Watching SPICA’s “Tonight” is an Awesome Teaching Moment About the Male Gaze. Here’s Why. (Part 1 of 3)

Tonight has been interpreted as an uplifting, carefree song about female friendship, maybe even about a lesbian awakening. So why is the MV soo male-gazey?
Spica Tonight 1.26(All screenshot sources: Youtube)

Introduction: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Spica

Released in August 2013, Tonight by Spica is the perfect short summer song. It’s fun, breezy, and simple to understand for a Korean learner too. Just take a listen for yourself:

Though most K-pop songs don’t age well for me, I do still soo love the music and vocals of this one. But its sales were poor, and it won no prizes on music shows. It received few substantive reviews. Then the same happened again with You Don’t Love Me, which came out in January 2014. Crestfallen, I lost track of Spica after that, but I remember being further disappointed by their misguided US debut that summer, then the news in November 2015 that a manager of their former entertainment company was being sued for embezzlement, which derailed their planned comeback. Add that they haven’t uploaded a video to Youtube in over a year, then I started this post half-expecting they’d disband before I finished it.

Spica, it seems, have always been plagued with bad luck.

But there’s hope on the horizon. I soon learned that they’d switched entertainment companies in December, and that they’d quickly followed that with the announcement that a mini-album would be released in April, later cancelled in favor of the release of a full album in June. Also, while their Twitter, Facebook page, various Instagram accounts, and (Korean) fan cafe were only being updated every few days, they were still being updated. An hiatus on those updates since April was cause for alarm, but it was likely only because the group is very busy working on the album. Sure enough, soon after I wrote that they’ve since resumed posting, and have just reconfirmed their comeback and released new member photos.

So, I’m optimistic that they’ll announce a firm release date any day now. Which makes them a perfect choice for my own return to writing about K-pop.

Who could write a simple review after watching that MV though?

I think I'm addicted to feminist media criticism(Source: Guerrilla Feminism)

There’s only so much that can be said about the generic lyrics of the song, or added to what other reviewers have already written about the dreamy, memory-like atmosphere. Who has time for such banalities, when the MV is so sensual, but also soo blatantly aimed at heterosexual men? When the first half mostly consists of the Spica members lying on their backs in bikinis or tight clothes, the camera lingering on (especially) their breasts? And much of the rest, just that lingering gaze, with only occasional shots of the actual faces of the various body parts’ owners?

I’m serious. For teaching the concept of the male gaze, and the rights and wrongs of objectification, this MV is the perfect K-pop example.

Spica Tonight 0.31(0:31)
Spica Tonight 0.53(0:53)

No, I’m not a prude, I don’t think those are negatives (necessarily), and I’m not complaining. No way in hell, did I plan to spend six weeks on researching the male gaze before I got a post out either.

But I felt I had an obligation to discuss what no-one else was. Because when I first saw the MV three years ago, it was on my phone while I was on the subway; I had to stop watching, lest other commuters think of me as just another typical, sweaty uncle fan. When I showed the MV to a coworker to get a second opinion, he burst out laughing at how shameless it was. When I showed it to my wife, she just rolled her eyes. When I went online for fourth and fifth opinions though…?

Of scenes like the above, almost every other reviewer and commenter only mentions the ice cream one, if at all; instead, they talk about the strong vibe of sexual freedom they get from the MV, and/or the lesbian undertones. For instance, Alexandra Swords at Music Matters:

[The MV is] just plain fun to watch. It’s also incredibly sexy, the sensual movements, the outfits, the skinship . . . all of it contributes to a great idea of personal liberation, including sexual freedom and comfort with that sexual freedom. It’s great because very few music videos period, let alone the ones in Korea, express that not only is it okay to be a sexual creature, but that being so is not strange or special, it just is and we can just accept it with ease and comfort as an aspect of the world in which we live.

And commenters at Seoulbeats, after reviewer Laverne originally mentioned she found the sexual undertones of the ice cream scene unnecessary and distracting:

Seoulbeats Spica Tonight commentsAll of which is still cool of course: we’re all free to interpret the MV however we like, and a male gaze isn’t mutually exclusive with their reading of it. I should have made more of an effort to look for Korean reviews too.

But…sexual freedom? Tasteful lesbian undertones?

I’m just not seeing them. If a lesbian coming-of-age story was the intention, then it seems poorly executed at best, as I can identify only two scenes that hint at potential romantic interest between the members, and just barely at that. (Frankly, I think it’s just wishful thinking really. And, just off the top of my head, think Because of You by After School is a much, much better K-pop example.) In the absence of that narrative though, what I’m seeing in its place is the presentation of a very passive, come-hither version of female sexuality, much like that which already overwhelmingly dominates the media.

Again, that’s not necessarily bad, in the right context. Nor, as Womantic’s and ChencingMachine’s comments demonstrate, are the resulting scenes necessarily for the exclusive pleasure of heterosexual men. Yet while a lesbian appreciation of this MV is no less valid than a male heterosexual one, I still think it’s only incidental.

