Dieting

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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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Lessons about Korean ads from a Hong Kong Teenager

How cool is it that a teenage girl in any country makes a video starting like this:

Now, I’ve been here [in Hong Kong] for about…3 and a half years…and I think that if you look at common stereotypes, and you look at the way women are portrayed in the media, there are basically 3 main categories of role models for young girls to look up to. I call them: the sex-object, the virgin baby-machine, and the [bitchy] career woman. And the thing is, I can’t help but feel that it doesn’t matter which category a woman finds herself falling into…cause they all suck! And no matter what she chooses, she just can’t win!

Without deriving from her arguments, many commenters at Sociological Images note that those categories are equally valid in many other developed countries. But as pointed out by Emma, some of the things she mentions are at least more pronounced in the Northeast-Asian region:

…there are a lot of similarities between gender dynamics in HK and many other places in the world, but I do feel the dictate of virtue/virginity is especially strong here, along with a notion of ‘cuteness’ which I do not really recognize from Europe. I would say that the ‘sex babe’ model is not really something you see played out that much in daily life – it’s mostly confined to celebrity culture…

…I also know women from Japan and Korea, who tell me it is still very difficult for many women to balance between having a career and being ‘the good wife’, meaning a modest and submissive mother who mainly spends her energy on the family and the home-sphere.

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Korean Photoshop Disaster #7: I Hate You Lee Soo-kyeong…

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

No, not 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 )

But don’t get me wrong: while she could certainly do with a bit more sun, I still find her attractive (and love her expression at the top-left!). Yet lacking even a hint of an hourglass figure however, then 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:

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The Gender Politics of Smoking in South Korea: News Flash

( Source: Metro, Busan edition, 8 July 2010, p. 3 )

A quick newspaper report that caught my eye while preparing the next post in this series.

Of course, I was a little disappointed that it discussed “average” smoking rates for men and women, an essentially useless concept given the diversity within each gender, and also widely inaccurate for women because of chronic underreporting by them. But that is to be expected for a free daily, and for what it’s worth it was interesting to see that Korean men retained the dubious honor of having one of the highest rates in the world. It also takes a step in the right direction by pointing out that female teenagers tend to start smoking much earlier than males too, which will hopefully result in more attention being given to that group:

People Would Consider Quitting if Cigarettes Cost 8500 won a Packet

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The Gender Politics of Smoking in South Korea: Part 3

( Korea is 4th from right; source )

Apparently, Korea is pretty unique in its huge difference in smoking rates between the sexes: up to 10 times more Korean men smoke than women. Or do they?

In short, probably not: considering that a 2007 Gallup Korea study found that 83.4% of Koreans thought that women should not smoke, then the accuracy of almost all figures are undermined by chronic underreporting by women. Moreover, it is misguided to speak of male or female smoking rates in the first place when those within each gender differ so widely by age, socioeconomic position, and/or marital status. Even unhelpful too, as low perceived rates for women overall have encouraged Korean medical authorities to almost exclusively focus on reducing smoking rates among men instead, overlooking rapidly rising rates among young women especially.

But for all their flaws, it is only natural to want to have some numbers to work with. And so, when I wrote Part 1, my original intention here was to pass on all those provided by 3 recent journal articles on the subject, hopefully providing readers with enough information to get at least a rough idea of the true numbers in the process. Numerous failed drafts later however, I now realize that that approach was a mistake, and should have paid much more attention to the following points by Lee et .al. (2009):

…the limited data available on female smoking prevalence and behaviour in South Korea must be urgently addressed. Data from the Korean National Health and Nutrition Survey (Table 2) suggests female smoking rates have fluctuated significantly between 1980 and 2003, with variations within age groups by year that are difficult to explain. There are also inconsistencies across different data sources which prevent clear understanding of smoking behaviour within specific cohorts by age, location, socio-economic group and other variables.

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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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Hot Sweaty Korean Women

Why do I like this commercial so much?

No, not because the dancer is 29 year-old Park Ga-hee (박가희), by coincidence leader of the girl band After School (애프터스쿨) whose songs I am translating at the moment. And not because she is by no means just another manufactured K-pop idol either, once literally penniless on the streets of Seoul after running away from home. Hell, not even because of her great body.

Rather, it’s because she’s sweating.

Yes, sweating. Because as I first highlighted over 2 years ago, Korean women generally prefer passive means of losing weight to active ones like exercise. Indeed, even the ones that do attend gyms rarely seem to exert any actual effort while they’re there, and I’ve seen less than a handful dripping with sweat while on a treadmill.

A gross over-generalization? Actually, I very much hope so, and admittedly not having gone to a Korean gym myself since 2004, then I’d be happy to learn that things have changed since. But my post did seem to strike a chord with readers’ own experiences back in 2008, and in turn the underlying attitudes to exercise that they demonstrated were corroborated by one of the few English language studies of the subject: “Content Analysis of Diet Advertisements: A Cross-National Comparison of Korean and U.S. Women’s Magazines” (Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, October 2006), by Minjeong Kim and Sharron Lennon. With apologies to long-term readers for my frequent references to it, but it’s worth (re)highlighting some parts here to remind ourselves just how unique the Fat Down (팻다운) commercial really is:

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The Gender Politics of Smoking in South Korea: Part 2

 

With apologies for the poor quality of the scans, those are from an activity in the ESL activity book Decisionmaker: 14 Business Situations for Analysis and Discussion (1997) by David Evans, which I happened to be doing with my advanced students when a reader sent me the journal articles that inspired this series.  It seemed a pity not to mention the interesting coincidence!

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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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