Korean Sociological Image #52: Are Celebrities Removing the Stigma of Lingerie Modelling?

James Turnbull's picture

After writing about double-standards in the objectification of men’s and women’s bodies in the Korean media last month, this month I was looking forward to wrapping that up. Finally, I thought, I’d be able to remove the prominent “Abs vs. Breasts” folder on my Firefox toolbar.

Alas, I’ve decided some more context is needed first. Which by coincidence, also allows me to get rid of the even more embarrassing “Lingerie” folder in the process.

But while the topic sounds facetious perhaps, having overwhelmingly Caucasian models in lingerie advertisements has definite effects on how Koreans perceive both Caucasians’ and their own bodies and sexuality. If you consider what Michael Hurt wrote in his blog Scribblings of the Metropolitician back in 2005 for instance:

…One thing that I also notice is that in underwear and other commercials that require people to be scantily-clad, only white people seem to be plastered up on walls in the near-buff. Now, it may be the sense that Korean folks – especially women – would be considered too reserved and above that sort of thing (what I call the “cult of Confucian domesticity”). Maybe that’s linked to the stereotyped expectation that white people always be running around all nasty and hanging out already, as is their “way.” Another possibility has to do with the reaction I hear from Korean people when I mention this, which is that white people just “look better” with less clothes, since Koreans have “short leg” syndrome and gams that look like “radishes.” The men are more “manly” and just look more “natural” with their shirts off…

Then I’m sure you’ll appreciate that while that artificial dichotomy between “naturally” nude, more sexual Caucasians (and by extension, all Westerners) and more modest, virginal, pure Koreans is neither new, solely confined to Korea, nor wholly a construct of the Korean media, at the very least this odd feature of Korean lingerie advertisements certainly helps sustain it. And that dichotomy has largely negative effects on all Westerners here, especially women.

( Caucasian models used for the first erect nipple ever featured in a Korean ad {see here also}. Source: Metro, July 8 2010, p. 7. )

Already having discussed the evidence for and consequences of the sexualization of Caucasian women in great depth last September however, then let me just quickly summarize relevant points from it here:

Empirical studies have shown that Korean women’s magazines have a disproportionate numbers of Caucasian female models in them, with some even have more Caucasian models than Korean ones overall. Unfortunately though, none of those studies made any distinction between lingerie and non-lingerie advertisements.

Before laws banning foreign models were lifted in 1994, many Korean female porn stars were also lingerie models, which discouraged female models from lingerie modeling. This fact only really became public in June 2008 however, which explains why those earlier studies didn’t take it into account (or Michael Hurt back in 2005).

Of course, there have always been exceptions, with the Yes’ company especially having no qualms about using Korean models. But for other companies, they are usually anonymous, with either their heads not being visible or them literally covering themselves up by whatever means available. See the examples below from Korean lingerie company StoryIS’s website for instance, or #3 here, where the Korean female models look simply absurd hiding under large hats and sunglasses.

Update: I forgot to mention lingerie infomercials, on which it’s common to see Caucasian models wearing the lingerie alongside fully-clothed Korean models carrying the lingerie on coathangers.

Moreover, when female celebrities are used, they were invariably fully-clothed. And so much so in fact, that it’s no exaggeration to say that in fact they may not have been wearing the advertised lingerie at all considering that you couldn’t actually see it.

( Sources: left, right )

But that was over a year ago. At the end of that post though, I did note a (then) recent advertisement by Shin Min-a that you could see it in, and simply had no idea that it was just the beginning of a veritable flood of celebrity lingerie photoshoots thereafter. Finally noticing by the following summer though, by its end I had: Ivy (in the opening image); Shin Min-a (again); Park Han-byul; Seo-woo; Girls’ Day; Gong Hyo-jin; Song Ji-hyo; LPG; Min Hyo-rin; Lee Si-yeong; Shin Se-Kyeong; and Yoon Eun-hye in that infamous “Lingerie” folder.

