Korean Sociological Image #66 – Inventing Labels for Women’s Bodies


Introduction – Objectification Done Right

This may be an old ad, but it’s just a great introduction to my Gender Advertisements in the Korean Context lecture. I’ll probably still be using it 10 years from now.

First, because it shows the value in spending a couple of extra seconds to really look at an ad. Most readers probably immediately notice the faux scratches and blotches on it, reminiscent of a phone screen overlay, but it’s easy to overlook that Kang Dong-Won (강동원) and Kim Tae-hee (김태희) themselves are also supposed to resemble the advertised phone. Once you notice that his collar resembles the reflection on the screen though, then you’ll quickly realize that his grey button represents the dial, and that her black belt buckle matches the cover of the entry port, the curve of her breasts the back of the phone at the top. It’s really quite clever.

But still: if they’re supposed to resemble the phone(s), then why weren’t models of equal heights used? Or why wasn’t the layout of the ad rearranged and/or Kim Tae-hee photoshopped to make her look as tall as Kang Dong-won? Either would have been quite easy, as this second phone ad with the two of them makes clear (source).

To explain, I raise Erving Goffman’s concept of “Relative Size”, or the fact that, if random men and women are paired off together, then in 1 in 6 cases the woman would be taller than the man, whereas in advertisements it’s as low as 1 in 200. Later, I consider the obvious rejoinder that Kang Don-won and Kim Tae-hee were primarily chosen for their celebrity status, discussing why 65% of Korean advertisements feature celebrities, whereas it’s only 10% in most other developed countries. Finally, there’s also the concept of “Licensed Withdrawal” to mention, one aspect of which is how men are often shown providing virtual shields for women.

Bearing all that in mind, what does this Samsung SHW-A210S Shape Phone on the right remind you of (source), released back in November 2010? Specifically, the side, which according to Samsung is a particularly attractive feature of the model?

S-lines Will Sell Anything

What? You didn’t guess Uee (유이) of the girl-group After School (애프터스쿨)? Well, clearly that must be your own fault, as Samsung not only said it’s specifically designed to look like her profile (source), but this and this blogger agree.

Perhaps these screenshots from the phone’s promotional website will help:


Alas, Samsung was really just attempting to capitalize on Uee’s star power, and on men’s interest in seeing and women’s interest in having an “S-line” (again, the copy makes that explicit). Lest we forget though, that actually means a great set of tits and ass, and it’s testament to the saturation of the term in Korean advertising and popular-culture that Samsung could get away with linking it to a completely unrelated inanimate object.

But that’s not the main reason I’m highlighting the phone here – after all, it’s by no means the first time the S-line has been used to sell one. The Wondergirls (원더걸스), for instance, did so back in 2008:

Instead, what makes this advertising campaign stand out is because on the one hand, Samsung is taking advantage of one body label to sell something, but on the other it’s attempting to replace that label a new one of its own creation – the yoptae (옆태), or “profile”.

The Invention Process

Actually, the campaign starts quite innocently, with Uee simply sketching profiles of things, finishing by announcing that it’s now “The Age of the Profile”. Later on in the campaign, visitors to the website would be encouraged to submit their own sketches and photographs in a competition:


But not before viewers were show which kind of profile the campaign was really focused on. Skip ahead to 0:40 for fashion tips on how to show it off:

Next, Men’s Health cover model (source) and fledgling drama star (and friend of Rain!) Jung Sueng-kyo (정승교) is shown working on his own profile. And you’ve just got to hand it to Samsung for thinking of something that can be applied equally to men and women:

Instead of running with that equally-opportunity objectification though, we’re quickly back to women’s profiles. It’s difficult not to wonder if advertisers are just a little too used to using women’s bodies sometimes:

Context – The Profit Motive

Usually, when Korean body terms are explained to non-Korean audiences, then they’re made out as simple equivalents of English ones, the S-line and now profile substituting for the “hourglass figure” for example. But unlike that term, which I’d wager goes back to at least the infatuation with corsets in the 1800s, the S-line wasn’t even around when I came to Korea in 2000: jjookjjook-bbangbbang (쭉쭉빵빵) was used instead. Moreover, not only are so many invented these days that it’s difficult to keep track, but the pace and especially audaciousness with which this is done in Korea is nothing short of outstanding (source, below right).

(Update:  I may be mistaken about how old the hourglass term is –  Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen, for example, only mention the “Grecian Bend” in Channels of Desire: Mass Images and the Shaping of American Consciousness {1992; p. 75}. But surely it dates back to at least the 1950s?)

You are probably already familiar with the unbelievable example of the X-line for instance, which is literally only possible in Photoshop, but you may be surprised to also learn that companies are also constantly trying to get the public to redefine “established” terms too, lingerie company Vivian (비비안) hoping to make the V-line better known as the line between a women’s breasts rather than a triangular jaw (which Kwangdong Pharmaceutical sells – yes really –  “Corn Silk Tea” to help you obtain). On top of that, Yes’ (예스) lingerie company and W Magazine would rather have that area of a woman’s body known as a Y-line and W-line respectively…while in turn other companies still would rather have the Y-line mean a woman’s back.

And that alphabet soup is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to that competition for buzzwords and (re)definitions that will stick with consumers. But unfortunately there’s only so much I could fit on a Powerpoint slide!

Media Promotion

Of course, the media and Korean public are well aware of this – the combined image on the left of that slide is testament to that (I added the two on the right). But in my own experience, usually the latter finds the situation more humorous than concerning (a generalization I’d be very happy – but don’t expect – to be proven wrong), while the former merely “reports” on the new body labels (and others like “Gold Misses” – more abstract perhaps, but still very much designed to get women to buy things), only very rarely criticizing the process and/or its effects. In so doing, it serves to simply promote the term, whether that’s in direct collusion with the companies or otherwise.

Take, finally, this inane example from Star News, a transcript of which (from here) I’ve translated below. If you get confused by some of the dates mentioned in it, please note it was aired in November 2011:

스타 노출의 변화, 옆태가 뜬다? The way stars show off their bodies is changing, the “profile” look is now booming

[Y-Star] 스타들의 노출이 많아지면서 섹시한 앞태는 물론이고 일명 숨 막히는 뒷태라 불리며 신체의 뒤 라인이 주목을 받고는 했었는데요 이제 노출의 키워드는 바로 옆태가 됐다고 합니다. 새로운 섹시함의 상징, 옆태에 대해 <스타뉴스>가 알아봤습니다.

While stars have been showing a lot of skin recently, and of course people’s focus is on their sexy “front figures”, and most recently on their so-called breathtaking “back figures”, now a new body-revealing keyword is emerging – the profile. A new symbol of sexiness, Star News has investigated.

드라마 <브레인>를 통해 1년6개월여 만에 컴백을 알려 화제가 된 최정원.오랜만의 제작발표회에서 모습을 드러낸 것보다 더 화제가 된 것이 있습니다. 바로 옆태가 훤히 드러나는 파격 시스루 의상인데요

A year and half since her last acting role, Choi Jung-won has recently made a comeback in the drama Brain. At a press conference about it, the topic of how she looked was much more interesting than the drama itself, as she wore a striking see-through dress that was very revealing in profile.

[현장음: 최정원] 안녕하세요 <브레인>에서 지혜 역을 맡은 최정원입니다

[Choi Jung-won]: Hello everyone, I’m Choi Jung-won, and play the role of Ji-hyae in this drama.


이날 최정원은 이번 시즌 트렌드인 토트 무늬가 가미된 블랙 원피스에 은빛의 과감한 킬힐과 우아한 헤어스타일을 더해 한층 성숙해진 매력을 과시했는데요

On the day of the press conference, Choi Jong-won showed off this season’s trend of a black one-piece with a jigsaw-like design; silvery, bold killer-heels; and had an elegant hairstyle, all of which combined to make to make her attractiveness all the more mature.

특히 옆태가 훤히 보이는 파격 시스루 원피스는 주위 시선을 사로잡으며 집중 플레쉬 세례를 받기도 했습니다

In particular, her profile, visible through her striking one-piece dress, received a lot of attention, getting lots of camera flashes.

이 아찔한 옆태노출패션은 작년 11월, 애프터스쿨의 유이가 선보이기도 했었는데요 일명 옆태폰이라 불리는 한 휴대폰 광고에서 보일 듯 말듯 옆태라인을 노출한 미니 드레스를 입고 옆태 댄스를 선보이기도 했었습니다

This dizzy profile-revealing fashion was also shown off by After School’s Uee last November, in a dance wearing a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t revealing mini-skirt in a commercial for the so-called “Profile Phone” (source).

그리고 월드컵 축하공연을 위해 무대에 올랐던 포미닛의 현아는 붉은 악마 티셔츠의 옆 라인을 과감하게 자른 의상으로 파격적인 노출을 해서 화제가 되기도 했죠

Also, in a public performance to congratulate soccer World Cup players, 4Minute’s Hyuna appeared on stage in a Red Devil t-shirt with the side cut away,  so revealing that it became a hot topic (see below).

지난해 유이와 현아에 이어 올해는 최정원 뿐만 아니라 많은 여배우들이 옆태를 내세운 몸매로 시선을 끌기도 했습니다

Following Uee and Hyuna last year, many actresses have drawn attention to their bodies by showing off their profiles, not just Choi Yong-won.

지난 10월 6일 개막한 부산국제영화제에서 파격적인 노출 패션으로 화제를 모았던 신인배우 오인혜.

This October the 6th, new actress Oh In-hye’s exceptionally revealing dress at the opening ceremony of the Busan International Film Festival also became a hot issue.

어깨는 물론 가슴을 거의 드러낸 오렌지 빛 드레스를 입은 그녀는 가슴라인과 등 라인을 노출한 것은 물론이고 아슬아슬하게 비춰지는 옆 라인은 보는 이들의 입을 딱 벌어지게 하기도 했습니다

Of course the orange dress showed off her shoulders, and almost completely exposed her breasts, but it was how dangerous she looked in profile [James – i.e., how close it was to also showing her nipples] that had people’s mouths agape.

그런가하면 지난 7월 14일 열렸던 부천 국제 판타스틱영화제 개막식 현장에서 가장 화제가 됐던 배우 곽지민은 앞트임, 뒤트임에 이어 옆트임까지 노출 포인트를 모두 갖춘 무한 노출 패션을 선보였는데요


Also, at the opening ceremony of the Bucheon Fantastic Film Festival on July 14th, the hottest topic was actress Kwak Ji-min’s outfit, which, being open at the front, back, and the side, revealed almost everything.

[인터뷰: 곽지민] 반응이 그렇게 뜨겁게 될 지는 상상도 못했어요. 학교에서 특히 반응이 굉장히 뜨겁더라고요

[Kwak Ji-min]: I could never have imagined the reaction would have been so intense. It was especially heated at [the?] school. [Kwak Ji-min is 27, so I don’t know what school she’s referring to. Is she referring to a festival venue? – James]

Update: Thanks to (native Korean) Grace in the comments, who clarifies that Kwak Ji-Min is “referring to how popular that image is among schoolboys, saying that the reactions were hot from schools, i.e. the kids in school.”

드라마<내 마음이 들리니>에서 발랄한 캔디녀로 사랑을 받았던 황정음. 지난 5월 공개했던 섹시화보 제작발표회에서 언뜻 보면 평범해 보이지만 옆라인에 반전이 있는 의상을 입어 눈길을 끌었는데요 슬쩍 보이는 상체 라인이 더 아찔했다는 평가를 받았습니다

Hwang Jung-eum has received much love for her role as a vibrant and active candygirl [James – I’m told this means a young woman who’s cheerful and extroverted, especially someone who overcomes some kind of adversity] in the drama Can You Hear my Heart.  In May, at a press conference for her new sexy photobook, at a glance she appeared to be wearing ordinary clothes, but if you looked closer you saw that she was wearing eye-catching ones that showed off her profile, making you think of her upper body in a new light [James – see here for my translation of a blogger’s thoughts on how such “exposure” affects her career].

이어 지난 7월 한 패션매거진 화보를 공개한 윤은혜는 옆 라인을 살려 상의를 탈의하고 손으로 가슴부위를 감싸 안은 파격적인 포즈로 화제가 되었죠 그리고 상체 위주의 옆태 라인을 강조하던 다른 스타와는 달리 하체 옆 라인을 과시하며 아찔한 각선미를 보여 주기도 했습니다

In July, Yoon Eun-hye became a hot topic by showing off her profile in a photoshoot for a fashion magazine, undressing her upper body and embracing herself, covering her breast with her hand. Unlike other stars that emphasize the top half of their profiles, Yoon Eun-hye mostly shows off the bottom half of hers.

이렇게 과감하게 옆 라인을 노출해 제대로 된 S라인을 뽐내는 스타들이 많았는데요 새롭게 떠오른 노출의 키워드 옆태! 적정한 선을 지킨 옆태 노출로 진정한 아름다움을 뽐내길 바랍니다.

There are now many stars that have been showing off their well-made S-lines through boldly exposing their profiles like this, making “profile” the new exposure keyword! But let us hope that nobody overdoes it, only showing off sincere beauty by exposing their profiles (end).


If you were confused by the second to last paragraph, then you weren’t the only one: as is clear from the image above (seen in the video), Yoon Eun-hye’s photoshoot was actually in October, and the other pictures can only be said to emphasize the bottom half of her profile (alas, not her bottom itself) in that her legs are physically longer than the upper half of her body. But speaking of Yoon Eun-hye, and to end on a positive note, by no means does all the above imply that Korean celebrities feel compelled to show off every new body term out there, nor – if they do decide to – that they can’t exploit them for their own ends, and/or simply to feel sexy. For much more on that, please see here!

(For all posts in the “Korean Sociological Image” series, see here)

Newsflash: Korean Idol NOT Starving Herself!

It’s said that the fashion industry has favored skinnier and skinnier female models over the years because it’s dominated by gay men, right?

But since when are all, or even most gay men attracted to such androgynous figures? In reality, their tastes are just as diverse as heterosexuals’, and you don’t need my own experience of living with gay prostitutes to know that. Or that one’s sexuality doesn’t preclude an aesthetic appreciation of healthy curves either.

On the other hand, it’s also true that there’s a price to be paid for challenging the waiflike norms for models in the fashion industry, the corollary of which would be that it attracts people who share those norms. But how did those norms arise in the first place? And again: why the trend towards thin?

Taking for granted a symbiotic relationship between fashion and consumerism, then a better explanation for both is the constant financial imperative of related cosmetics, clothing, and dieting companies to create false needs in the minds of consumers, all the better to sell new products to them that (supposedly) help them fulfill those needs.


I concede that that may sound simplistic, even conspiratorial. But take the classic Korean example of the “X-line” for instance: a body-shape completely impossible outside of Photoshop, but which creators Amore-Pacific will sell products to help you attain nevertheless, aided by articles like this from the Korea Times that cheerfully reported that the X-line was hugely popular among young Korean women.

