in them. Again, you really have to wonder at the mindset of companies — and consumers — that do:

Y-line buttocks(Source)

And here’s part of a show episode devoted to nothing but, well, that Y-line butt:

Historical Precedents

Corset Figure Type Classification Korea(Sources: left, right)

Did I say only two stark reminders of the absurdity and audacity of the Korean alphabetization trend? A third was discovering all those other ludicrous examples of Y-lines. Yet, however natural it may be to mentally assign something so absurd and asinine in another culture as distinctive to it, by no means is this trend only Korean, or even East Asian. Rather, as numerous examples from An Intimate Affair make clear, in fact they’re almost as old — and universal — as mass-production, mass-media, and marketing themselves.

While I can’t begin to do justice to those examples here, two are particularly illustrative, and will hopefully encourage you to purchase your own copy of the book(!). First, the figure classification schemes invented by corset manufacturers in the 1920s (a scan; click to enlarge it):

Corset Figure-Classification Schemes p.66 An Intimate AffairFortunately, the next page is available at Google Books:

Corset Figure-Classification Schemes p.67 An Intimate Affair

This strongly reminded of the following video on how “pear”-shaped women should dress to look like they actually have hourglass-figures, spawning 159 comments at Sociological Images (also see here on subtle Korean encouragements through hourglass-shaped drink bottles):

In turn, that video gave me the impression that Western beauty, dieting, and clothing companies are more concerned with extorting women to conform to a narrow range of preexisting, publicly accepted body types rather than creating their own, then encouraging women to gain those instead. Can any overseas-based readers confirm? And/or recommend books and websites, so that a male reader, 13 years based in Korea, can find out?

(Update 1: Although it’s not specifically about women, or fashion, a reader suggests Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting by Sianne Ngai, released last October. Based on the two reviews I’ve read, it sounds fascinating).

(Update 2: See Glamor Daze for an illustrated guide to “dressing for your body shape” from a Spencer Corsetry catalogue).

Despite that particular, potential difference however, from the 1930s to the 1950s Hollywood, the fashion industry, and — to a lesser extent — economically-threatened men would all influence the second example of “glamour” for their own ends, with the ensuing popular notions of the concept displaying a malleability and responsiveness remarkably similar to that of modern Korean lines. Indeed, although the English definition of the term has continued to considerably evolve since, ironically it’s (the main) one of those from that era — glamour as large breasts — that would enter the Korean lexicon as “글래머,” from which the appalling, infantilizing term “Bagel Girl/베이글녀” derives.

Marilyn Monroe Ga-in Sweater Girls(Sources: left, right. Surely not a coincidence, does anybody know who chose Ga-in’s wardrobe for Bloom?)

Again only snippets which can not do the book justice, but which probably already exceed what counts as fair use for a website nevertheless, here are some selected excerpts to give a hint of all that. First, from page 105, about the context of assuaging the fears of un(der)-employed men during the Depression, and then of soldiers during World War Two:An Intimate Affair, p. 105 excerptNext, from page 109 on the quite literal embodiment of glamour in breasts (and why I mentioned Lana Turner in my recent Busan Haps article on Ga-in’s Bloom):

An Intimate Affair, p. 109 excerptNext, although frankly I don’t fully understand the final paragraph here, hopefully page 110 gives you an impression of how glamour came to shift from body parts to inanimate items of clothing (hence “Sweater Girls“) and so on, as also revealed in the illustrations below:An Intimate Affair, p. 110 excerptUpdate: Given my love for Maria Buszek’s Pin-up Grrrls (2006), it seemed a pity not to add the conclusion to the chapter on the next page (actually page 112) also:

An Intimate Affair, p. 112 excerptAn advertisement for a Sweater Girl course(!) from 1954:

You can be a sweater girl(Source)

Glamorous glasses?

(Sources: left, right)

Conclusion: The Korean Beauty Myth?

With my new copy of The Beauty Myth arriving at my door literally as just before I type this, I should wisely reacquaint myself with it before proceeding further. But, of course, others have already made the same connection(s) that I have, including  Tess Hellgren in her (oft-quoted by me) 2011 Exposé piece “Explaining Underweight BMI and Body Dissatisfaction among Young Korean Women” (pp. 7-8):

…recent gendered shifts in Korean society offer another potent explanation for the trend in female body image. In the past thirty years, Korean society has undergone significant political and economic transformations, democratizing and industrializing at an incredible pace — and offering an extreme expansion of societal opportunities for women.19 Specifically since the 1980s, Korean women have seen an important increase in university attendance; today, 72% of South Korean women attend college, the highest rate of any country. According to feminist theory, this recent upsurge in female societal empowerment may be associated with an oppressive backlash in media portrayals of gender ideals. As explained in the work of Jaehee Jung and Gordon Forbes, historical data suggest that societal shifts toward gender equality are often accompanied by increased media portrayal of unrealistic gender norms as a reactive “tool of oppression” by mainstream society. Jung and Forbes cite the examples of both Europe and the United States: In the 1870s, it was during Europe’s industrialization and nascent women’s movement that accounts of anorexia nervosa first appeared, and the thinnest women in American fashion magazines appeared at the same time as momentum built for women’s rights in the 1920s and the 1970s. According to these scholars, the case of Korea is particularly striking due to the restrictive patriarchal nature of the country’s traditional Confucian culture, in which women’s familial and societal subordination is rigidly emphasized. Linking media portrayals to South Korea’s recent expansion of overall female opportunities, this feminist argument offers another potential explanation for the rise in body dissatisfaction and low BMI among Korean women in recent years.

Is something along these lines the only way to account for the combination of both an increased alphabetization/objectification of and backlash against women in the 2000s? Or is it that simply imposing a convenient narrative where none really exists?

Design Your Body Line(Sources: left, right{NSFW})

Please let me know what you think. And, as a reward to Seoul-based readers who have read this entire post, let me give you advance notice of a presentation I’ll be giving on this topic for the 10 Magazine Book Club on Sunday March 10, the weekend following International Women’s Day. As I type this there’s only 22 more seats available, so please put your name down if you’re (fairly) certain you’ll attend, and I look forward to carrying on this conversation with some of you there! :)

The Revealing the Korean Body Politic Series: