Why Did Allure Korea Take 10 Years to Have a Korean Cover Model?

Shin Min Ah, First Korean Cover Model for Allure, August 2013(Source: Unknown)

Basically, because its Korean readers wanted and expected foreign cover models. No matter how many commenters may try to shoehorn narratives of racism and cultural imperialism into those preferences.*

See my latest Busan Haps piece to learn more, or alternatively go straight to the source: the 2009 Korean Journalism Review article “Glocalization of International Women’s Magazines in Korea: Global-local nexus in the production process” written by Oh Hyun-sook of the Yonsei Communication Research Institute, upon which most of the first half of the article is based.

Meanwhile, related to the second half, Carol Dussere, a commenter in the Every Expat in Korea Facebook group noted:

When I first moved to Korea in 1988, all of the models used in sexy ads on the subway were non-Asians. It definitely carried the message to Korean men that non-Asian women were readily available.

This confused me, as I read years ago (and have often repeated since) that restrictions against foreign models weren’t lifted until as late as 1994. Checking, I found the following on page 103 of  “Neo-Confucian Body Techniques: Women’s Bodies in Korea’s Consumer Society” by Taeyon Kim, Body & Society, June 2003 vol. 9 no. 2 97-113:

In June 1994, changes in laws allowed the Korean advertising industry to use foreign models and celebrities, which led quickly to a sharp increase in the use of foreign models to sell domestic wares.


This is repeated on page 7 of  “Perpetuation of Female Beauty Stereotypes through Korean Mass Media: Emancipation or Objectification of Women?” by Jee, Min-Joo. and Oh, Byoung-il. in a paper presented to the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in 2006 (although both are based on Byun, Eun-mi {1997}, ‘Foreign Supermodels Emerge as Fashion Stars on TV Commercials’, in Korea Newsreview Vol. 26{5}: p. 32-3). However, it didn’t necessarily mean that Carol was wrong, and indeed I also found the following, tantalizing line in “Gender Role Portrayals in American and Korean Advertisements” by Roxanne Hovland et. al., in Sex Roles, December 2005, Volume 53, Issue 11-12, pp 887-899:

The use of foreign models in advertisements has been popular since the Korean government lifted restrictions on the use of foreign models in 1989.

Sophie Marceau Korean Advertisement 1989And only then did I really notice the continuation of the “Neo-Confucian Body Techniques” article, which resolves everything quite nicely (right: French actress Sophie Marceau advertising LG cosmetics in 1989; source):

No longer were only foreign products sold to Koreans with a foreign face, now even domestic products were marketed to Koreans by the likes of Cindy Crawford, Meg Ryan, and Claudia Schiffer.

When I have time, I’ll try to find some Korean language sources to confirm, and to pinpoint the exact year of the law changes (but even if they do confirm it was 1989 rather than 1988, Carol can certainly be forgiven for her ever so slight inaccuracy 25 years later!). Until then, I’d appreciate any extra information readers can provide, and/or any comments on my article.

*Of course, racism and cultural imperialism are indeed factors to consider here. I’m just a little tired of patronizing, contradictory assumptions of passivity and unwillingness on the part of (especially female) Korean consumers if they enjoy foreign cultural products (are they *forced* to buy them somehow?), and/or that they’re somehow being duped by Caucasian men on Madison Avenue when they do so.

Shin Min-a Shows Us How to Pose Like a Woman


Yeah, I eat sitting cross-legged on my kitchen bench all the time too.

Fearing they hadn’t already made things quite awkward enough for Shin Min-a (신민아) in their latest entirely unconvincing “slice of regular life” photoshoot however, Giordano decided to go one better with this next shot. But which I have to admit, did at least get my attention:


Alas, for all her efforts in keeping that smile on her face despite her right leg cramping however,  So Ji-sub (소지섭) just doesn’t seem interested. But then probably I wouldn’t be either given how loose she seems to be with her affections: she’s so enraptured with Tiger JK, for instance, that’s she’s content to sit perched on a ladder to listen to him playing his guitar:


Unlike So Ji-sub and Jung Woo-sung (정우성), who choose to sit more comfortably when they listen to him themselves:


But then Giordano relented, finally allowing her to sit normally while listening to Jung Woo-sung. Heck, no wonder she looks so happy:

"Oppa, thanks for talking to the producer for me. My butt was killing me!" "You're welcome. But what happened to all the spaghetti sauce?"