Despite the only “evidence” for that coming from Amore-Pacific itself.

Also, the thinner models are, then all the more dieting products and services that are needed to reach their weights. Which is not to say that Korean consumers are any more or less likely to follow anonymous models’ examples than you or I are, but when 65-75 % of Korean advertisements feature celebrities, with a demonstrable influence on media narratives about body ideals, then the potential is certainly there.

(Sources: left, right)

Enter Girls’ Generation, who have 12001500 calorie a day diets despite one member being 9kg underweight, and probably Yuri on the left above too (Brave Girls‘ Seo Ah’s pictures on the right speak for themselves). Or T-ara’s Hyomin being anorexic and weak, yet repeatedly showing off her body to endorse a swimming resort. Or actor Jeong Ryeo-won endorsing Giordano while looking like this. And so on.

Are these women both personification and culmination of the trends mentioned above? It’s certainly tempting to think so (and just between you and me, I do). But it’s also true that while Girl’s Generation, for instance, have indeed endorsed beauty products, even going so far as to prominently display one in a music video, they’ve also endorsed pizzas and fried chicken. So if there is a relationship between those celebrities’ weights and consumerism, in Korea it’s clouded by management companies relying heavily on endorsements – any endorsements – to make profits.

In the meantime, Korean women are already the slimmest in the developed world, to the extent that 1 in 5 are undernourished, and fully half of teenage girls are too anemic and malnourished to donate blood. If you’ll forgive the pun, such exacting standards for women don’t magically appear out of thin air.

Nor are they often challenged, let alone by celebrities themselves.

Which is why it was so exceptional last week for Uee of After School to not only reveal that she was eating enough, but to also pass on the common-sense that:

Many people starve themselves when they are on a diet, but that doesn’t help. You have to eat well in order to lose weight more easily.


Seriously, I’m at a loss to recall anyone else in K-pop making such a, well, revolutionary statement(!), so I’ll certainly forgive her complicity in the objectification of her body by the media (it does go with the job after all). Korean speakers, see roughly 4:30 of this Youtube video to hear her for yourself, or the Dailymotion video if you find that unavailable in Korea for copyright reasons (I’ve saved it for posterity).

And on that note, hopefully you can appreciate why I felt some context was necessary before passing on the news (UEE EATS FOOD! READ ALL ABOUT IT!). But is she indeed the first celebrity to speak out like that? Or can any readers think of any others? By all means, please prove me wrong!

Update 1 – While she’s not quite as well-known, I forgot about the example set by Koyote’s Shin-ji last year (see #7 here).

Update 2 – With thanks to xtristessa for passing it on, R&B singer Hwayobi recently confessed to having suffered from bulimia.

Update 3 – And to Seri, for mentioning Hwang Jung-eum. She’s not exactly my favorite celebrity, as she’s endorsed Sketcher’s completely useless  “Shape-ups”, but I suppose that’s no worse than UEE reveling in the attention given to her “honey thighs”.

Update 4 – YG Entertainment’s exclusive trainer, Hwang Sung Chan, briefly discusses Park Bom’s diet here. While it’s good that he mentions how the media often distorts information about celebrities’ diets, widely reporting that she only ate watermelon rather than a lot of watermelon for instance, unfortunately he doesn’t give any details about what she does eat.

Reading the Lolita Effect in South Korea, Part 1: The role of K-pop and the Korean media in sexual socialization and the formation of body image

A simply surreal video making the rounds at the moment. As explained by Lisa at Sociological Images, it:

…beautifully illustrates the socialization of children into particular kinds of worship. With hand motions, body movements, and facial expressions, this child is doing a wonderful job learning the culturally-specific rules guiding the performance of devotion.

Which led to a great deal of discussion at that site. But I’ll confine myself here to echoing Jason’s comment that it simply reminds him of his son picking up his own behaviors such as sweeping, and that the young girl:

…certainly isn’t worshiping here, but is just mimicking her parents and the other people around her. I can guarantee she has no concept of a deity.

But what has all that got to do with K-pop, let alone Meenakshi Durham’s The Lolita Effect? Well, because after reading all that, it was very interesting comparing my daughters’ own reactions to KARA’s Lupin just half an hour later. First, those of four and a half year-old Alice:

Then with her two and a half year-old sister Elizabeth:

Granted, perhaps you had to be there…and in which case I probably would have removed my dirty laundry from the floor first (sorry). But I didn’t notice it myself, because at the time I was simply transfixed.

You see, along with dozens of other K-pop music videos, Alice and Elizabeth must have watched and “danced” to Lupin at least 20 times before that night. But that was the first time that Alice at least seemed to demonstrate that she not only remembered it, but actually knew it very well, and was performing repetitive actions that were recognizably part of the same dance…which she’d demand to do seven more times before going to bed.

Unfortunately for my paternal pride though, in hindsight she was neither simply copying the music video nor giving her own original interpretation of it: as confirmed by her teacher later, she’s preparing for a Christmas performance at her kindergarten soon, and—yes—she’ll be dancing to Lupin.

So what’s the big deal? After all, while I’m still translating the lyrics myself (or at least I was until my “study” got invaded), they seem harmless enough:

But what if the kindergarten teachers had chosen Mister instead?

Or something by the Wondergirls perhaps? Two weeks from now, might I have looked on in abject horror as my 4 year-old kept thrusting her bottom out at me while singing I’m So Hot?

(See here for the video; the owner has disabled embedding)

No, because first, no matter how much WonderBaby’s appearances on national television could be construed as widespread public acceptance of that sort of thing, my wife confirms that many other Korean parents would also have complained well before then.

But second, and most importantly, actually Alice has already been thrusting her bottom out at me like the Wondergirls, for about three months now.

Seriously: several times a day, she’d suddenly run up to me giggling when I was at my desk, quickly thrust her bottom out at me a few times, then she’d run away in hysterics. Fortunately, she seems to have largely grown out of it now, but not through any discouragement on my part, which just seemed to make doing it all the more amusing for her.

Why did she start in the first place? I’ve no idea, as although she could have seen that dance move virtually anywhere, she wouldn’t have had any idea what it represented, or what adults would think of it. Perhaps one of her teachers overreacted to her or one of her classmates doing it or something, after which it became fun.

But whatever the reason, does that mean that it’s hypocritical to have any misgivings about Wonderbaby then?

Hell no. But to counter the argument that it’s just clean harmless fun, let’s be very specific about what the problems with her dancing to So Hot on national television are exactly. I can identify two main ones.

First, there’s the fact that Wonderbaby quite literally invites the viewer to view her as a sexual person. Of course, she probably has virtually no idea of the meanings of what she’s singing, let alone the consequences. In which case, one might already reasonably ask what she’s doing there in the first place, and in cases like this it is usually this naive, unknowing projection of sexuality that adults tend to be most concerned with. As explained by Durham in The Lolita Effect:

…the signals that girls send out about their sexuality, often naively, in response to the prevailing media and marketing trends, [are] signals that adults fear will attract harmful sexual attention. As the columnist Rosa Brooks lamented in the Los Angeles Times, “old fashioned American capitalism…is busy serving our children up to pedophiles on a corporate platter”….