But I’m not a lesbian. As you’ll see, I still have lots to learn about the (heterosexual) female and lesbian gaze too. And, whatever your sex or sexuality, I can’t and won’t presume to lecture you that any feelings of sexual empowerment to be gained from the MV are simply a form of false consciousness either. Instead, let me just present my own biases and intellectual baggage first then, before the scenes from the MV, to show you why I interpret them the way I do.

That makes for a very, very long post, almost a presentation really, which readability dictates that I split into three. Also, for an uneasy segue into a discussion of men and women in advertising next, to be continued in Part 2, and ironically not returning to the MV again until Part 3. But if that’s what it takes to demonstrate the very narrow vision of female sexuality being presented by the MV, and of male tastes in turn, then so be it.

Hopefully, you’ll be too intrigued by the hundred or so images to notice the length anyway. And, ultimately agree or disagree with my interpretations, hopefully we’ll still have a fun discussion about the male gaze and/or Tonight too, and both learn a lot in the process.

Here goes…

(One NSFW image follows.)

The Male Gaze: A Gender Advertisements Perspective

Gender Advertisements South Korea(Source, right.)

Whatever your experience with analyzing advertisements, you can appreciate that the sizing and placing of people in them is a fundamental part of photographers’ and designers’ jobs. With that in mind, consider these images of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana:

charles higherMost people wouldn’t think twice about them. Unless, they already knew that Diana was actually the same height as Charles, or even slightly taller:

Diana TallerWhy make Charles appear taller? Lisa Wade at Sociological Images explains:

This effort to make Charles appear taller is a social commitment to the idea that men are taller and women shorter. When our own bodies, and our chosen mates, don’t follow this rule, sometimes we’ll go to great lengths to preserve the illusion.

Is that social commitment also operating in these Korean advertisements? You be the judge:

Gender Advertisements Womem Taller than MenNow, those examples were pretty obvious. However, that social commitment to men’s greater height can be said to be part of a wider commitment to presenting conventional, in many ways unequal gender roles by the media. Which may sound like hyperbole, but literally just about any survey looking at how the sexes are portrayed can confirm.

In advertisements, that commitment is usually achieved in much more subtle ways than simply giving high stools to short men though. Fortunately for us, the late Erving Goffman outlined many of those ways in Gender Advertisements (1979), and his framework has been considerably expanded upon and modified by scholars since.

Concentrating on the two ways most relevant to the Tonight MV here, the first is by positioning men and women (and races) differently, which comes under the “Relative Size” category in Goffman’s framework. (Note that in addition to being positioned differently, they are frequently doing different things and/or have different jobs too, which comes under “Function Ranking”). For example:

Gender Advertisements Men at Front, Women at BackGender Advertisements Relative Size and Position(Source, left: Korea Times, 25/06/2009; see Korean Sociological Image #8 for a discussion.)

Gender Advertisements Relative Size South KoreaNone of those examples are particularly objectionable in themselves, nor is there a real case to be made that the teams behind them were deliberately or even subconsciously sexist: there could have been any number of legitimate aesthetic reasons and other considerations which came into play when they placed the men and women (and Koreans and Caucasians) the way they did. It’s also true that I deliberately selected all the advertisements in this post to make certain points, which in turn are necessary generalizations; of course you see men standing in the back sometimes, and so on. That said, do surveys of multiple advertisements, and, for whatever reasons, men tend to be front and center more often than women, and tend to have better jobs and/or take more active roles than the women behind them.

In that vein, take a look at these two:

Gender Advertisements Ritualized Subordination Mother Child Man WomanIn the left (technically half of an advertisement), of course the mother is taller and of a higher social status than her young daughter. Also of course, there’s no implication that the teenage boy on the right is of a higher social status or in any other way superior to the teenage girls in any way simply because he’s standing while they’re sitting.

Look at multiple advertisements however, and it turns there’s a lot more ads like the one on the right than vice-versa. Or, of ones that elevate the men above the women in some other way:

Gender Advertisements Ritualization of Subordination Man Standing Woman SittingGender Advertisements Ritualization of Subordination Men Standing Women SittingKim Su-hyeon and Shin Sae-kyeong Man StandingAlternatively, if the men themselves are sitting, then the women end up on lower furniture (remember the stools earlier?), in beds, or even on the floor or ground:

Giordano Wallpaper Shin Min-a So Ji-sub(Source: Giordano. See also: Shin Min-a Shows Us How to Pose Like a Woman)
Goffman Gender Advertisements Rituatlization of Subordination Kate Moss Chris Kremer(Source, above and below: The Fashion Spot)

Goffman Gender Advertisements Rituatlization of Subordination GucciThis is the part of second category of Goffman’s to bear in mind for the MV, which he termed the “Ritualization of Subordination” (but with obvious overlaps with “Relative Size”). He explained it thus:

Although less so than in some, elevation seems to be employed indicatively in our society, high physical place symbolizing high social place. (Courtrooms provide an example.) In contrived scenes in advertisements, men tend to be located higher than women, this allowing elevation to be exploited as a delineative resources. A certain amount of contortion may be required. Note, this arrangement is supported by the understanding in our society that courtesy obliges men to favor women with first claim on whatever is available by way of a seat. (p. 43)

