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

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James Turnbull's picture

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.

( Source. Source below: unknown )

Apologies for the terrible quality of that “news report”, but as I type this unfortunately I’m only able to find minor variations of it on the Korean internet. But lots of them, albeit only because Korea’s top female sex-symbol is admitting to having (self-perceived) flaws, and definitely not because of her views on different races’ body shapes.

And why should they be news? Are they really as strange as they first sound?

In short, no, for 3 main reasons. Firstly, as some commenters at K-pop blogs allkpop and Omona! They Didn’t have pointed out, she probably merely meant that she had larger than average breasts and short legs instead, and was not necessarily denigrating women cursed with the latter, nor Asians in general. And that’s probably true.

Still, why not just say that instead?

But would you? In English, we describe people by their races all the time. Much less so, the specific features that make us characterize them as such. Moreover, I’ve certainly met many people with a blend of racial features too, let alone the 2 I’ve fathered myself!

So although it sounds extreme and even amusing in English, I’d be very surprised if Lee Hyori wasn’t indeed just referring to certain body feautures when she said she had a seogujeogin (서구적인) top half and dongyangjeogin (동양적인) bottom half. Indeed, and finally, it behooves non-native speakers like myself not to take the Korean language too literally.

I learned this lesson myself back in February, through trying to understand the 2009 buzzword cheongsoon-glaemor (청순글래머). Meaning “innocent” or “pure”, then cheongsoon was easy enough to look up, but glaemor (글래머)? Naturally I assumed it meant the same as the English, but as several readers pointed out, it’s a false cognate, actually meaning “large breasts” instead. So cheongsoon-glaemor means “innocent and busty” in English.

Yes, that does indeed sound inane in any language, but the point is that it’s rather different to “innocent and pure-looking but while still having a rich and glamorous celebrity lifestyle”, which is what I originally thought. And just in light of mistakes like that alone, then surely both Lee Hyori and Koreans in general should be given the benefit of the doubt, rather than instantly being accused of racism and/or – ironically – feelings of racial inferiority.

Still, after almost spitting out my coffee while reading about the story this morning, I admit I’m a little reluctant to let either entirely off the hook.

And indeed, just like the term glaemor originally came from a mistranslation by the Japanese for instance, stemming from the well-endowed busts of glamorous Hollywood starlets in the 1950s, the notion that all Korean women should envy the large breasts and long legs of their Western counterparts seems simply absurd considering what their bodies are like in 2010. So it is high time more Koreans challenged this stereotype, and pondered what sustains it nevertheless.

Perhaps a good place to start would be ubiquitous cosmetic-surgery advertisements, which seem to have an inordinate number of Caucasians in them? What do you think?

( Source: BeautyMe Cosmetic Surgery Clinic )

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

(Posted at The Grand Narrative)

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