Sex, Self-Confidence, and Social Activism: When Women Made Soju Ads

Korea’s first ‘femveritising’ campaign was a fun take on sexual double standards, and popular among women too.
uee heart(Source: Celebrity Republic)

A request from a reader:

      Hello Grand Narrative readers! I’m reaching out for some help for a research project I’m working on about female empowerment trends in Korea and opportunities for brands to play in that space.

I’m looking for recent examples of brands, organizations and entertainment personalities empowering girls and females through products, campaigns, messages or services in Korea, similar to Nike’s Seoul Women’s Race, Whisper’s #likeagirl campaign or femvertising campaigns abroad.

Unfortunately, these are hard to find as Korea hasn’t quite embraced the trend like other nations. As such, I’m also looking for the opposite — recent examples of who is doing it completely wrong and sending messages of conforming to male-informed and limiting traditional stereotypes?

Any help, examples, or opinions are greatly appreciated! Please email me at amynwilliams@gmail.com.

James: Alas, all the examples I can think of are quite old. Still, to get the ball rolling, and because I think its empowering aspects deserve to be much better known, let me take this opportunity to quickly mention the best, and possibly first and only well-executed one: Lotte Liquor’s ‘Think Casual’ campaign for Cheoum Cheoreom (“Like the First Time”) Cool soju, from back in Autumn 2009:

I admit, that hardly looked like a bra-burning moment. Nor even all that different to any other soju commercials before or since, for which a young woman dancing in revealing clothes is de rigueur. And Uee, then 21, was no fledgling feminist icon either, reveling in the increasing attention she gained through her objectification. (Albeit likely having little choice in the matter.)

Frankly, I completely dismissed it at the time.

But it was different. That “Am I really your first?” question, and the men’s reactions? Those may seem pretty innocuous from a Western perspective, but they still got netizens riled-up. As did messages in posters like the one below, easy to reject as just another soju pin-up if you—ahem—didn’t take the time to read the text. Because ultimately, not only was the campaign breaking strong taboos on openly acknowledging this thing called sex, but it was directly challenging the double standards for women too.

UEE Soju Cool Honest(The text reads: “Q: When you travel with your boyfriend, which is cooler: admitting it to your parents, or lying and saying you’re going on a trip with your university friends? A: Think Casual”. Source: Naver blog, untitled.)

Rather than backtracking in the face of the ensuing negative publicity however, the advertisers were justifiably proud of what they were doing, as explained by Olga Fedorenko in her chapter “South Korean Advertising as Popular Culture” in The Korean Popular Culture Reader (2014, p. 356):

…[Uee’s] ‘cool shot dance’ achieved a viral popularity, young women recording their own versions and posting them online. Many other [netizens], however, were offended by what they saw as encouragement of promiscuity, noting that Uee looked “too easy,” that her coolness about sexual matters was inappropriate for her young age and “innocent face.” As I investigated the campaign, I was surprised to learn that the advertising team behind it included a few young and well-educated women who saw the ad as empowering and were hoping that young people, whom the ad targeted to broaden the traditional demographics of soju consumption, would perceive it the same way. In other words…they pushed for individual sexual freedom against oppressive norms, and the ‘Think Casual’ campaign became a site for negotiating parameters of female sexuality. The advertising agency took a leading a role in challenging patriarchal mores — reflecting the worldview of advertising workers, who saw themselves as representing the worldviews of the target consumers.

To put those patriarchal mores in some perspective, ironically just this February Uee would again be chastised for admitting to sexual experience and desires, this time in real life. (Note: she was just about to turn 27.) Also, it’s female celebrities that have received the brunt of fans’ anger for all the dating ‘scandals’ of the past year.

That said, things may have reached a tipping point. Because, given their overexposure in popular culture, Korean celebrities are very much considered role models, who are expected to follow high moral standards accordingly. With so many revealed to be in relationships now though, and getting caught spending their limited time together in hotels, it’s just getting too difficult to defend the notion that us mere mortals can’t or shouldn’t be able to do the same, or pretend that we haven’t always been doing so anyway.

But that’s a subject for another post. In the meantime, good or bad, please pass on more examples of femvertising to amynwilliams@gmail.com, and/or mention them here, even if you can’t remember all the details. (I’ll follow them up.) Also, if it emerges that there haven’t really been any femvertising campaigns in the last six years, or at least none as provocative as this one, then I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts on why. Thanks!

Update: One more recent example of positive femvertising could be Zigbang’s campaign aimed at 20 and 30-somethings stuck living with their parents — something which again points to the need for evaluating empowerment in terms of its cultural context, and for preparing campaigns accordingly. But I still draw the line at anything that includes aegyo!

“Kang So-ra! When Are You Going To Stop Being So Fat?!”

(Source: Metro, Busan edition, May 31 2012, p. 11)

One of the great advantages of Erving Goffman’s Gender Advertisements, I tell students in my lectures on gender roles in Korean ads, is that it’s not language-based. Whether the ads are from Korea, Kenya, or Khazakstan, I rhapsodize, it’s all about the pictures, making cross-country and historical comparisons possible.

In reality though, culture and language are still important. The tendency towards positioning men higher than women in ads for instance, implying their superiority (just think of the purpose of thrones), can pale against a seated matriarch’s greater social status. Also, ads may allude to popular books, movies, or songs that a foreign observer is unaware of, and/or the text make a pun about the images that a non-native speaker would struggle to understand.

In short, Korean ads can be far more subtle than they may at first appear to someone like me, let alone less gender-stereotyping.

(Source: unknown)

With that in mind, I decided to quickly re-examine K-Swiss’s “S-liner Polo Shirt” ad with Kang So-ra (강소라), that I’d previously dismissed as just yet another example of the ridiculous poses Korean advertisers put women in to show their S-lines off. After all, however unlikely, maybe she’s done a humorous Walk like an Egyptian dance at some point in her brief career (say, in the popular movie Sunny last year), and was parodying that? Or maybe there was something in the text to explain her pose?

Alas, no. Judging by the TV commercial above, the ridiculous pose and dance were definitely just for K-Swiss. And as for the text, that doesn’t redeem the ad either…although I’d have never guessed it would have taken me, my wife, and two of her friends nearly half an hour to figure that out!

