How much do you weigh? It’s a sensitive question that is usually met with uncomfortable laughter or immediate dismissal, but for young K-Pop stars, this is all part of the job. Before sales, it’s scales, and before mental well-being, it’s harsh comments and unnerving glares, as an old, money-hungry man lifts up your shirt to feel your abs. These numbers are plastered online for the world to scrutinise, the vicious K-netizens tearing them apart like tigers shredding their prey.
Not surprisingly, this gives way to constant comparing; young girls (and boys) tearfully stare in the mirror, wishing they could have a thigh gap… a flat stomach and oval-shaped face, but what they don’t realise is that South Korea is feeding a generation of self-conscious teens, with their completely unrealistic standards that most British women simply cannot attain without slipping into a disordered mindset.
Researchers agree that K-Pop has influenced the “thin ideal” that is perpetuated in South Korea. Dieting and losing weight is a common concern for many women in Korea – to the point that there exists a popular saying, “dieting is a women’s homework for eternity." It may appear that K-Pop idols are untouchable and superior, aggravatingly perfect, with their perfect, glistening smiles, but behind their expensive eyes lies a deeply insecure individual, and it’s not hard to believe that South Korea’s judicious jury of the insecure bringing others down to lift themselves up has a serious effect on these young starlets, who are begging for approval. Sadly, many of these stars resort to unhealthy diets, with popular looks that include “chopstick legs” and “lollipop head”.
JinE, a former member of the successful girl group Oh My Girl stepped back from the cliff’s edge when she was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Anorexia is not fully acknowledged as a disease in South Korea. Rather, it is often considered a burden, for someone to label themselves or others with such a stigmatised condition. After being criticized by K-netizens, JinE became depressed, and when her weight eventually dropped to a shocking 38kg. Extremely thin and fragile, she slipped away from the spotlight, only to be remembered as the “pink whale.” In her departure letter, despite the hell she had been put through, she adopted the genial and stoic South Korean attitude, she thanked her fans, stating, “I was able to live out my dreams while receiving love in abundance.”
A whopping 91.2% of female K-Pop idols are underweight, with only 8.8% classified as healthy. Scary statistics like these beg the question: how do they do it? How do they intensely dance for hours and hours with skeletal and weak bodies? They are, quite literally, slaves to their domineering CEO’S; in one episode of “Sixteen”, a cult-like reality show, aiming to find the next greatest girl group (airing in 2015), JYP, the narcissist CEO of JYP Entertainment, told highly successful Twice member, Park Ji-hyo, to lose weight; he said, critically, that “Your dance looks slow. If you gain weight, of course you’ll look like that. The first thing that I do when I get up in the morning is get on the scale. While the other girls practice their singing, you have to lose weight.” It’s hard to understand how a young girl could be spoken to in such a degrading manner, but this only scratches the surface.
Of course, we cannot exclude men from the female-dominated narrative; a group that needs no introduction, a group that garners success after success, BTS is undoubtedly South Korea’s centrepiece. Even if you have never let the word “K-Pop” cross your lips, the name is everywhere, thanks to Army (their devoted fan base), and is the very essence of the genre. All of this stardom, however, comes with a price. Park Jimin, one of the members, is a victim of excessive dieting resulting from the industry’s demanding nature. He stated in 2018 that he often passes out during rehearsals due to a lack of adequate calories. Although extreme dieting is common among K-Pop idols, fans are concerned about the stars' health. However, their concerns will not stop the enabling companies from depriving their pawns. What has to give?
K-Pop has come a long way from when it burst onto the Western scene with Psy’s infectious “Gangnam Style,” in 2012 to the enticing, cool, and universal style it adopts at present. What hasn’t changed is the abusive breeding of these vulnerable stars/starlets and South Korea’s barbaric views on weight and diet. It’s simple to take out your phone and see how much Park Jimin or Park Ji-hyo weigh – I’ll ask again, how much do you weigh? It’s acceptable if you don’t wish to answer, but spare a thought for these young people who only wish for one thing: to be a part of the 40kg club.