The Alphabetization of Korean Women’s Body Types: Origins

(Update, 2013: See here and here for much more up to date posts on this topic, and for similar cases in English-speaking countries in the 1910s-1930s and 1940s.)

That the female body has occupied a central place in the Western cultural imagination hardly comes as news, says comparative literature writer Susan Suleiman. And while I lack knowledge of Korean counterparts to the historical examples in the visual arts, literature, and religion that she mentions, I don’t doubt that they exist.

But what to make of the recent Korean trend towards categorizing the female body and/or body parts into a plethora of different romanized “lines”? Where do they fit in?

It’s been easy enough to prove that they have become a pervasive feature of Korean popular culture; so much so, that many have acquired a life of their own, bearing little resemblance to the (idealized) women’s bodies they were first used to describe. But those earlier observations of mine were devoid of context, something which began troubling me once I paused to consider the source of the above article on the most recent manifestations of the trend, about Korean cosmetic surgeons classifying woman’s buttocks into four types. To be precise, it raised two questions, which I would appreciate readers’ help with.

The first is that is this trend of categorization qualitatively and/or quantitatively different to that which occurs in the Western media? As to the former, probably not: I need hardly point out the similar obsession with women’s bodies there, or that it also provides often impossible ideals to live up to. And however much English speakers may find Koreans’ romanization habit in this particular case both curious and amusing (and thereby memorable), arguably it merely reflects Koreans’ general obsession with English, grafted on to an interest in women’s body forms that is not dissimilar to that of the West. Indeed, even some native English sources are beginning to describe women’s bodies in terms of letters (see below), and while that failed to catch on, are they really different to describing women’s bodies in terms of bananas and hourglasses and so forth?

(Image sources: top; bottom. The results are from this 2005 study)

Forgive me for stating the obvious perhaps, and I mention all that not to exonerate the Korean media for the ways in which it warps and distorts women’s body images. Rather, that if I still feel that it does so more than its Western counterparts nevertheless (and I do), then that something more than my gut feeling is necessary to convince skeptics. And perhaps the difference simply lies in the much greater extent to which S-lines and V-lines and so forth are mentioned? After all, not for nothing do I describe them as a “pervasive feature of Korean popular culture.”

Unfortunately however, providing empirical proof of that is rather difficult, at least for a humble blogger. But I can provide indirect evidence in the meantime, which I would very grateful if any readers could add to.

The first is the source of the article on women’s buttocks I’ve translated at the end of this post. While it may not be obvious from the opening image, it’s actually on the front page of Focus, a free daily newspaper: the image on its left, not coincidentally an advertisement for a chair which supposedly shapes one’s buttocks, part of an accompanying cover.

To your average Westerner, I’d wager that this choice would immediately single out the newspaper as a tabloid—”Women have four kinds of ass! Read all about it!”—but I’ve been asking my 20-something students’ opinions of Focus and other newspapers over the past week, and only a minority considered it such. And why would they, considering that the article was also covered by numerous other news sources (see here, here, and here), including the authoritative Hanguk Kyeongjae, a business newspaper, and which even had a helpful graphic?

Ergo, the bar for tabloid journalism is rather lower in Korea, and this extends to mainstream Korean portal sites, about which I wrote the following in my last post:

Unlike their English counterparts, you have roughly a 50% chance of opening Naver, Daum, Nate, Yahoo!Korea and to be greeted with headlines and thumbnail pictures about sex scandals, accidental exposures (no-chool;노출) of female celebrities, and/or crazed nude Westerners.

To which I should have added—of course—numerous thumbnail pictures of female celebrities’ S-lines, and also a warning to never look at any of the otherwise innocuous images in the “image gallery” at the bottom of Yahoo!Korea in particular, for if you do you’ll frequently be greeted with advertisements for videos of celebrities’ nipple-slips and so on alongside those birds, flowers, and interesting landscapes.

What’s more, if portal sites are fair game, is it any wonder that children are also encouraged to be concerned about their S-lines and so on? And don’t get me started on ubiquitous narrator models.