….These charges open up quite a can of worms. Can marketers in fact “serve” children up to pedophiles? Is there any real danger in young girls wearing low-cut, skimpy, or “trashy” clothes, or is this just a harmless fashion trend designed to raise parental hackles, like so many others in the past? Could it even be seen as a feminist moves towards embracing a femininity or “girliness” scorned by previous generations and linking it to power rather than passivity? (p. 69)

I’ll return to the last point later. But before I do, from the outset I want to put paid to the notion that even children that young are completely neuter and/or are unaffected by sex in the media:

For children to take an interest in sex is not out-of-the-ordinary or scandalous. Even toddlers “play doctor” to explore each others’ bodies and mimic intercourse, though scholars are still debating what constitutes “normal” sexual behavior in young children. Sex is a part of life, so it is bound to surface in different ways at different developmental stages; it is not cause for alarm unless there is harm or abuse involved. Of course, sexuality needs to be dealt with in ways that are appropriate for the age and maturity of the child, the cultural and social context, and above all, the ethical implications of the situation, but sex per se cannot reasonably be viewed as harmful to minors. (p. 68)

And in particular:

The conventional wisdom is that interest in sex escalates as children approach adolescence; this is a biological viewpoint that connects the hormonal shifts and physical maturation of puberty with an increased interest in sex. But now sexuality marks preadolescence and childhood, too, and for many adults, this is justifiable cause for alarm. In today’s world, children as young as eight report worrying about being popular with the opposite sex; first graders describe being sexually-harassed by classmates; and by middle school, kids are steeped in sexual jargon, images, and exploration. Sex educator Deborah Roffman argues that little girls start wanting to look good for others at age four….(p. 65)

Very few—if any—cultures have found ways of adequately and appropriately dealing with the inconvenient fact of child sexuality (let alone the media) but surely Wonderbaby’s example doesn’t help. Nor do the music videos discussed below with slightly older girls either, but which I only realized thanks to Barry Raymond, a friend of mine that used to live in Korea (and now with 3 daughters himself):

No, that’s not them: rather, it’s a screenshot from the music video for Bang! (뱅!) by After School (애프터스쿨), which I translated back in June. One of my favorite Korean songs, I was originally a little miffed when Barry criticized it because the inclusion of the young girls, to which I replied on Facebook:

I’m usually quite wary of that too Barry, especially in Korea, where people are generally very reluctant to admit that things like that can be problematic. But in this particular case I think their presence is fine personally, because they’re gone within the first 20 seconds or so, and don’t perform any dance moves that can be considered remotely sexual. So they’re clearly supposed to be decorations at the beginning, considered quite separate to the grown-up (sexual) women of the group.

His response:

The lyrics and dancing that make up the song and video are all about sex. To place a child at the beginning of that exploits them in a sexual way. How would you feel about a child appearing at the beginning of Bad Romance or some other Lady Gaga song. It’s a girl group exploiting itself on the basis of sexuality, at least in this song. That is their choice, don’t force it upon the clearly underaged girls that appear in the video or try to make it appealing to an underage audience.


Hmmm, you may well have a point there, which I admit I wouldn’t have considered if you hadn’t brought up imagining the same in Bad Romance; I wonder if that shows just how used to that sort of thing I am here?

(15 year-old f(x) band member Sulli in Oh! Boy Magazine; source)

And finally, albeit admittedly after my asking if I could post it here at some point(!):

According to Wikipedia… See More’s typology of child pornography, the type described as posing involves (allow me to paraphrase) ‘deliberately posed pictures (video) of children fully clothed, partially clothed etc. where the context and/or organization suggests sexual interest’.

The”Bang” video places two clothed girls wearing the exact same attire as the older models at the beginning of the video. The girls dance alongside the older models where the older models are dancing in a sexually provocative manner (the younger girls are not in my opinion dancing in a sexually provocative manner). It should also be noted that while the girls wear the same outfits as the older models the fitting of their outfits is not alarmingly provocative although the same outfit on the older models is certainly sexually provocative. So we have a situation where several sexually provocative models are juxtaposed with what appears to be virtually identical under-aged girls. This to me would constitute a context of sexual interest where the line between the older models and the younger models is intentionally blurred.

Further to this context would be the lyrics….and the title of the song, “After School” along with the school oriented marching parade uniforms. To me this video is unambiguous contextualized sexual exploitation of children.

Is judging the Korean media and Korean music videos with an assessment system developed by the Paedophile Unit of the London Metropolitan Police merely imposing a Western value system on Korea? You decide, although I’d wager that in fact the Korean police have a very similar system.

Either way, not much later one of After School’s subgroups – Orange Caramel –  did the same again with their music video for A~ing (아잉):

For the sake of providing sufficient warning of the slightly NSFW image coming up in a moment, let me take the opportunity here to point out that it’s not so much the lyrics and dance moves that are the issue this time (see here for a video with them), but more having a child in a music video “sugar-coated with sexual undertones,” with an “obviously pedobaittastic tone,” and with “kinky cosplay lolita outfits”, all as noted by Johnelle at SeoulBeats. And so much so, that this next screenshot…

…instantly reminded of this next image, which I’ve had on my hard drive for years, from God knows where. Not looking very closely at the small print before then, I’d always assumed that it was the cover of an erotic fiction book, but it actually turns out to be a poster for a pornographic cartoon:

(Source: unknown)

Continuing with A~ing though, just in case you think Johnelle and I are exaggerating:

And in particular, these costumes, which—correct me if I’m wrong—seem to serve no other purpose than to have one’s breasts spill out of them:

All good wholesome stuff. So, like Johnelle notes, what’s with having a little girl dressed up in the same kind of vinyl red riding hood get-up as the women at the end?

So, does all the above mean I’m advocating that girls should never be allowed to appear in sexually-themed music videos (and so on) then? Yes, I guess so.

But how to set a minimum age for that? After all, the upshot of everything I’ve written so far that any age limit would be somewhat arbitrary and artificial.

If I did have to to set an age though (and it would be very unrealistic not to have one), then I’d say that the age of consent would be the most logical choice. Unfortunately however, in Korea that happens to be as low as 13 (see here and here), even though the age at which one can view and perform in sexually-related material and/or have reliable access to contraception is 18.

Yeah, I don’t see the reason for the huge discrepancy in age limits either…which is not quite the same as arguing that any of them should be 13.

But that’s a subject for another post. In the meantime, one argument against any age limit on appearances is that the average age at which girls begin to menstruate has been dropping steadily since 1850, so much so that – in developed countries at least – they now enter puberty between the ages of 8 and 13. It would be a pity to deny girls the right to express their ensuing sexuality in popular culture, especially with female sexuality in general being repressed and/or literally viewed as evil for so much of human history.

(16 year-old Bae Su-ji of Miss A; source)

Yet the notion that the feminist sexual empowerment of girls and women is what primarily motivated the appearances of Wonderbaby, the girls in the After School videos, the tight pants of 15 year-old Sulli, and 16 year old Bae Su-ji’s pose above is simply absurd, and indeed there is solid evidence that most young female entertainers are in fact pressured to wear their supposedly empowering skimpy clothing (and dance provocatively) rather than doing so out of choice. But although such arguments have still been made in Korea nevertheless, the overwhelming public attitude is to stick one’s head in the sand and deny the existence of teenage sexuality at all (let alone child sexuality), as this Korean commentator complains himself.