And in particular:

Beds and floors provide places in social situations where incumbent persons will be lower than anyone sitting on a chair or standing. Floors are also associated with the less clean, less pure, less exalted parts of the room – for example, the place to keep dogs, baskets of soiled clothes, street footwear, and the like. And a recumbent position is one from which physical defense of oneself can least well be initiated and therefore one which renders very dependent on the benignness of the surround. (Of course, lying on the floor or on a sofa or bed seems also to be a conventionalized expression of sexual availability) The point here is that it appears that children and women are pictured on floors and beds more than men. (p. 41)

A note of caution. In lectures in the past, I’ve explained that Korea provides an interesting counterpoint to such interpretations. As in this part of the world, age and status trumps everything:

Korea Status Trumps Relative Size and Ritualiztion of SubordinationGender Adverisements Status Trumps Ritualization of SubordinationVictorian Husband and Wife ungyo looking away(Source, left: Etsy)

And indeed maybe it does. But after rereading the original book, I found that Goffman had already indirectly addressed this:

An interesting contrast is to be found in turn-of-the-century portrait poses of couple [example above], wherein the effect was often achieved of displaying the man as the central figure and the woman as backup support, somewhat in the manner of a chief lieutenant. (p. 40)

Which is to say, it’s important to bear advertisements’ contexts in mind, and not interpret them dogmatically. But whether they’re Korean or from Goffman’s native Canada, examples like these seem to be the exceptions that prove the general rule.

Another thing to bear in mind is one of the biggest changes since Goffman’s day: that fewer and fewer couples and mixed groups are depicted in advertisements. Despite that, women are still less likely to be standing in them than men:

Ha Ji-won and IU lying downsnsd baby g 2015(Source: S♡NE | INDESTRUCTIBLE)
Seol-hyun subway advertisement gmarket(Source: 퍼펙트 월드)

The sides of buses, I’ve noticed, are frequently used for full-length shots of people on their sides. It’s just that those people rarely seem to be men:

Swagger Hyo-seong on Bus(Sources, edited: Swagger)

And finally, some examples of women on the floor, in beds, and/or lying down. Which, like Goffman said, are considered to be expressions of sexual availability:

Park Min-young jeans floor(Source:
Honey Lee Venus lingerie lying on bedKang So-ra Ad Objectification through reduction to sexual availabilityGa-in EgoistJunghwa - Mizuno Summer 2015(Source: IsM, K-pop in Greek)
Seol-hyun SK Telecom GMarket(Sources: FM Korea; Imgur. Ironically, there was some controversy about the one on the left. But only because of its supposed resemblance to a BDSM scene.)

This example with Bae Su-ji for Clalens contact lenses is particularly interesting. When I showed it to a female friend, who’s very au fait with overthrowing the patriarchy, I pointed out that it looked like I was hovering over her as we lay together in some sunny, secluded glade. (Su-ji that is, not my female friend; let’s not go there.) That didn’t occur to her at all though, and instead she admired what the advertisers had done with her hair, the black lines serving to highlight the clarity of vision brought about by the contact lenses (although in hindsight, I think the intention was to highlight that they’re color lenses):

Ritualization of Subordination Male Gaze Suzy ClalenI include it then, partially as an example of where my background is possibly clouding my judgement. Also, as a reminder that I’m not the target audience of most of the advertisements I critique.

But still: with this ad, I think my friend wasn’t seeing the forest for the trees.

Because consider the similar one in the middle below too. At that more usual scale, only a blogger with a bone to pick would notice the black lines at all. Add the slightly scared expression on her face, which seems out of place for a contact lens ad, and I’m right back to my original interpretation. Neither exactly scream “Now that I can see properly, I can finally do shit and get on with my life!” either, which is why I much prefer the one on the left. (Even Seol-hyun’s on the right is an improvement.)

Korean Contact Lens Advertisements(Apologies for the reflection of some ugly bald guy in the picture on the right.)

But okay, so what? So we see many more women than men in beds and on floors in advertisements, frequently in sexualized poses. Is that problematic?

Well, if we put aside for a moment that not every ad needs to be sexualized, and that when it is, it’s usually the sexualization of women by and for heterosexual men? Then not so long ago, I would have said no. Not necessarily.

Yes, I know I say that word a lot. But hear me out.

In my lectures, I used to point out that basic biology meant that heterosexual men found women in beds more sexually attractive than vice-versa. Whereas you have lots of time, energy, and most importantly no kids, I would wistfully explain to my 20-something audience members, so you make it a point of personal pride to try new and exciting sex positions everyday, the reality is that the missionary position is overwhelmingly the most popular male-female one. (And besides which, if we’re talking about penis-in-vagina, all those new and exciting sex positions are all just variations of the same six basic positions anyway.) Ergo, if sex sells, and, rightly or wrongly, sex is always going to be used to sell, then that sexual difference is always going to be reflected in advertising.