Finally, consider what Javabeans wrote on the subject, a blogger on Korean dramas who is a much more authoritative source on Korean television than I will ever be:

…while this [romanization] 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. (my emphasis)

With that combination, something has finally clicked for me: why it is so difficult to find Korean language sources on sexism in the media, and on advertisements in particular? I’ve been looking on and off for years now, and while I accept (and would be more than happy to learn) that perhaps I’ve simply been using the wrong search terms and/or looking in the wrong places, that it is so difficult in the first place is surely telling. A solution though, is perhaps provided by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen in Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust – no, really – who had this to say about anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany:

A general problem in uncovering lost cultural axioms and cognitive orientations of societies since gone or transformed is that they are often not articulated as clearly, frequently, or loudly as their importance for the life of a given society and its individual members might suggest. In the words of one student of German attitudes during the Nazi period, “to be an anti-Semite in Hitler’s Germany was so commonplace as to go practically unnoticed.” Notions fundamental to the dominant worldview and operation of a society, precisely because they are taken for granted, often are not expressed in a manner commensurate with their prominence and significance or, when uttered, seen as worthy by others to be noted and recorded. (Vintage Books Edition, Feb. 1997; p.32)

Not lost or transformed, but equally obtuse to someone from another culture perhaps, and which I’m still only just starting to make a dent in.

But a good grounding for that would be the origins of Koreans’ obsession with romanizing women’s bodies, the second question the article raised for me. Or to be honest, an element of the subject I realized I’d paid little attention to when, serendipitously, Korean reader Chorahan provided this extremely informative comment on the subject on another post. With permission, I am happy to now place readers in her more than capable hands:

…I think the specifics of the alphabetization of Korean women are best approached in the context of the classification of women into certain rigid subtypes (read: simplified stereotypes) of women. The S-line and V-line are part of the ‘formula’ for the ‘pretty girl’ here, as are humongous pupils in big double-lidded eyes, cosmetically unaided pallor, bone-tight ligaments, etc. I would suggest that people here perpetuate this mind-boggling state of sheeple-ness precisely because this ‘formula’ serves as helpful, socially constructed and ordained criteria – with which to deduce the type of woman being dealt with, and to adjust manners to suit.

Manners are adjusted according to the woman’s ‘type’ because it is widely taken as a given that certain things can/cannot be said/thought about women depending on how they look (value-judgment wise). The socially ‘accepted’ or ‘conceivable’ scenario that follows any such encounter is rigidly stratified into according variations. My take on this phenomenon is that this is directly derived from a warped and popularized Confucian principle popularized in the Chosun dynasty called 정명론 (正名論), or literally ‘right name idea’, in which the ‘father should be fatherlike and the son sonlike etc.’ A beauty should be treated as a beauty, or a ‘talking flower’; an ugly girl can be laughed at/with (hence the ‘ugly’—or, as I like to put it, ‘uglified’—comedian typification.)

I’m a Korean girl and I’ve lived in Seoul nearly all my life, going through the average Korean educational system to enter the undergraduate level here. Inferring from the numerous social contexts in which I’ve encountered such blunt references to conventionally ugly/pretty features, I would venture the possibility that in originally familial, communal societies where everyone had to stick together whether they liked it or not, the ‘insult’ was not only an insult per se, but also employed as a form of veiled endearment. This is widely considered the ideal sort of 부담없는 (easygoing) interaction between two close individuals—dialogue employing insult as endearment, or ‘constructively realistic advice to help you in the real world’—and is often the most commonly resorted-to excuse for horrific verbal abuse. (Coloring vacuous praise according to these featural types is also just such a form of ordained interaction, considered honest and respectful and completely normal.)

I do not, however, think that this should simply be chalked up to individual stupidity on the part of people that blindly follow this line of thought/action—quite the contrary. I think it’s very telling that the homogenizing retardation of the populace in this regard is and has always been spearheaded by *the commercial/entertainment media sector,* which is—big surprise— notoriously homogenized/stereotyped! It has even resorted to homogenizing certain snapshots of stereotyped ‘diversity’ or ‘unconventionality’ in the form of teen idols that are held up on pedestals as somehow being harbingers of Korea’s ‘openness’ and ‘creativity of the youth’.

As a twenty-something Korean woman towards whom those commercials are directly marketed, I find all this very sad and disgusting and lame, and I am very troubled by the thought that people actually think Korean society is improving/ has improved in its bridging of (sexual or gender-based, if that’s your cup of tea, though I don’t think that’s all) dichotomies (if dichotomies are indeed criteria on which to issue any normative judgment.)