Or that she has mixed feelings about appearing in the photoshoot in the first place. Which, in hindsight, is one of the most bizarre I’ve ever seen, as her purpose in it seems not to be so much to model the clothing herself, as to be a validation of the 3 men’s own clothing choices through her sexual interest in them.

Granted, the second shot should have made that obvious, but then the 3 men are widely considered among the sexiest male celebrities in Korea, about whom some female commentators on Omona! They Didn’t, for instance, had few inhibitions describing what they would like to do with them after seeing these pictures.


Lest anyone feel I’m reading too much into the photoshoot though, then I’ll finish here by inviting readers to imagine replacing Shin Min-a with a man in the first, third, and fifth images above (and Tiger JK and Jung Woo-sung with a woman in the third and fifth respectively), and would argue that it’s so difficult to – and even harder to find actual examples – because advertisements are overwhelmingly designed for a male gaze. And which, what with seeing 500-1000 a day of them, can’t help but have socialized even the most media-savvy of us into thinking that eating spaghetti while sitting cross-legged on a kitchen bench, wedged between a gas range and toaster, is a normal and appropriate thing for women to do.

For much more on the male gaze, and many more Korean examples, see the “Erving Goffman’s ‘Gender Advertisements’ in the Korean Context” section in my sidebar, especially the following posts:


Dating in Korea: A Request

제시카 고메즈( Sources: left, right )

Well, the good news is that I’ve been asked to write an article on dating in Korea for a local magazine. But I need your help!

To be specific, I’m going to discuss blogs about dating in Korea, of which a great many seemed to have been formed in the past year or so, either devoted entirely to that topic or mentioning it frequently. And of these, the vast majority seem to be by women, which leads me to the following questions that I can’t answer by myself:

1. Do you also think that there has been a big increase in their numbers? How about those written by women in general? Of course I’ve noticed a definite increase personally, but then I’ve gone from reading perhaps 5 blogs a day in 2007 (when I starting blogging) to subscribing to perhaps 80 today just for keeping up with news related to my niches and new material, so it may just be because I’m noticing them for the first time.

2. If your answer to either question is “yes” however, then what do you think are the reasons for the increase(s)?

– Greater numbers of women coming to work in Korea?

– Greater numbers of women staying for longer periods in Korea? After all, as recently as 2008 I would have said that perhaps 6-7 out of 10 foreigners coming to Korea were male, rising to 8 or even 9 out of 10 among those who had been in Korea over, say, 5 years, but now I’m not so sure. But would you agree with those figures for back then? And what do you think they are now?

– Changes in attitudes among Korean men toward dating and marrying Western women?

– Changes in attitudes among Western women dating and marrying Korean men?

– Some other reason(s)?

3. Do you think double standards exist when talking about dating? In particular, do you think that in the wake of “EnglishSpectrumGate”, male bloggers now feel much more inhibited about discussing their practical experiences of dating Koreans then female bloggers do? (very new arrivals to the Korea blogosphere, see here, here, and here for a quick synopsis of that)

On a final note, naturally I do already follow most blogs about dating in Korea, and many more intelligent ones that discuss it in passing; but I’m sure that there’s many that I’m unaware of, so please feel free to plug yours here! (and female bloggers too, for I simply don’t have the time to go through all 69 of them mentioned on this post by Chris in South Korea I’m afraid) Also, being married with 2 kids, and not having dated in nearly 10 years, then practically speaking at least there’s a great deal about the subject that I simply no longer know and/or is outdated,  so thank you to everyone in advance for filling me in.

p.s. Please, no inane comments about the choice of pictures; as you might expect in a society where the fact that local women are sometimes interested in foreign men is considered newsworthy, then there weren’t exactly very many to choose from!

Update: See here for the final article!


Ladies: Stay Slim with Soju?

