Cosmetic Surgery

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James Turnbull's picture

Reading the Lolita Effect in Korea, Part 2: The role of K-pop and the Korean media in sexual socialization and the formation of body image

A simply surreal video making the rounds at the moment. As explained by Lisa at Sociological Images, it:

…beautifully illustrates the socialization of children into particular kinds of worship. With hand motions, body movements, and facial expressions, this child is doing a wonderful job learning the culturally-specific rules guiding the performance of devotion.

Which led to a great deal of discussion at that site, but I’ll confine myself here to echoing Jason’s comment that it simply reminds him of his son picking up his own behaviors such as sweeping, and that the young girl:

…certainly isn’t worshiping here, but is just mimicking her parents and the other people around her. I can guarantee she has no concept of a deity.

But what has all that got to do with K-pop, let alone Meenakshi Durham’s The Lolita Effect? Well, because after reading all that, it was very interesting comparing my daughters’ own reactions to KARA’s Lupin just half an hour later. First, those of 4 and half year-old Alice:

Then with her 2 and half year-old sister Elizabeth:

Granted, perhaps you had to be there…and in which case I probably would have removed my laundry from the floor first (sorry). But I didn’t notice it myself, because at the time I was simply transfixed. You see, along with dozens of other K-pop music videos, Alice and Elizabeth must have watched and “danced” to Lupin at least 20 times before that night. But that was the first time that Alice at least seemed to demonstrate that she not only remembered it, but actually knew it very well, and was performing repetitive actions that were recognizably part of the same dance…which she’d demand the chance to do 7 more times before going to bed.

Unfortunately for my paternal pride however, in hindsight she was neither simply copying the music video nor giving her own original interpretation of it: as confirmed by her teacher later, she’s preparing for a Christmas performance at her kindergarten soon, and – yes – she’ll be dancing to Lupin.

So what’s the big deal? After all, while I’m still translating the lyrics myself (or at least I was until my “study” got invaded), they seem harmless enough:

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The effeminacy of male beauty in Korea

( Attack on the Pin-Up Boys, 2007. Source )

With thanks to author Roald Maliangkay for the kind words about this blog in it, see here for his short and very readable article of that title in the latest International Institute for Asian Studies newsletter, which I also highly recommend taking 2 minutes to subscribe to.

For the specific post of mine he refers to, and many more on the kkotminam (꽃미남) phenomenon in general (literally “flower-beautiful-man”), scroll down to the sidebar on the right until you come to the “My Constantly Evolving Thesis Topic” section.

True, he actually argues that the factors I cite are just some of many that were ultimately responsible for the emergence of that, but then my own views have considerably evolved since first writing about the subject over 2 years ago, and I think we’re in broad agreement really.

Alternatively, perhaps that just reflects how persuasive his own article is?^^ What do you think of it?

(Posted at The Grand Narrative)

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Korean Sociological Image #49: Lee Hyori has an Asian Bottom?

Well, the bottom half of her body is Asian to be precise. But then she is Korean after all, so what on Earth does that make the top half?

Western, according to her. And while she’s happy with that at least, in contrast she’s quite dissatisfied with her Asian legs, claiming that she has to always wear high heels to compensate for them.

Despite my original shock at hearing that though, ironically I find myself defending her statements. No, really.

But first, the context. From the Hankyung:

가수 이효리가 “상체는 서구적인 반면 하체는 동양적이다”라고 말해 눈길을 끌고 있다 (source, above).

Singer Lee Hyori is drawing lots of attention for saying “While I have a Western top half, on the other hand the bottom half of my body is Asian.”

지난 20일 방송된 MBC ‘섹션TV 연예통신’에 출연한 이효리는 서구적인 상체를 가지고 있는데 반면 “동양적인 하체를 가지고 있다”며 “하이힐은 생명과도 같다”고 말해 주위를 웃음바다로 만들었다.

Appearing on the MBC show “Section TV Entertainment Report” on the 20th of August, she then said that “High heels are as important as life itself!”, which produced a sea of laughter in the audience.

이날 이효리는 “샵에서 효리씨가 입어주면 옷이 잘 팔린다며 옷을 공짜로 준다”며 “옷을 잘 입는 방법은 얼마나 자신의 체형을 잘 커버하느냐인 것 같다”고 설명했다.

She also explained that “When I go into a shop, the owners give me clothes for free because they will sell well if I wear them”, and that “How well you wear clothes depends on how much of your body shape you cover up.”

이효리에게 ‘숨기고 싶은 신체적 단점’에 대해 질문하자 “상체는 서구적인 반면 하체는 동양적이다”라고 말했다.