I think it is not people being stupid, but the other way around (stupid being people, or stupidity donning the guise of specific individual avatars): the root of the problem (of not seeing people for the people they are, and adjusting social perception/performance according to formulas hammered in by peer pressure since birth) is a sort of warped ‘commodification of human beings’ + ‘Confucian backwash’ that is only being exacerbated as people constantly look to external/ international solutions to symptoms that stem from an overlooked, simplified, but inherently endogenous disease that must be addressed within its own context.

I definitely think something fundamental has to give. This isn’t just an odd cultural quirk to cluck tongues over – this S-line, this V-line trope, this alphabetization of women just as much as the stereotyping of men – it’s seriously symptomatic of some skewed rift in the goodness and saneness and kindness of people here vs. the expressed, contorted manifestations of such potential strengths.

Not exactly concise, but this is my very understandably strong opinion regarding the topic of this post. But I’m no sociologist, so I wouldn’t know.

p.s. In first paragraph—sorry, this could be misunderstood, i don’t propose any normative suggestion—I’m suggesting as an explanation that people ‘are perpetuating’ etc. (end)

Despite all that context however, one still shudders at the thought that the following was the first thing millions of Koreans read one November morning:

Korean Women Have 4 Types of Buttocks

The results of a survey about the different types of Korean women’s buttocks have just been released.

Baram (wind) Cosmetic Surgery Clinic, which focuses on operations on the body rather than the face, performed operations on the lower bodies of 137 female patients in 2008-2009. An analysis of their different types of buttocks was performed, and the results released on the 23rd of November. All in all, Korean women have 4 types: “A”, “ㅁ,” “Round,” and “Asymmetrical/Imbalanced.”

According to the team of doctors there, women with type A have a lot of accumulated fat in their thighs, making buttocks look big and their legs short, and those with type ㅁ, a lot of accumulated fat in their thighs and around their waists, making their hips look relatively narrow. Both comprise 47% of Korean women each. On the other hand, those with relatively smooth and curved hips and buttocks have a Round type, and those with an asymmetrical or imbalanced pelvis have an asymmetrical or imbalanced type, compromising 4% and 2% of Korean women respectively.

As the doctors explain, even though Korean women’s bodies are Westernizing, Korean women still have these 4 East-Asian types of buttocks.  According to the doctor in charge of this study, Hong Yun-gi, “because Korean women’s buttocks don’t have much volume at the top, but have a lot of accumulated fat at the bottom, they look a little droopy” and so overall “their buttocks look boring overall, and their legs short.” (end)

No, the extrapolation from 137 cosmetic surgery patients to all Korean women was not a mistranslation I’m afraid. And I beg to differ on Korean women’s buttocks looking boring also, but that discussion is probably best avoided. Instead consider, first, Jezebel’s take on “the ridiculousness of dressing for your shape,” many guides to which came up as I researched this post, especially this one from The Daily Mail, a UK tabloid. Next, another case of Korean romanization gone mad that I originally planned to look at alongside the above, albeit of women’s dresses rather than their bodies per se:

And finally, literally the very first thing that came to mind when I saw the Korean article on women’s buttocks: the following picture from a post on male objectification from Sociological Images, because I wondered if men’s buttocks would ever similarly be categorized. But given that a page exists on Wikipedia for “female body shape” for instance, but not on male’s, then I suspect not in the near future.

On a side note, and not that I want to repeat the experience anytime soon, but searching for images of Korean men’s buttocks instead proved impossible, at least on Korean portal sites. But perhaps again…*cough*…I’m not looking in the right places?

Korean Women Are Not Alphabets!


Update, February 2013: Please see here, here, and many other posts in my “Revealing the Korean Body Politic” series for my considerably updated, hopefully much more nuanced thoughts on Korea’s alphabetization trend, especially in light of what I’ve learned about historical Western precedents!

The original version of my article for today’s Korea Times:

Well known for donning corsets on stage since her comeback in May last year, few can deny that there is much to find cute in singer Son Dam-bi (손담비) tightening a miniature one around a bottle of ‘Today’s Tea’ in her latest commercial.

But while modern corsets lack the uncomfortable body-shaping functions of their Victorian counterparts, they remain an enduring symbol of the pressures women can be under to conform to often impossible ideals of appearance. And despite its lightheartedness, this commercial provides an excellent illustration of a distinctly Korean spin on this (source, right: kjutaeng3)

Beverage producer Lotte Chilsung invented the term ‘bellyline’ for use in this commercial, and it is this that the corset and supposedly the drink help with slimming. In itself, doing so is not at all worthy of any criticism, nor is the term dissimilar to, say, the English equivalent of ‘waistline,’ which would actually have been a much more appropriate choice here. But with that perfectly good term existing already, then why invent a new one?

