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

Park Shin-hye and Doll  (Source, edited)

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

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

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

skeletor bullshit(Source: Heal Yourself, Skeletor)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bagel Girl(Source: How do ya like me now?)

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

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

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

Donga Ilbo (via Naver), November 2, 2003

이승재기자 sjda@donga.com, 조경복기자 kathycho@donga.com / By Lee Sung-jae and Jo Gyeong-bok

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

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

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

Lolita Cover Detail(Source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

이미연 (Lee Mi Yeon) and Niece(Source)

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

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

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

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

얼굴에 담긴 메시지 The Message in a Face

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

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

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

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

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

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

Western vs. Eastern Ideals of Beauty(Source)

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

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

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

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

The Revealing the Korean Body Politic Series:

Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 4: Girls are different from boys

Ha Ji-won Breast Size Korean Attitudes(Sources: left, right)

“The JoongAng Ilbo reports that having a full rack is seen as a disadvantage for women in North Korea.

This is in marked contrast to the South, where a thin figure and big breasts have become symbols of beauty.

According to defectors, if a woman appears well-endowed in the North, people think she is intentionally and lewdly stressing her femininity, and she can easily come to be regarded as a slut. You have an atmosphere that doesn’t allow women to wear revealing clothing, and the North is still a male-dominated society.

One defector from Hoeryong said she had a work friend with large breasts who often ate chives because she’d heard they make your boobs smaller. She added that she was surprised upon learning that women in the South actually have operations to make their breasts bigger.”

(The Marmot’s Hole)

Alas, The Joongang Ilbo provides nothing to verify those claims. But, I see no reason why the defectors would lie, and negative stereotypes of large-breasted women are by no means confined to North Korea. Also, who would ever question that “a thin figure and big breasts have become symbols of beauty” in the South?

Korean Women Revealing Clothing AttitudesFortunately though, Liminality did, who in a must-read response shows that however much the Korean beauty industries and media promote such an ideal, and however much East Asian-women may have a genetic predisposition towards small breasts, female cosmetic surgery patients at least hardly consider themselves lacking in that department. In fact, quite the opposite:

  • Per capita, far more breast surgery operations are performed in European and North and South American countries than in Korea (or Asia)
  • Despite having the highest per capita number of cosmetic surgery operations overall, Korea only came 22nd in the number of breast surgery operations performed per capita
  • Of those operations, Koreans had slightly less augmentation and lift operations than their counterparts in the US and Brazil, and slightly more reduction surgeries (source, above; reproduced with permission)

Similar attitudes may exist in Japan too, where even lingerie maker Wacoal was surprised by the number of women who told told them they wanted a bra that made their breasts look smaller, and then by the huge popularity of the — yes, really — ‘Bra That Makes Big Breasts Look Small’ design they developed in response. Also, Japanese mail order fashion magazine Bellemaison has developed a ‘Chest Line Cover’ (see second image below) that “promises to be a cool alternative to wearing a real camisole as Japan prepares for another hot summer made even hotter with another year of power rationing,” which I’m sure readers of both sexes can confirm would probably be just as big a hit in Korea.

Bra That Makes Big Breasts Look Small(Source)

But readers don’t need me to tell them that showing cleavage is still a big taboo in Korea, or that there’s a big disconnect between ordinary Koreans’ — and even models’ — attitudes to fashion, body image, and sexuality and what you may see on Korean TV. And I can’t claim any special expertise on ordinary North Koreans’ attitudes either.

Chest Line CoverHowever, when I read that original post at The Marmot’s Hole, by coincidence I’d also just finished The Home Front and Beyond: American Women in the 1940s by Susan M. Hartmann (1983), in which she explains that the massive social dislocations of that decade — in particular, women suddenly entering the workforce in large numbers — were responsible for big changes in women’s fashion there, as well as preferred breast sizes. And, as it happens, North Korea is also going through a very turbulent period at the moment, with power relations between the sexes undergoing especially dramatic change:

Imagine going to work every day and not getting paid. Then, one day, you’re told there’s no work to do — so you must pay the company for the privilege of not working.

This is the daily reality facing Mrs. Kim, a petite 52-year-old North Korean. Her husband’s job in a state-run steel factory requires him to build roads. She can’t remember the last time he received a monthly salary. When there are no roads to build, he has to pay his company around 20 times his paltry monthly salary, she says.

“He had to pay not to work for about six months of last year,” Mrs. Kim told NPR, sighing. “You have to pay, even if you can’t afford to eat. It’s mandatory.”

So she is the one who must keep the family alive, as her husband wrestles with this state-sanctioned extortion.

Welcome to the Orwellian world of work in North Korea. In this reclusive country, profound social change is happening beyond the view of the outside world. The demands of politics have dramatically redrawn gender roles, forcing women to become the breadwinners.

(National Public Radio, December 28; hat tip to Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling)
North Korean Women Bikes(Source)

The NPR goes on to mention that one major consequence of that emasculation is skyrocketing domestic violence, against which speculating about ensuing changes in fashions can admittedly sound frivolous. But those have changed regardless — indeed, by state decree. First, in July last year:

Supreme leader Kim Jong-un appears to be loosening the government’s grip on how women dress by allowing them to wear pants, platform shoes and earrings, ABC News reported.

Previously, pants were only permitted as uniforms for females in the factories or the fields — and not for making a fashion statement.

“If caught, sometimes they would cut your pants right there in public to make it into a skirt,” Park Ye-Kyong, who defected to South Korea in 2004, told ABC News.

That doesn’t mean North Korean women don’t enjoy preening, Park added.

“Yes, we were hungry but desire to look beautiful lies in any woman,” she said.

North Korean Female IdealIn addition, the next month a 20 year-ban on women riding bicycles was lifted. Ostensibly imposed for women’s safety, numerous sources also mention its supposed incompatibility with juche, related educational television promoting “the idea of a woman wearing a skirt while riding a bicycle [being] contrary to socialist custom.” (See NK News {source, right} for more on North Korean ideals of women). Moreover, in 2009 Human Rights Watch also noted that:

…the ban on pants and bicycles for women is symptomatic of a range of other, often-overlooked, problems.

Across North Korea’s conservative, male-dominated society, there is discrimination against women, a knowing disregard for the consequences of such policies, and an opportunistic manipulation of power by police officers trying to make easy money by preying on an undervalued and underprivileged population.

In light of that, most likely the lifting of the bans was mainly simple populism on the part of a new leader, as well as — despite those state gender ideologies described above — a reluctant concession to the new realities of female breadwinners. Sure enough, in typical North Korean fashion (pun intended), just 5 months later the ban on women riding bicycles would actually be reinstated. Also, while technically they can still keep their pants on, in practice opportunities for women to beautify themselves remain limited, with both sexes punished for straying from officially-sanctioned hairstyles; sharp divisions in what is permissible for married and unmarried women; and a general lack of (beauty-related) resources overall, including such simple things as hairdryers.

Perhaps, things are not changing in North Korea as much as they first appear?