Then I discovered a Korean blog on lingerie while researching this post, and from just one post there I learned that I had to add at least Baek Ji-young, Lee Hyori, Seo In-young, Hyuna, Hyo-min, and Yu-jin to that list also…by which point I frankly gave up keeping track. And belatedly realized that, of course, Korean celebrities have actually been modeling lingerie for far longer than just the past year (I’d completely forgotten about this example for instance).

But still, I think it’s no coincidence that I would notice so many photoshoots in such a short space of time. And for that reason, would argue that the most recent ones at least should definitely be seen in the wider context of Korean entertainment companies’ ever-increasing need for the greater exposure (no pun intended) and differentiation of their celebrities in order to maximize profits. Recall what I wrote of the ensuing objectification of male singers for instance:

…whereas it’s mostly young girl-groups that have sprung up in the past year or so (see here for a handy chart), likewise Korean male singers have to adapt to the Korean music industry’s overwhelming reliance on musicians’ product endorsements, appearances on variety shows, and casting in dramas to make profits (as opposed to actually selling music). This encourages their agencies to make them stand out and differentiate themselves from each other by coming up ever more sexual lyrics and/or performances and music videos: namely, more abs from the guys, let alone feigned fellatio, feigned sex on beds, or even virtual rapes of audience members on stage during performances.

Regardless of the motives however, on the positive side surely these photoshoots can not but help to remove the stigma associated with the industry in Korea? And, once that’s been achieved, then that will in turn begin to (at least slightly) challenge that hypersexual Caucasians vs. chaste Koreans dichotomy as mentioned earlier.

( Source )

But in reality, perhaps things will not be quite as quick or as simple as that. For while I merely bookmarked those photoshoots as they came up in K-pop blogs, in hindsight I should also have been making the following distinctions between them:

  1. Advertisements for lingerie companies in which just the lingerie is worn
  2. Advertisements for lingerie companies in which the lingerie is hidden partially or completely under clothing
  3. Photoshoots for men’s or women’s magazines like Maxim and Cosmopoltian
  4. Korean Gravia photoshoots

And from what I can tell now, most of the them seem to be #3, with Ivy’s opening newspaper cover probably being the most prominent exception (and what prompted this post). Hoping to find an authoritative Korean perspective on all that as I begin working on this post then, probably by no coincidence – I guess wasn’t the only person to notice this trend – Yahoo! Korea linked to what appeared to be precisely that the next day, and so I happily translated it that same night.

In the light of the next day though, I was simply stunned at its terrible quality, and after trying to edit it to some level of coherence but abjectly failing, gave up on the post in disgust; regularly complaining about Korean portal sites, then I should have known better really. But 3 weeks later, I realize that it would be a pity to waste all that time spent translating, and that at the very least fans of Hwang Jung-eum (황정음) and High Kick Through the Roof (지붕킥) may still like it. And who knows? You may be able to gain some insights from it that I missed.

But if not, then let me end this post here by apologizing in advance if I have possibly conflated Caucasians with Westerners too often and too readily in this post, but which is frankly difficult to avoid in a post focused on the former, but with effects on the latter. And to better understand that, at the suggestion of a reader I now have Imperial Citizens: Koreans and Race from Seoul to LA by Nadia Kim (2008) sitting on my desk, which will be my reading for my flight to Boston next week!^^


황정음 속옷화보, 득보다 실이 많은 노출 

Hwang Jung-eum Loses More than She Gains by Showing Her Body

황정음이 속옷 화보를 찍었네요. 그동안 깜찍하고 귀여운 얼굴만 보다가 섹시하고 볼륨감 있는 그녀의 노출 사진을 보고 조금 놀랐어요. 노출 정도가 생각보다 파격적이고 아찔하기 때문이에요. 황정음은 이번 노출이 처음이라고 하는데요. 처음치고는 너무 도발적이고 과감한 노출이에요. 그만큼 몸매에 자신 있었기 때문이겠죠. 요즘 속옷 화보는 신세경, 한예슬도 찍었고 TV광고에도 나오고 있는데, 노출이 심한 편이 아니죠. 몸매 노출보다 속옷에 더 비중을 뒀기 때문이에요.

