Korean Sociological Image #21: Calf Reduction Surgery

Korean Calf Reduction Surgery Advertisement Before AfterEstimated reading time: 4 minutes.

It’s one thing to be aware of the popularity of calf-reduction surgery on an abstract level, but quite another to see the results in the flesh.

Or rather, the reduction thereof. And, while I’m aghast at the notion of voluntarily having one’s nerves cut and muscle removed for any cosmetic surgery procedure, in this particular case the mind simply boggles at how anybody can consider the “after” picture as an improvement.

Unfortunately though, it is neither a mistake nor a satire, but is instead from a genuine advertisement in this month’s Busan edition of Cocofun (코코펀), a free local entertainment guide available in major cities. Here is the full version:

Korean Calf Reduction Surgery AdvertisementFor the record, I’m not labeling skinny calves as unattractive by definition, particularly if a woman—and it’s almost exclusively women who undergo calf-reduction surgery—has such legs naturally; as it happens, the difficulty of finding food I wasn’t allergic to when I was young meant that my own calves probably weren’t much bigger until my mid-teens. Buffing-up in my early-20s to compensate for my own body image issues then, naturally I also prefer healthy and active women over sedentary, thin ones today. But regardless of my background, I think I would always have struggled to understand how the muscle development naturally ensuing from an active lifestyle could ever be considered unattractive.

That isn’t the case in Korea and the rest of Northeast Asia however. For a good introduction as to why, I recommend this post at FeetManSeoul for starters, while some other sources, such as the following English guide to the procedure from this cosmetic surgery clinic in Seoul for instance, also mention the fact that “Asian women have shorter legs and thicker calves than Caucasian women.” But, lest one is tempted to read too much into that curious racial comparison though, by no means do all commentators on the subject indirectly refer to some alleged Caucasian ideal, and actually even this more direct description of the procedure from the same site fails to mention it.

Korean Calf Reduction Surgery (Source)

However, there may also generational differences to consider. Take 38 year-old singer and actor Uhm Jung-hwa below for instance, appearing in a press conference with 29 year-old actor Han Chae-young for their movie Are you living with the person you love? (지금 사랑하는 사람과 살고 있습니까?) in July 2007. Ironically, both are well-known for having received extensive cosmetic surgery, but as you can see, only Uhm Jung-hwa has retained her muscular legs. I find her much the more attractive for that reason, and—assuming that she had the procedure done herself—seriously wonder how much physical exertion Han Chae-young is capable of; did I mention that calf-reduction patients have to learn how to walk again?

Uhm Jung-Hwa Han Chae-young legs calvesBut while its voluntary nature may may mean that it’s too extreme of me to compare calf-reduction surgery akin to foot-binding at this point (although both do involve the physical disablement of women for the sake of a wholly artificial beauty ideal), I will go so far as to invoke Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects (1792) here. For not only did she note that women being considered “too susceptible to sensibility and too fragile to be able to think clearly” was partially the consequence of not receiving the physical education that boys did (see here also), tellingly she also wrote that women are “taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and, roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison,” implying that if young women weren’t so encouraged to focus their attention on beauty and outward accomplishments, they could achieve just us much as men do.

Points to ponder in a country where health-food is promoted to elementary school girls on the basis of allegedly improving their face-shape and making their undeveloped breasts and buttocks bigger. And yet still people wonder why I’m so negative sometimes!

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Images series, see here)

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

Korean Gender Reader

elton-john-drugs-quoteSource: id-iom.

Sorry for the delay: although I’d like to provide a much more professional-sounding excuse, the reality is that my toddler’s constant temper tantrums over the last two days have completely ruined my blogging plans for this week!

1. Joo Ji-hoon Drug Scandal

My personal choice for the most interesting story last week. In brief:

In the latest drug bust of entertainers, police booked popular film star Ju Ji-hun, 27, on suspicion of drug use and arrest warrants were sought for actress Yun Seol-hee, 28, and model Ye Hak-young, 26, for alleged smuggling ecstasy tablets and ketamine into the country from Japan. Two other residents were booked on similar suspicions.

“Besides the suspects on the list we have secured, there are likely more, given the amount of drugs smuggled. Further investigations are unavoidable,” an officer of the Seoul Metropolitan Policy Agency said (Korea Times).

