No V-lines Required: Miss Korea in the 1960s

(Source: Munhwa Ilbo)

Alas, this brief article from today’s Munhwa Ilbo isn’t exactly a scathing critique of Korea’s body-labeling craze, and I don’t mean to imply that there aren’t much more substantial ones out there. But still, it’s good to be quickly reminded that perhaps “V-lines” aren’t as necessary as pop-culture icons would like us to think (e.g., see ZE:A in Brazil below), and I hope the photo makes it to the front page of major Korean portal sites.

See here or here for better quality versions, or here and here for pictures of the 1957 and various 1970s contestants respectively.

60년대 미스코리아는 ‘V라인 아닌 건강미’ / In the 1960s, Miss Korea Had a Healthy Beauty, not a V-line.

‘미인’의 기준은 문화와 관습에 따라 다르지만 시대에 따라서도 변합니다.

The criteria for a beautiful woman depend on time, culture, and customs.

사진을 보면 1960년 미스코리아 선발대회에 나온 여성들은 건강미가 넘쳤습니다. 당시에는 서구적인 마스크를 선호했다고 하죠. 1980년대 이후 한동안 도시형 미인이 인기를 끌었고, 요즘은 ‘V라인’의 작은 얼굴과 뚜렷한 이목구비가 대세라고 합니다. 성형미인도 많아졌고요.

If you look at this photo of the 1960 Miss Korea contest, you see women overflowing with healthy beauty, [even though] it is said that people preferred Western masks [looks?] then. [But] from the 1980s, for a while urban beauties were preferred, and these days having a V-line and distinct facial characteristics are huge trends. There are many cosmetic surgery beauties.

1957년 시작된 미스코리아 선발대회는 초창기 큰 인기를 모았습니다. 공중파 TV를 통해 전국에 생중계됐고, 수상자들은 카퍼레이드까지 하며 미를 뽐내기도 했었죠. 그러다 여성단체 등의 ‘성상품화 조장’ 반발로 2002년 이후 공중파에서는 중계를 하지 않고 있습니다.

(Source: Yufit)

Starting in 1957, from the beginning the Miss Korea contest was very popular. From being shown live on TV, to winners taking part in car parades, their beauty was shown off. However, later women’s groups denounced it as promoting sexual objectification, and from 2002 it was only allowed to be shown live on cable.

예전에는 미스코리아 선발대회를 통해 연예계로 진출하는 경우도 많았지만 요즘은 오디션 프로그램 등 연예계로 나설 방법이 다양하게 생겨났습니다. 그래서인지 대회의 인기가 예전만 못합니다.

In the past, there were many cases of Miss Korea contest participants entering into the entertainment industry through the competition, but these days there are a variety of audition programs that provide the same opportunity. Because of that, the contest can’t reach the level of popularity that it enjoyed in the past. (End.)

Update: Here’s a video of the 1981 to 2008 winners. As one of the commenters on YouTube put it, it’s interesting to see how much their faces seem to change from the late-1990s onwards.

The Korean Ad Industry’s Celebrity Obsession

(Sources: left, right)

See Busan Haps for the full article. It was prompted by Yoo In-na (유인나) and then Kim Sa-rang (김사랑; left) endorsing Gillette razors last year, when suddenly a lot of celebrities seemed to be endorsing products not normally associated with their sex.

Granted, women have been used to sell things to men for as long as advertisements have existed. And as for using Hyun Bin (현빈; right) to advertise a tea-drink that supposedly gives you a “V-line”, that’s just common sense: not only will he appeal to women, but so too might some men be encouraged to think about their own, hitherto exclusively feminine V-lines, thereby creating a whole new market.

But still: I’d wager that there has indeed been a great deal of gender-bending in the Korean advertising industry in the last couple of years. For instance, I’ve definitely never heard of a guy advertising bras before, no matter how dishy I’m assured this one (So Ji-sub; 소지섭) happens to be:


Was he chosen just because he’s a pretty face? Or was the reasoning much more subtle than that? I can’t say in this case. But I do know that celebrities have a much greater effect on our consumption choices than we all like to think. Please read the article for more on how and why…

For some hints, here is the interview with Fame Junkies author Jake Halpern that I refer to in it. If for some reason that the video below doesn’t immediately take you to it though (it’s at 34:30), then please click here instead:

Finally, if you’ve read this far, then I heartily recommend watching Starsuckers in its entirety. For me, it was especially what the narrator says at 45:45 that sold me on it, and which I encourage you all to refer to the next time someone accuses you of reading too much into anything you see in the media:

p.s. Sorry for sounding so mercenary, but please let me remind everyone that any donations for my writing, however small, are very much appreciated. Unfortunately though, I haven’t actually received any since January 21(!), and I don’t get paid for my Busan Haps articles!^^

Gender Studies 101: How the media perpetuates negative body images


Alas, I’m still taking a break from blogging for another week or so(!), so let me just quickly pass on a Korea Times article on “X-lines” and women’s body images that I’m quoted in today. New readers who want to learn more about them, please see:

  • Here for a quick summary of all the various “lines” used to describe women’s bodies at the moment
  • Here for a much longer analysis and a discussion of how and why they’ve developed from being mere fads to become enduring parts of Korean media culture
  • Here for the ways in which even prepubescent girls are socialized to develop a concern for achieving such lines in the future
  • Here for the deep roots this Alphabetization craze has in various Korean philosophical and linguistic traditions, rendering it qualitatively different to similar sounding name-assigning in English.
  • And finally here, here, and here for more on the fact that Korean women are the slimmest in the OECD, but still consume the most diet drugs.

Meanwhile, I’m very grateful to author Cathy Rose A. Garcia for asking for my input, and for then including so much of what I wrote in our email exchange. It seems almost churlish of me to critique it so severely after that, but I’m afraid I must, for it seems rather naive, almost disingenuous to write an article about how popular X-lines are when the only evidence for that comes from a company that has a vested interest in making people think so:

Three out of four female college students consider X-line, a term referring to a slim waist with ample breasts and hips, to be the ideal body shape, according to a survey by Amore Pacific’s V=B Program. The survey covered 1,000 female college students from Ewha Woman’s University and Dongduk Women’s University from May 13 and 17.

Granted, Cathy does mention later:

Amore Pacific’s V=B Program, which sponsored the survey of college students, offers a line of herbal Oriental beauty supplements. It recently introduced the “S-line slim DX,” which claims to reduce body fat and abdominal fat.

But the conflict of interest should have been made more explicit, and indeed is rather ironic in light of one of my quotes:

“Companies do have a vested interest in creating new, artificial body ideals that purchasing their products can supposedly help you achieve. And given the media’s overwhelmingly uncritical reporting and active dissemination of these ideals, then it is difficult not to conclude that the media is at least passively colluding with its advertisers in this regard,” Turnbull said.

Moreover, as I explain here, the X-line is by no means a “new” obsession of Korean women, but is at least 2 years old, originally created by – you guessed it Amore Pacific, who created the monstrosity on a computer when Yoon Eun-hye’s (윤은혜) actual body failed to deliver:

(Sources: left, right)

In fairness, Amore Pacific did use more human-like realistic images of her body in some of its advertisements for the V=B Program that year, but those in no way compensate for encouraging women to obtain a literally impossible body shape in the first place. And call me picky, but any news article on X-lines is severely remiss in not mentioning that.

What do you think? Are my critiques of the article fair?

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.