One Million Yen Girl Part Time Woman(Sources: left, right)

Yet in South Korea at least, it’s true that the last 15 years have seen a vast increase in the numbers of women competing with — and increasingly displacing — men for irregular and part-time work, despite the (extremely low) overall female workforce participation rate remaining unchanged. This has spawned quite a backlash, and — à la The Beauty Myth (1991) — a rapid increase in (overwhelmingly female) objectification in popular culture. So, while again I stress my ignorance and lack of knowledge with anything North-Korea related, it’s not unreasonable to suppose that, surely, the sudden large influx of women into the workforce may also be having some sort of impact there.

The Home Front and BeyondEither way, reading about similar experiences elsewhere can inform an understanding of what’s happening in both countries. So, with the obvious — but still necessary — caveat that of course both countries are very different to the US in the 1940s, for the remainder of this post let me try to pass on some of what I’ve learned about what happened there.

First, it’s important to get a sense of the numbers (pp. 77-8):

  • The female labor force grew by 6.5 million during the war
  • In 1944, 37% of all adult women were reported in the labor force, but nearly 50% of all women were actually employed at some time during that year
  • The greatest changes took place among married women
  • 1 in 10 married women entered the work force during the war, representing over 3 million of those 6.5 million new female workers (3.7 million, according to Marilyn Yalom in A History of the Wife {2002; p. 320})
  • 2.89 million were single, the rest widowed or divorced
  • So, for the first time in US history there were more married women than single women in the workforce.
  • Note however, that the war resulted in many more marriages than there would have been normally — approximately 1 million more, according to Yalom. Moreover, wives of absentee husbands were twice as likely to seek jobs, with half of all servicemen’s wives being in the labor force
  • The percentage of wives that worked grew from 13.9 in 1940 to 22.5 in 1944 (Yalom says 15 in 1940 to over 24 in 1945)
  • The percentage of women with children that worked grew from 7.8 in 1940 to 12.1 in 1944
  • By 1945, half of all working women were over 35; slightly more than 1 in 4 were 45 or older
  • The typical female worker had shifted from younger and single to older and married, a pattern which was maintained in the postwar years

Should Your Wife Take a War JobAs Hartmann elaborates throughout her book, these figures represent an ensuing era of relative opportunity and freedom for many women (including sexual freedom; see Pin-Up Grrrls {2006} by Maria Busnek, pp. 213-224; see below also), even if it was usually simple economic necessity that compelled them to work in the first place (and usually at tedious, menial, and unfulfilling work at that). Accordingly, it definitely set the stage for second-wave feminism in the 1950s and ’60s, and deserves the place it’s gained in the Western historical imagination.

However, it’s also true that despite the huge public and private need for women to enter the workforce, that need was still considerably tempered by both sexes’ preexisting gender and racial ideologies, with both official propaganda and popular culture glamorizing women’s work and stressing its patriotic importance on the one hand, yet emphasizing its strictly temporary nature on the other. Not least, to nervous male workers and servicemen, who: lacked our knowledge that the war would lift the US out of the Depression (source, right); were very much judged by their ability to provide for their families, in an era where many simply couldn’t (note that one big difference between the Depression and the current financial crisis is that many people were literally starving during the former); and who sometimes had genuine difficulties with employment after demobilization, particularly in the shrinking war industries in which the women had been recruited (Hartmann, p. 63).

Buszek summarizes the contradictions of this era well (pp. 214-5):

Pin-up Grrrls pp. 214-5And in particular:

  • Despite the huge demand for workers, and the ultimate, relative flexibility both employers and male employees would demonstrate in incorporating Caucasian women into their midst, African-American women remained largely unwelcome (e.g., 10 months after Pearl Harbor, there were fewer than 100 out of 3000 women in Detroit war industries). So, while the numbers of them working did increase from 1.5 million in 1940 to 2.1 million in 1944, their share of the female labor force actually dipped from 13.8 to 12.5. By 1950, their employment patterns were very similar to those of 10 years earlier, albeit partially because by then their husbands were making more money. (Hartmann, pp. 60, 78-9)
  • Women of Britain Come into the factoriesPartially, the huge numbers of wives that entered the workforce is because there were previously bans against them by many companies, let alone being against social convention; even schools discriminated against them. It’s amazing how quickly bans were dropped once the need for labor arose though, with some previously hostile managers coming to express a “preference for married women as more stable and conscientious than their single sisters” (pp. 59-60). And this provides encouraging news for Korea, which unfortunately still largely retains those conventions, and where as recently as 2009 I was working for a company that — yes, really — fired women upon marriage (source, right).
  • Nevertheless, there remained extreme public and private ambivalence about working mothers. Officially seen as more of a social problem than something to be encouraged, officials did recognize “that financial need compelled some mothers to work and that in localities with severe labor shortages production goals would requite the employment of mothers,” and urged employers not to discriminate against them (p.58). But on the other hand, the government would also constantly remind them that homestay mothers were essential for children’s development; popular culture was full of stories of child neglect; and daycare provision, while expanded, was ultimately completely inadequate, paling behind that which was provided in the UK, and prompting frustrated managers of some defense plants to set up their own (Yalom, pp. 324-6).
Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi Check Out Katy Perry(Source)

But, lest we forget, this post is about breasts. And changes in women’s fashions which came with the contradictions involved with entering the workforce, with women having to confront rampant sexual harassment on the one hand, and often being blamed for the “distraction” they posed, but on the other relishing their newfound freedoms (Buszek, pp. 216-7):

Pin-up Grrrls p216-7However, the combination of war-time shortages and women’s entrance into the workforce meant that people suddenly became used to women in functional, masculine clothing and with more practical hairstyles, and that women’s fashions became more simplified, comfortable, less overtly sexual, and changed less frequently than before. So, when you learn that popular culture stressed the exact opposite, for example…

  • I pledge myself to guard every bit of beauty that he cherishes in meThat female workers were still “glamorous” and feminine despite their new roles (Hartmann, p. 199)
  • As were female sport stars, women’s sports enjoying a lot of popularity while their male counterparts were occupied (p. 194)
  • Lingerie manufacturers coped with wartime shortages and new demand by producing much practical bras, yet these coincided with pinup photographs that emphasized their subjects’ breasts (Jill Fields, An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie and Sexuality, 2007, p. 106). As explained in Part 3 of this series, this ultimately led to the fashion for large and uplifted breasts that remains to this day.

…then it is very easy and natural — indeed, this is my very strong impression from the books discussed here, although exact page references are suddenly proving maddeningly elusive(!) — to argue that this alternate ideal was imposed by, for want of a better word, the patriarchy, to encourage women to enter the workforce yet at the same time remind them that their place there was unnatural and temporary. And, to be clear, not for a moment am I arguing that this wasn’t very much the case (source, right).

However, as Hartmann explains on p. 198 below (echoed by the other sources), it’s also true that women themselves were just as passionate about preserving their femininity (indeed, they would understandably revel in impractical but much more feminine fashions once war rationing ended):

Hartmann, The Home Front, p.198In particular, and especially in light of the new opportunities open to them as mentioned, I think it’s both overly dogmatic and patronizing to dismiss choosing to use those feminine adornments as mere false consciousness and women’s own mindless incorporation of patriarchal values. Also, although it’s true that the period was rife with pop psychology theories (it was conveniently claimed that women like boring, monotonous work much more than men for instance) it’s very unlikely that men and women rationalized and articulated their choices and concerns in such patriarchal terms. Even if those did operate on a subconscious level, and patriarchy is still the only thread which can bring otherwise disparate developments in the period together, surely men did not think, for example, that if they saw more big-breasted women in popular culture, emphasizing the differences between the sexes as increased use of lipstick did in the workplace, that this would make them feel more secure in their jobs.