Wow, Hwang Jung-eum has done a lingerie photoshoot. So far, we’ve only ever really seen her small, cute face, so I was a little surprised by her sexy, curvaceous body in these photos. Because she showed so much more than I thought, I’m really a little light-headed too. This is the first time she’s showed so much of her body like this, and it’s much more provocative than I would have expected for her first time; I guess she was confident about her body. These days, Shin Se-kyeong and Han Ye-seul have appeared in lingerie photoshoots and television advertisements, and [yet] in those the amount of exposure tends not to be so serious. In those, the focus is more on the lingerie than their bodies.

속옷 광고 화보는 잘 나가는 여자 톱스타들만 찍는다고 하죠? 고소영, 송혜교, 김남주, 김태희 등 당대 톱스타들도 유명 속옷 광고를 찍었어요. 그런데 이들의 속옷 광고는 S라인만 자랑할 뿐 노출이 거의 없습니다. 말 그대로 속옷을 광고한 화보였고 몸매 자랑을 한 것이 아니었어요. 보통 무명 연예인들이 속옷 광고를 찍을 때는 노출 수위가 높아집니다. 그런데 나중에 유명 배우가 된 뒤 이런 노출 화보로 굴욕을 당하기도 합니다. 모델 시절 속옷만 입고 해맑게 웃고 있는 홍수아의 속옷 화보도 한 때 인터넷에서 화제가 되기도 했어요. 그리고 수애, 오윤아도 데뷔 전 속옷 화보에 출연한 경험이 있고요.

Only women who are already well on the route to becoming top-stars do lingerie advertisement photoshoots, yes? Go So-young, Song Hye-gyo, Kim Nam-joo, Kim Tae-hee, and others [at] that age have all appeared in lingerie advertisements for famous brands. However, in those showing off and exposing their S-lines is almost completely absent. Indeed, there are virtually none that show off the model’s body. Take more common ones featuring unknown models however, and the level of exposure goes up markedly. And if that woman becomes famous later, then this might come back to haunt her. For instance, Hong Soo-ah appeared in one wearing just lingerie and a bright smile, and this become a hot internet topic later. And Soo-ae and Oh Yoon-ah also have the experience of modeling lingerie before becoming famous.

그런데 일부 스타의 경우 지나친 노출 속옷을 찍어 구설수에 오르기도 했죠. 가수 아이비도 얼마 전 속옷 화보를 찍었는데, 노출이 너무 파격적이라 네티즌들의 입방아에 오르내리기도 했어요. 속옷 모델이라 어느 정도의 노출은 당연하지만 플레이보이 잡지를 연상케 하는 놰쇄적인 느낌이 너무 강했기 때문이죠. 속옷보다 아이비의 몸매가 더 시선을 끌었으니 주객이 전도된 경우라 할 수 있어요.

( Source )

In some stars’ cases, showing far too much in lingerie photoshoots gave rise to them being the subjects of malicious gossip and rumors. For instance, a little while ago Ivy [above] was in one. Because she showed so much of her body, a lot of netizens were gossiping about her. And while of course lingerie models have to show at least little of their bodies, in her case it was so much that it reminded you of Playboy magazine. Even though the photoshoot was supposedly for  showing off the underwear, it seemed to be showing off Ivy’s body far far more.

그렇다면 황정음의 경우는 어떨까요? 황정음의 속옷화보도 아이비에 버금갈 정도에요. 한번도 노출을 하지 않다가 왜 이렇게 파격적인 노출을 했는지 모르겠네요. 가슴이 훤히 드러난 사진을 보면 깜찍함은 온데 간데 없고 섹시함이 풍기는데 그리 귀티나는 이미지는 아니에요. 섹시미가 보이긴 보이는데, 인위적인 느낌이 든다고 할까요? 그리고 가슴이 드러난 사진은 뽀샵 흔적이 너무 강하네요.

