Are Korea’s Women Boxers Good Enough for Adidas?

kim-ji-young-twoWriting earlier this month, I was very impressed by the rhetoric of the launch of Adidas Korea’s “Me, Myself” campaign, and especially by the healthy-looking models used. But one fair criticism by frequent commenter Sonagi was that while on the one hand they definitely weren’t “the gaunt-looking models of most fashion shows,” were all “healthy and glowing,” and may well have shown “that women could look stylish while working out at the gym, doing complicated yoga moves or swimming in the pool,” on the other hand they certainly didn’t appear to have anything at all like the physiques of actual athletes either, somewhat diluting the campaign’s supposed message (source, left: Yonhap News).

And it’s not hard to think of attractive athletes who could have—nay, should have—taken their place instead, a point which I was suddenly reminded of earlier today when I was flicking channels and happened to come across IFBA Bantamweight Champion Kim Ji-Young (김지영) in action, her—let’s face it—feminine appearance being so in contrast to the bulk of her counterparts (in both senses of the phrase!) that I immediately sat up and took notice. As it happens, she was in her hometown of Yeongdong City, successfully defending her title for the fourth time (against Dennapa Sukruaangrueng of Thailand).

(Update, September 2014: Reading over this post five years later, I’m cringing at—among other things—my implication that women with bulky physiques are any less feminine than Kim Ji-Young, and the notion that they could never be accepted as endorsement models for sports clothing companies).

Unfortunately, as images of female athletes tend to be unflattering, taken as they are at instants of extreme pain, anger, passion or even all three (not that those of male athletes aren’t kim-ji-young-oneeither) then in lieu of a video of the fight I saw then that photo of her above and this on the right from 2005 (source: Yonhap News) will have to do for my purpose, which is to ask you if she could realistically be a model for Adidas or any other clothing company? Why or why not? Yes, granted, she does has bigger arms than average (naturally), but although this is not to say that people of either sex can only find athletic role models in those of a similar (or desired) size to them, her diminutive height and weight  (“bantamweight” means 51-54 kg) and small bust do make her very similar physically to a lot of Korean women, albeit having muscle where they usually have fat. Moreover, given that the notions that models “have to” be tall and thin would supposedly be the very antithesis of the Me, Myself campaign, then I can’t think of any reason to reject her for something like that especially.

As it happens, there is already a Korean female boxer who makes a great deal of money through sponsorship, commercial and TV appearances: Choi Shin-hui (최신희), whom I found about via this slightly old but otherwise excellent introduction to female boxing in Korea over at Korea Beat, and it turns out that two years ago at least there was quite a boom in the sport, with Korea having several world champions. I’m almost a little reluctant to post any pictures of her however, as with the vast majority available being modeling shots (including this one below for Vogue magazine in 2004 for example; see here for the article), then they’re naturally going to present her in a much better light than the few and quite frankly rather hideous ones of Kim Ji-young in action out there. So I include a link to this and this other one (scroll down) of Choi Shin-hui from that period too, not to imply that she’s ugly in them—quite the opposite—but more to demonstrate that they’re certainly less flattering than those to be found in advertisements, which just again goes to show that however unglamorous they—or you and I for that matter—can appear in photos of them grunting away at their sport(s) can be, surely Kim Ji-young and/or other athletes like her should have been in consideration for even a one-off, token appearance at a launch for products that are supposedly aimed at athletic women? Even just the minimal consideration towards the campaign’s professed message that that would have demonstrated would have been much better than none at all.

choi-shin-hui-boxing-in-vogue-women-in-2004(Source: DBSD Boxing)

Or am I making too much of it? Do you think athletes weren’t used simply (and perhaps quite legitimately) because of their inexperience with a catwalk? Or is there another simple reason I’m overlooking?

Regardless, if you’ve read this far then you’ll probably also be quite interested in and inspired by this story of 18 year-old Choi Hyun-Mi, who defected with her family from North Korea in 2004 and on whose boxing success they now entirely rely on for financial support (Update: Sorry that the link has died; instead here’s a video below). And I have one final request too: somewhere on this list of expat blogs is one I used to read by a woman in Seoul who happens to be a female boxer and very active in the boxing scene, but I’ve completely forgotten both its and her name, it being a long time since this blog you’re reading turned my own reading of other blogs from pleasure into business (sigh). Writing this post has made me interested again though, and I may well want to pick her brains about some of the issues raised in it too, so if anyone knows who I’m talking about, please pass on her blog address!

