JuliaMellor

“Even She Has a Fault….Her Healthy Looking Legs!”

In Entertain Me, In The News, The Social Fabric on April 1, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Those of us who have lived in western countries, especially during those crucial formative teenage years, have of course been well versed in the evils of media manipulation and its negative impact on self image.  To us it’s old hat.  Radicals on both sides of the body image fence wage war, while the moderates claim one way and act another.  I too am no saint; whilst telling one friend they should not be so silly as to punish themselves with a senseless diet, I might in the same day skip lunch. The point being, that body image and how one deals with it is nobody’s crisis but their own, and it’s a battle won by the individual.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t be aware of what’s going on out there.  Today I came across a video clip posted by Arirang, Korea’s English news media and entertainment network.  Their company statement is “Korea for the world, the world for Korea.”  As a rule I don’t get upset or outraged by many things, and I can usually see both sides of an argument no matter how polarized they may be.  But this one had me flummoxed.  The clip may be viewed here. Those that are easily offended are cautioned. 

For those who’d prefer not to be unnecessarily fumed, I’ll mention a few choice quotes.  The segment critically evaluates the lower bodies of famous, and by all accounts attractive, Korean stars.  It uses the word “healthy” as some kind of code word for “fat and undesirable”, and suggests in no uncertain terms for such ‘afflicted’ stars to do something about it.  One such disturbing caption described the actress’s legs as “Her fatal fault!  Her thick ankles and calf muscles.” Until now I have never heard the sentence “….even she has a fault….her healthy looking legs.” Nevermind the fact that I literally cannot discern how such a conclusion can be drawn.  The standard is so unrealistically set, that I for one cannot quite get my mind to imagine what it must be.  The images that are being described as ‘sturdy’ and ‘well developed’, are slim and shapely.

It is a concern that the face of Korea’s international media is reporting in such  a socially irresponsible manner.  Korea’s social image is not what it was 30, 20 or even 10 years ago.  The new generation is forging a new identity, post democratization and mid globalization.  Until the 1970’s, full figured women were considered sexually desirable, exhibiting that they were more likely to produce healthy sons.  This was a notion held by western societies almost a century ago, and has since been well and truly discarded.  In Korea’s accelerated social development, Koreans now face these  same dilemmas but in a culturally conflicted context. The media, as has been well documented, plays a key role in shaping society’s image of itself, and as such should be carefully monitored.  Arirang’s reporting was careless, and not to mention insulting to the women it profiled.

Unfortunately, the consequence of unrealistic media body image portrayal is the effect on the average citizen.  Dr. Kim Joon Ki traveled to Japan in 1991 to study eating disorders, where today anorexia afflicts 1 in every 100 young Japanese women, a figure comparable to the US.  Before she went to Japan, Dr. Kim had encountered only 1 anorexia patient in Korea.  Within 2 years of opening her own private eating disorder clinic, she saw over 200 patients, half of which presented with bulemia.  Korea’s national obsession over image and attractiveness is overt and unabashed, and this may be why Arirang reporters may get away with such shameful behaviour.  Because it’s what men and women are actually thinking.

In 1996, a survey of 469 college women revealed some frightening statistics.  of all the women, 55.9% were underweight, and of these women, 74% felt like they needed to lose wight in order to look attractive.  57.6% engaged in excessive dieting.  Whilst the survey scope was not extensive, it still speaks volumes.

Despite the rise in cases of eating disorders in recent years, Dr. Kim says they are still relatively rare.  Korea still has not reached the crisis point witnessed in Japan or the US, but that does not give cause for complacency.  Media outlets which are permitted to run their agendas unchecked and unchallenged will send those numbers soaring.  Korea should expect more from its agencies and use its pop culture supremacy to lead by example.  One thing I respect most about Korea is its ability to change. Here’s hoping that in this regard it changes for the better.

 

 

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