In addition, while changes in attitudes were certainly quick, they didn’t happen overnight, Jill Fields (p. 106) noting that “uplift” and “separation” trends in bras for instance, which accentuated the projection of the breast silhouette, had actually already started back in the 1930s. Finally, if you’re confused like I am, because I just noted above that bras actually became more practical during wartime, and am now stating that women could simultaneously be censured and praised for wearing distracting clothes, that’s because contradictory and competing trends coexisted simultaneously, the 1940s being just as messy, complicated, and contradictory as modern life.

Busty Girl Comics Double StandardAnd on that note, thank you very much for bearing with me in this admittedly equally messy, complicated, and contradictory post, the result of me personally trying to understand what patriarchy means in practice as well as theory. And, with the proviso that my relief — and frankly joy — at discovering historic parallels (and especially English-language historiography!) to modern North and South Korean developments should make me wary of projecting too much, and not blind me to the significant differences, I’m very happy to have pointers towards further study, and very much welcome readers’ own suggestions! (source, right)

The Revealing the Korean Body Politic Series:

Update: See Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty for “the medical condemnations of women’s cycling [which are] fascinating for what they tell us about what people thought (and maybe still think?) about women’s athletic capabilities and potential.”

Update 2: “Saudi daily al-Yawm cited an unnamed official as saying women can now ride bikes in parks and recreational areas. According to the official, the ruling stipulated that women must wear a full-body abaya, be accompanied by a male relative, and stay within certain areas. They are allowed to bike for recreational purposes only, not as a primary mode of transportation.” (Aljazeera)

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

Y-line Choi Yeo-jin(Source)

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

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

($30 Project)

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Nursing Clio)

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

Angry Hello KittyA Woman’s Body as a Canvas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Y-line Story(Source)

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

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

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

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

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

Y-line cosmetic surgery(Source)

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

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

As the crotch:

Y-line crotch(Source)

As the back:

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

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

Y-line buttocks(Source)

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

Historical Precedents

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

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

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

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

Corset Figure-Classification Schemes p.67 An Intimate Affair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can be a sweater girl(Source)

Glamorous glasses?

(Sources: left, right)

Conclusion: The Korean Beauty Myth?

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

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

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

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

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

The Revealing the Korean Body Politic Series:

Korean Sociological Image #52: Are Celebrities Removing the Stigma of Lingerie Modelling?

After writing about double-standards in the objectification of men’s and women’s bodies in the Korean media last month, this month I was looking forward to wrapping that up. Finally, I thought, I’d be able to remove the prominent “Abs vs. Breasts” folder on my Firefox toolbar.

Alas, I’ve decided some more context is needed first. Which by coincidence, also allows me to get rid of the even more embarrassing “Lingerie” folder in the process.

But while the topic sounds facetious perhaps, having overwhelmingly Caucasian models in lingerie advertisements has definite effects on how Koreans perceive both Caucasians’ and their own bodies and sexuality. If you consider what Michael Hurt wrote in his blog Scribblings of the Metropolitician back in 2005 for instance:

…One thing that I also notice is that in underwear and other commercials that require people to be scantily-clad, only white people seem to be plastered up on walls in the near-buff. Now, it may be the sense that Korean folks – especially women – would be considered too reserved and above that sort of thing (what I call the “cult of Confucian domesticity”). Maybe that’s linked to the stereotyped expectation that white people always be running around all nasty and hanging out already, as is their “way.” Another possibility has to do with the reaction I hear from Korean people when I mention this, which is that white people just “look better” with less clothes, since Koreans have “short leg” syndrome and gams that look like “radishes.” The men are more “manly” and just look more “natural” with their shirts off…

Then I’m sure you’ll appreciate that while that artificial dichotomy between “naturally” nude, more sexual Caucasians (and by extension, all Westerners) and more modest, virginal, pure Koreans is neither new, solely confined to Korea, nor wholly a construct of the Korean media, at the very least this odd feature of Korean lingerie advertisements certainly helps sustain it. And that dichotomy has largely negative effects on all Westerners here, especially women.

( Caucasian models used for the first erect nipple ever featured in a Korean ad {see here also}. Source: Metro, July 8 2010, p. 7. )

Already having discussed the evidence for and consequences of the sexualization of Caucasian women in great depth last September however, then let me just quickly summarize relevant points from it here:

Empirical studies have shown that Korean women’s magazines have a disproportionate numbers of Caucasian female models in them, with some even have more Caucasian models than Korean ones overall. Unfortunately though, none of those studies made any distinction between lingerie and non-lingerie advertisements.

Before laws banning foreign models were lifted in 1994, many Korean female porn stars were also lingerie models, which discouraged female models from lingerie modeling. This fact only really became public in June 2008 however, which explains why those earlier studies didn’t take it into account (or Michael Hurt back in 2005).

Of course, there have always been exceptions, with the Yes’ company especially having no qualms about using Korean models. But for other companies, they are usually anonymous, with either their heads not being visible or them literally covering themselves up by whatever means available. See the examples below from Korean lingerie company StoryIS’s website for instance, or #3 here, where the Korean female models look simply absurd hiding under large hats and sunglasses.

Update: I forgot to mention lingerie infomercials, on which it’s common to see Caucasian models wearing the lingerie alongside fully-clothed Korean models carrying the lingerie on coathangers.

Moreover, when female celebrities are used, they are invariably fully-clothed. And so much so in fact, that it’s no exaggeration to say that they may not have been actually wearing the advertised lingerie at all considering that you couldn’t actually see it.

( Sources: left, right )

But that was over a year ago. At the end of that post though, I did note a (then) recent advertisement by Shin Min-a that you could see it in, and simply had no idea that it was just the beginning of a veritable flood of celebrity lingerie photoshoots thereafter. Finally noticing by the following summer though, by its end I had: Ivy (in the opening image); Shin Min-a (again); Park Han-byul; Seo-woo; Girls’ Day; Gong Hyo-jin; Song Ji-hyo; LPG; Min Hyo-rin; Lee Si-yeong; Shin Se-Kyeong; and Yoon Eun-hye in that infamous “Lingerie” folder.

Then I discovered a Korean blog on lingerie while researching this post, and from just one post there I learned that I had to add at least Baek Ji-young, Lee Hyori, Seo In-young, Hyuna, Hyo-min, and Yu-jin to that list also…by which point I frankly gave up keeping track. And belatedly realized that, of course, Korean celebrities have actually been modeling lingerie for far longer than just the past year (I’d completely forgotten about this example for instance).

But still, I think it’s no coincidence that I would notice so many photoshoots in such a short space of time. And for that reason, would argue that the most recent ones at least should definitely be seen in the wider context of Korean entertainment companies’ ever-increasing need for the greater exposure (no pun intended) and differentiation of their celebrities in order to maximize profits. Recall what I wrote of the ensuing objectification of male singers for instance:

…whereas it’s mostly young girl-groups that have sprung up in the past year or so (see here for a handy chart), likewise Korean male singers have to adapt to the Korean music industry’s overwhelming reliance on musicians’ product endorsements, appearances on variety shows, and casting in dramas to make profits (as opposed to actually selling music). This encourages their agencies to make them stand out and differentiate themselves from each other by coming up ever more sexual lyrics and/or performances and music videos: namely, more abs from the guys, let alone feigned fellatio, feigned sex on beds, or even virtual rapes of audience members on stage during performances.