And in a sense, this is the official Korean government position too, if the article “Swept up by Girl Groups” by Jeong Deok-hyun is anything to go by. You can find it on pages 44-48 of the March 2010 edition of Korea Magazine, the official magazine of the Korean Culture and Information Service (downloadable here), and about this specific part on page 48…

“The shadow of recession and nostalgia:  Some are so surprised by the elder generations’ enthusiasm for girl groups that they cannot help but mention the Lolita complex. Nevertheless, that would be an example of an exaggerated principle that remains from the past authoritarian era. In the course of shifting from a masculine-dominated era to one of feminine equality, the imposing frames of age and gender are being slowly torn down. The time has come in pop culture where a man in his 40s can cheer for teenage girl groups without being looked at suspiciously.”

…my friend Dr. Stephen Epstein, Director of the Asian Studies Institute at Victoria University wrote to me:

The logic here is almost comical: the empowerment present is not that it brings young women to a heightened sense of their own possibilities in the world (which is mentioned nowhere in the piece), but rather that pop culture commodification of sexuality has reached the point that middle-aged men now have the privilege of ogling teenage girls in bands without fear of embarrassment. Now that’s what I call empowerment….


But again—and this bears repeating—its not girls’ sexuality itself that is the problem. Rather it is that:

…the expression of girls’ sexuality seems to be possible only within an extremely restrictive framework. Girls’ sexuality, it seems, has to comply with the markers of sexuality that we recognize, and it cannot be manifested, recognized, or mobilized in other, potentially more empowering and supportive, ways.

This is a form of mythmaking. When a concept as complicated, multilayered, and diverse as sex is reduced to expression through a single channel – the one involving lacy lingerie, skintight clothing, and the rest of what Ariel Levy calls “the caricature of female hotness” – it has to be seen as construction or a fabrication, in which the complexities of the subject are flattened into a single, authoritative dimension, and in which all other possibilities are erased.

So it is important to think about the ways in which girls are being coached to aspire to “hotness” by popular culture, and how the commercialized definitions of “hot” offer beguiling but problematic representations of sex that limit its vast and vital potential. (pp. 70-71, emphasis in original).

And that is the second major problem with WonderBaby’s appearance: how it already sets her on that path, and/or provides an example for others to follow. And while that is by no means a problem confined to Korea – Durham’s book alone is testament to that – it is taken to extremes here. As like I explain in Part 1, it is near impossible for a young aspiring female singer or actress to advance her career without doing “sexy dances” on numerous talk shows and entertainment programs:

And yet strangely, when 30-somethings (and above) do the same it is usually only as part of a big joke, as if they were suddenly neuter. Moreover, whenever a girl group’s music video features sexy dancing and lyrics that aren’t exclusively designed for a male gaze, then they have a very good chance of being banned from television, as anyone with even just a passing familiarity with K-pop can attest to.

But on a final note, one frequent complaint I have about most articles and blog posts on this subject is that they rarely explain why this is the case, nor why younger and younger women and girls are becoming more involved over time. And indeed, for all its popularity, even Durham isn’t as clear about this as I would like either, and I had to read her book several times to figure out what she actually means by “The Lolita Effect” exactly.

In short, it is the natural consequence of various industries’ (fashion, cosmetics, cosmetic surgery, diet-related, food, and so on) need to build, expand, and maintain markets for their products, which obviously they would do best by – with their symbiotic relationship with the media through advertising – creating the impression that one’s appearance and/or ability to perform for the male gaze is the most important criteria that one should be judged on. And the younger that girls learn that lesson and consume their products, the better.

Simplistic? You bet, and I’d be the last person to deny the role of a whole host of other factors, including – for one – the fact that basic biology makes women’s physical attractiveness a much more important factor in choosing a mate for men than vice-versa.

But do consider that: there is not a single country that did not also experience “housewifization” as a consequence of development; that in economic terms at least Korea is now officially the most consumerist country in the world, and much more so than the US (no, really); that comsumerism was explicitly conflated with national-security and anti-communism by the Park Chung-hee (박정희) regime of 1961-1979 (and very much still is); and finally that Korean women played a crucial role in that last, as that last link makes clear.

Given all that, then is anyone surprised that Korean women the thinnest in the developed world, yet actually consider themselves the fattest, and act and spend accordingly?

Correlation not always implying causation be dammed. And if nothing else, I hope I have at least persuaded you of that link with this long post!


The “Reading the Lolita Effect in South Korea” series:

Because Of You (너 때문에) by After School (애프터스쿨): Lyrics, Translation, & Explanation

With apologies for not writing about the positives of Korean popular culture more often, let me present Because of You (너 때문에) by After School (애프터스쿨). It’s one of my 10 favorite Korean songs, and easily their best.

Or at least, DJ Areia’s version of it above is, but I include the original below if you prefer.

The music video however, is a little confusing. Not because it depicts a relationship between 2 women though: admittedly that was a surprise, but in hindsight the lyrics are completely gender neutral. Rather, it’s because there is a man – model Song Jae-lim (송재림) – featured prominently throughout, and it’s not entirely clear who or what he’s supposed to represent exactly. Indeed, with his collage of photos of different members of the group, closed-circuit TV monitoring of them, and finally holes in walls through which to directly spy on them, then “voyeur” or “stalker” is what comes to mind personally, but I’d be surprised if that’s what the creative director intended.

If anyone can explain what he’s doing there then, then please let me know! In the meantime, I hope the translation adds to your enjoyment of the song, and for Korean learners I’ve included detailed explanations in those cases where I came across words or grammar that were new to me personally, or where my (Korean) wife and I had some difficulties. But I’m still quite happy to explain anything else though, and of course may have made some mistakes, so please give me a buzz in either case.

Here goes:

아직도 나 그대를 잊지못해

I never forget boy

I never forget boy

헤어진지 벌써 몇년이 지났는지 몰라

그대 생각만 하면 자꾸 눈물만 흘러

오늘따라 왜 그렇게 네가 보고플까

창밖의 빗소리가 내 맘을 흔들어놔

I still can’t forget you

I never forget boy

I never forget boy

Since we split up, already so many years have passed I’ve lost track

I only have to think of you, and I frequently [end up] crying

Why especially today do I want to see you so much?

The sounds of the rain outside the window pane has gotten my heart beating

Line 5 was the first problem, which my wife and I actually argued about a little (albeit when we were both very tired), because although “만” usually means “only”, according to her it can also mean “whenever” too. And however annoying it is for learners like myself, I do concede that even the simplest of Korean words can have multiple meanings sometime, so although I haven’t encountered that use of the term myself yet, for a while I wisely deferred to her translation of it as “Whenever I think about you”.

But still, it bugged me, as surely “그대 (애대해서) 생각할때 마다”, say, would be a much less ambiguous way of saying that? Hence the result you see above, after resolving which we wisely decided to start translating the next verse in the morning. Unfortunately however, that still left Line 7, which uses the construction of [verb] + [아/어/여 ending] + [놓다].

I wasn’t familiar with that, but I did know [verb]+ [아/어/여 ending] + [있다], which means that “the state resulting from the action of the verb continues to exist” for a short time, and also [verb]+ [아/어/여 ending] + [두다], which basically means to something in that state for a much much longer time (compared to 있다), so it wasn’t difficult to understand this new 놓다 one, which “indicates that the action of the main verb is complete, and is restricted to action verbs”. See page 353 of Korean Grammar for International Learners for more information, an essential reference book which I’d be surprised if anyone still reading by this stage didn’t already have!

사랑하지 말걸 그랬어 정 주지 말걸 그랬어

붙잡지 말걸 그랬어 왜 이렇게 나 혼자 아파

사랑하지 말걸 그랬어 정주지 말걸 그랬어

붙잡지 말걸 그랬어 왜 이렇게 나 혼자 아파

난 항상 너만의 장미가 되려던 내 맘을 아니

이제 조각난 사랑의 마침표가 됐다는걸

눈물이 밀려와 메마른 입술이 젖어

이제 어떡해 그댈 잊을 수 없어

I shouldn’t have loved you, I shouldn’t have given you affection

I shouldn’t have asked you to stay, why am only I hurt so much?