To reinforce that point, and get some laughs, I would show some photos of men parodying women’s typical poses:

Men in Women's Poses(Source: English Russia)
Men in Women's Poses Men-Ups(Source: kyliedpeterson)

But sometimes after the lectures, women would point out that the men above weren’t as (conventionally) attractive as the women they’re mimicking. And they had a point. So too, if they’d asked how come I’d just enthralled them with numerous images of scantily-clad women in beds or lying down, for which they were eternally grateful, yet failed to provide any examples with men to prove my original point? Like some from two Instagram collections recently featured at Bored Panda say, which have a much wider range of guys than normal too?

Instagram @brosbeingbasic(Ewww, men on their backs. How unmanly and unattractive. Source: @brosbeingbasic; left, right)

What they really should have done though, is told me to just shut the hell up. Because what the fuck would I know about what poses turn women on?

I like to think I know a little. This blog is about sexuality after all. I do have lots of books about sexuality in my bookshelves to impress guests at my cocktail parties with, and have even read some of them too. Obviously, I have no qualms about talking explicitly about sex. Obviously, I do so with my wife and did with my former partners. Probably, you can guess, that lack of inhibitions extends to conversations with my friends too. (Consider that a heads-up, if any readers want to hang out.)

But had I really talked to my female friends about what turns them on? Exactly what turns them on? Had I really talked to enough heterosexual women, or read enough about female sexual desire written by them? Could I really stand there as a cisgender, heterosexual guy and tell heterosexual women that I know they aren’t as attracted to men in beds as men are to women, which is why we don’t see men in beds so much in ads?


Instead, it took the following image to make me finally realize my utter foolishness. Seen back while I was still naively expecting this post to just be a normal review, this image is a big reason for the way it developed the way it did. Because just between you and me, I can see the attraction…

Sleeping Beauty Bare Men Paper(Source: Paper)

I’m sure it would have been more to the point to post a picture of a eager, expectant-looking guy in bed, with a much prouder erection; alas, it’s that picture that really, really does it for me. I mean did it for me. Enlightened me I mean.


If it doesn’t enlighten you personally though, then here’s some eye-opening links I was also reading at the time, which provided the thousands of words of background that picture told me:

  • Explainer: what does the ‘male gaze’ mean, and what about a female gaze? (The Conversation; make sure to read the comments also)
  • Gaze Upon Me, and Despair!: Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, S2E2 (The Learned Fangirl)
  • How music videos challenged the male gaze in 2015 (Dazed)
  • How is this painting ‘pornographic’ and ‘disgusting’? (The Guardian)
  • ‘Neighbors 2’ is a middle finger to anyone who thinks feminism can’t be funny (Fusion)
  • Hollywood Men: It’s No Longer About Your Acting, It’s About Your Abs (Jezebel)
  • The Male Gaze vs. The Female Gaze (CinemaVerite)
  • NSFW: See Images From “Bare Men,” A New Photo Book on Male Nudity (Paper)
  • A New Tumblr Calls Attention to “Headless Women” in Film & TV Marketing (Bitch, Feministing)
  • NSFW: 10 Images That Take The Female Nude Back From The Male Gaze (Bust; my Twitter and Facebook conversations about them)
  • Empowered Young Women Star In These Portraits Of Chinese Girlhood (The Huffington Post)
  • How did ‘Playgirl’ magazine go from feminist force to flaccid failure? (Fusion)
  • An Earl in the Streets and a Wild Man in the Sheets: Tarzan and Women’s Sexuality (Bitch)

That said, of course there’s still many differences in what heterosexual men and women find sexually attractive in the other; it’s just that I’m no longer convinced that lying in bed (etc.) is one of them. And if I’m right, that social commitment to literally keep women in their place seems to be the biggest reason for the discrepancy in the media.

Especially when, if pandering to the male gaze is the modus operandi, there are many more active alternatives, and/or alternative body types, that are just as effective…

vivian geeyang kim 66100 Ha Ji-won(Sources: Plus Size Model Vivian Geeyang Kim, edited; ask K-POP)

Which I’ll present in Part 2, before discussing the MV proper in Part 3. Thanks very much for reading this far, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. (By all means, feel free to jump ahead and talk about the MV too!)

Friday Fun? Korean Women Putting Shoes on Their Heads (Updated)

EXID‘s Hani Star1 shoe on head(EXID’s Hani. Source: Asian Junkie)

When I think of my shoes, nothing repulses me more than imagining sticking them on my head.

When I think of ads and magazine photoshoots, nothing infuriates me more than seeing so many women sticking their shoes on their heads. I don’t care how clean they are.

(The shoes I mean, not the women).

Most cases, naturally enough, are by shoe manufacturers—or in magazines heavily influenced by the prerogatives of shoe manufacturers. Presumably, their motivation in having the models fondle the shoes, play with them, and generally put them anywhere but their feet, is to make the shoes appear as much more interesting, fetish-worthy objects than they really are. Which is all well and good.

But for every guy that gets a faceful of rubber, I’d wager there’s at least 10 women. Combine that gender difference with the playing, and it becomes one of a host of childish representations of women in advertising, so ubiquitous that we come to take such behavior as only natural. As explained in A Web Essay on the Male Gaze, Fashion Advertising, and the Pose:

“Look at these images. What do they suggest to you about these men? Do they seem silly?”