Regardless of the motives however, on the positive side surely these photoshoots can not but help to remove the stigma associated with the industry in Korea? And, once that’s been achieved, then that will in turn begin to (at least slightly) challenge that hypersexual Caucasians vs. chaste Koreans dichotomy as mentioned earlier.

( Source )

But in reality, perhaps things will not be quite as quick or as simple as that. For while I merely bookmarked those photoshoots as they came up in K-pop blogs, in hindsight I should also have been making the following distinctions between them:

  1. Advertisements for lingerie companies in which just the lingerie is worn
  2. Advertisements for lingerie companies in which the lingerie is hidden partially or completely under clothing
  3. Photoshoots for men’s or women’s magazines like Maxim and Cosmopoltian
  4. Korean Gravia photoshoots

And from what I can tell now, most of the them seem to be #3, with Ivy’s opening newspaper cover probably being the most prominent exception (and what prompted this post). Hoping to find an authoritative Korean perspective on all that as I begin working on this post then, probably by no coincidence – I guess wasn’t the only person to notice this trend – Yahoo! Korea linked to what appeared to be precisely that the next day, and so I happily translated it that same night.

In the light of the next day though, I was simply stunned at its terrible quality, and after trying to edit it to some level of coherence but abjectly failing, gave up on the post in disgust; regularly complaining about Korean portal sites, then I should have known better really. But 3 weeks later, I realize that it would be a pity to waste all that time spent translating, and that at the very least fans of Hwang Jung-eum (황정음) and High Kick Through the Roof (지붕킥) may still like it. And who knows? You may be able to gain some insights from it that I missed.

But if not, then let me end this post here by apologizing in advance if I have possibly conflated Caucasians with Westerners too often and too readily in this post, but which is frankly difficult to avoid in a post focused on the former, but raising issues that still have large effects on the latter. And to better understand that, at the suggestion of a reader I now have Imperial Citizens: Koreans and Race from Seoul to LA by Nadia Kim (2008) sitting on my desk, which will be my reading for my flight to Boston next week!^^

황정음 속옷화보, 득보다 실이 많은 노출

Hwang Jung-eum Loses More than She Gains by Showing Her Body

황정음이 속옷 화보를 찍었네요. 그동안 깜찍하고 귀여운 얼굴만 보다가 섹시하고 볼륨감 있는 그녀의 노출 사진을 보고 조금 놀랐어요. 노출 정도가 생각보다 파격적이고 아찔하기 때문이에요. 황정음은 이번 노출이 처음이라고 하는데요. 처음치고는 너무 도발적이고 과감한 노출이에요. 그만큼 몸매에 자신 있었기 때문이겠죠. 요즘 속옷 화보는 신세경, 한예슬도 찍었고 TV광고에도 나오고 있는데, 노출이 심한 편이 아니죠. 몸매 노출보다 속옷에 더 비중을 뒀기 때문이에요.

Wow, Hwang Jung-eum has done a lingerie photoshoot. So far, we’ve only ever really seen her small, cute face, so I was a little surprised by her sexy, curvaceous body in these photos. Because she showed so much more than I thought, I’m really a little light-headed too. This is the first time she’s showed so much of her body like this, and it’s much more provocative than I would have expected for her first time; I guess she was confident about her body. These days, Shin Se-kyeong and Han Ye-seul have appeared in lingerie photoshoots and television advertisements, and [yet] in those the amount of exposure tends not to be so serious. In those, the focus is more on the lingerie than their bodies.

속옷 광고 화보는 잘 나가는 여자 톱스타들만 찍는다고 하죠? 고소영, 송혜교, 김남주, 김태희 등 당대 톱스타들도 유명 속옷 광고를 찍었어요. 그런데 이들의 속옷 광고는 S라인만 자랑할 뿐 노출이 거의 없습니다. 말 그대로 속옷을 광고한 화보였고 몸매 자랑을 한 것이 아니었어요. 보통 무명 연예인들이 속옷 광고를 찍을 때는 노출 수위가 높아집니다. 그런데 나중에 유명 배우가 된 뒤 이런 노출 화보로 굴욕을 당하기도 합니다. 모델 시절 속옷만 입고 해맑게 웃고 있는 홍수아의 속옷 화보도 한 때 인터넷에서 화제가 되기도 했어요. 그리고 수애, 오윤아도 데뷔 전 속옷 화보에 출연한 경험이 있고요.

Only women who are already well on the route to becoming top-stars do lingerie advertisement photoshoots, yes? Go So-young, Song Hye-gyo, Kim Nam-joo, Kim Tae-hee, and others [at] that age have all appeared in lingerie advertisements for famous brands. However, in those showing off and exposing their S-lines is almost completely absent. Indeed, there are virtually none that show off the model’s body. Take more common ones featuring unknown models however, and the level of exposure goes up markedly. And if that woman becomes famous later, then this might come back to haunt her. For instance, Hong Soo-ah appeared in one wearing just lingerie and a bright smile, and this become a hot internet topic later. And Soo-ae and Oh Yoon-ah also have the experience of modeling lingerie before becoming famous.

그런데 일부 스타의 경우 지나친 노출 속옷을 찍어 구설수에 오르기도 했죠. 가수 아이비도 얼마 전 속옷 화보를 찍었는데, 노출이 너무 파격적이라 네티즌들의 입방아에 오르내리기도 했어요. 속옷 모델이라 어느 정도의 노출은 당연하지만 플레이보이 잡지를 연상케 하는 놰쇄적인 느낌이 너무 강했기 때문이죠. 속옷보다 아이비의 몸매가 더 시선을 끌었으니 주객이 전도된 경우라 할 수 있어요.

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In some stars’ cases, showing far too much in lingerie photoshoots gave rise to them being the subjects of malicious gossip and rumors. For instance, a little while ago Ivy [above] was in one. Because she showed so much of her body, a lot of netizens were gossiping about her. And while of course lingerie models have to show at least little of their bodies, in her case it was so much that it reminded you of Playboy magazine. Even though the photoshoot was supposedly for  showing off the underwear, it seemed to be showing off Ivy’s body far far more.

그렇다면 황정음의 경우는 어떨까요? 황정음의 속옷화보도 아이비에 버금갈 정도에요. 한번도 노출을 하지 않다가 왜 이렇게 파격적인 노출을 했는지 모르겠네요. 가슴이 훤히 드러난 사진을 보면 깜찍함은 온데 간데 없고 섹시함이 풍기는데 그리 귀티나는 이미지는 아니에요. 섹시미가 보이긴 보이는데, 인위적인 느낌이 든다고 할까요? 그리고 가슴이 드러난 사진은 뽀샵 흔적이 너무 강하네요.