It looked easy enough: “강소라” is Kang So-ra’s name, “언제까지” is “until when”, and “살텐가” is “will live”, as in the more formal form “살거예요”. But “통짜로”? Literally, it’s the adverb “wholly”, but that made no sense. So, with the logic that perhaps 22 year-old Kang So-ra formerly lacked feminine curves then, but now, as per the dictates of Korean consumerism and gender roles,  she’s compelled to show them off at every available opportunity, we decided it meant “통” as in the Hanja character that means a (usually cylindrical) container (i.e. a body), “짜” which can often mean “thing” or “person” (see pages 263 and 374 of the Handbook of Korean Vocabulary respectively!), and “로”, which in this case would mean “as”, or “in the manner of”.

Putting aside what role such exhortations may or many not have in Koreans’ intense body dysphoria for a moment (uniquely in the developed world, Korean women aged between 20-39 are becoming more underweight than obese), we were pretty proud of ourselves for figuring that out. But then my wife’s second friend arrived, who pointed out that “통짜” is actually a sort-of adjective means “fat”, as in “통짜몸메가 있어”. Specifically, after a lot of time arguing about whether it actually more meant “curved” than fat per se (recall what “통” can mean above), it means a fat waist, regardless of how curved the rest of the body is (or not — it can be used to describe me men too).

So there you have it: literally, the appalling “Kang So-ra! Until when —  fat person as — going to live?!”. But suddenly, as I type this, I have renewed doubts: was Kang So-ra considered fat previously? Even if so, surely she is indeed no longer living as a fat person, in the ad? And so on.

So by all means, I admit I may be completely mistaken, and would welcome any alternative translations and explanations of the text. But either way, I doubt it provides a very body-positive message.

Meanwhile, if it’s true that 통짜 bodies lack the shapely breasts and buttocks of an S-line, then perhaps there’s something to the photo of Uee (유이) above that show’s that there’s actually two concepts of the term? In the diagram, it says that men think it refers to the blue whereas women think it refers to the red, but the results seem pretty mixed at the original post on Facebook.

Which do you think it means?

Korean Sociological Image #66 – Inventing Labels for Women’s Bodies

(Source)

Introduction – Objectification Done Right

This may be an old ad, but it’s just a great introduction to my Gender Advertisements in the Korean Context lecture. I’ll probably still be using it 10 years from now.

First, because it shows the value in spending a couple of extra seconds to really look at an ad. Most readers probably immediately notice the faux scratches and blotches on it, reminiscent of a phone screen overlay, but it’s easy to overlook that Kang Dong-Won (강동원) and Kim Tae-hee (김태희) themselves are also supposed to resemble the advertised phone. Once you notice that his collar resembles the reflection on the screen though, then you’ll quickly realize that his grey button represents the dial, and that her black belt buckle matches the cover of the entry port, the curve of her breasts the back of the phone at the top. It’s really quite clever.

But still: if they’re supposed to resemble the phone(s), then why weren’t models of equal heights used? Or why wasn’t the layout of the ad rearranged and/or Kim Tae-hee photoshopped to make her look as tall as Kang Dong-won? Either would have been quite easy, as this second phone ad with the two of them makes clear (source).

To explain, I raise Erving Goffman’s concept of “Relative Size”, or the fact that, if random men and women are paired off together, then in 1 in 6 cases the woman would be taller than the man, whereas in advertisements it’s as low as 1 in 200. Later, I consider the obvious rejoinder that Kang Don-won and Kim Tae-hee were primarily chosen for their celebrity status, discussing why 65% of Korean advertisements feature celebrities, whereas it’s only 10% in most other developed countries. Finally, there’s also the concept of “Licensed Withdrawal” to mention, one aspect of which is how men are often shown providing virtual shields for women.

Bearing all that in mind, what does this Samsung SHW-A210S Shape Phone on the right remind you of (source), released back in November 2010? Specifically, the side, which according to Samsung is a particularly attractive feature of the model?

S-lines Will Sell Anything

What? You didn’t guess Uee (유이) of the girl-group After School (애프터스쿨)? Well, clearly that must be your own fault, as Samsung not only said it’s specifically designed to look like her profile (source), but this and this blogger agree.

Perhaps these screenshots from the phone’s promotional website will help:

(Source)

Alas, Samsung was really just attempting to capitalize on Uee’s star power, and on men’s interest in seeing and women’s interest in having an “S-line” (again, the copy makes that explicit). Lest we forget though, that actually means a great set of tits and ass, and it’s testament to the saturation of the term in Korean advertising and popular-culture that Samsung could get away with linking it to a completely unrelated inanimate object.

But that’s not the main reason I’m highlighting the phone here – after all, it’s by no means the first time the S-line has been used to sell one. The Wondergirls (원더걸스), for instance, did so back in 2008:

Instead, what makes this advertising campaign stand out is because on the one hand, Samsung is taking advantage of one body label to sell something, but on the other it’s attempting to replace that label a new one of its own creation – the yoptae (옆태), or “profile”.

The Invention Process

Actually, the campaign starts quite innocently, with Uee simply sketching profiles of things, finishing by announcing that it’s now “The Age of the Profile”. Later on in the campaign, visitors to the website would be encouraged to submit their own sketches and photographs in a competition:

(Source)

But not before viewers were show which kind of profile the campaign was really focused on. Skip ahead to 0:40 for fashion tips on how to show it off:

Next, Men’s Health cover model (source) and fledgling drama star (and friend of Rain!) Jung Sueng-kyo (정승교) is shown working on his own profile. And you’ve just got to hand it to Samsung for thinking of something that can be applied equally to men and women:

Instead of running with that equally-opportunity objectification though, we’re quickly back to women’s profiles. It’s difficult not to wonder if advertisers are just a little too used to using women’s bodies sometimes:

Context – The Profit Motive

Usually, when Korean body terms are explained to non-Korean audiences, then they’re made out as simple equivalents of English ones, the S-line and now profile substituting for the “hourglass figure” for example. But unlike that term, which I’d wager goes back to at least the infatuation with corsets in the 1800s, the S-line wasn’t even around when I came to Korea in 2000: jjookjjook-bbangbbang (쭉쭉빵빵) was used instead. Moreover, not only are so many invented these days that it’s difficult to keep track, but the pace and especially audaciousness with which this is done in Korea is nothing short of outstanding (source, below right).