The reason is that the term is merely the latest in a spate of naming particularly female body parts after English letters in recent years, a very curious fashion that seems unique to Korea so far. Consider the following best known examples of this:

  • M-line (abdominals, for men)
  • S-line (breasts and buttocks, viewed from the side)
  • U-line (exposed lower back)
  • V-line (one for face, and another for the line in-between breasts)
  • W-line (breasts)
  • X-line (long legs and arms, with a narrow waist)
A Woman and her lines(Source: Dark Roasted Blend)

And so integral to Korean pop culture are S-lines and V-lines in particular, that within five minutes of turning on a television you are likely to see either female celebrities strutting them on talk-shows, or prominent ‘S’s and ‘V’s displayed in commercials. Indeed, such is the current mania surrounding them that you can even come across examples completely unrelated to the original body parts involved, including in commercials for cell-phones, school uniforms, and even gas boilers!

Although this practice seems frivolous on the surface, says blogger Javabeans “it actually belies much more pernicious trends in society at large,” and something is surely seriously amiss when, rather than the media, you have a majority of female celebrities “vocally espousing their alphabet-lines and therefore actually objectifying themselves as a conglomeration of “perfect” body parts rather than as whole, genuine people.” But, why their alacrity in doing so? (source, left: 여자가 좋다. 남자는 필요없다.)

A clue is that this quote was made in the context of a breast cancer fund-raising party in October last year, the producers of which saw absolutely no irony in naming ‘Love Your W.’ And if nothing is viewed as untoward in doing so for an event supposedly about empowering women by encouraging them to respect more and take better care of their bodies, then you can imagine that there are few inhibitions for promoting the use of ‘lines’ to teenagers and young girls either.

Accordingly, there are even educational videos that promote healthy food such as fermented bean paste (dwenjang/된장) to elementary-school children that mention that eating it will be good for their S-lines and V-lines also. And one probably direct effect of this is the fact that many Korean middle-school girls have ‘face rollers,’ the repeated application of which is supposed to flatten one’s face towards a desired, angular, ‘V’ shape.

To be sure, the Korean media is not unique in placing undue emphasis on women’s appearances rather than their intelligence — the American media obsession with Michelle Obama’s fashion choices being a notorious recent example — nor is it in providing often unobtainable and unnatural role models and body ideals for women and girls. But the contexts in which those are received are important, and whereas videos like the above would rapidly be banned in schools in many other developed countries, and/or educators that criticized children because of their appearance rapidly fired, unfortunately both are par for the course in Korea.

(Han Ye-seul demonstrates yet another “V-line.” Source: Naver Photo Gallery)

To an extent, this lack of awareness and/or concern is understandable when a child’s entire life prospects are almost entirely determined by a single exam: parents have other priorities. But on the other hand, when a majority of netizens did not take pride in astronaut Yi Soyeon for being the first Korean to go into space last year, but instead criticized her for her appearance during the flight, then teenage girls will hardly be encouraged to study harder.

And on a wider scale, as Korea again faces an economic crisis, in order to recover it is worth pondering what lies behind Korea long having one of the lowest rates of working women in the OECD. Surely a good start to using this underutilized human resource, one of the best-educated in the world, would be to encourage both sexes to stop judging women, and women expecting to be judged, entirely on their appearance?

Did Eve Have an S-line? Women as Walking Alphabets in South Korea

yoon-eun-hye-윤은혜-as-a-korean-eveUpdate, June 2014:

If you’ve followed a link to this post, thank you for your interest in Korean body-image and the alphabetization trend. Unfortunately though, my opinions of both have changed considerably since I wrote this post five years ago, so I’ve decided to delete my commentary (and the comments, which no longer made any sense). Instead, please see here, here, here, and here for much more up to date readings.