If so, what to make of the case of Hwang Jung-eum? It’s very similar to Ivy’s. She’s never done anything like this before, so I don’t know why she suddenly appeared in such a revealing photoshoot. Her breasts are very exposed, she’s lost her cuteness, and while she gives off some sexiness she’s not very elegant-looking. Moreover, don’t you feel her sexiness is a little artificial? And there are signs that her breasts have been heavily photoshopped too.

요즘 ‘자이언트’ 촬영하면서 체중이 6kg 늘었다고 하는데, 다리를 보니 ‘말라깽이’ 그 자체네요. 보정작업 흔적이 역력한데 소속사는 촬영 후 보정을 하지 않았다고 합니다. 눈에 빤히 보이는 거짓말이죠. 황정음만 하는 것이 아니라 모든 모델이 뽀샵을 하는데, 왜 굳이 하지 않았다고 하는지 모르겠네요.

These days, while shooting for the drama Giant she gained 6kg, but her legs remain extremely thin. There are obvious signs that this was compensated for in the photos then, but her agency says this didn’t happen. But you can tell this is a lie. And it’s not like Hwang Jung-eum is the only model that gets photoshopped, so I have no idea why her agency would so adamantly deny it.

황정음 속옷 화보는 신세경과 비교해 보면 알 수 있어요. 신세경의 속옷 화보는 드레스에 속옷이 보일듯 말듯한 신비주의 컨셉으로 찍었어요. 이는 신세경의 청순미와 신비주의 컨셉이 딱 맞아 떨어진 절묘한 사진에요. 사실 이런 화보가 여배우에게 좋은 이미지를 남길 수 있어요. 물론 노출이 무조건 나쁘다는 것은 아니지만 황정음의 노출 화보는 그동안 쌓아놓은 깜찍 이미지를 한꺼번에 날릴 수 있는 위험한 화보에요. 지금 황정음은 나름 톱스타기 때문에 굳이 노출 화보를 찍을 이유가 없어요.

If we compare Hwang Jung-eum’s photoshoot with Shin Se-kyeong’s then I think we can learn the reason. The concept of Shin Se-kyeung’s photoshoot is a mysterious and subtle one that has the lingerie under the dress, leaving us always guessing as to whether we can see it or not. This mysterious and innocent-beauty concept is well suited to her image, and in fact it does no harm to any female actor. In contrast, while of course showing off one’s body is not bad per se, Hwang Jung-eum has long cultivated a very cute image and there is a danger that she’s ruined it all at once with this photoshoot. And seeing as she’s sort of a top star already now, then I don’t know the reason why she did it.

황정음은 ‘지붕킥’ 이후 돈과 인기를 한번에 거머쥔 스타인데, 화보촬영으로 돈을 더 벌려한 것은 아니라고 봅니다. 그렇다면 배우로서 깜찍, 엉뚱 이미지를 벗기위한 노출이라고 볼 수 있는데요. 한 번에 너무 파격적인 노출을 하다보니 그녀의 속옷 화보를 보고 당황스러운 사람이 많을 겁니다. 같은 속옷 화보를 찍어도 배우에 따라 그 느낌이 다른데, 황정음은 신세경, 한예슬과는 달리 ‘싼티’가 좀 풍기네요. 소속사는 다양한 모습의 황정음이 있다고 봐달라며 절대 이미지 변신을 위한 파격적인 시도는 아니라고 강조했는데요. 사진은 아찔한데 어떻게 그냥 일반적인 화보로 봐달라는 건지 모르겠네요.

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Hwang Jung-eum suddenly gained a lot of money and popularity through appearing in High Kick Through the Roof, so she didn’t do this photoshoot for the sake of money. Perhaps then, it was in order to lose her cute image gained through acting, even though many people will be confused by it because it is so revealing? But different actresses can do the same kind of lingerie photoshoots [James: this contradicts all the above, as they are quite different] and give off quite different impressions, and unlike Shin Se-kyeung or Han Yae-sul, Hwang Jung-eum comes across as very cheap. However, her agency stress that this photoshoot was absolutely not done to change her image, just to show a different side of her. Yet how can anyone claim it is just your average, run-of-the-mill lingerie photoshoot?

‘ 자이언트’에서 황정음은 가수 이미주로 출연하고 있는데, 주상욱과의 키스신으로 얼마전 남친 김용준이 키스장면을 보며 담배를 물고 있는 사진이 화제가 되기도 했지요. 이번 속옷 화보 촬영에 김용준은 쿨하게 응원을 해주었다고 하는데, 황정음의 노출사진이 수많은 남자들에게 공개되는데 쿨한 반응을 보였다니 의외네요. 주상욱과의 키스신보다 속옷 화보가 낫다고 본 건가요?

In Giant, Hwang Jung-eum plays the singer Lee Mee-ju, and in reaction to one scene in which she kisses her partner (actor Ju Sang-wook) her real-life boyfriend (singer Kim Young-jun) posted a spoof picture of himself biting a cigarette in anger at seeing it on the internet. And in reaction to her photoshoot, he was very cool about it, which was surprising: who would be so cool about having his girlfriend exposed to so many other men? Did he really think that that was better than the kiss scene?

여자 연예인들에게 화보촬영은 자신의 가치를 드러낼 수 있는 아주 좋은 기회죠. 해마다 여름만 되면 너도 나도 비키니 몸매를 자랑하는 것도 자신의 상품성을 과시(?)하는 것이라고 볼 수 있어요. 황정음도 자신의 상품적 가치를 더 높이기 위해 이번 속옷 화보를 찍었을 겁니다. 그러나 이번 속옷화보 촬영은 황정음에겐 득보다 실이 많을 것 같네요. ‘지붕킥’으로 대박스타가 된 그녀는 정극 ‘자이언트’에서 연기력 논란을 빚기도 했는데, 배우로서 연기로 승부하는 것보다 노출로 승부한다는 느낌을 줄 수 있기 때문이에요. 그런데 그 노출이 인위적인 뽀샵으로 귀티보다 ‘싼티’가 나는게 더 문제가 아닐까요?

Photoshoots are a good opportunity for female entertainers to demonstrate their worth. Just like every summer we can see women showing off their bodies in bikinis, which also is like demonstrating their product value [James: that’s literally what it says]. But Hwang Jung-eum did the photoshoot to increase her worth. However, through doing so she actually lost more than she gained, because while she became a big star through High Kick Through the Roof, now she is appearing in the much more conventional drama Giant, in which her acting abilities have been questioned. In light of this, then at the very least the photoshoot seems very badly-timed, and surely not appearing elegant but instead literally overexposed and heavily photoshopped is in fact much more of a problem for her than a benefit?

‘지붕킥’에서 깜찍한 춤과 애교 연기로 하루 아침에 벼락스타가 된 것에 대해 황정음을 곱지 않은 시선으로 보는 사람들도 많습니다. ‘잘 나갈 때 조신하게 행동해라’는 말과 달리 황정음은 노출화보를 찍는 등 오히려 더 오버하고 있는 듯 합니다. 벤츠를 타면서도 노출 화보를 찍은 황정음을 곱게 보는 사람은 많지 않아요. ‘자이언트’를 통해 정극 연기 도전을 하는 황정음은 오직 연기력으로 배우 수명을 오래가게 할 수 있는 길을 찾아야 합니다. 노출 화보는 황정음에게 독이 될 수 있으니까요.