Men Childlike Expressions Ritualization of Subordination“What about these images?”

women childlike expressions Ritualization of Subordination“Most viewers find the images of the men odd or laughable. But the images of the women seem charming and attractive…Why should it seem funny to see a picture of adult men striking a pose when the same pose seems normal or charming to us in pictures of adult women?”

See my post ‘Beauties and the Beast? Understanding and Subverting the Male Gaze through Soju Advertisements‘ (or the Gender Advertisements tag) for many more Korean examples. Lest we forget though, that oh-so-feminine charm sometimes involves women sticking their shoes on their heads.

Their shoes. On their heads. In 2015.

Wondergirls So-hee Reebok Shoe on Head(The Wondergirls’ So-hee. Source: Unknown)
Go Joon Hee - Oh Boy! Magazine Vol.53 shoe on head(Go Joon-hee. Source: Korean Magazine Lovers)
After School Shoe on Head(After School. Source: Focus Newspaper, 8 May 2012, p. 14)
Lee Hyori No Touch Puma Shoe on Head(Lee Hyori. Source: zziixx)
After School Nana - Xtep 2015(After School’s Nana. Source: Korean Magazine Lovers)
sooyoung shoes ceci(Girls’ Generation’s Soo-young. Source: soozarr@minus)
Lee Yoo Bi - NUOVO 2015(Lee Yoo-bi. Source: Korean Magazine Lovers)

It’s not all bad though. With the proviso that advertising is a very broad subject, with sometimes huge differences between different mediums, my own impression is that while sexualization has greatly increased in recent years (albeit by no means a uniform evil), it’s rare that I’ll find a glaring gender difference (à la Goffman) worthy of mention here. That’s what makes these ads stick out so much, and why they’re so infuriating. Cute, yes. But still infuriating.

Please tell me about any more examples you know of, of either sex, and I’ll post them here. Or, shoes on heads aside, what ads bug you the most these days? Please rant away!

Update: Hat tip to reader chocole, who found a variation on the theme with a guy:

Hong Jong-hyun handbag on head(Hong Jong-hyun. Source: I love Hong Jung-hyun)

It’s not a shoe of course, and it’s specifically the thought of putting a dirty, smelly shoe on one’s head that bugs me, and which prompted me to write this post. But I acknowledge that Hong Jung-hyun above looks equally childish, stupid, and/or cute (or whatever) as the women do in the other examples, and indeed in the photoshoot as a whole. This raises an important point mentioned in the comments to that old 2010 post of mine I linked to, which I began incorporating into my presentations:

Slide219“As noted, Korean men are increasingly shown semi-nude and/or with confident and assertive poses. But…”

Slide220“…they are more likely than Caucasian* men to be shown behaving cutely and childishly.”

*As is still the case today, it is very rare to see non-Caucasians among foreign models in Korean advertisements.

Slide222(A much more detailed version of my caption): “According to Nam Kyoung-tae et. al. in Gender Role Stereotypes Depicted by Western and Korean Advertising Models in Korean Adolescent Girls’ Magazines (from 2011; but I was using a 2007 version), Korean men were:

‘…more likely than Western men [and even Western women] to be associated with many female stereotypical behaviors such as self-touching, canting postures, smiling, and childlike and cute expressions. This might indicate that in contemporary society men are not immune to commercial and sexual objectification and this phenomenon was more evident in Korean advertising.'”

Slide221“They concluded that if young Koreans usually only see strong, confident, sexy, and assertive Caucasians, then they may feel that their examples don’t apply to them”.

But that’s based on an old study, so I’ve been working on getting more recent data. To quickly sum up my findings for you here (no link sorry; it’s in the process of being reviewed for a journal), through my tedious, mind-numbing examination of 2329 fricking ads in various selected months of Metro newspaper between 2007-2013, I determined that K-pop stars at were sexualized at about the same rates as Caucasians, and that both were sexualized at much higher rates than other celebrities, so there’s no longer so much of a gap between those two groups at least.

Unfortunately though, there were actually so few ads with either that it was difficult to draw any definite conclusions, not helped by Metro declining in page numbers and circulation over the period because of the advent of smartphones. Also, I didn’t specifically look for assertiveness and childishness and so on (not the focus of my study, which was more on the numbers of celebrities), and of course Metro is very different to Korean adolescent girls’ magazines too, so we should be very, very wary of making comparisons between them. Sorry!

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)

Gender, Consumerism, & Advertising: The Sociological Rabbit Hole


Opening my “Gender Advertisements in the Korean Context” lecture these days by talking about erections, I’m loath to end it on something as deflating as domestic savings rates. But then so often am I asked questions afterwards like…

Why are there such sharp distinctions in the ways men and women are presented in ads?

Why are women portrayed passively, weakly, dependent, childishly, and in awkward, unnatural poses to a much greater extent than men?

Why, despite being written about North American advertisements in the 1970s, does Gender Advertisements have such resonance in Korean advertisements today?