(Update:  I may be mistaken about how old the hourglass term is –  Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen, for example, only mention the “Grecian Bend” in Channels of Desire: Mass Images and the Shaping of American Consciousness {1992; p. 75}. But surely it dates back to at least the 1950s?)

You are probably already familiar with the unbelievable example of the X-line for instance, which is literally only possible in Photoshop, but you may be surprised to also learn that companies are also constantly trying to get the public to redefine “established” terms too, lingerie company Vivian (비비안) hoping to make the V-line better known as the line between a women’s breasts rather than a triangular jaw (which Kwangdong Pharmaceutical sells – yes really –  “Corn Silk Tea” to help you obtain). On top of that, Yes’ (예스) lingerie company and W Magazine would rather have that area of a woman’s body known as a Y-line and W-line respectively…while in turn other companies still would rather have the Y-line mean a woman’s back.

And that alphabet soup is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to that competition for buzzwords and (re)definitions that will stick with consumers. But unfortunately there’s only so much I could fit on a Powerpoint slide!

Media Promotion

Of course, the media and Korean public are well aware of this – the combined image on the left of that slide is testament to that (I added the two on the right). But in my own experience, usually the latter finds the situation more humorous than concerning (a generalization I’d be very happy – but don’t expect – to be proven wrong), while the former merely “reports” on the new body labels (and others like “Gold Misses” – more abstract perhaps, but still very much designed to get women to buy things), only very rarely criticizing the process and/or its effects. In so doing, it serves to simply promote the term, whether that’s in direct collusion with the companies or otherwise.

Take, finally, this inane example from Star News, a transcript of which (from here) I’ve translated below. If you get confused by some of the dates mentioned in it, please note it was aired in November 2011:

스타 노출의 변화, 옆태가 뜬다? The way stars show off their bodies is changing, the “profile” look is now booming

[Y-Star] 스타들의 노출이 많아지면서 섹시한 앞태는 물론이고 일명 숨 막히는 뒷태라 불리며 신체의 뒤 라인이 주목을 받고는 했었는데요 이제 노출의 키워드는 바로 옆태가 됐다고 합니다. 새로운 섹시함의 상징, 옆태에 대해 <스타뉴스>가 알아봤습니다.

While stars have been showing a lot of skin recently, and of course people’s focus is on their sexy “front figures”, and most recently on their so-called breathtaking “back figures”, now a new body-revealing keyword is emerging – the profile. A new symbol of sexiness, Star News has investigated.

드라마 <브레인>를 통해 1년6개월여 만에 컴백을 알려 화제가 된 최정원.오랜만의 제작발표회에서 모습을 드러낸 것보다 더 화제가 된 것이 있습니다. 바로 옆태가 훤히 드러나는 파격 시스루 의상인데요

A year and half since her last acting role, Choi Jung-won has recently made a comeback in the drama Brain. At a press conference about it, the topic of how she looked was much more interesting than the drama itself, as she wore a striking see-through dress that was very revealing in profile.

[현장음: 최정원] 안녕하세요 <브레인>에서 지혜 역을 맡은 최정원입니다

[Choi Jung-won]: Hello everyone, I’m Choi Jung-won, and play the role of Ji-hyae in this drama.

(Source)

이날 최정원은 이번 시즌 트렌드인 토트 무늬가 가미된 블랙 원피스에 은빛의 과감한 킬힐과 우아한 헤어스타일을 더해 한층 성숙해진 매력을 과시했는데요

On the day of the press conference, Choi Jong-won showed off this season’s trend of a black one-piece with a jigsaw-like design; silvery, bold killer-heels; and had an elegant hairstyle, all of which combined to make to make her attractiveness all the more mature.

특히 옆태가 훤히 보이는 파격 시스루 원피스는 주위 시선을 사로잡으며 집중 플레쉬 세례를 받기도 했습니다

In particular, her profile, visible through her striking one-piece dress, received a lot of attention, getting lots of camera flashes.

이 아찔한 옆태노출패션은 작년 11월, 애프터스쿨의 유이가 선보이기도 했었는데요 일명 옆태폰이라 불리는 한 휴대폰 광고에서 보일 듯 말듯 옆태라인을 노출한 미니 드레스를 입고 옆태 댄스를 선보이기도 했었습니다

This dizzy profile-revealing fashion was also shown off by After School’s Uee last November, in a dance wearing a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t revealing mini-skirt in a commercial for the so-called “Profile Phone” (source).

그리고 월드컵 축하공연을 위해 무대에 올랐던 포미닛의 현아는 붉은 악마 티셔츠의 옆 라인을 과감하게 자른 의상으로 파격적인 노출을 해서 화제가 되기도 했죠

Also, in a public performance to congratulate soccer World Cup players, 4Minute’s Hyuna appeared on stage in a Red Devil t-shirt with the side cut away,  so revealing that it became a hot topic (see below).

지난해 유이와 현아에 이어 올해는 최정원 뿐만 아니라 많은 여배우들이 옆태를 내세운 몸매로 시선을 끌기도 했습니다

Following Uee and Hyuna last year, many actresses have drawn attention to their bodies by showing off their profiles, not just Choi Yong-won.

지난 10월 6일 개막한 부산국제영화제에서 파격적인 노출 패션으로 화제를 모았던 신인배우 오인혜.

This October the 6th, new actress Oh In-hye’s exceptionally revealing dress at the opening ceremony of the Busan International Film Festival also became a hot issue.

어깨는 물론 가슴을 거의 드러낸 오렌지 빛 드레스를 입은 그녀는 가슴라인과 등 라인을 노출한 것은 물론이고 아슬아슬하게 비춰지는 옆 라인은 보는 이들의 입을 딱 벌어지게 하기도 했습니다

Of course the orange dress showed off her shoulders, and almost completely exposed her breasts, but it was how dangerous she looked in profile [James – i.e., how close it was to also showing her nipples] that had people’s mouths agape.