I shouldn’t have loved you, I shouldn’t have given you affection

I shouldn’t have asked you to stay, why am only I hurt so much?

I was always going to be your rose, Do you know my heart?

I know our shattered love’s final end has come

My gushing tears wet my dry lips

Why can’t I forget you now?

In lines 1-3, the construction [verb] + [지말걸] basically means “shouldn’t have [verb], and the “그랬어” just adds emphasis. In Line 1, it seemed simplest just to translate “정” as “affection”, but note that it often means a great deal more than that in group contexts (see here and here). Meanwhile, in Line 7 I changed “밀려오다” from “advancing” to “gushing”, because although the former is technically more correct, in English “advancing tears” really means tears that haven’t arrived yet, whereas in this case the Korean means tears that have arrived, and keep coming like waves on the sea keep advancing towards the shore.

Line 6 though – 이제 조각난 사랑의 마침표가 됐다는걸 – was probably the hardest of the entire song to translate. My logic with “I know our shattered love’s final end has come” was, first, that the sentence is quite literally “Now-shattered-love’s-full stop/period-has come/formed/arrived I know”, with me writing “full stop/period” to avoid anyone confusing “period” with a period of time, when actually “마침표” just means the punctuation at the end of a sentence. But then I decided that “final end” is what it is meant by that surely, and changed it accordingly.

Still, I admit that the sentence as a whole remains pretty strange, as in my experience “shattered love” has already has had “a final end” by virtue of shattering in the first place. Perhaps not so in Korean though?

Next, the chorus:

너 때문에 많이도 울었어 (매일밤 난)

너 때문에 많이도 웃었어 (그대 때문에)

너 때문에 사랑을 믿었어 (woo boy)

너 때문에 너 때문에 모두 다 잃었어

정말 답답답해 갑갑갑해 막막막해 너없는 세상이

내 말을 씹어놓고 자존심 짖밟아놓고

내 맘을 찢어놓고 왜 나를 떠나가

Because of you I cried a lot (every night I)

Because of you I laughed a lot (because of you)

Because of you I believed in love (woo boy)

Because of you, because of you, I lost everything

I am so frustrated, stifled, and lost in a world without you

You ignored what I said and walked all over me

You tore my heart to shreds, why did you leave me?

Most of that was quite simple in contrast. Of course there are many alternatives in English for “닫답하다”, “갑갑하다”, and “막막하다” in Line 5, and the difference between the first 2 in particular is quite subtle. Indeed, although this was the first time I’d ever heard “갑갑하다” myself, my wife tells me that it is so similar to “닫답하다” that it is often used in conjunction with it for emphasis.

Also, in line 6 and 7 there is the [verb] + [아/어/여 ending] + [놓다] used earlier. In Line 6, I decided that “you ignored what I said” was a better translation of “내 말을 씹어” than the literal “you chewed my words”, which sounds quite ambiguous in English. In the case of  “자존심 짖밟아” though, I decided that “walked all over me” sounded the most natural, but the more literal “you trampled over my self-respect” was probably fine really.

Note though, that the last line should really have a “you” or “당신이” inserted, making it  “내 맘을 찢어놓고 왜 당신이 나를 떠나가” or “You tore my heart to shreds, why did you leave me?”. And as I’ll explain, the question of who left whom exactly becomes important a little later.

그날도 비가 왔었지

한참을 그댄 말없이 나를 바라보기만 했어 어어어

흔들리는 눈빛과

애써 짓는 어색한 미소가 이별을 얘기해줘 줘줘줘

It rained that day too

For a long time, you just stared at me wordlessly

Through the light of your eyes and your labored, awkward smile, I realized you were going to split up with me

That’s quite straightforward, so I’ll just continue:

사랑하지 말걸 그랬어 정주지 말걸 그랬어

붙잡지 말걸 그랬어 왜 이렇게 나 혼자 아파

사랑하지 말걸 그랬어 정주지 말걸 그랬어

붙잡지 말걸 그랬어 왜 이렇게 나 혼자 아파

나보고 떠나가라고 할땐 언제고

떠난다니까 어쩌고 미친사람 취급만 해 정말 힘들어 (Boy slooow down)

아무런 말도 못한 채 울어

Cause I want to stay next to you

My love is true Wanna go back to when I was with you

I shouldn’t have loved you, I shouldn’t have given you affection

I shouldn’t have asked you to stay, why am only I hurt so much?

I shouldn’t have loved you, I shouldn’t have given you affection

I shouldn’t have asked you to stay, why am only I hurt so much?

You are the one who told me to leave

After saying that, why did you only treat me like I was crazy? It was so painful and difficult for me

I cried so hard I couldn’t speak

Cause I want to stay next to you

My love is true Wanna go back to when I was with you

The question of who left whom is important because of Line 5, “나보고 떠나가라고 할땐 언제고”. The “보고” in that is just another way of saying “한테”, leaving us with literally “To me-ordered [me] to leave-when you [ordered me]-some day”; not as confusing as it looks though, as it’s just “When you told me to leave someday”. Or so I thought, but in that case the placing of the “언제고” would be different: “”나보고 언제고 떠나가라고 할땐”. And it couldn’t be “Someday, when you told me to leave” either, as the subject marker attached to “when” – “할 땐” – makes that impossible.

I despaired then, and it didn’t help that I thought it was the other person that left the singer(s) either. My wife came to the rescue though, by saying that although the dictionary says “”언제고” is “someday”, it’s also used for emphasizing that someone said something to you, and not the other way round. She also told me that that meant I could omit the “when” too, and hence you the final result “You are the one who told me to leave”.

That still leaves the question of who left whom though, especially as the next line was “After saying that, why did you only treat me like I was crazy?”. My best guess then, is that the ex-girlfriend told the singer(s) to leave, and when she didn’t, the ex-girlfriend left instead, especially given the last line of the song which you’ll see in a moment.

Next is the chorus again though, so I’ll skip ahead to the next verse. And if you haven’t been listening to the remix version, then I highly recommend you at least listen to this section from 2:42 (3:03 in the original), as it’s not for nothing that I said back in May that “the background melodies at that point raise my spirits from virtually any depths, and make me feel like I can conquer the world, even after probably 200+ times of listening to the song”!

I miss you I need you 꿈 속에선 아직도 I’m with you

I miss you (miss you) I need you (need you)

시간을 되돌려 Wanna kiss you again ma boy

맘이 너무 아픈데 견디기 괴로운데

너는 어디서 뭘하니 (나 울었어 참 많이)

너 없인 난 못살아 내게로 돌아와줘 날 떠나가지마

I miss you, I need you, You’re still in my dreams, I’m with you

I miss you (miss you) I need you (need you)

I wish I could go back to then, Wanna kiss you again ma boy

My heart aches, enduring it is so painful

What are you doing now, where are you (I cried so much)

I can’t live without you, Please come back to me, Please don’t leave me

And finally there is the chorus again. Again then, I hope you can all enjoy the song much better now, and if you’re a fan of After School then you may also like to check out my translations of the lyrics to Ah! (아!) and Bang! (뱅!) too. And the Song Lyrics & Translations category in general of course; alas, there’s only 1 song by another artist in there as I type this, but I promise to add many more soon!