Adidas’ “Me, Myself Campaign”: Refreshing Body Images for Korean Women?

아디다스의-2009-우먼스-캠페인-미, 마이셀프And here’s the other reason I have the focus on the blog that I do!

Seriously though, while I am never lacking for pictures of attractive Korean women in sportswear and bikinis to attract “readers” to the blog with if I do so choose, there is still reason to single out this week’s Korean launch of the global Adidas ”Me, Myself” (미,마이셀프) campaign here. Consider its claimed raison d’être, however perfunctory its sentiments may be in practice (source, right: Naver):

Impossible standards of beauty continue to be foisted on young women today. Flip through any fashion magazine, and you’ll find super skinny supermodels on almost every page. Not to mention on billboards, on television and movies and the Internet. Young women feel pressured to live up to this standard of beauty, often to the detriment of their mental and physical well being.

Instead of pressuring women to conform to this impossible standard of beauty, sportswear giant Adidas wants to inspire women to be themselves.

With its new campaign philosophy, ”Me, Myself,” women are encouraged to be healthy, happy, fit, full of life and be true to who they are. It celebrates women’s individuality, confidence and motivation.

To launch the ”Me, Myself” campaign in Korea, adidas staged a unique fashion show featuring its spring/summer women’s wear line at Kring, Daechi-dong, southern Seoul, Wednesday. Korean celebrities like singer Solbi and girl group Afterschool were spotted at the event.

And crucially (my emphasis):

Unlike in most fashion shows with gaunt-looking models, the Adidas models were healthy and glowing. They showed that women could look stylish while working out at the gym, doing complicated yoga moves or swimming in the pool.

Granted, it comes from a blatant advertorial, but that last is much more important than it may sound at first. As while on the surface modern Korean exercise culture is very similar to its Western counterpart(s), albeit naturally with more of an emphasis on hill-walking and, in turn, free open-air facilities in those hills for its rapidly aging population to use, in practice Korean women have generally interpreted the modern Western imports of gym culture and health consciousness through their preexisting notions of consumption and feminine passivity (see here, here and here), often with quite startling and absurd results.  Indeed, one could argue that their gym-going merely serves to allow many Korean women to feel a certain sweet self-satisfaction in the mere act of doing so, never actually having to face the challenge of exercising to the extent that, say, sweat interferes with the cosmetics that many wear while doing so, or that it burns off excess fat. Instead, a vast and unregulated industry of passive dieting methods (e.g. diet pills, aroma therapy, diet crème, and diet drinks) takes that place, overall giving the impression that dieting is simple, easy, quick, and effective without pain, so long as women consume various products.


(Sources: 아이뉴스; Artsnews Paran)

Which is not to say that all Western women (or men) don’t also waste a lot of time at gyms, nor that the act of attending one isn’t also de rigeur for the trendy modern urban professional, and much less the quality of the exercise done there. But…well, as those links above make clear, these things — like so many other trappings of modernity here — are just so magnified here, almost like a hyperreal parody of the goals of modernity itself. In this particular case though, lacking an educational background of critical thinking, Korean women are to a certain extent its victims, which again renders any alternative message of self-agency and of being proactive in naturally achieving one’s desired body image worthy of getting out to as wide an audience as possible.

I dare say, however, that that message could have been done somewhat more effectively had anything at all about the campaign been included on Adidas’ Korean website (let alone in Korean), especially as news coverage seems to have concentrated rather more on the celebrities that attended instead. Being in the job-market myself soon though, then I’ll gladly take on that responsibility of ensuring that the site is regularly updated from now on (there’s my contact details in the top-left corner!), but until that point then I guess that this post and these Korean videos of the event will have to do.

Update: I’m afraid those videos didn’t embed very well: try watching here instead.

Update 2: Thanks to commenters, I now realize that the choice of models (specifically, their body types) should have been much more diverse, preferably with some real athletes included. See here for a follow-up post exploring precisely that, focusing on female boxers.