그런가하면 지난 7월 14일 열렸던 부천 국제 판타스틱영화제 개막식 현장에서 가장 화제가 됐던 배우 곽지민은 앞트임, 뒤트임에 이어 옆트임까지 노출 포인트를 모두 갖춘 무한 노출 패션을 선보였는데요

(Source)

Also, at the opening ceremony of the Bucheon Fantastic Film Festival on July 14th, the hottest topic was actress Kwak Ji-min’s outfit, which, being open at the front, back, and the side, revealed almost everything.

[인터뷰: 곽지민] 반응이 그렇게 뜨겁게 될 지는 상상도 못했어요. 학교에서 특히 반응이 굉장히 뜨겁더라고요

[Kwak Ji-min]: I could never have imagined the reaction would have been so intense. It was especially heated at [the?] school. [Kwak Ji-min is 27, so I don’t know what school she’s referring to. Is she referring to a festival venue? – James]

Update: Thanks to (native Korean) Grace in the comments, who clarifies that Kwak Ji-Min is “referring to how popular that image is among schoolboys, saying that the reactions were hot from schools, i.e. the kids in school.”

드라마<내 마음이 들리니>에서 발랄한 캔디녀로 사랑을 받았던 황정음. 지난 5월 공개했던 섹시화보 제작발표회에서 언뜻 보면 평범해 보이지만 옆라인에 반전이 있는 의상을 입어 눈길을 끌었는데요 슬쩍 보이는 상체 라인이 더 아찔했다는 평가를 받았습니다

Hwang Jung-eum has received much love for her role as a vibrant and active candygirl [James – I’m told this means a young woman who’s cheerful and extroverted, especially someone who overcomes some kind of adversity] in the drama Can You Hear my Heart.  In May, at a press conference for her new sexy photobook, at a glance she appeared to be wearing ordinary clothes, but if you looked closer you saw that she was wearing eye-catching ones that showed off her profile, making you think of her upper body in a new light [James – see here for my translation of a blogger’s thoughts on how such “exposure” affects her career].

이어 지난 7월 한 패션매거진 화보를 공개한 윤은혜는 옆 라인을 살려 상의를 탈의하고 손으로 가슴부위를 감싸 안은 파격적인 포즈로 화제가 되었죠 그리고 상체 위주의 옆태 라인을 강조하던 다른 스타와는 달리 하체 옆 라인을 과시하며 아찔한 각선미를 보여 주기도 했습니다

In July, Yoon Eun-hye became a hot topic by showing off her profile in a photoshoot for a fashion magazine, undressing her upper body and embracing herself, covering her breast with her hand. Unlike other stars that emphasize the top half of their profiles, Yoon Eun-hye mostly shows off the bottom half of hers.

이렇게 과감하게 옆 라인을 노출해 제대로 된 S라인을 뽐내는 스타들이 많았는데요 새롭게 떠오른 노출의 키워드 옆태! 적정한 선을 지킨 옆태 노출로 진정한 아름다움을 뽐내길 바랍니다.

There are now many stars that have been showing off their well-made S-lines through boldly exposing their profiles like this, making “profile” the new exposure keyword! But let us hope that nobody overdoes it, only showing off sincere beauty by exposing their profiles (end).

(Source)

If you were confused by the second to last paragraph, then you weren’t the only one: as is clear from the image above (seen in the video), Yoon Eun-hye’s photoshoot was actually in October, and the other pictures can only be said to emphasize the bottom half of her profile (alas, not her bottom itself) in that her legs are physically longer than the upper half of her body. But speaking of Yoon Eun-hye, and to end on a positive note, by no means does all the above imply that Korean celebrities feel compelled to show off every new body term out there, nor – if they do decide to – that they can’t exploit them for their own ends, and/or simply to feel sexy. For much more on that, please see here!

(For all posts in the “Korean Sociological Image” series, see here)

Newsflash: Korean Idol NOT Starving Herself!

It’s said that the fashion industry has favored skinnier and skinnier female models over the years because it’s dominated by gay men, right?

But since when are all, or even most gay men attracted to such androgynous figures? In reality, their tastes are just as diverse as heterosexuals’, and you don’t need my own experience of living with gay prostitutes to know that. Or that one’s sexuality doesn’t preclude an aesthetic appreciation of healthy curves either.

On the other hand, it’s also true that there’s a price to be paid for challenging the waiflike norms for models in the fashion industry, the corollary of which would be that it attracts people who share those norms. But how did those norms arise in the first place? And again: why the trend towards thin?

Taking for granted a symbiotic relationship between fashion and consumerism, then a better explanation for both is the constant financial imperative of related cosmetics, clothing, and dieting companies to create false needs in the minds of consumers, all the better to sell new products to them that (supposedly) help them fulfill those needs.

(Source)

I concede that that may sound simplistic, even conspiratorial. But take the classic Korean example of the “X-line” for instance: a body-shape completely impossible outside of Photoshop, but which creators Amore-Pacific will sell products to help you attain nevertheless, aided by articles like this from the Korea Times that cheerfully reported that the X-line was hugely popular among young Korean women.

Despite the only “evidence” for that coming from Amore-Pacific itself.

Also, the thinner models are, then all the more dieting products and services that are needed to reach their weights. Which is not to say that Korean consumers are any more or less likely to follow anonymous models’ examples than you or I are, but when 65-75 % of Korean advertisements feature celebrities, with a demonstrable influence on media narratives about body ideals, then the potential is certainly there.

(Sources: left, right)

Enter Girls’ Generation, who have 12001500 calorie a day diets despite one member being 9kg underweight, and probably Yuri on the left above too (Brave Girls‘ Seo Ah’s pictures on the right speak for themselves). Or T-ara’s Hyomin being anorexic and weak, yet repeatedly showing off her body to endorse a swimming resort. Or actor Jeong Ryeo-won endorsing Giordano while looking like this. And so on.

Are these women both personification and culmination of the trends mentioned above? It’s certainly tempting to think so (and just between you and me, I do). But it’s also true that while Girl’s Generation, for instance, have indeed endorsed beauty products, even going so far as to prominently display one in a music video, they’ve also endorsed pizzas and fried chicken. So if there is a relationship between those celebrities’ weights and consumerism, in Korea it’s clouded by management companies relying heavily on endorsements – any endorsements – to make profits.