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아직도 그대를 잊지못해

I never forget boy

I never forget boy

헤어진지 벌써 몇년이 지났는지 몰라

그대 생각만 하면 자꾸 눈물만 흘러

오늘따라 그렇게 네가 보고플까

창밖의 빗소리가 맘을 흔들어놔

사랑하지 말걸 그랬어

정주지 말걸 그랬어

붙잡지 말걸 그랬어

이렇게 혼자 아파

사랑하지 말걸 그랬어

정주지 말걸 그랬어

붙잡지 말걸 그랬어

이렇게 혼자 아파

항상 너만의 장미가

되려던 맘을 아니

이제 조각난 사랑의 마침표가


눈물이 밀려와

메마른 입술이 젖어

이제 어떡해

그댈 잊을 없어

너때문에 많이도 울었어 (매일밤 )

너때문에 많이도 웃었어(그대 때문에)

너때문에 사랑을 믿었어(woo boy)

너때문에 너때문에 모두 잃었어

정말 답답답해



너없는 세상이

말을 씹어놓고

자존심 짖밟아놓고

맘을 찢어놓고

나를 떠나가

그날도 비가 왔었지

한참을 그댄 말없이 나를

바라보기만 했어

흔들리는 눈빛과

애써 짓는 어색한 미소가

이별을 얘기해줘

사랑하지 말걸 그랬어

정주지 말걸 그랬어

붙잡지 말걸 그랬어

이렇게 혼자 아파

사랑하지 말걸 그랬어

정주지 말걸 그랬어

붙잡지 말걸 그랬어

이렇게 혼자 아파

나보고 떠나가라고 할땐 언제고

떠난다니까 어쩌고

미친사람 취급만

정말 힘들어 (보이 슬로우 다운)

아무런 말도 못한 울어

cause i want to stay

next to you my love is true

wanna go back to when i was with you

너때문에 많이도 울었어 (매일 )

너때문에 많이도 웃었어 (그대 때문에)

너때문에 사랑을 믿었어 (woo boy)

너때문에 너때문에 모두다 잃었어

정말 답답답해



없는 세상이

내말을 씹어놓고

자존심 짓밟아놓고

맘을 찢어 놓고

나를 떠나가

I miss you i need you

속에선 아직도

i’m with you

I miss you (miss you)

I need you (need you)

시간을 되돌려

wanna kiss you again ma boy

맘이 너무 아픈데

견디기 괴로운데

너는 어디서 뭘하니

(나울었어 참많이)

없인 못살아

내게로 돌아와줘


너때문에 많이도 울었어

너때문에 많이도 웃었어

(많이도 웃었어)

너때문에 사랑을 믿었어

너때문에 너때문에 모두 잃었어

(너때문에 )

정말 답답해



없는 세상이

말을 씹어놓고

자존심 짓밟아놓고

맘을 찢어 놓고

나를 떠나가



Ah! (아!) by After School (애프터스쿨): Lyrics & Translation

After School’s (애프터스쿨) debut track from last year, of which I again include both DJ Areia’s remix above and the original below for you to enjoy while I explain the lyrics. But note that the remix is not actually trance this time, but rather the disco-like “vibrating analog synthesizer sounds and the helicopter-like basslines” of the late-1980s and early-1990s, so please do give it a try if you’re normally put off by dance music.

As for the music video itself, its theme is a little strange: schoolgirls in skimpy clothing coming on to their increasingly flustered young teacher, whom they are very happy to have ‘accidentally’ burst into their locker room later? It sounds…nay, looks like Japanese manga, and reminds me that student-teacher relationships (including dating and marriage) are a common trope of mainstream Korean popular culture (see here, here, and here for example), which only serves to both glamorize and normalize them.

Still, overly hormonal school students do sometimes have crushes on their teachers, and there’s nothing wrong in itself with portraying those in a music video. But while this one does obviously cater more to men’s sexual fantasies than to women’s (would having the group members vying for the affections of a handsome male student instead appeal more to women?), the lyrics demonstrate that there is much more to the song than meets the eye…

Again, for reasons outlined last time, I’ll provide very literal translations:

이렇게 둘이, 너와 단 둘이
언제나 둘이, 달콤한 이야길 하고파 둘이
둘이, 오늘밤 둘이, 사랑해 우리 둘이 둘이 baby

This way the two of us, with you only the two of us

All the time the two of us, I want us to tell a sweet story

The two of us, tonight the two of us, I love you we the two of us the two of us baby

“단” in the first line confused me for a while: it has a dozen meanings, including “bunch” or “bundle” which would (sort of) go with “the two of us”, but ultimately the meaning “only” is the most appropriate here. After that, the “~ㄹ 고파 하다” verb ending in the second line was the first time I’ve ever come across it personally, nor is it in any of my grammar books, but my wife says it simply means “~하고 싶다”, or “want to”.

잘빠진 다리와 외모 너는 내게 반하지
그대를 향한 윙크 한번 내게 빠지지
니 높은 콧대, 내 몸맨 어때
내 앞에선 니 모든게 무너지고 말껄

You have fallen in love with my slender legs and outward appearance

If I wink towards you one time you will fall (further)

The bridge of your nose is high (you have high standards)

How is my body?

Everything about you is going to crumble in front of me anyway

It feels a little hypocritical of me to critique other translations of songs here, as I very much rely on them to try and understand anything I might be having difficulty with myself, and especially because the translators may lack my increasingly annoyed Korean wife to constantly ask questions of in the next room. Nevertheless, those of whomever DJ Areia uses in his remixes (Yeeun2Grace perhaps?) really do seem a little sloppy sometimes (recall the big mistake in the 5th line of Bang!), and certainly disguise the subtlety of the original.

Take the first line for instance: “빠지다” has 13 meanings according to my dictionary, but “sexy” isn’t one of them; rather “잘빠진 다리” are “legs that have lost a lot of weight”, or “slender”. Sure, you could argue that this is just being picky, but it’s just as plausible to think that there is something culturally significant in the fact that “legs that have lost a lot of weight” was said rather than “섹시한다리” for instance, or more literally “sexy legs”. Also, “외모” is not “face”, but is actually the “outward appearance” of your entire body.

Next, putting line 4 as “I know you’ll crumble in my presence” completely ignores the “모든게” (or “모든것” + “이”) in it, or “everything”, and although “I know you’ll fall for me” is fine I guess, the verb ending “~고 말껄” (annoyingly not in any of my grammar books) means more “[the verb] is going to happen anyway”. Hence “everything about you is revealed in front of me” seems much better, as per the translation available on the AfterSchoolPlay fansite (registration required)

Finally, not a translation mistake, but in line 2 annoyingly the meaning of “빠지다” is different to that in line 1; and learners of English complain about the multiple meanings of words!

사랑한다 말만 말고 보여 주겠니
나도 니가 맘에 들어 춤을 추겠니
너와 난 왠지, 자꾸만 왠지
통할 것만 같아, 너를 사랑 할것 같아

Don’t just say you love me, aren’t you going to show me?

I like you too, aren’t you going to dance for me?

You and me for some reason, only again and again for some reason

I think we will only be connected, I think I will love you

My wife tells me that the verb ending “~겠니” in line 1 and 2, again not in any of my grammar books(!), means “aren’t you going to [verb] for me?”, So where on Earth “If I didn’t like you would I dance up on you like this?” below comes from I have no idea, no matter how appealing the thought!