When asked what were bad points about her body she wanted to hide, she replied that “I have a Western top half, but an Asian bottom half”.

이어 동양적인 하체를 커버하기 위한 해결책으로 “절대로 하이힐을 벗지 않는 것”이라고 강조하며 “10cm 이하 하이힐은 쳐다보지도 않고 잠을 잘 때도 하이힐은 신고 잔다”고 말해 주위를 폭소케 했다.

Accordingly, she emphasized that the solution for covering(?) her Asian bottom half was “never taking high heels off”, and that “not only will I not look at high heels with a heel less than 10cm high, but I even sleep in high heels”, producing hysterics in the audience.

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The Hips Don’t Lie…

( But is she smart too? Source )

As long-term readers will be well aware, I’m a big fan of evolutionary psychology. And why not? It usually provides both simple and extremely compelling explanations for many universal cultural features and human behaviors, such as that of the evil stepmother or the fact that 95% of killers are males for instance. So when research in 2004 found that women with hourglass body shapes are 30% more likely to become pregnant than others, it was no great surprise that men worldwide have always tended to find this body type the most attractive.

But even congenitally blind men too?

Yes, it’s true, and while feminists have frequently pointed out the sexist assumptions to many of evolutionary psychologists’ conclusions, this latest news definitely definitely buttresses the “nature” rather than the “nurture” side of the debate:

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Korean Sociological Image #40: As Pretty as a Picture?

( Source )

As any visitor to the country soon becomes well aware, Korea seems to be a society obsessed with appearance. And once they’re over the initial surprise of ubiquitous cosmetic-surgery clinics, then this is something both natural and very easy to criticize too: after all, where else would one hear of people bothering to photoshop passport photos for instance, or even that it’s completely legal to do so?

But if we accept that obsession as a given, then whatever its pernicious effects on women (and of course, it does primarily affect women), we should not automatically view a woman who decides to get breast-enlargement surgery for instance, as simply suffering from something like gong-ju byeong (공주병), or “princess disease”; rather, she may well be making a very rational, informed choice that has a dramatic effect on her career opportunities, more than paying back the initial investment. And indeed, short of being a social pioneer, and a poor and frustrated one at that, what else is one to do when employers require photos with resumes?

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Gender Studies 101: How the media perpetuates negative body images

( Source )

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.
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Korean Photoshop Disaster #4: NOBODY’S Perfect!

Probably both a driving force and reflection of the increasing amount of male objectification in the Korean media since last year, then you may have noticed that female authors and commenters on K-pop blogs have become increasingly vocal in their admiration of male celebrities’ bodies these days. And with the provisos that such objectification can be problematic, and more of one sex by no means nullifying the negative effects of that of another, then all power to them, but it does increasingly tempt me to indulge myself a little too!

Hence I was considering presenting some pictures for Lee Hyori’s (이효리) recent photoshoot for Elle Korea here earlier today, but paused when I thought about how to describe her in them: after all, heaven forbid that a male blogger shift from simply using banalities like “she is sexy” when expressing admiration for a woman’s body, to discussing her body parts in the same manner that female bloggers now can and do of a man’s. Or is that just me?

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Western Metrosexuals & Korean Kkotminam: Inevitable?

( Adapted from Mobile Life, by geishaboy500 )

Alas, it’s no longer my planned thesis topic, but I’m still very interested in the origins of the kkotminam (꽃미남) phenomenon, and so naturally I”m intrigued by the notion that the physically healthier a society, the more women in it tend to prefer “feminine” men as mates. From The Economist:

A disease-free society helps effeminate men attract women

IT IS not just a sense of fairness that seems to be calibrated to social circumstances (see article). Mating preferences, too, vary with a society’s level of economic development. That, at least, is the conclusion of a study by Ben Jones and Lisa DeBruine [themselves a married couple] of Aberdeen University, in Scotland, published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society.

….In a man, the craggy physical characteristics associated with masculinity [James: because of testosterone] often indicate a strong immune system and thus a likelihood of his producing healthier offspring than his softer-featured confrères will. But such men are also more promiscuous and do not care as much about long-term relationships, leaving women to raise their kids alone.

Nowadays, sound parenting is often more important to the viability of a man’s offspring than Herculean strength. That, some researchers suspect, may be changing the physical traits that women look for in a mate, at least in some societies. A study carried out in 2004, for example, discovered that women in rural Jamaica found manly types more desirable than did women in Britain, which led to questions about whether those preferences were arbitrary or whether women in different parts of the world might be adapting to circumstances that place different emphasis on manliness in the competitive calculus.

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