In the meantime, Korean women are already the slimmest in the developed world, to the extent that 1 in 5 are undernourished, and fully half of teenage girls are too anemic and malnourished to donate blood. If you’ll forgive the pun, such exacting standards for women don’t magically appear out of thin air.

Nor are they often challenged, let alone by celebrities themselves.

Which is why it was so exceptional last week for Uee of After School to not only reveal that she was eating enough, but to also pass on the common-sense that:

Many people starve themselves when they are on a diet, but that doesn’t help. You have to eat well in order to lose weight more easily.

(Source)

Seriously, I’m at a loss to recall anyone else in K-pop making such a, well, revolutionary statement(!), so I’ll certainly forgive her complicity in the objectification of her body by the media (it does go with the job after all). Korean speakers, see roughly 4:30 of this Youtube video to hear her for yourself, or the Dailymotion video if you find that unavailable in Korea for copyright reasons (I’ve saved it for posterity).

And on that note, hopefully you can appreciate why I felt some context was necessary before passing on the news (UEE EATS FOOD! READ ALL ABOUT IT!). But is she indeed the first celebrity to speak out like that? Or can any readers think of any others? By all means, please prove me wrong!

Update 1 – While she’s not quite as well-known, I forgot about the example set by Koyote’s Shin-ji last year (see #7 here).

Update 2 – With thanks to xtristessa for passing it on, R&B singer Hwayobi recently confessed to having suffered from bulimia.

Update 3 – And to Seri, for mentioning Hwang Jung-eum. She’s not exactly my favorite celebrity, as she’s endorsed Sketcher’s completely useless  “Shape-ups”, but I suppose that’s no worse than UEE reveling in the attention given to her “honey thighs”.

Update 4 – YG Entertainment’s exclusive trainer, Hwang Sung Chan, briefly discusses Park Bom’s diet here. While it’s good that he mentions how the media often distorts information about celebrities’ diets, widely reporting that she only ate watermelon rather than a lot of watermelon for instance, unfortunately he doesn’t give any details about what she does eat.

The Kafkaesque Korean Beauty Trends of 2009

(Source: Unknown)

Confused about all the new buzzwords used to describe Koreans’ bodies these days? Here’s my translation of an article that gives a quick guide.

The author implies that most of them arose organically from the public’s interest in certain actors in Korean dramas. Whereas in reality, it’s companies and the media that are overwhelmingly responsible, as they’re in a constant quest to create new consumer trends (read: new reasons for people to feel dissatisfied with themselves). Yet while most of these have no basis in reality, are essentially useless, and/or are so contrived as to be quickly forgotten or ignored, some do stick.

Of those that do though, if they have some English in them then it often makes them more interesting from a sociological standpoint. For whether by accident, mistranslation or design, they both reflect the way the term is already usually misused in Korean and further influence they way in which related English-language popular culture gets filtered into its Korean counterpart.

A good example from this article would be chongsoon-glaemor (청순글래머), or “innocent glamor,” which at first glance doesn’t seem all that strange: in her television commercials for instance, the ice-skater Kim Yuna (김연아) below manages to project an innocent image while having a seemingly glamorous lifestyle (I wonder if she’ll find the former stifling as she grows older however, like actress Moon Geun-young?). But it emerges that “sexy” would be a much better translation of the English word “glamor(ous),” and although I’m sure readers are well aware of the number of ways  in which women are presented as pure and innocent but somehow also lustful in Western popular culture, and effectively are in Korean, there are still problems with assuming that that is what the term means, as the word “sexy” isn’t construed quite the same way here. Instead, we seem to be left with an obscure term for Korean women that look more virginal than normal(?), but yet still do the mechanical “sexy dances” virtually required of them on Korean talk shows.

Anybody with more familiarity with the term and/or the actress Shin Se-kyung that supposedly spawned it, please feel free to correct me on my interpretation: after all, this is the first time I’ve looked at its origins, and just based on one article at that (Update — with thanks to Seamus Walsh for pointing it out, I did indeed make a mistake: “glamor” actually means “busty” in Korean). But with the proviso that the next means I may be cherry-picking the facts to suit my own views, it does still seem very consistent with the Korean media’s overall trend towards discouraging or outright banning of assertive displays of women’s sexuality, i.e. genuinely sexy behavior.

꿀벅지·미중년·꽃남…2009년 연예계 뷰티 트렌드는? 2009-12-31 by 두정아

올해 연예계 트렌드를 이끈 핫 키워드는 무엇일까. 꽃남과 미중년, 꿀벅지, 베이비페이스, 청순글래머 등 어느 해보다 개성있고 다양한 트렌드가 공존했던 한 해였다.

드라마 ‘꽃보다 남자’로 ‘꽃남’이라는 단어가 사람들 입에 오르내렸고, ‘내조의 여왕’의 윤상현은 ‘미중년’이라는 찬사를 받으며 남성들의 뷰티 열풍을 이끌었으며 그룹 에프터스쿨 멤버 유이의 매끈한 허벅지를 일컫는 ‘꿀벅지’와 배우 신세경의 ‘청순글래머’ 등은 여심을 자극하며 바디 열풍을 일으켰다. 여전한 ‘V라인’ 강세 속에 동안(童顔) 열풍 또한 이어져 ‘베이비페이스’라는 단어가 자주 회자됐다.

What were the hot keywords that led trends in the world of entertainment in 2009?

With kkotnam (flower man) and mijoongnam (beautiful middle-aged man), ggoolbokji (honey thighs), babyface and chongsoon-glaemor (innocent glamor) emerging, there were many very distinct trends compared to most years.

From the drama Boys Over Flowers the term “flower man” was on everyone’s lips; from Queen of Housewives the actor Yoon Sang-hyu received a lot of praise for his looks, spawning the word “beautiful middle-aged man” and a strong following among men wanting to emulate him; and women were similarly interested in the After School member UEE’s smooth and velvety thighs known as “honey thighs” and actress Shin Se-kyung’s “innocent glamor.” Finally, in addition to the eternal “V-line,” a strong interest in youthful faces has been shown by the new word “babyface” that is often talked about.