…that in my latest version for the 4th Korea-America Student Conference at Pukyeong National University (a highly-recommended 4-week exchange program by the way!), I decided to address the last by providing the data to backup my argument that it was largely because of a shared experience of housewifization. In the actual event though, the students wisely decided that they’d much rather get lunch than ask any more questions, so let me give a brief overview of that argument here instead:


In short, housewifization is the process of creating a labor division between male workers and female housewives that every advanced capitalist economy has experienced as it developed, essential and fundamental to which is the creation of a female underclass that acquiesces in this state of affairs, finding self-identity and empowerment in its consumer choices rather than in employment. Lest that sound like a gross and – for the purposes of my lecture – rather convenient generalization however, then let me refer you to someone who puts it much better than I could. From page 60-61 of this edition of The Feminine Mystique (my emphases):


The suburban housewife – she was the dream image of the young American woman and the envy, it was said, of all woman all over the world. The American housewife – freed by science and labor-saving appliances from the drudgery, the dangers of childbirth and the illnesses of her grandmother. She was healthy, beautiful, educated, concerned only about her husband, her children, her home. She had found true feminine fulfillment. As a housewife and mother, she was respected as a full and equal partner to man in his world. She was free to choose automobiles, clothes, appliances, supermarkets; she had everything that women ever dreamed of.

In the fifteen years after World War 2, this mystique of feminine fulfillment became the cherished and self-perpetuating core of contemporary culture.

And then this from page 197 of the 1963 edition:

Why is it never said that the really crucial function…that women serve as housewives is to buy more things for the house… somehow, somewhere, someone must have figured out that women will buy more things if they are kept in the underused, nameless-yearning, energy-to-get-rid-of state of being housewives…it would take a pretty clever economist to figure out what would keep our affluent economy going if the housewife market began to fall off.

Ironically, by 2009 more women would actually be working in the US than men. But rather than the result of enlightened attitudes, this was primarily because layoffs were concentrated in largely male industries like construction, and I am unconvinced that the above dynamic no longer applies there.

In Korea however, the exact opposite happened. Moreover, while by no means are modern Korean notions of appropriate gender roles a carbon-copy of those in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, even if Korean women themselves are saying that the parallels between Mad Men and Korean workplaces are uncanny(!), the fact remains that in a society where consumerism was once explicitly equated with national-security, there also happens to be the highest number of non-working women in the OECD. It would be strange if the gender ideologies that underscore this decades-old combination were not heavily reflected in – nay, propagated by – advertising.


This is a simplification of course, one caveat amongst many being that the Korean advertising industry is actually heavily influenced by the Westernized global advertising industry (see this post on the impact of foreign women’s magazines in Korea for a good practical example of that). But, also raising the sociological issues of Convergence vs. Divergence, and the role of Base and Superstructure, the main purpose of my finishing my lecture with that explanation is to leave audiences with encouraging them to think for themselves, by giving them just a tantalizing hint of how deep the sociological rabbit hole goes.

Yes: it’s a cliche, but Gender Advertisements is very much a red pill. In particular, consider what greeted me at work just two days after giving the lecture:

I don’t know their names sorry (anyone?), but I was struck by the different impressions left by the man and the woman’s poses. Whereas he seems to be engaging the viewer’s gaze, the finger on his chin implying that he is actively thinking about him or her, in contrast the woman’s “bashful knee bend” and “head cant” make her appear to be merely the passive object of that gaze instead.

For more about those advertising poses, see here and here, especially on how they arguably make the person performing them subordinate in many senses, and – regardless of those arguments – the empirical evidence that women do them in advertisements much more than men. Indeed, while that advertisement was perfectly benign in itself of course, and you possibly nonplussed at my even mentioning it, just a little later that week I saw this similar image with Han Ye-seul (한예슬) and Song Seung-heon (송승헌) in a Caffe Bene advertisement, outside a branch opening close to my apartment:

A close-up:

Granted, the head cant helps frame the couple, and the ensuing contrast between the two models makes for a more interesting picture. But neither explains why it’s more often found on women than on men. Moreover, primed to look for more examples from then on, for the rest of July I saw plenty of advertisements featuring women by themselves doing a head-cant, and a few with men by themselves doing one. But when a man and woman were together?

Call it confirmation bias, but it became a slightly surreal experience constantly only ever seeing the woman doing it (it’s one thing to know about something like that in an abstract sense from academic papers, quite another to experience it for yourself). Here’s an example from a recent trip to Seoul:

A close-up:

Another with Lee Min-jeong (이민정) and Gong-yoo (공유) in Seomyeon subway in Busan:

One more with Wang Ji-won (왕지원) and Won-bin (원빈), commercials of which are playing on Korean TV screens at the moment:


Finally, with Jeong Woo-seong (정우성) and Kim Tae-hee (김태희):

(Source: unknown)

Only after 4 weeks(!) of looking, did I finally find a possible example of the opposite in Gwanganli Beach last Saturday (with Song Seung-heon {송승헌} and “Special-K girl” Lee Soo-kyeong {이수경}):

Having told you about the difficulty I had in finding such an ad though, then Murphy’s law dictates that you’ll probably see one yourself very soon; if so, please take a picture send it on, and I’ll buy you a beer next time we’re both in the same city. But it wouldn’t surprise me if I don’t actually hear from anyone until September!