If so, what to make of the case of Hwang Jung-eum? It’s very similar to Ivy’s. She’s never done anything like this before, so I don’t know why she suddenly appeared in such a revealing photoshoot. Her breasts are very exposed, she’s lost her cuteness, and while she gives off some sexiness she’s not very elegant-looking. Moreover, don’t you feel her sexiness is a little artificial? And there are signs that her breasts have been heavily photoshopped too.

요즘 ‘자이언트’ 촬영하면서 체중이 6kg 늘었다고 하는데, 다리를 보니 ‘말라깽이’ 그 자체네요. 보정작업 흔적이 역력한데 소속사는 촬영 후 보정을 하지 않았다고 합니다. 눈에 빤히 보이는 거짓말이죠. 황정음만 하는 것이 아니라 모든 모델이 뽀샵을 하는데, 왜 굳이 하지 않았다고 하는지 모르겠네요.

These days, while shooting for the drama Giant she gained 6kg, but her legs remain extremely thin. There are obvious signs that this was compensated for in the photos then, but her agency says this didn’t happen. But you can tell this is a lie. And it’s not like Hwang Jung-eum is the only model that gets photoshopped, so I have no idea why her agency would so adamantly deny it.

황정음 속옷 화보는 신세경과 비교해 보면 알 수 있어요. 신세경의 속옷 화보는 드레스에 속옷이 보일듯 말듯한 신비주의 컨셉으로 찍었어요. 이는 신세경의 청순미와 신비주의 컨셉이 딱 맞아 떨어진 절묘한 사진에요. 사실 이런 화보가 여배우에게 좋은 이미지를 남길 수 있어요. 물론 노출이 무조건 나쁘다는 것은 아니지만 황정음의 노출 화보는 그동안 쌓아놓은 깜찍 이미지를 한꺼번에 날릴 수 있는 위험한 화보에요. 지금 황정음은 나름 톱스타기 때문에 굳이 노출 화보를 찍을 이유가 없어요.

If we compare Hwang Jung-eum’s photoshoot with Shin Se-kyeong’s then I think we can learn the reason. The concept of Shin Se-kyeung’s photoshoot is a mysterious and subtle one that has the lingerie under the dress, leaving us always guessing as to whether we can see it or not. This mysterious and innocent-beauty concept is well suited to her image, and in fact it does no harm to any female actor. In contrast, while of course showing off one’s body is not bad per se, Hwang Jung-eum has long cultivated a very cute image and there is a danger that she’s ruined it all at once with this photoshoot. And seeing as she’s sort of a top star already now, then I don’t know the reason why she did it.

황정음은 ‘지붕킥’ 이후 돈과 인기를 한번에 거머쥔 스타인데, 화보촬영으로 돈을 더 벌려한 것은 아니라고 봅니다. 그렇다면 배우로서 깜찍, 엉뚱 이미지를 벗기위한 노출이라고 볼 수 있는데요. 한 번에 너무 파격적인 노출을 하다보니 그녀의 속옷 화보를 보고 당황스러운 사람이 많을 겁니다. 같은 속옷 화보를 찍어도 배우에 따라 그 느낌이 다른데, 황정음은 신세경, 한예슬과는 달리 ‘싼티’가 좀 풍기네요. 소속사는 다양한 모습의 황정음이 있다고 봐달라며 절대 이미지 변신을 위한 파격적인 시도는 아니라고 강조했는데요. 사진은 아찔한데 어떻게 그냥 일반적인 화보로 봐달라는 건지 모르겠네요.

( Source )

Hwang Jung-eum suddenly gained a lot of money and popularity through appearing in High Kick Through the Roof, so she didn’t do this photoshoot for the sake of money. Perhaps then, it was in order to lose her cute image gained through acting, even though many people will be confused by it because it is so revealing? But different actresses can do the same kind of lingerie photoshoots [James: this contradicts all the above, as they are quite different] and give off quite different impressions, and unlike Shin Se-kyeung or Han Yae-sul, Hwang Jung-eum comes across as very cheap. However, her agency stress that this photoshoot was absolutely not done to change her image, just to show a different side of her. Yet how can anyone claim it is just your average, run-of-the-mill lingerie photoshoot?