(Source: Unknown)

‘꽃남’·’미중년’, 남성 뷰티(美) 열풍

KBS 드라마 ‘꽃보다 남자’ 신드롬에 힘입어, MBC 드라마 ‘내조의 여왕’ 태봉이 (윤상현 분)가 일으킨 ‘미중년’ 열풍까지 남성들의 뷰티 열풍이 어느 해보다 뜨거웠다. 이를 계기로 남자도 외모 관리를 해야 한다는 인식이 공유되기도 했다.

거친 남성다움보다는 부드럽고 세련된 귀족적인 이미지를 선호하는 분위기로 바뀌며 성형외과나 피부과를 적극적으로 찾는 남성들도 크게 증가했다.

경제 성장을 이루던 90년대에 사회생활을 시작한 현재 30대 후반부터 40대 초반의 중년들은 전통적인 부모 세대와 달리 중년이 돼서도 문화와 여가를 즐기고 자신을 가꾸는 노력에 적극적이기 때문이라는 해석이다.

Combined, the flower man syndrome caused by the KBS Drama Boys Over Flowers and the beautiful middle-aged man craze caused by the character Tae Bong-ee in Queen of Housewives have led to men taking a great interest in their bodies. This is how the notion that men, like women, also have to take care of their bodies and appearance has become accepted wisdom.

In turn, as the preferred image of Korean masculinity has become softer and more polished, refined and noble, cosmetic surgery and skincare clinics are reporting a great upsurge in interest from men.

One additional reason for this is that even though men that grew up and entered the workforce in the 1990s are now in their late-30s and early-40s, they are very different to their parents’ generation, and choose to enjoy culture and their free time more, which includes taking a greater interest in themselves.

‘꿀벅지’ ‘소시지룩’ ‘청순글래머’ 바디 열풍 선도

올 한해 주목할 트렌드는 바디 열풍이다. 소녀시대의 지(GEE) 열풍과 함께 유행한 일명 ‘소·시·지(Gee)룩’. 몸매가 고스란히 드러나는 초절정 스키니진에 타이트한 티셔츠를 입은 여성들이 패션을 주도하면서 여성들의 S라인 욕구는 상승했다.

뒤이어 그룹 애프터스쿨 유이의 건강미 넘치는 탄탄한 허벅지가 주목을 받으면서 꿀이 발린 듯한 매력적인 허벅지라는 뜻의 ‘꿀벅지’라는 신조어까지 탄생했다.

또한 요즘 주가를 올리고 있는 단어는 ‘청순글래머’. MBC 시트콤 ‘지붕 뚫고 하이킥’ 출연하고 있는 신세경은 청순한 매력과 섹시한 관능미를 동시에 지니고 있어 ‘청순 글래머’의 대명사로 불린다. ‘포스트 김혜수’로 주목받으며 휴대전화, 화장품 광고 모델 자리를 꿰차는 등 그 인기를 입증하고 있다.

이에 대해 그랜드성형외과 유상욱 원장은 “과거 여자 톱스타들의 상징이 ‘화장품 모델’이었다면 2009년은 이효리, 신민아, 송혜교, 손담비 등 청바지 모델로 그 중심이 바뀌었다”며 “이 같은 변화는 요즘 대중들의 관심이 바디로 옮겨지고 있다는 증거”라고 설명했다.

2009 was a real year of body trends. First, there was the very popular so called “sausage look” of Girls’ Generation. Hiding nothing, the ensuing fashion of wearing extremely skinny jeans and tight t-shirts among women has sparked an intense interest by women in their S-lines.

(Update — “Sausage look” may be a mistake, as the “소시”, or “soshi”, in “소시지(Gee)룩” is also the Korean shorthand for Girls’ Generation, and the “지”, or “gee”, the name of one of their most iconic songs. So the term may mean “sausage look”, or it may mean, literally, “how Girls’ Generation looked in the Gee music video”, in which they happened to wear skinny jeans. Either way, it’s a good pun!)

Next, as a lot of interest in After School member UEE’s firm, smooth and very healthy-looking thighs emerged, the new word “honey thighs” was coined to describe thighs like them.

Another word that’s stock is rising is “Innocent Glamor.” This comes from the actress Shin Se-kyung that appeared in the MBC sitcom High Kick Through The Roof, described as the icon for women who combine a pure and innocent image with sex appeal. Considered a second Kim Hye-su also, because of her popularity she regularly appears in cellphone and cosmetics commercials.

According to “Grand Cosmetic Surgery Clinic” owner Yu Sang-ok, “in the past the symbol of top female stars was the cosmetic model, but in 2009 women like Lee Hyori, Shin Min-ah, Song Hye-gyo and Son Dam-bi have been mostly modeling jeans instead,” and “this is proof that the focus of people’s attention has moved to star’s bodies now.”

(Source: Naver)

‘V라인’ 강세, ‘베이비페이스’가 위협

올해도 ‘V라인’ 강세는 여전했다. 뭐니뭐니해도 ‘동안’, ‘V라인’, ‘작은 얼굴’은 사람들이 가장 선호하는 이미지이기 때문이다. 갸름하고 부드러운 V라인은 첫인상부터 편안하고 친근한 장점도 있다.

MBC 드라마 ‘선덕여왕’ 미실 역의 고현정은 소름끼치는 연기와 더불어 나이를 가늠할 수 없는 ‘베이비페이스’로 주목을 받았다. 투명한 피부는 물론, 볼륨감이 그대로 살아있는 생기있는 얼굴은 아기 피부 같다는 찬사를 받았다.

‘베이비페이스’는 ‘어려보이면서 입체적인 얼굴’을 말한다. 그 특징은 얼굴 옆이 아닌 앞쪽으로 볼륨감이 살아있는 얼굴로 콧등의 높이와 균형을 이루는 부드러운 곡선 모양의 탐스러운 이마 그리고 갸름하고 조금은 짧은 듯한 턱 선이 생명이다. 이러한 ‘베이비 페이스’의 열풍은 2010년에도 지속될 것으로 전망된다.

Last year, the emphasis on the V-line remained unchanged. After all, the preferred image is to have a dongan “youthful face [for one’s age],” V-line, or jakkun-olgool “small face.” And if you have a long, slender face with a V-line, people’s first impression of you will be softer and friendlier.

