Why Did Allure Korea Take 10 Years to Have a Korean Cover Model?

Shin Min Ah, First Korean Cover Model for Allure, August 2013(Source: Unknown)

Basically, because its Korean readers wanted and expected foreign cover models. No matter how many commenters may try to shoehorn narratives of racism and cultural imperialism into those preferences.*

See my latest Busan Haps piece to learn more, or alternatively go straight to the source: the 2009 Korean Journalism Review article “Glocalization of International Women’s Magazines in Korea: Global-local nexus in the production process” written by Oh Hyun-sook of the Yonsei Communication Research Institute, upon which most of the first half of the article is based.

Meanwhile, related to the second half, Carol Dussere, a commenter in the Every Expat in Korea Facebook group noted:

When I first moved to Korea in 1988, all of the models used in sexy ads on the subway were non-Asians. It definitely carried the message to Korean men that non-Asian women were readily available.

This confused me, as I read years ago (and have often repeated since) that restrictions against foreign models weren’t lifted until as late as 1994. Checking, I found the following on page 103 of  “Neo-Confucian Body Techniques: Women’s Bodies in Korea’s Consumer Society” by Taeyon Kim, Body & Society, June 2003 vol. 9 no. 2 97-113:

In June 1994, changes in laws allowed the Korean advertising industry to use foreign models and celebrities, which led quickly to a sharp increase in the use of foreign models to sell domestic wares.


This is repeated on page 7 of  “Perpetuation of Female Beauty Stereotypes through Korean Mass Media: Emancipation or Objectification of Women?” by Jee, Min-Joo. and Oh, Byoung-il. in a paper presented to the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in 2006 (although both are based on Byun, Eun-mi {1997}, ‘Foreign Supermodels Emerge as Fashion Stars on TV Commercials’, in Korea Newsreview Vol. 26{5}: p. 32-3). However, it didn’t necessarily mean that Carol was wrong, and indeed I also found the following, tantalizing line in “Gender Role Portrayals in American and Korean Advertisements” by Roxanne Hovland et. al., in Sex Roles, December 2005, Volume 53, Issue 11-12, pp 887-899:

The use of foreign models in advertisements has been popular since the Korean government lifted restrictions on the use of foreign models in 1989.

Sophie Marceau Korean Advertisement 1989And only then did I really notice the continuation of the “Neo-Confucian Body Techniques” article, which resolves everything quite nicely (right: French actress Sophie Marceau advertising LG cosmetics in 1989; source):

No longer were only foreign products sold to Koreans with a foreign face, now even domestic products were marketed to Koreans by the likes of Cindy Crawford, Meg Ryan, and Claudia Schiffer.

When I have time, I’ll try to find some Korean language sources to confirm, and to pinpoint the exact year of the law changes (but even if they do confirm it was 1989 rather than 1988, Carol can certainly be forgiven for her ever so slight inaccuracy 25 years later!). Until then, I’d appreciate any extra information readers can provide, and/or any comments on my article.

*Of course, racism and cultural imperialism are indeed factors to consider here. I’m just a little tired of patronizing, contradictory assumptions of passivity and unwillingness on the part of (especially female) Korean consumers if they enjoy foreign cultural products (are they *forced* to buy them somehow?), and/or that they’re somehow being duped by Caucasian men on Madison Avenue when they do so.