Why I found it so interesting, and why it’s notable in a feminist sense, is because of how the huge disparities between Western and Korean celebrity culture may play out here. Very broadly speaking, Westerners usually tolerate – nay, encourage –  debauchery on the part of their idols, but Koreans are the polar opposite, usually demanding of celebrities standards of behavior and conduct much stricter than they do of themselves. Throw sexual double-standards and many especially young actresses frequently playing “sweet and innocent” roles into the mix too, then many female celebrities in particular have faced heavy public opprobrium once they have been revealed to be, say, merely human.

Yoon eun hye the temptressHence my first thought that the female celebrities involved in this scandal might get the most flak for it, but as Joo Ji-hoon (주지훈) is so much better known than them then so far most attention has been on him instead. Naturally, this story is all over the K-pop blogs, but DramaBeans provides the best coverage: see here, here and then here for all the details in chronological order, to which I’d add the surprising news that so far he hasn’t given the tearful apology that is de rigueur for these situations, and instead is – shock! horror! – unrepentant.

(Right: Does the blame ultimately lie with Yoon Eun-hye? Source)

2. I’ve Got You Under My Skin

Previous restrictions on nudity, sex, and swearing in the media are rapidly being lifted in Korea (see #1 here), but that doesn’t mean that all the individuals and institutions involved are liberalizing things at the same speed, nor, indeed, that they’re even on the same page. As I explain in the bottom of this post:

…aside from the government’s push for a  “real name” internet system of course, one other notable censorship issue is the Youth Protection Committee’s (of the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs; see #4 here) recent banning of music group TVXQ’s latest songs from being played on TV and the radio because of “lewd content” (see here also). But one might ask what exactly the point was considering the album has already been out for six months though!

And blogger Gord Sellar has written an excellent post on the supreme irony of this:

…The idea that a censor who cannot speak English well enough to understand the nuances of what’s being said is interesting.

But then again, there’s also the nuances of what’s being heard. After all, I can say, “Ha, that censor doesn’t know enough English to know that it means, “I’ve got you on my mind,” or, “You’ve affected me emotionally in such a way that I cannot shake this effect you have on me.” But the censor’s grasp of English is…

Well, there’s the question. The Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs certainly doesn’t seem to know what the phrase means in English — though it’s well-documented, is present in popular culture, and absolutely innocuous in an English speaking context. (Even the stuff about “… deep down in the heart of me, so deep inside, that you’re really a part of me…” is tame enough to have been on mainstream TV back when sexual content was not broadcast in the States.)

See here for the rest.

3. More Female Toilets to be Built in Seoul

By coincidence, I heard on the Guardian Daily podcast last year about recent changes to laws in the UK requiring all new buildings to have female toilets double the size of those provided for men, and as a guy I had no idea of just how impractical and inconvenient and still steeped in a Victorian architectural mentality many are there, ultimately with big impacts on women with children in particular (and in turn, families), although as a father now I have much the same problems myself, and can certainly empathize. See here, here, here for more information on that UK case, but most of the problems mentioned would be universal,  and so provide some good context for the following news about the Seoul City Government, which will:

…increase the number of women’s toilets to close to that of their male counterparts. Currently, there are 42,348 male toilets compared to only 34,649 toilets for females. It will build 3,100 more this year and 3,800 next year (Korea Times).

A curious disparity. Regardless, and even if you’re a guy and/or not interested in such matters, at the very least more and bigger female toilets will mean less waiting for your partner, as someone on the podcast I heard mentioned.

Another, somewhat misguided initiative also mentioned in that report is to provide many slightly larger female-only car-parking spaces, the logic presumably being that women are worse drivers and so need more space to maneuver. Admittedly I don’t drive myself, but I’m pretty confident that any car-insurance salesperson can confirm that that is complete bullshit (women actually have less accidents than men), and so this idea reflects the prejudices of the city councilors more than anything else.

Update: See KoreaBeat here for more details.