Through her cute dancing and aegyo in High Kick Through the Roof, Hwang Jung-eum became famous almost literally overnight, which many people seem to resent. Rather than following the old adage to behave well while one is in the spotlight however, rather this photoshoot of hers is just too much, and there are not many people who would have done while already rich enough to drive a Mercedes Benz. With Giant, Hwang Jung-eum was presented with a challenge that she could have used to increase her acting ability and sustain a long acting career. Unfortunately, she seems to have squandered it with this photoshoot. (end)

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p. s. Not related to Korea, but you may also enjoy the post Lingerie as liberating? from Sociological Images on a woman (in an advertisement) feeling “hot” as a result of wearing lingerie, only then to cover it up with a burqa

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

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Korean Gender Reader

Yoon Eun-hye Vivien's Summer Collection1. Korean Stars Exposing Themselves?

Or not as the case may be, for while Yoon Eun-hye’s (윤은혜) latest advertisements for lingerie company Vivian certainly made quite a splash in the Korean blogosphere last week, again the products she is supposedly advertising are conspicuous for their absence. And just like, say, restrictions that existed on showing couples in the same bed on television reveal a great deal about the (repressed) sexuality of Americans in the 1950s, that very few major Korean stars are prepared to wear lingerie in lingerie advertisements is noteworthy in a sociological sense.

True, perhaps my voyeuristic male gaze compels me to return to this subject more often than most, but lingerie advertisements are ubiquitous in Korea, and it’s a rare commute when I don’t have the slightly surreal experience of seeing advertisements featuring scantily clad Caucasians in one subway car, then seeing others with Koreans like this one of Eun-hye (source) in another when I transfer (sometimes, you can even see both in the same car). Seriously, it’s no exaggeration to say that Koreans’ convoluted and often contradictory notions of sexuality and race literally stare me in the face everyday, and in a form that means that I’m particularly likely to sit up and take notice.

As I’ve discussed previously, lingerie modeling’s associations with porn stars remains the most compelling explanation, especially as the same Korean stars that don’t deign to appear in lingerie advertisements have appeared in quite skimpy bikinis in films and on television. Indeed, how else but shame explains even unknown models at lingerie fashion shows feeling compelled to hide their faces (see #3 here)?

Yet via commenting on the contradictions between sexually explicit Western films recently allowed to be screened here, but a rather tame music video by a Korean singer being banned by broadcasters, Eric Strickland has recently reminded me of the false dichotomy many Koreans have between themselves and supposedly more provocatively-dressed and acting Caucasians, and hence that – herein lies his insight – in many ways standards and expectations for the latter have yet be transferred to the former. Moreover, it doesn’t logically follow from Korean models not appearing in lingerie advertisements that their replacements would overwhelmingly be Caucasians either.

Choi Shi-wonYes, the various institutions and individuals involved with censorship in Korea are hardly a monolithic bloc, and this points to the need for restraint *cough* when interpreting decisions like the above, or, indeed, individual advertisements or even collections of them like Eun-hye’s also.

Something to always bear in mind next time you hear that Korea is rapidly becoming a more (or less) liberal and democratic place over time – depending on the commentator’s perspective – not least from myself! And for me personally, it means that the jury’s still out on the clothed-Korean/unclothed-Caucasian phenomenon.

Meanwhile, other notable cases of stars strutting their stuff last week were Choi Shi-won (최시원) of Super Junior (슈퍼주니어) on the left (source), apparently “the first idol star” to appear on the cover of Men’s Health (Korea) magazine, and also Rain (비), who has recently signed a 2-year, 1.5 billion Korean Won modeling contract with cosmetic brand Nature Republic to be its exclusive model (see here and here).

2. Taiwan Sees Rise in Domestic Violence

For an excellent introduction to the subject, see here. And if you’re interested in that, then please also see here for a video introduction to domestic violence in Japan; here for the first post in my five-part series on domestic violence in Korea (which I hope to resume later this week); and finally here for information about a recent Korean movie exploring the subject.

3. Number of Newborns Falls for 13th Consecutive Month

I’ve written so much about this subject also, I’ll defer from commenting this time! Amongst all the otherwise depressing news in this Korea Times report though, was the fact that the:

…number of divorces totaled 10,600 in March, down 5.9 percent from a year ago, due mainly to a mandatory system under which couples are required to take a one- to three-month cooling off period. The scheme was introduced as part of government efforts to reduce divorces.

Call me old-fashioned, but I see that as a good thing. However:

The fragile economy also appears to have made disgruntled couples more reluctant to go their separate ways because of the costs associated with divorce.

Although I do think that the cooling-off period will still have a palpable effect in the long run. And, lest you think that it is too long, consider that in New Zealand it is 2 years!

4. Big Mama…Not So Big Anymore?

Big Mama Korean Group

Shame on me for not hearing about this group earlier! Apparently Big Mama (빅마마) are a very talented music group, but they haven’t gotten the attention they deserve in Korea because – as the name implies – they’re normal-sized neither thin nor young like the vast majority of popular female singers. Ironically Lee Young-hyun (이영현) though, third from the right above (source), was recently in the news for losing weight.

5. Historic LGBT Festivals to be Held Next Week

In the words of Korea Beat:

From June 5th through 7th in Busan will be held the “Stonewell Celebration” to protect the rights of sexual minorities.

Ahead of the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riot, Korean gay rights organization Chingusai and others announced on the 26th that they will hold a Stonewall Celebration in Busan, Gwangju, and Daegu to call for protection of the rights of sexual minorities.

See the original post for more details. Unfortunately, browsing through the links in that post there appears to be little to no information available in English, and if you’re confident enough with your Korean ability to attend regardless…then you won’t need my Korean wife me to translate anything for you before you do!  But for any non-Korean speakers still interested in the subject of LGBT rights in Korea, then I recommend the Autumn 2005 Korea Journal article “Intersectionality Revealed: Sexual Politics in Post-IMF Korea” by Cho Ju-hyun as the most recent and comprehensive guide, available here. Among other things, it mentions that unfortunately lesbian activists have been restricted from membership from mainstream umbrella Korean Women’s organizations, thereby having to form their own from scratch.

In passing, here is information about two short Korean films that screened at the recent San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival.

Update: here and here are two more recent blog posts that are also good introductions to LGBT life in Korea.

Update 2: Lost among all the attention being given to the former president Roh Moo-hyun’s (노무현) suicide last week (belying a huge social problem in Korea), well-known transgender star Harisu (하리수) has set up a transgender performance cum support group.

Update 3: It’s two years old, and a translation of an article two years older still, but otherwise Korea Beat has an excellent (and surprisingly long) post about teen homosexuality in Korea here.

Jo Shin-ae Pre Wedding Pictures6. On Being A Princess in Korea

I was tempted to include this image (source) of Jo Shin-ae (조신애) in my “Korean Sociological Images” series, but then it really illustrates a cultural feature of Korea rather than a sociological phenomenon really, and that is the almost universal practice for engaged couples to hire photographers to take pictures of them in various outfits and locations before their wedding, then to prominently display those pictures at the event itself. And while I chose not to get them for my own wedding as I’ll explain, that is not the same as saying that they can’t be quite nice and/or classy, and I don’t think it’s patronizing or in any way a criticism to say that women probably enjoy having them taken more than men because of the fantasy/dress-up element to it either.