Shin Min-a Soju Advertisement Mirror

Faced with the unenviable task of somehow making soju cool, Jinro (진로) did a pretty good job with the launching of its new “J” (제이) brand back in October, but its latest efforts to associate the brand with losing weight may well require too big a suspension of disbelief from most consumers!

Or at least, that was my first gut reaction. But then if faced with a choice of two equally priced and similar brands of any strong alcohol, probably I would indeed choose the slightly weaker one: I am slightly overweight, and it’s not like 5 per cent less alcohol wouldn’t still have the desired effect on me. How about you?

As you’ll soon see though, it’s not that which made me first notice the ad:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Look familiar? To put it mildly, commercials featuring female celebrities lounging around in their underwear aren’t exactly common on Korean television, and so I don’t think the similarities with this advertisement with Han Ji-hye (한지혜) from March – actually, the only other example – are any coincidence. Here, the actress and model featured is Shin Min-a (신민아), as it happens in the entertainment news a great deal as I write this for her first screen kiss with Won bin (원빈), and as you can probably tell, the idea is that a 1 per cent reduction in alcohol content (from 19.5 to 18.5) somehow results in the following:

Shin Min-a Soju Advertisement minus 1inch

Shin Min-a Soju Advertisement minus 1kg

Shin Min-a Soju Advertisement minus 1cm

Admittedly I don’t like high heels in the first place, but that last is probably overdoing it, as I can’t see how drinking less alcohol than normal somehow makes you taller as well as thinner? Regardless, below is a accompanying poster for the new, weaker soju that you may have seen around, and for the sake of adding to my conversation with commentator Seamus about Koreans’ (relative) lack of awareness of the amount of photoshopping in everyday advertisements and magazine images, would be grateful if you could show it to your Korean friends, students, colleagues, and/or lovers and so on: among other things, do they think Min-a’s legs have been lengthened and made thinner in it or not?

Update: Sorry, but in hindsight it was sloppy and quite strange of me to write about this ad without translating the voiceover first, and if I had then what I wrote above would have been quite different:

1kg 빠져도, 다른데?

If you lose 1kg, are you different?

1인치만 줄어도, 좋은데

[Even] if you shorten your skirt by only one inch, it looks better.

1cm만 낮아도, 편한데

[Even] if you reduce the length of your high heels by only 1 cm, they’re more comfortable.

그리고 1도만 더 부드러워져도

처음보다 1도 더 부드럽다

And also if you soften [soju] by only one degree, it’s one degree softer from the first sip.

18.5도 진로제이

진로제이처럼 더 부드러워지세요

18.5% Alcohol Jinro J

Like Jinro, please make your life a little softer.

Shin Min-a Jinro Soju Advertisement

Placing the ad in a wider perspective, as much as 90 per cent of all alcohol consumed in Korea is soju, and Jinro sells 50 per cent of that, so this latest marketing drive may well reflect the saturation of the market more than anything else (no pun intended). In such circumstances, a company can either start selling in new markets or repackage its product in different varieties if it wants to increase profits (or to ensure that they don’t decrease: examples like this are how I learned about the Marxian “inevitable tendency of the rate of profit to fall” at university), a good example of which is the number of different Coca-cola drinks available and their (very very) rough correlation with an economy’s level of capitalistic development and competition, as evidenced by, say, the precisely two available in New Zealand when I entered university in the mid-1990s against the plethora available in the US decades earlier.

And so with equivalents in other Northeast-Asian countries, and little appeal outside of the region, diversification is probably the most logical path for soju producers. True, the above ads in particular reflect a desire to create a new market before reaching that stage – only 30 per cent of soju drinkers are women – but given that…

The word soju to most Korean women produces something approaching a mild panic – an explosive squeal of disgust, a deeply pained expression, head shaking, hand waving. That’s not to say they don’t drink it. It’s just they don’t seem particularly like it, even as they pour it down their throats (source).

…then I have my doubts as to whether that figure will ever go up to 50 per cent. Here’s hoping that the Korean alcohol industry is indeed on the verge of offering more choices and variety then!

Update: Here is a related graphic showing decreases in soju’s alcohol strength over time. For more information (in Korean), see here.

Soju's Strength Decreasing Over Time

(Image Sources: first, second-fourth, fifth, last)