Update 1: Literally just as I typed that last, the headline that “Women till stereotyped in TV ads” appeared in my Google Reader. I should feel vindicated, but I actually find the study described quite superficial, the conclusions meaningless without reference to that fact that roughly 75% of Korean advertisements feature celebrities. Still, I’ll give the National Human Rights Commission the benefit of the doubt until I see Korean language sources.

Update 2: The Korea Herald also has an article on the study, but it’s virtually identical.


Gender Advertisements in the Korean Context: Public Lecture, Tuesday March 8th 7:30pm, Royal Asiatic Society, Seoul

(Sources: SeoulBeats & personal scan)

See here for the details. Alas, with just 1 hour available then there’ll be little opportunity to do more than summarize what I’ve already written in my “Gender Advertisements in the Korean Context” posts unfortunately (see the right sidebar), but hopefully my very visual presentation will be a much more fun introduction to the topic then reading those tens of thousands of words would be. And it’ll be great to finally meet Seoul-based readers, and to hear your own opinions face to face.

What’s more, it’ll also be my birthday next Tuesday. So you have to come!


Vintage Gender Socialization?

What was the first thing that went through your mind when you saw the above advertisement?

Me? Why Nazi-occupied Colorado of course.

No, really. Specifically, the end of the following segment from Chapter 6 of Philip K. Dick’s classic alternative-history book, The Man in the High Castle (1962):

…Her shift at the judo parlor did not begin until noon; this was her free time, today. Seating herself on a stool at the counter she put down her shopping bags and began to go over the different magazines.

The new Life, she saw, had a big article called: TELEVISION IN EUROPE: GLIMPSE OF TOMORROW. Turning to it, interested, she saw a picture of a German family watching television in their living room. Already, the article said, there was four hours of image broadcast during the day from Berlin. Someday there would be television stations in all the major European cities. And, by 1970, one would be built in New York.

The article showed Reich electronic engineers at the New York site, helping the local personnel with their problems. It was easy to tell which were the Germans. They had that healthy, clean, energetic, assured look. The Americans, on the other hand — they just looked like people. They could have been anybody.

One of the German technicians could be seen pointing off somewhere, and the Americans were trying to make out what he was pointing at. I guess their eyesight is better than ours, she decided. Better diet over the last twenty years. As we’ve been told; they can see things no one else can. Vitamin A, perhaps? (source, right)

Of course, regardless of hierarchy and relationship, people do need to point things out in the distance to each other sometimes. But in advertisements featuring both sexes in Phil K. Dick’s time however, somehow it always seemed to be the men that were pointing things out to then women, as noted by sociologist Erving Goffman in Gender Advertisements in 1979:

On the positive side though, the second thing the advertisement reminded me of was a social studies textbook that I read in my final year of high school (back in 1993), which noted how rife such imagery was in earlier editions of a science textbook that I also happened to be using. But which had long since been removed, and indeed subsequent studies based on Goffman’s work – Belknap, P., & Leonard, W. M. (1991), “A conceptual replication and extension of Erving Goffman’s study of gender advertisements,” Sex Roles, 25(3/4), 103-118  for instance – confirmed that examples in advertisements were (by then) also so rare that it was not even worth looking for them. And much more recent studies of Korean advertisements (listed here) have come to much the same conclusions of them too.

But still, they do occur occasionally. Anybody remember this commercial I analyzed last September for instance, of which even just the visuals alone convey the message that only men are serious and thoughtful enough to be put in charge of your finances?

Vodpod videos no longer available.

To which now can be added the ad I saw on the subway this morning, which feels like it’s at least 30 years out of date. Or is that just me?

p.s. Yes, I’m aware that, technically speaking, Colorado isn’t occupied by Nazis in the book, but is rather in a buffer zone between the Japanese “Pacific States of America” and the Nazi “United States of America.” Alas, that wouldn’t have had quite the same impact as an opening line however!


Women’s Typical Poses in Advertisements: A Pain in the Neck?


Something about Kong Hyo-jin (공효진) got me all hot and bothered last week. And no, I don’t mean her lingerie photoshoot for Calvin Klein.

Rather, it was her ads for Uniqlo (유니클로), all over Busan at the moment. Surely, I thought, the creative team could have anticipated how their ads would look on the side of buses, and designed something that didn’t look like she was literally squashed into them?

But then I caught a subway train on Line 2, every carriage of which was decked out like this:

And suddenly I realized that her squashed appearance wasn’t an accident:

Still, what’s the big deal?

Well, just try it for yourself. Assuming that you have, and that your neck no longer hurts, then now you too may be wondering why her head was placed so awkwardly. Moreover, why is it overwhelmingly women that have this “head cant” in advertisements too, albeit not usually tilted quite so much?

(Sources: unknown)

Sociologist Erving Goffman believed it made women look subordinate, and hence that the disparity was evidence of sexism. But as I already discussed that back in February, my original aim here was just to pass on further evidence of the sociological pattern.

Yet the more I looked at the ad, the more I liked it despite myself. And I wanted to know why.