For future reference though, I’ll keep my translation of the original Yahoo! Korea article which prompted it, especially as the original is no longer available. I hope readers may still find it useful one day:

(Image: Korean actress Yoon Eun-hye (source) and detail from Albrecht Dürer’s Adam and Eve (1507))

스타매력 재발견, 고은아 ‘가슴’-윤은혜 ‘어깨’ 최고 The Rediscovery of Stars’ Beauty

Go Eun-ah’s Breasts and Yun Eun-hye’s Shoulders are the Best

각종 시상식장의 레드카펫은 여배우들에게 좀더 특별하다. 숨겨둔 자신만의 매력을 한껏 과시할 수 있는 기회가 되기 때문이다. 덕분에 팬들은 그녀들의 아름다움에 숨은 매력까지 엿볼 수 있다. 얼마 전 열린 제45회 백상예술대상 시상식에서 고정된 이미지를 깨고 새로운 매력을 보여준 여배우가 있었다. 바로 고은아와 윤은혜이다..두 배우 모두 귀엽고 상큼한 이미지로 그동안 팬들의 사랑을 받아왔다. 하지만 어린 나이임에도 성숙한 상체 라인을 가진 고은아는 지금껏 풋풋했던 이미지를 벗고 ‘제2의 김혜수’라는 찬사를 받았다. 또 윤은혜는 쉽게 찾아볼 수 없었던 둥근 어깨 라인을 드러내 여성스러운 면모를 부각시켰다.

go-eun-ah-breasts-고은아-왕가슴As they are great opportunities to show off previously their previously hidden confidence and beauty, actresses look more and more glamorous on the red carpet at award ceremonies, and fans are eager to get a peek at their idols. A few days ago at the 45th Paeksang Arts Awards many actresses took the opportunity to throw off their old, established images and show off new sides to themselves, particularly Go Eun-ah (right, source) and Yoon Eun-hye. Both were previously well known and popular for their cute and sweet images, but despite her youth Go Eun-ah has become quite buxom, and has been described as the second Kim Hye-su. Also on this occasion, Yoon Eun-hye showed her new womanly side by revealing her round shoulders for the first time.

백상예술대상 레드카펫을 밟은 고은아는 가슴이 깊게 파인 옐로우 슬리브리스 드레스로 플래시 세레를 받았다. 산뜻한 컬러와 과감한 가슴 노출로 다소 쌀쌀한 날씨에도 불구하고 봄의 여신으로 매력을 뽐냈다. 무엇보다 기존 10대 이미지를 과감하게 벗어 던진 그녀는 이제 여성미와 섹시미를 겸비한 여배우로 신고식을 치른 셈이다.

Once Go Eun-ah stepped onto the red carpet she was seen to be wearing a very low-cut sleeveless dress, and was instantly bathed in the flashlights of hundreds of cameras. The bright dress and her boldness in wearing something so revealing, despite the slightly chilly weather, made her seem almost goddess-like. Moreover, she has completely lost her image of a teenager, and has made a big splash as a beautiful and sexy female actress.

고은아의 가장 큰 매력은 레드카펫의 여왕이라 불리며 늘 섹시하고 파격적인 의상으로 화제를 불러 일으킨 대한민국 대표 섹시스타 김혜수를 연상케 하는 상체 라인이다. C 컵 이상의 풍만한 가슴과 글래머러스한 몸매, 그럼에도 선명하게 도드라지는 쇄골이 김혜수와 매우 닮았다. 이는 한국에서 쉽게 찾아볼 수 없었던 우월한 가슴라인으로 ‘제2의 김혜수’라는 극찬이 아깝지 않을 정도. 게다가 고은아는 키 171cm로 170cm의 김혜수에 뒤지지 않는 신체조건을 가졌다. 압구정 에비뉴 성형외과 이백권 원장은 “김혜수와 고은아의 공통점은 넓은 어깨와 C컵 이상의 풍만한 가슴선 등 건강하고 서구적인 체형이다”며 “속옷의 종류에 따라 차이가 있겠지만 두 사람 모두 상부가 불룩한 속칭 윗볼록이 있는 가슴을 가지고 있다”고 말했다.

kim-hye-su 김혜수

Go Eun-ah’s most attractive point is her breasts, which remind people of Korean sex-symbol Kim Hye-su (left, source), who regularly wears very revealing clothes at awards ceremonies and is known as the “Queen of the Red Carpet.” Despite the large size of their busts, you can distinctly see both collarbones, and they’re even the same height too. Such a combination is not often found among Korean women, and so because this is so rare people are not embarrassed to regularly praise her as the second Kim Hye-soo. According to Apgujeong Avenue cosmetic surgeon Lee Baek-gwon, “Kim Hye-su and Go Eun-ah’s points in common are their high collarbones, their C-cup (or bigger) breasts, and their healthy Western body shape” and “although they may wear different brands of underwear, they will both be for women who are top-heavy.”