Hence the interest in the “Babyface” of actress Ko Hyeon-jeong, who played the character Lady Mishil in the MBC drama Queen Seon Duk, and whose acting was so good that she gave viewers goose pimples. With clear skin and glowing, firm cheeks, she has received a lot of praise for having a face as good as a baby’s.

But a babyface has been described as a “solid, 3D face.” In particular, it’s not just the volume of the cheeks on the side but also the balance with the bridge of the nose, the softness of the curves and the desirability of the forehead that make it look youthful. They look set to remain popular in 2010. (end)

(Source: Naver)

Like I said in an earlier post, I was embarrassed at not realizing how sexist the term honey thighs was when I first heard the term, but I doubt I would have if they’d been described like that instead. And continuing with the theme of  sexual discrimination, I was surprised not to see “chocolate abs” for men also; unlike the commercial that spawned it, perhaps the term itself is more 2010 vintage?

Regardless, please let me know if you can think of any others, and especially if you have alternative explanations for where any of the above ones came from!

Korean Sociological Image #20: Sex Sells

Yahoo Korea Cheoum Cheorom Cool UEE

Pity the hapless commentator on hidden themes in advertising. Not only is he or she often accused of overanalysis, but men in particular can be labeled as positively perverted in seeing sexual symbols in otherwise inanimate objects.

Granted, sometimes a bottle is just a bottle, and Cheoum Cheoreom Cool (처음처럼 쿨), a new brand of soju, is not the only commercial to have an animated example of its product moving across the screen below it on Yahoo! Korea at the moment. But I do wonder why the bottle is tilted the way it is though, particularly as the long-held convention in Korean alcohol advertising is that bottles should always be displayed standing upright?

As it happens, that convention is still adhered to on Cheoum Cheoreom Cool’s website, but with the soju bottle springing-up in a most satisfying manner in the corner of the screen once you click on the “over 19” button. That wasn’t the case when I wrote about its marketing campaign last month.

Naturally, I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

But I’m not against this latest twist per se, and indeed this advertisement for bokbunja (복분자) below with a similar theme still puts a smile on my face 4 months after first noticing it (see here for more like it). And yet Cheoum Cheoreom Cool’s version isn’t quite so, well, elegant, and smacks of desperation given that the campaign already so excessively focuses on female body parts. Perhaps like Lee Hyori before her, UEE (유이) isn’t bringing Lotte the increased market share anticipated?

Phallic Bokbunja advertisement( Source: Jinro )

Thanks to reader “JSK Hanglo” for bringing the commercial to my attention.

Update: See here for some similar phallic symbolism from the latest New Yorker.

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

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Sex, Sensibility and the Bottom Line: Evolving Images of Women in Korean Soju Advertising

Cheoum Cheoreom Cool Breasts Buttocks 168

Watching one of Lotte’s commercials for its new Cheoum Cheoreom Cool (처음처럼 쿨) soju dozens of times…as one does…then many thoughts come to mind, but that it is being effectively marketed towards women isn’t one of them. Yet weren’t they the main reason low-alcohol soju brands were launched in the first place?

As those objectified breasts and buttocks helpfully remind us, Cheoum Cheoreom Cool’s alcohol content is 16.8%, so take the examples of the two closest brands in terms of alcohol content for instance: Daesun’s Bom Bom (봄봄, 16.7%) launched in April, and Muhak’s Joeunday (좋은데이, 16.9%) launched in November 2006 (see here for a helpful graphic comparing all three), and both of those were indeed aimed towards women.

Of the two, Bom Bom’s marketing is the most of interest because Daesun took the very rare step of using a young, photogenic male in its advertisements. But while Muhak’s own campaign was ultimately unsuccessful (commercials released after early-2007 are difficult to find, and Joeunday’s website is no longer available, although the drink is still being produced), its use of then 28 and 36 year-old female and male entertainers Chae Yeon (채연) and Jung Jun-ho (정준호) respectively was also significant as a partial, albeit somewhat ambiguous attempt to appeal to a much older female demographic than all the other campaigns considered here.

Joeunday Soju Chae Yeon Jung Jun-ho( Source: Muhak )

 

Combined with the knowledge that only 30% of soju drinkers are women then, it would be very tempting to interpret the introduction of increasingly weaker soju drinks over the last decade in terms of a women-centered advertising narrative, with all the changes to Korean drinking culture, gender relations, and Korean women’s body-images that that would imply. But that would be quite mistaken however, as simply saving on costly alcohol is just as powerful a motivator for soju companies, and actually the vast majority of new brands are still exclusively targeted towards men (take Bohae’s Ipseju (잎새주; 19.5%), which I wrote about in April). In particular though, there is the fact that Lotte and Jinro take up 12.6% and 78% of the country’s soju market respectively, and so regardless of the innovations of other companies, it is the logic behind the marketing campaigns of these companies that is the most important.

In that vein, the case of Jinro’s J (제이, 18.5%) is very interesting: launched in October last year, I praised it for its original marketing, but it was still definitely aimed at 20-somethings of both sexes. In June this year though, a new marketing campaign specifically aimed towards getting women to associate the brand with staying slim was launched. In addition, when Lotte bought Doosan’s liquor arm in January this year (after an unsuccessful attempt to buy Jinro in 2005), it inherited a contract with Lee Hyori (이효리) from November 2007, and the logic to her commercials for Cheoum Cheoreom (처음처럼) was similarly getting (female) consumers to associate the brand with her slim body.

Which is what made this latest effort from Lotte so confusing:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

In hindsight, it’s actually a little derivative of Jinro’s original effort, in which “1032” refers to the depth from which the water used to prepare the drink is taken from the sea:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Granted, Lotte’s video briefly objectifies men too. Not that that somehow justifies the objectification of women in it of course…or that I’ll feign offense at either. Rather, it aroused me my interest because it reminded me of this:

…some advertisers, aware of the objections of the feminist movement to traditional images of women in ads, have incorporated the criticism into their ads, many of which now present an alternative stereotype of the cool, professional, liberated women…Some agencies trying to accommodate new attitudes in their campaigns, often miss the point and equate ‘liberation’ with a type of aggressive sexuality and very unliberated coy sexiness.