One possible reason, I thought, was Kong Hyo-jin’s luxuriant, flowing hair, another recurring theme of advertisements. Combined with her hands on her hips, it reminded of this ad with Kim Ah-joong (김아중) especially:

(Source: unknown)

And in particular, the wind effect:

…makes it look as though whatever she is looking at (presumably a male viewer) is powerful enough to nearly blow her away while she marvels at him and waits for his approach. She doesn’t look like she intends to act, but rather like she hopes to be acted upon–sexual but still submissive.

As discussed in detail here. But of course that wouldn’t apply to all cases of women with windswept hair in advertisements, and so I did a little investigating. And just guess what I found was #1 in “The 13 Most Common Female Courtship Signals and Gestures” in my Korean edition of The Definitive Book of Body Language (p. 290)?

Basically, that says that when women see a man they are interested in, the first thing they tend to do is start touching their hair, as raising their arms allows them to more easily give off pheromones via their armpits. I’m surprised that it doesn’t also mention that it would also serve to thrust their chests out a little too, and that as women tend to have longer hair than men then touching it also shows off that secondary sexual characteristic; but it does note that even women with short hair do it, so that latter may not be all that important really.

The head cant though? It’s more complicated, and for a little while I confused it with number 7 on that list (pp. 293-4):

But which is not actually referring to the head cant, but rather how women will raise their shoulders and look at the object of their affection while he’s preoccupied, suddenly looking away when he looks at them (which in turn makes him secretly look at them afterward, according to the book). Apparently, the round shape of their shoulders is suggestive of breasts also, which is not as ludicrous as it sounds considering breasts themselves likely evolved (to such a disproportionately large size for primates) through looking similar to buttocks.

Still, I did know that a tilted head showed interest in something or someone though (sexual or otherwise), and sure enough I soon found this (pp. 231-2):

Apologies for lacking the time to properly translate all of the above scans; if anyone would like me to, I’m quite happy to later in the week. In the meantime, it basically says that in addition being an expression of interest, tilting the head also serves to expose the neck, the obvious submissiveness of which is exaggerated by also having the effect of making the person shorter and/or smaller, which is quite the opposite of standing up straight to emphasize our height when we want to compete or fight with others in some sense.

Finally, it notes that it is often seen on women in advertisements, although it doesn’t say why. Upon reading that though, I finally realized what many of you probably knew all along: Kong Hyo-jin is in that pose because it’s sexually appealing to men, as easily confirmed by this, this, and this article on dating advice, and that’s why I was drawn to it I guess.

Hell, even knowing all that, I still like it!

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t problematic. Or rather, that seeing that pose so often on women in advertisements isn’t. After all, there are many many other ways to appeal to heterosexual men, some quite the opposite of looking submissive, so it’s strange that that particular one would be so common (and, related, that you find women taller than accompanying men in ads much less than in real life). Moreover, why is the ad designed for a male gaze too, when presumably the intended consumers of the women’s clothes advertised are women?

But I started this post because Kong Hyo-jin’s pose looked so strange, and just because it did ultimately prove to have a logic is not to say that women in advertisements aren’t still frequently placed in some bizarre, awkward poses nevertheless. Consider the other Uniqlo advertisement in the series on the bus for instance:


Next, on the subway:

And finally, the full length version:

Now, despite deconstructing advertisements for over 3 years, just like everyone else in a developed country I too am exposed to 500-1000 advertising messages a day. So some common advertising themes I just simply get used to, a sure sign of which is that I originally thought that this was the more normal and natural-looking of the 2 advertisements, and hence had no intention of writing about it.

But in fact, it’s anything but “natural”. Again, I invite you to adopt Kong Hyo-jin’s pose for yourself just to see how strange it really is.

The crucial thing is her arms: one folded over the other, it reminds me most of a gesture that you’ll frequently see on new students and colleagues and so on on their first days at schools and workplaces. Just like on the woman below on page 103 of The Definitive Book of Body Language:

As I first mentioned here, the logic behind it is that when someone is nervous, then their instinctive reaction is to protect their exposed fronts using whatever comes to hand, be they bags, books, folders…or of course their own arms. Meeting people with folded arms doesn’t exactly create a warm and open first impression though, and so with the other partially open, hanging arm, they try to express that at the same time.

Yes, it is indeed an awkward compromise, but even having read the 1989 edition of Body Language above at the age of 13, and being perfectly aware of what I was doing (and why) thereafter, nevertheless I still couldn’t stop putting my arms like that on my first days at all 6 of my high schools (in 3 years in 3 countries). For those lacking self-confidence, as I did back then, it is an amazingly powerful instinct.

In Kong Hyo-jin’s case however, while I guess the expression of nervousness does accentuate an image of submissiveness, it’s just too much of a compromise to expose one part of the body – the neck – while protecting others with the arms. It also contradicts her “bashful knee bend” too, which I discuss here.

But why? I confess I simply don’t know, being a little mentally subdued after having to reconsider my original opinions about the first ad so much. Now seems as good a time as any then, to throw the floor open to readers, who may see something that I’ve missed and/or have alternative explanations!^^