또 다른 화제의 인물 윤은혜는 그 동안 드라마 ‘커피프린스 1호점’과 ‘궁’ 등에서 보여준 중성적이고 발랄한 모습과 다르게 푸른 색 미니 튜브탑을 통해 어깨라인과 각선미를 드러내면서 보다 여성스러운 모습을 과시했다. 특히 윤은혜의 둥근 어깨라인은 16세기 유화 ‘아담과 이브'(알브레히트 뒤러)에 나오는 이브의 어깨라인과 닮아 고전적인 여성미를 보여주었다는 평이다. 이브 이외에 ‘비너스의 탄생'(산드로 보티첼리)에서 비너스의 어깨라인은 물론 15-16세기 명화 속에 등장하는 아름다운 여성들의 체형적 특징 중 하나인 어깨가 매우 흡사해 고전적인 여성의 아름다움을 느끼게 한다. 압구정 에비뉴 성형외과 이백권 원장은 “승모근이 발달한 윤은혜의 어깨는 약간 좁으면서 전체적으로 둥근 느낌을 주며 통통해 보여 여성스러운 느낌을 준다”며 “16세기 서구에서는 이런 곡선이 잘 살려진 몸매를 아름다운 여성의 표준으로 보았다”고 설명했다. 전체적으로 통통하면서 힙 등에 보기 좋게 살집이 있는 윤은혜의 몸매가 서양의 고전적인 아름다움에 가깝다는 것이다. 기존 드라마에서 보여주지 않았던 섹시하거나 우아한 여성스러운 몸매를 백상예술대상 레드카펫에서 공개한 고은아와 윤은혜의 다음 번 레드카펫이 사뭇 기대된다.

botticelli-the-birth-of-venusAn actress also getting attention recently is Yoon Eun-hye, who has been in the dramas “The First Shop of Coffee Prince” and “Princess Hours” but who looked rather androgynous and/or tomboyish in both,  showed off her shoulders and legs in a blue mini tube top. Especially, Yoon Eun-hye’s round shoulders were very similar to Eve’s in a 16th Century oil painting “Adam and Eve” by Albrecht Dürer, a well-known symbol with which to evaluate female beauty. Apart from Eve, other symbols used as such have been Venus in “The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli (1482, above), and she has a remarkable resemblance to the former. Lee Baek-gwon says “On the whole, while the muscle development around Yoon Eun-hye’s shoulders is a little narrow, its roundness give her a very feminine and woman-like appearance” and also that “in the West in the 16th Century, this type of well-developed curve was considered the beauty standard”. And so while a little chubby, her hips and so on are very close to that standard. These two women didn’t previously show this sexy side to themselves in the dramas they appeared in, but people now have high expectations for their next appearance on the red carpet! (end)

How Korean Girls Learn to be Insecure About Their Bodies

Seriously, it’s great that the makers of this video are trying to encourage children to eat healthy foods with fermented bean paste (된장) rather than candy. But do they really need to be told that it’s good for their “S-lines” and “V-lines” too? For those few of you that don’t know what either are, this next commercial in particular makes the former pretty clear:

(Source: ¡Hoy mejor que ayer, mañana mejor que hoy!. The text reads “The S-line you want to have.”)

Note that Go Ara, the actress in the commercial, is actually much younger (16) than she may appear above. Meanwhile, here are some commercials for a tea-drink which supposedly gives you a V-line chin, which at least have actual grown women (BoA, 22; Kim Tae-Hee, 28) endorsing the product:

Not by coincidence, here are some “face rollers” which started to appear all over Korea not long after I first heard of V-lines. I’ve read that they’ve been used for many years in Japan and Taiwan too, so Korean women too may well have been using for a long time before they started worrying about their V-lines specifically. But then they weren’t popular enough for me to have noticed them at all until last year, and certainly sellers of them have been making explicit references to V-lines ever since the concept first appeared:

(Source: GMarket)

Alas, I’m not entirely certain why an ad explicitly for women opens with some not particularly flattering shots of men either (Lee Seung-gi and comedian Kang Ho-dong), but I guess I’m not the target market. That they do so humorously though, does help reinforce the notion that dieting (etc.) is only something for women to be serious about.

Or perhaps just girls, as I’ve never actually seen a woman using one. My 13 year-old students, however, use them every other break…(sigh).

Update: See here, here, here, and here for much more on the constant invention of new, often impossible body shapes and “lines” for Korean women to strive for, and for North American and European parallels.