Personally though, after wandering through parks full of couples romantically looking into each other’s eyes at sunset…accompanied by a team of two photographers and four assistants, and perhaps 10m away from two other couples and their own photographers on either side of them (and so on, completely surrounding lakes and riversides!), or alternatively seeing couples taking pictures like these at Gwanganlli Beach in Busan (scroll down)…with my big, smelly, sweaty, and unshaven self quite possibly jogging less than 6m away from them at the time, then I found the whole concept too expensive superficial and cheesy to consider taking them for my own wedding.

Having said that, having spent most of my adult life in Korea then it’s Korean weddings that I’m most familiar with, and in fact I never actually attended any in New Zealand before I left when I was 24. Am I correct in assuming though, that most Western countries still lack this pre-wedding custom?

As for Shin-ae, she got married on Thursday (see here also), as did actors Seol Gyeong-gu (설경구) and Song Yoon-ah (송윤아) (see here for pictures).

Update: If anyone’s into that sort of thing – and judging by number of clicks on the links above, then a surprising number of you are – then here is some extra information about Shin-ae’s wedding dress!

7. Old, Heavily Censored Korean Movies…Censored Even More by EBS!

korean censorshipThis certainly puts what I wrote in #1 into some perspective, and deserves to be much better known. From Seen in Jeonju:

For many years I have enjoyed the late night Korean classic series that airs over the Educational Broadcasting Service on Sunday night. Through that I have gotten to see many old movies from the 50s, 60s, and 70s and for that I am forever grateful.  However, I now have a question for whomever is in charge of the show–please don’t think me disrespectful but I have to ask.  What the hell have you been doing?  For the last four weeks, whenever I watch the movies selected, I wind up turning it off in disgust. Why?  Because some idiot has decided to censor the films that are being shown!  Movies from the 60s and 70s were subject to enormous amounts of government interference and censorship.  Now some moralist over at EBS has decided to restrict these films even more! There was so much government control in the earlier decades that I didn’t  think there was anything left to censor.  Apparently I was wrong…

Read the rest here. While the re-censoring is restricted to blurring out knives and cigarettes (yes really, and all in movies playing late at night), there is perhaps no greater indictment of the Lee Myung-bak Administration’s moves to restrict media freedom than feeling the need to examine movies already censored by military dictatorships, let alone finding their efforts inadequate! The arbitrary nature and ineffectiveness of it are also annoying, and ultimately very worrying.

In related news, albeit slightly old, this post on a German English-language site about Asian movies discusses the differences between the international trailer and the tamer Korean trailer for the movie Thirst (박쥐).

censored Korean trailer for Thirst

8. “Working Wives and Incompetent Husbands” in North Korea

Part 4 of a series on “the ideal model of North Korean Housewife.” The site is a little difficult to navigate, so if you want to read more then Part 1, 2, and 3 are available here, here and here also.

9. International Marriage: Links

For a thorough introduction, see posts by Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling here and here (for starters, and this is also interesting). Meanwhile:

10. Gender Equality Minister Byun Do-yoon

In a short and very readable interview for The Jakarta Post on Wednesday, with many interesting tidbits about the history of the ministry (여성부) and Korean feminism as a whole.

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Korean Underwear Emerges from the Shadows?

(Sources: Naver, Yonhap)

Update, March 2014: First, my translation of a 2006 Joongang Ilbo article on lingerie advertisements:

벗겨라, 팔리리라! Undress the Models and the Products Will Sell!”

에로틱 광고, 잡지에서 거리로 나왔다…예술과 외설 사이 아슬아슬한 줄타기” 광고 속 에로스.  Borderline indecent advertisements formerly only found in magazines are now on the streets (16 December 2006).

▶근육질의 남성과 섹시한 여성이 반라 차림으로 서로를 그윽하게 바라보는 속옷 광고 (서울 지하철 2호선 삼성역). A muscular, semi-nude man and sexy woman furtively looking at each other in this underwear advertisement (Samseong Station, Seoul Subway Line 2).

브래지어와 팬티 차림의 여성이 거리를 점령했다. 잘록한 허리에 배꼽을 드러내다 못해 엉덩이까지 절반쯤 나온 섹시한 여성의 눈빛이 버스 정류장에서 혹은 지하철 역사에서 남성들의 시선을 붙잡는다. 예술과 외설 사이를 아슬아슬하게 넘나드는 속옷 광고들이다.

Advertisements with women in just their bras and panties are to be found on streets everywhere these days, but presenting narrow, slender waists and navels are no longer enough for advertisers, and so many at bus stops and subways stations now reveal women’s buttocks too, which naturally gain the attention of more men than women. Many are not so much artistic, as bordering on the indecent.

과거 잡지 속에서나 볼 수 있었을 만한 아찔한 속옷 광고들이 당당히 거리로 나왔다. 속옷 광고뿐만이 아니다. 녹차 광고나 심지어 커피숍 광고도 일단 벗고 본다. 에로틱한 분위기의 광고는 제품과 관계없이 일단 사람들의 호기심을 불러 일으키는 법. 이것을 광고 제작자들이 놓칠 리 없다. 그러나 너무 많이 벗은 탓일까? 반라의 남녀가 넘쳐나는 거리를 행인들은 무심히 지나간다.

Such revealing advertisements used to be only found in magazines, but now you can find them on the street. It’s not just lingerie advertisements which have such revealing images either: even tea drink companies and coffee shops use them also, trying to attract the curiosity of passers-by with sexual images that have no actual relation to the products being sold. Other advertisers can’t help but notice this trend and be sucked in by it, but don’t you think it’s too much? Indeed, there are so many images of semi-nude men and women on our streets these days that in fact people may be taking less and not more notice of them.

▶위 : (주)좋은사람들이 지난해 8월 20대 후반 여성을 타깃으로 런칭한 속옷 브랜드 ‘섹시쿠키(Sexy Cookie)’의 지면 광고. 아래 : 국내 속옷시장에 패션 바람을 몰고 온 이랜드 계열의 속옷 브랜드 ‘에블린’의 광고판 (서울 지하철 2호선 삼성역). Left: An advertisement for a new kind of lingerie from “Eblin”, set to be quite a trend in the national lingerie fashion market. Right: An advertisement from August 2005 launching Korean company “Good People”‘s new lingerie brand “Sexy Cookie”, targeted at women in their late twenties (both advertisements from Samseong Station, Seoul Subway Line 2).

▶좌 : 반라차림의 여인을 전면에 내세운 속옷 광고판 앞을 한 남성이 무심히 지나가고 있다 (서울 지하철 4호선 명동역). 우 : 여성만 벗는 것이 아니다. 남성도 벗는다. 근육질의 남성 모델을 내세운 ‘코데스콤바인’의 지면 광고. Left: A man absentmindedly walks by a lingerie advertisement. Right: A muscular man in a Korean “Codes Combine” underwear advertisement (both advertisements from Myeong-dong Station, Seoul Subway Line 4).