Dyer, G. (1982) Advertising as Communication, pp. 185-186, quoted in Strinati, D. (1995) An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture, pp. 187-188)

Is that what is occurring here? Deciding to investigate then, I was stuck by the Korean media’s interest in the marketing campaign also, albeit for two entirely different reasons.

Cheoum Cheoreom Cool Bicep

First, having an alcohol content under 17% means that commercials can be screened on television after 10pm, and hence that the alcohol content of soju drinks would eventually reach that level has long been predicted by industry analysts. Even more presciently though, back in March one said:

…if you go under 17% you blur the boundary with low-alcohol drinks. Because you gain the ability to have TV ads at less than 17%, you could be promoting drinking cultures and exposing teenagers to it, so the authorities may stop you.”

And as this Korean source reveals, last week the rules were indeed changed. But Joeunday’s commercials wouldn’t have been particularly corrupting of Korean youth, nor Daesun’s commercial below with Kang Dong-won (강원도), on Korean screens since August 1, so this was probably a direct reaction to the launch of Cheoum Cheoreom Cool in late August.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Only Daeson suffered though, as in anticipation of the negative publicity and the government’s intentions, spokespeople for Lotte said that they never decided not to make television commercials (see here and here). Which brings me to the second reason for the intense media interest in it: Lotte deciding not to use Lee Hyori to endorse the drink, despite her still easily being Korea’s biggest sex-symbol, and notorious for always sexing-up advertisements and pushing the limits of Koreans’ supposed Confucian reserve (see here and here). Apparently, in nearly 2 years promoting Cheoum Cheoreom, she hadn’t brought around the turnaround in fortunes expected (update: these statistics dispute that).

 

Lee Hyori Curls 2007 But in fairness to Lee Hyori, Doosan was in the midst of reorganizing itself into a holding company centered around heavy industries when it hired her, and in hindsight the same company that had just bought the world’s biggest maker of construction equipment earlier that year was not necessarily the best one to transform the image of the drinks in the eyes of 20-somethings: see here and here for the ensuing advertising disasters. Hence the consternation caused earlier this week when it was revealed that while she would continue to promote Cheoum Cheoreom, relatively unknown UEE (유이) would be used for Cheoum Cheoreom Cool instead (but not replacing Lee Hyori, as this blog naturally but mistakenly stated), and with the combination of the two Lotte hopes to bring their market share up to 15%.

Which is why it is UEE that graces the front page of all Korean portal sites as I type this, and as it turns out, what I’d seen was merely one of many pre-launch commercials and advertisements based on the theme of “168 ,” most of which were rather inane. Here then, is the commercial Lotte really wants you to remember:

In it, UEE begins with “오빠 나 쿨해, 내가 진짜 처음이야?”, which roughly translates as (to the guys she’s dating) “I’m cool…am I really your first?”. After that, the first guy just mutters nonsense, and later she says “쿨하게 생각해!” or…er…”Think Cooly,” and she finishes with “원샷. 어! 상쾌해!”, or “One shot! Oh! It’s sweet!”.

Consider these accompanying advertisements also, released at the same time:

UEE Soju Cool Honest( Source: Naver )
UEE Soju Cool Love(Source: Naver)

The text in the first reads: “Q: Honest. 남친이랑 여행할땐, 솔직히 말하는게 Cool 할걸까? MT 간다고 뻥치는게 Cool 할건까? A: Think Casual”, or “When you travel with your boyfriend, which is cooler: admitting it to your parents, or lying and saying you’re going on a trip with your university friends?”. And in the second: “Q : Love 키스할때 눈을 감고 하는게 Cool 하니? 쳐다 보면서 하는게 Cool 하니? A : Think Casual”, or “When you kiss, which is cooler? With your eyes closed or staring at your partner?”. In addition, many bottles of the drink will be sold with blue or pink bottletops, with the above messages or similar ones printed on the labels (see the video here at 0:31 to see those). And despite the former ostensibly being directed towards women, one might speculate that the message with the blue text might actually appeal more to men, and only with the pink or red more to women.

And so considering: the bicep in the prelaunch advertisements and commercials; their kissing scenes (albeit no longer remarkable in Korean advertising); and now these, with the intention of showing “how cool women behave,” then of course the marketing campaign is also aimed towards them. Even possibly the de rigueur “sexy dance” below too, as even though UEE was chosen because of her popularity among 20-something men, such dances are often used to advertise products to women also:

As an aside,  several sources describe the dance as simultaneously sexy and pure and innocent, but without any apparent trace of irony: something that won’t surprise Brian in Jeollanam-do, who has often criticized the bastardization of the word in the Korean language. I wonder though, if that adds to the argument that it is intended for both female and male consumption? Regardless, here’s a video of the making of it also, and although I find personally find that they ruin the fantasy element to commercials myself, they are also important elements to marketing campaigns these days (and I speculate more popular among women than men):

By this stage then, you will probably not be surprised to find that most of the Korean sources I’ve linked to do in fact mention that the drink was aimed at both sexes (although one adds that it would have been more logical to exclusively aim it towards women). But rather than simply provide that information at the beginning, I decided to roughly replicate the process by which I came to find that information for myself, hopefully providing a good overview of the current state of soju advertising in the process (but which should definitely be read in conjunction with this one from June).

And also to resist my temptation to merely assume that the marketing campaign with UEE both reflects and/or is the harbinger of more sexually assertive images of women in Korean advertising. After all, considering that: the recession has already forced advertisers of all stripes to rely on consumers’ basic instincts; soju companies have nothing but the profit incentive in mind; and if they don’t see (hyper)objectification of women for a male gaze as incompatible with the commensurate goal of selling soju to women, confirming the suspicions that first came to mind as discussed, then that doesn’t bode well for reducing Korean women’s excessive worries about their appearances.

And yet regardless of the motivations behind them, one still can’t help but reflect on all the changes to women’s images in soju advertising in recent years, not all of which have been negative. Granted, I have often exaggerated the depth and positive impact of those changes in the past. But let me leave you with the fact that this alternate image of women was the norm less than two years ago:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

At the very least then, we can all agree on the pace of change…just one reason why Korean sociology is so interesting!

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