‘ 자이언트’에서 황정음은 가수 이미주로 출연하고 있는데, 주상욱과의 키스신으로 얼마전 남친 김용준이 키스장면을 보며 담배를 물고 있는 사진이 화제가 되기도 했지요. 이번 속옷 화보 촬영에 김용준은 쿨하게 응원을 해주었다고 하는데, 황정음의 노출사진이 수많은 남자들에게 공개되는데 쿨한 반응을 보였다니 의외네요. 주상욱과의 키스신보다 속옷 화보가 낫다고 본 건가요?

In Giant, Hwang Jung-eum plays the singer Lee Mee-ju, and in reaction to one scene in which she kisses her partner (actor Ju Sang-wook) her real-life boyfriend (singer Kim Young-jun) posted a spoof picture of himself biting a cigarette in anger at seeing it on the internet. And in reaction to her photoshoot, he was very cool about it, which was surprising: who would be so cool about having his girlfriend exposed to so many other men? Did he really think that that was better than the kiss scene?

여 자 연예인들에게 화보촬영은 자신의 가치를 드러낼 수 있는 아주 좋은 기회죠. 해마다 여름만 되면 너도 나도 비키니 몸매를 자랑하는 것도 자신의 상품성을 과시(?)하는 것이라고 볼 수 있어요. 황정음도 자신의 상품적 가치를 더 높이기 위해 이번 속옷 화보를 찍었을 겁니다. 그러나 이번 속옷화보 촬영은 황정음에겐 득보다 실이 많을 것 같네요. ‘지붕킥’으로 대박스타가 된 그녀는 정극 ‘자이언트’에서 연기력 논란을 빚기도 했는데, 배우로서 연기로 승부하는 것보다 노출로 승부한다는 느낌을 줄 수 있기 때문이에요. 그런데 그 노출이 인위적인 뽀샵으로 귀티보다 ‘싼티’가 나는게 더 문제가 아닐까요?

Photoshoots are a good opportunity for female entertainers to demonstrate their worth. Just like every summer we can see women showing off their bodies in bikinis, which also is like demonstrating their product value [James: that's literally what it says]. But Hwang Jung-eum did the photoshoot to increase her worth. However, through doing so she actually lost more than she gained, because while she became a big star through High Kick Through the Roof, now she is appearing in the much more conventional drama Giant, in which her acting abilities have been questioned. In light of this, then at the very least the photoshoot seems very badly-timed, and surely not appearing elegant but instead literally overexposed and heavily photoshopped is in fact much more of a problem for her than a benefit?

‘지붕킥’에서 깜찍한 춤과 애교 연기로 하루 아침에 벼락스타가 된 것에 대해 황정음을 곱지 않은 시선으로 보는 사람들도 많습니다. ‘잘 나갈 때 조신하게 행동해라’는 말과 달리 황정음은 노출화보를 찍는 등 오히려 더 오버하고 있는 듯 합니다. 벤츠를 타면서도 노출 화보를 찍은 황정음을 곱게 보는 사람은 많지 않아요. ‘자이언트’를 통해 정극 연기 도전을 하는 황정음은 오직 연기력으로 배우 수명을 오래가게 할 수 있는 길을 찾아야 합니다. 노출 화보는 황정음에게 독이 될 수 있으니까요.

Through her cute dancing and aegyo in High Kick Through the Roof, Hwang Jung-eum became famous almost literally overnight, which many people seem to resent. Rather than following the old adage to behave well while one is in the spotlight however, rather this photoshoot of hers is just too much, and there are not many people who would have done while already rich enough to drive a Mercedes Benz. With Giant, Hwang Jung-eum was presented with a challenge that she could have used to increase her acting ability and sustain a long acting career. Unfortunately, she seems to have squandered it with this photoshoot. (end)

( Source )

p. s. Not related to Korea, but you may also enjoy the post Lingerie as liberating? from Sociological Images on a woman (in an advertisement) feeling “hot” as a result of wearing lingerie, only then to cover it up with a burqa

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

(Posted at The Grand Narrative)

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