짧은 시간 가까워진 우리 둘 사이
그대와 난 이제 하늘이 맺어준 사이
두말 할 필요 없어, 다가와 내게 어서
조명이 나를 번쩍 비추면
그댈 유혹하는 내 눈빛이 뜨거워지지
다른 남자들은 니가 너무 부러워지지
말은 안해도 난 알잖아 표현 안해도 다 알아
빨개진 니 얼굴이 다 말을 해주잖아

In just a short time we have become close

We are a match made in heaven

We don’t need to say it twice, come to me

If a light suddenly shines on me

It heats up the light of my eyes that is seductive to you

And other men become very jealous of you

You don’t have to say it or show it in your expression, I know everything

You red face shows it all

Not much to say here actually, other than both the translators at Yeeun2Grace and AfterSchoolPlay separated the above into two verses between lines 4 and 5. But I think that was mistaken, as line 4 ends in “비추면” or “if the light shines (on me)”, which is why the singer’s seductive eyes light up in the line 5. Lacking that connector, then I think that their own versions of line 4 and line 5 – “I’ve been illuminated by the light… You see my burning seductive eyes” and “When the lightning strikes me…My eyes which are putting him into temptation are becoming hotter”  respectively – don’t really make any sense.



After school in the house, 모두 같이 make it bounce
들어봐 지금 내 말, 오늘밤 tonight
다가와 말못했던 얘기, 우리 둘만의 작고 작은 속삭임
그래 넌 지금 날 너무 원하지, 가벼운건 싫어 내 모습이
다른 장소 after party, 걱정마 이런 내 스타일에
오늘밤은 후회안해, 내 맘을 뺏어봐 baby boy


Na na na~

After School in the house, everybody together make it bounce

Hear my words now, this night tonight

Come to me, and all the things you (we?) couldn’t say, all the little whispers we said only to each other

Yes, you really want me now, I (you?) don’t want just light stuff

Different place after party, don’t worry this is my style

Don’t regret tonight, try to take my heart baby boy

Again, the Korean seems pretty straightforward here. On a final note then, given how targeted it is towards male audiences I was very surprised not to find any screenshots of the music video either via Korean or English search engines, leaving me with the onerous task of producing my own. Despite the visuals however, the lyrics in this debut song are clearly just as much about girl-power and being confident and assertive as they were in Bang! a year later, so the possibility remains open that After School may actually have a sizable female fan base (and I rather hope that they do).

In light of that then, you imagine what I thought of three members’ most recent song in which they pour on the aegyo (애교), basically looking and behaving like 12 year-old girls. Like I said in the comments to a post about it at SeoulBeats:

I’d have to give it a thumbs down. Not so much for the music in itself, but because I’ve always liked After School for the assertive, confident, girl-power theme of their songs, and so this “candy coated aegyo overload” as you well put it really seems to dilute their brand.

And most other commenters there agreed with me. But what do you think of it? Feel free to disagree with me of course, and diversity is the spice of life and all, even for music groups. But still…


As always, thanks in advance for pointing out any mistakes I may have made or providing alternative translations!

Hot Sweaty Korean Women

What makes this commercial so special?

No, it’s not because of Park Ga-hee’s great body, which isn’t unheard of in K-pop. It’s not because she’s leader of the girl-group After School, which I’ve been writing a lot about recently. And it’s not because she’s no manufactured K-pop idol either, once literally penniless on the streets of Seoul after running away from home.

Those do make her more attractive and interesting, but they don’t speak to the commercial.

Rather, it’s special because she’s sweating.

Yes, sweating. Because as I first highlighted over 2 years ago, Korean women generally prefer passive means of losing weight to active ones like exercise. (Update, 2013: post since deleted sorry.) Indeed, even the ones that do attend gyms rarely seem to exert any actual effort while they’re there, and I’ve seen less than a handful dripping with sweat while on a treadmill.

A gross over-generalization? Actually, I very much hope so, and, admittedly not having gone to a Korean gym myself since 2004, then I’d nothing better to learn that things have changed since. But my 2008 post did seem to strike a chord with readers’ own experiences back then, and in turn the underlying attitudes to exercise that they demonstrated were corroborated by one of the few English language studies of the subject: “Content Analysis of Diet Advertisements: A Cross-National Comparison of Korean and U.S. Women’s Magazines” (Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, October 2006), by Minjeong Kim and Sharron Lennon. With apologies to long-term readers for my frequent references to it, but it’s worth (re)highlighting some parts here to remind ourselves just how unique the Fat Down (팻다운) commercial really is:

In his study with Korean female college students, Kim (1998) found that a predominant portion of respondents engaged in dieting for appearance rather than health, and a majority of respondents had previously engaged in dieting. The most common method of dieting was to restrict caloric intake, whereas a similar study with American female college students found that exercise was the most common dieting method among American women (Grunwald, 1985). (p. 350)

(Source: 영원같은 찰나)

Granted, those are old studies. But ponder the fact that one question I posed to my university students for their final vocal tests this week was “What are your plans for the summer?”, and fully 20 out of 55 of the women said they would be dieting to wear a bikini on the beach.* Which not only surely reflects an obsession in itself, but notably none said merely “losing weight” either, and definitely not “exercising” or “working out” (by way of comparison, 1 out of 65 guys said he would be working out). Hence the tests took rather longer than expected, as I felt compelled to step out of my remit as an English teacher and point out that none of them needed to lose weight whatsoever, that Korean women were already the slimmest in the OECD, and that could they at least consider maybe exercising rather than dieting?

(*As readers explained in the comments, I took the word “diet” much too literally. My mistake.)

And there are were plenty more anecdotes like that available in that post from 2008. But I like to be above passing on mere anecdotes these days, so consider some of the empirical evidence provided by Kim and Lennon instead:

The percentage of diet ads in relation to total ads was far greater in Korean women’s magazines than in U.S. magazines. (p.357)

Also (source. right):

A current article in one Korean newspaper (“Half of High School Females Are Not Qualified,” 2002) reported that more than half of Korean high school women suffer from an anemic constitution caused by malnutrition because of dieting. Also half the prospective blood donors from several high schools were not qualified because of deficiencies in nutrition. (p. 357)


Content analysis of the types of diet products/programs indicated that there are a variety of diet products easily available in Korean magazines….Diet pills, body attachments such as a diet belt, and oriental diet herbs were three of the more frequently advertised diet products in the Korean magazines sampled. However, none of them was reported as being clinically approved….Korean magazines promote more passive diet methods than active diet methods. Ads for passive diet methods such as diet pills, massage, aroma therapy, diet crème, or diet drinks that one must take, put on the body, or smell to lose weight were more prevalent than diet ads requiring one’s active participation such as exercise equipment or aerobic videotapes. Passive dieting ads reinforce the idea that buying a product will solve weight problems with no effort on the part of the user. (p. 358)

See here, here, and here for examples and further discussion of such advertisements, and you may also find these electric breast massagers and apple-hip seats interesting. Meanwhile, shame again on the Brown Eyed Girls…but please don’t take this post as an endorsement of Fat Down myself: I know nothing about it, and certainly do not know its ingredients or effectiveness. As you can see above though, I do at least recall that Jung Da-yeon also endorsed it, a woman in her early-40s who became famous a few years ago for being a momjjang ajumma (몸짱아주마), literally a “good body married woman”.

(Update) Related, I like the no-bullshit attitude of this advertisement for a cosmetic surgery in yesterday’s Busan edition of Focus newspaper (p. 6), which reads: “How much will you have to drink before you’ll get a V-line?”, a reference to this drink’s supposed ability to give you that face shape.

(Source: Focus)