▶좌 : 반라의 여성모델을 내세우는 것은 속옷 광고만이 아니다. 전지현의 S라인을 전면에 내세운 ‘17차’의 광고판.(서울 지하철 2호선 강남역). 우 : 화장품 광고라고 해서 얼굴만 대문짝만 하게 찍는 것은 아니다. 살짝쿵 벗어 주는 센스를 보여준 ‘라네즈’의 거리 광고 (서울 홍대앞). Left: The semi-nude women in this advertisement is not advertising lingerie, but is actually the actress Jun Ji-hyun advertising a tea drink (Gangnam Station, Seoul Subway Line 2). Right: An advertisement for Laneige cosmetics in which the model’s face has been greatly enlarged, but with which we somehow get the impression of her being semi-nude (Hongdae University area, Seoul).

▶좌 : 홍대앞 속옷가게 앞에 걸린 광고판을 뚫어져라 바라보고 있는 두 남자. 우 : 벗는 것만이 에로스는 아니다. 살며시 눈을 감은 여인의 얼굴에서 살포시 읽히는 에로틱함으로 행인을 유혹하는 커피숍 광고 (서울 홍대앞). Left: Two men’s gazes penetrate a lingerie advertisement in the Hongdae University area. Right: This women’s softly closed eyes while reading a book give a slightly erotic and seductive impression to this coffee shop advertisement, persuading passers-by to come inside (Hongdae University area, Seoul).

▶풍만한 여인의 가슴을 그대로 노출한 속옷 브랜드 ‘ Yes’의 거리 광고 (서울 홍대앞). A “Yes” lingerie advertisement exposing a woman’s voluptuous breasts (Hongdae University area, Seoul; End)

As a further example, contrast two recent bra commercials with Han Ye-seul (한예슬) for Venus (비너스) with I think a 2003 one with Go So-young (고소영). Whereas Han Ye-seul’s unabashedly presents herself — or rather, her breasts — as an object for the male gaze, Go So-young advertised the ‘Nudy Bra’ on the basis of bra-straps and lines not being visible, and therefore unlikely to attract any unwanted attention from men.

Finally, another article from the JoongAng Daily on the rapid change in fashions and attitudes:

Underwear emerges from the shadows

(September 04, 2007)

Underwear has been an integral part of the fashion industry for so long that saying “underwear is outerwear” now feels trite.

Ever since the 1990s, when Courtney Love sported a rag-doll look, wearing nothing but big red lips and a stark white slip, the boundary separating underwear from outerwear has become very thin. It now seems like the line will vanish altogether.

Looking through a rack of neon-colored swimsuits at the Galleria department store, Kim Ji-eun, 27, revealed her own summer fashion tip. “I’ve been wearing halter-style bikini tops in pretty colors under summer dresses. The little bow on the back [of the swimsuit, made when she ties the loose ends around the neck] makes a great accent and it does double duty as a bra.”

Kim, a fashion-hungry Seoul girl, went on to disclose more underwear secrets as she walked out of the department store. “Do you remember when Winona Ryder wore a bright red bra under a white tank top during an award show and the straps showed?” she said, with a smile. “To tell the truth, I’ve been copying that look all summer.”

Looking around the Apgujeong area recently, it seemed that Kim wasn’t the only one. Han Hye-seong, 25, was wearing a flowy peasant skirt with a loose top, under which her colorful bra straps were strategically placed to be noticed. “Five years ago, these [straps] would have been clear. But now, I hardly ever see clear straps being sold,” she said.

Until recently, Kim and Han did their underwear shopping at Internet sites which stock foreign underwear labels like Victoria’s Secret. “I couldn’t find underwear made by Korean labels which had any pretty patterns, bold colors or high-fashion elements,” said Kim.

It seems as though Korean companies are finally catching up. The triad of underwear brands – Try Brands, BYC and Taechang, have faltered, making room for new names.The triad’s standard white, black and beige selections with a small variety of designs couldn’t withstand the new wave of outer/inner wear. By 2005, Try Brands’ sales had fallen from 220 billion won ($24.2 million) in 2003 to 129 billion won. BYC’s sales also went down significantly, from 182.5 billion won in 2003 to 151 billion won in 2005. Taechang sold their underwear division to E-Land in 2005.

In their place, a new triad have emerged, including E-Land World (with brands like Roem, Who.A.U and Hunt), Yeshin Persons (including brands like Maru, Codes Combine and Noton) and Good People (with Bodyguard and James Dean). Yeshin Persons was in the forefront of this new group with Maru Underwear (a domestic sportswear brand) in 2004. “Maru Underwear features casual lingerie with a bit of a fashion edge and it targets women from 19 to 25,” said Lim Sae-un, a Maru media representative. Following the initial success of this brand, the company made another underwear line – Codes Combine – which also stems from one of their sportswear brands. This line, targeting people in their 20s and 30s, includes underwear with bohemian and vintage-inspired elements like fringes and neutral tones. The two underwear lines alone made the company 45 billion won in 2005.

E-Land World has been following a similar path. Besides Hunt Underwear and The Day Underwear, they launched Body Pop and Petite Lin, the former for teenagers and the latter for kids under 10. Both have been a great success. Good People launched underwear lines which target women in their late teens to 20s, including Sugar Free and Sexy Cookie.

One factor behind the success of these lines is their affordability. Along with the growing popularity of affordable cosmetics lines like Missha and The Face Shop, these underwear lines provide a sense of adventure at prices that do not involve the risk of a big investment. “Customers feel free to take risks and buy colorful items with patterns instead of your basic white or skin-colored underwear because these items are so affordable,” said an E-Land representative.

Along with domestic brands, underwear brands from other countries have also been selling well. Women’s Secret, an underwear brand from Spain, was introduced in late 2005, with its first shop in Apgujeong-dong. “Underwear is no longer hidden beneath clothes and consumers are now more daring and wear colorful, showy underwear. We decided to bring in this brand to meet these needs,” said Kim Hyun-hwa, the brand’s assistant marketing manager. “Customers are smarter as well. They don’t want cheap material or poor tailoring. Underwear nowadays has to be fashionable and practical with a reasonable price tag.”

Choi Young-jip, head of Princess TamTam Korea, an underwear brand based in France, agrees. “Customers not only look for good designs, but also for underwear that is a good fit for their body. So material and cut are very important.”

These factors have led to some adjustments in tailoring. “We have introduced a line of bras and panties just for the Asian market for this fall/winter season,” said Kim Hyeon-hwa at Women’s Secret. “The panties in this line support the hips, with more coverage, as opposed to thongs or Brazilian-style pieces which are popular in Europe.”

Adding to this boom are celebrities who have launched their own underwear lines through home shopping, the Internet or off-line stores.

Actress Park Jeong-su launched Sooanae last year, an underwear line targeting middle-aged women which offers stylish yet form-flattering foundation garments. Next was actress Hwang Shin-hae with Elypry, which was first offered through Hyundai home shopping but branched out to CJ home shopping this year. Actress Hyeon Yeong and actress/singer Um Jeong-hwa both used their sexy image to full advantage by launching underwear lines this year. “Finally, there are now lots of choices [for underwear] in Korea.” said Kim Ji-eun as she flipped her hair and continued to search for the perfect bikini/bras to match her new shoes.

Reporting by Lee Eun-joo

By Cho Jae-eun Staff Writer [jainnie@joongang.co.kr] (my emphases)