4. Gwangju Female High School Students Stripped as Punishment

For the details, see Brian in Jeollanam-do here. One minor thing that he forgot to mention in that post is that it occurred at an all-girl high school, but which is not to say that that condones the punishment in any way

Also occurring at a high school, it was reported by the Korea Times that four male teachers are to receive punishment for sexually harassing female interns. Unfortunately, given a history of teachers getting off lightly for far worse offenses, such as one being given only a six-month sentence for sex with an 11 year-old (see #9 here), then…let’s just say I have my doubts as to how effective their ultimate “punishment” will be.

5. Han Chae-young Models Men’s Clothes

han-chae-young-rogatis-한채영-로가디스As allkpop reports, Rogatis (로가디스), a Korean menswear company, has chosen actress Han Chae-young (한채영), as their next model for their latest line of mens clothing (right, source). Not that significant perhaps, but it immediately brought to mind Danish clothing company JBS’s notorious underwear advertisements from last year, which featured virtually naked (naturally) women in men’s underwear, and which ultimately got…er…pulled (see here and here for more on those, but which are probably NSFW).

Now, I’m not going to feign outrage at those, nor at the notion of using women to model men’s clothes in itself, although personally I found the ones with nurses and so forth actually sniffing the underwear (and savoring the smell) to be very unrealistic more of a turn-off than anything else. But I’m curious as to readers’ opinions on the Rogatis advertisements specifically, as although they’re certainly still quite risqué (see more examples here), most of the complaints against those by JSB focused less on the women’s nudity as their explicit subservience in them, which clearly doesn’t apply here.

So, does it work? It it still objectionable in any way? Why, why not?

6. Korea’s Lost Generation

First becoming involved in Korean sociology via the huge differences in living arrangements for 20-somethings between Korea and Western countries, then I’ve long been interested in the various financial barriers that prevented Korean twenty-somethings from leaving home, and without which it’s no exaggeration to say a veritable revolution in Korean sexuality would occur. Indeed, the situation of today, rife with double-standards and open secrets and all, is not at all dissimilar to that of Western countries before huge expansions in university enrollments in the 1960s and 1970s, but until a similar Korean generation of cohabitants that no longer feels a need to hide things emerges from that, then it will continue to be women especially that suffer the most from sexual matters not being out in the open, either physically or by placing feminine virginity and “modesty” on a pedestal.

In my most recent posts on the subject then (here, here, and here), excessive student loan interest rates and rising univeristy fees have emerged as the biggest of those financial burdens, and in many ways what is occurring in Korea today parallels what occurred when I was a student myself in New Zealand in the mid-1990s. I didn’t, however, have this to contend with also:

As a candidate, President Lee Myung-bak promised to slash school fees by 50 percent and create 600,000 jobs annually. He did neither….

….It’s true President Lee had made these pledges before he knew the world would fall to what he has dubbed the “unprecedented” economic crisis. But there are not many governments trying to get out of this crisis by cutting initial salaries of college graduates, and telling them to remain content with internships, as the Lee administration does now.

President Lee called for the new entrants into labor markets, who probably constitute the best-educated generation of all, to “lower their sights and start humbly.” This could pass as advice among individuals but hardly a sermon coming from a responsible official ― much less the head of state ― to the fresh workforce that will shoulder the nation’s future.

By all means much recent criticism about the Korea Times is deserved (see here and here), but the editorial that that is from may prove remarkably prescient: at the very least, telling a whole swath of young people to STFU and be content with working in Family Mart for what should be the most productive and exciting part of their lives will accentuate their disengagement with the political process.

7. Birth, Death and Divorce in Korea

A swathe of statistics on each have been published recently:  for links and analysis on the former two especially, see Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling here, and for the latter see Brian in Jelloanamdo here.

Meanwhile, if you’re futher interested in Korean demographics, particularly similarities and differences in family structures between Korea, the US, and Japan,  then you’ll probably like this series of mine on the subject also.

8. Korea’s Lack of Rape Kits: A Comparison to the U.S.

As someone who gets plagiarized himself on a regular basis, then normally I’d be very reluctant to cut and paste a post by KoreaBeat in its entirety, but in this case I think I can make a rare exception:

Nicholas Kristof wrote in [the] New York Times about the problem of severely backlogged rape kits in the United States, putting me in mind of how they are often never even collected in Korea.

And the latter, a translation of a lengthy article on the subject, should be required reading for everyone reading this blog!

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