Korean Sociological Image #80: Fashion’s Complete Body!

Sometimes, I wonder if I exaggerate Korea’s alphabetization craze. Then I come across advertisements like this one:

Korean Body LinesThe advertisement on the left reads:

Tight chestline, Sleek braline; Slender waistline, No-cellulite bellyline; and Attractive y-line, Smooth legline. Fashion’s Complete Body! Summer Event. 10% Event Discount.

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Please see here and here if this is the first you’ve heard of “alphabetization” though, with the latter link focusing on Western historical parallels and the Y-line specifically. Alternatively, see here for more on the physically impossible X-line!

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)

Korean Photoshop Disaster #7: I hate you Lee Soo-kyeong…

(Sources: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, & 4th)

No, I don’t really. But, after eating Special K (스페셜K) for years thinking that it was low-fat, only to just discover that it actually has more fat than regular cornflakes, then it’s high time to call Kellogg’s out on the appalling photoshopping of her that’s been greeting me every morning.

See how she compares in real life to the Barbie dolls above:

( Source )

Don’t get me wrong though: while she could certainly do with a bit more sun, I still find her attractive (and just love her expression at the top-left!). Yet, lacking even a hint of an hourglass figure, why on Earth was she chosen to be the model for a product purporting to give you one? Because of Korean advertising’s over-reliance on star appeal perhaps?

Alas, more likely it’s because Korean consumers aren’t actually all that concerned with photoshopping. For not only do they regularly have it done on their own resume photos for instance, but there are even products on the market claiming to give women an “X-line” too, despite the inconvenient fact that it is physically impossible for a human to ever possess such a body shape:

(Sources: left, right)

Of course, photoshopping of print advertisements is hardly new, let alone confined to Korea. What is new however, is that whether through technical improvements and/or decreases in costs, photoshop-like manipulation is increasingly common in commercials too. And this is far more insidious.

Why? Well first, consider Amore Pacific’s commercial for its V=B Program for instance, in which it is difficult to tell if the model’s X-line at 0:23 is the result of digital manipulation, or simply clever lighting, camera angles, and/or the model’s pose. Even after repeated viewings too, which your average consumer isn’t likely to do:

Next, this lame example with Cha Tae-hyun (차태현) and Jessica Gomes for Georgia:

And, as I discussed in December, I would never have realized the degree of manipulation of her body in it without seeing these photos later:

(Sources – left, right)

In contrast, lacking real-life photos of the model in the first commercial to compare and contrast at one’s leisure, then it would be much easier to be deceived into thinking that – God forbid – an X-line was actually real, and hence something to aspire to.

Likewise, that Lee Soo-kyeong had an hourglass waist because of eating Special K:

Granted, that example from March is only borderline (see here for a closer look {source}). But if you also take this example from August though, shot at same time those photos of her on the beach above were, then like me you may find yourself both amazed and appalled that it’s actually the same person:

How did it make you feel? And have you ever come across any other examples like that yourself, either in Korea or overseas? If so, then please pass them on!

(For more posts in the Korean Photoshop Disasters series, see here)

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?