by Jenny Sim
In light of our Keep it Real challenge with Miss Rep, LoveSocial, and I Am That Girl, and Seventeen’s recent promise to never alter the faces or bodies of its models, I wanted to dedicate my first blog to talking about advertising in East Asian countries.
The Korean community is heavily celebrity-focused: from clothing to presidential elections, there isn’t a single thing in Korea that is not advertised by celebrities. Teen celebs model for school uniforms, while the most popular girl groups hold up a chicken drumstick and dance to their latest hit single. I don’t believe that this is a bad thing. I mean, it’s what celebrities do, right? The problem, however, is the sexualization of women and gender stereotypes that most of this advertising nails into people’s minds.
Here’s an example featuring Girls’ Generation, the most hip, most loved girl band in Korea. In this advertisement, all nine girls, with the same hairstyle, the same big eyes, the same 21-inch waist, and the same long, slim legs in shorts are dressed like a little toy marching band. During this thirty-second television ad, the girls are dancing! Yay, right? Don’t we all want to see nine of what are advertised as the most beautiful girls in Korea dance for thirty straight seconds? But, is it just me, or is there something missing from this ad?
Oh yeah. The pizza. There is NO pizza in this advertisement of one of the biggest PIZZA STORES. No biggie, right?
How about this commercial for Chocolate phones? Again, it’s an advertisement starring Girls Generation. Throughout the ad, the girls are dancing in white booty shorts and short tops AND, the phone constantly shows off its super-AMOLED screen, implying that if you buy this phone, then you can see Girl’s Generation dancing anytime and anywhere. Sigh.
On an unfortunately not completely different note, the presidential election is coming up in Korea. Here’s a celeb endorsement: a topless photo of an actress, where she’s covering her breast with a poster, encouraging people to vote. Another actress was featured in a series of photos at the beach with the name of the candidate she supports written across her boobs. Really? Is that what it’s gonna take to have people go VOTE?
So what are the young girls and boys supposed to learn from these advertisements? People today definitely spend more time on media than they did ten years ago and when youth see advertisements like this every day, every time they are wired in, what are they supposed to learn? For my generation who saw these advertisements ever since they can remember, what are they supposed to get out of these images? According to Miss Representation, an average girl, by the time they turn twelve, would have seen up to 77,546 advertisements and spend ten hours and forty-five minutes on media consumption. Furthermore, a study by the SF Environment shows that teenagers see about 3,000 advertisements (on and off line) daily and these teenagers are considered the largest consumers.
Well, what much of Korean media is enforcing is that girls should lose weight and have 21-in waist and super thin legs. And at the same time, you should be tall. But make sure you don’t over-feed yourself! Oh, and make sure you have big boobs and a round butt, so that your body looks like a glass Coca-cola bottle. Why? Because it’s becoming the norm in Korean media, and anything outside that…well, it must not be beautiful.
But that’s not true: tall, short, small eyes, freckles, dimples, red hair, black hair, light skin, dark skin; everyone has their own beauty. What these advertisements are doing is portraying one type of body, a narrow ideal of beauty. The advertisements are portraying an image that will benefit their product, not real people, ignoring the fact that there are infinitely many kinds of beauty in this world.
As the Korean entertainment industry grows, it’s affecting youth drastically. Both boys and girls are starting to become anorexic; the number of students skipping meals is increasing exponentially and it’s heart aching to see my friends and families becoming part of that population. What’s worse is when I go to school and see my foreign friends telling me how pretty and gorgeous Korean celebrities are. I don’t understand their definition of beauty. Since when did “beauty” become dependent on being unhealthy? Oh… that’s right. Since media made it the norm, years ago. Knowing this, I worry: what will media images of women look like in the next decade?
Unfortunately, media’s narrow representation of beauty exists outside of the U.S. and Korea; it has become a global issue. With any luck, we’ll be able to turn these unhealthy media into something actually beautiful. SPARK and our partner organizations are constantly fighting to find ways to represent the true variety of beauty, whether it’s through petitions (like our current petition to Teen Vogue), or through promoting awesome magazines like Teen Voices and New Moon Girls. Only by challenging unhealthy standards of beauty can we eliminate them.