Many teens are big fans of K-pop. However, because K-pop places such a large emphasis on looks, the industry can cause body image issues, both among idols and the audience. During the past years, the K-pop community's unrealistic beauty standards have often been criticized.
Despite this, the toxicity of K-pop beauty standards is still growing. Many teenagers look upon their idols and hope they too will one day be like them, but having a normal healthy body should be normalized in Korea and the rest of the world.
The Korean Beauty Standards
Korean beauty standards play an important role in Korean culture. It prioritizes a slim figure, dewy skin, a v-shaped jaw, pale and smooth skin, straight eyebrows, and large eyes. This creates a huge pressure on idols, actresses, and fellow Korean citizens, causing many to suffer from depression and anxiety.
The Korean community also tends to denounce these people and their looks. Some idols are fat-shamed and often called ugly. And because of this, many people cannot maintain good health mentally or physically.
Idols like Irene and Sulgi from Red Velvet and Jisoo from Blackpink fit this standard and are known as some of the most beautiful idols in the industry. These pressures lead to insecurity and suicidal thoughts.
The need to look perfect and 'beautiful' causes thousands of people to undergo plastic surgery. As per this, South Korea has become a hotspot for plastic surgery.
And according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, “one in five South Korean women has had some form of cosmetic surgery" and many who receive these surgeries are idol trainees, proving that beauty standards have a huge impact on a person's mental health. Some extremely popular K-pop idols, like Jessi, Taemin from SHINee, Lia from ITZY, Taehyun from TXT, and Wonyoung from IVE, state that they have undergone such surgery.
Dieting is a normalized subject within the Korean community and is often followed by the principle of 'the skinnier, the better'. So, in order to achieve these perfectly skinny bodies, K-pop idols go on risky and alarming diets. These diets then go viral among the fan base of these idols and ordinary people, causing many to imitate these diets.
Such diets include the IU diet, which consists of one apple for breakfast, two sweet potatoes for lunch, and a protein shake for dinner. Countless fans took up this diet desperate to gain IU's so-called perfect body structure. Another one of these diets was the 13-day Wheesung diet that was popularized after Red Velvet’s Wendy showed a major weight-loss transformation that consisted of a meager half cup of rice for breakfast and half an apple for dinner, which accounts for only 150 calories per day.
This diet is very dangerous and can cause serious damage to one's body and health. Momo from Twice was told to lose 7kg within a week. She stated that she consumed only one ice cube per day to survive.
Looking from above, the K-pop industry seems to be rainbows and unicorns. But what goes behind the scenes is very contrasting. As for an idol, before debuting they have to go through rough years of punctilious training.
And as per the toxic beauty standards, young idols have to go through a bad state of mental health. They also have a dating ban for both trainees and idols. This is mainly because the company wants to satisfy the fans and maintain them.
A common mental disorder experienced by idols and trainees is anxiety. For instance, Jeongyeon from Twice takes regular breaks owing to her anxiety and panic disorder. South Korea appears to be highly judgemental, as the country does not openly talk about mental health, which causes many idols and citizens to hide their feelings and thoughts.
Suicide in the industry
Many idols suffer from mental illness, especially depression, and anxiety due to the constant criticism and hate they receive from the internet and people around the world. Some idols develop suicidal thoughts, while some rest and are well remembered. People do not appreciate hardworking souls till they are gone.
And because of the hatred, they are attacked by idols like Goo Hara, Sulli, Kim Jonghyun, Ahn So Jin, and Park Yong-ha have hopelessly passed away. Talking of Jonghyun, he was the lead singer of a popular band called SHINee. He was very depressed and fans blamed the over-competitiveness and pressure of the K-pop industry as the cause of his death.
Many fans consciously or subconsciously compare themselves to K-pop idols on a daily basis. Even though many of them know that their idols have undergone surgery or have tons of makeup on them to make them look perfect, they continue to make themselves insecure and over-concerned. Not only does the industry affect its idols with extreme diets and unhealthy practices, but they also influence fans and people around the world to do so too.
Experience. I once had a friend who refused to eat to gain the perfect body of a K-pop idol, following those dangerous diets on the internet. Ask yourself if you love yourself just the way you are, if you don't compare yourself to others. It's not just about listening to your self-motivational song and gaining confidence for a day, it's about maintaining it and not changing it.
Idols vS Culture
As idols work throughout their careers, they get involved in scandals, get forced into unhealthy diets, or even do aegyos, and other claims. As some idols put a stop to this, others suffer to protect their job. Some blame the idols for cultural appropriation, but are these traditions really worth following? Hyuna standing up for herself after mistreatment by her company, Hwasa and Jessi breaking gender norms, and many idols and groups like Kai, Jessi, BTS, and the group Mamamoo are talking publicly about gender inequality and are going against their culture with the support of fans.
The K-pop industry has achieved massive success throughout the past years in the world. But it has been shown to have a dark side when inquiring about body image. While traditional, whilst toxic, Korean beauty standards pressure, the media reinforces it.
Artists, too, are suffering due to these noxious standards and are working desperately to achieve them. Many undergo surgery and deadly diets to give the public what they desire to see. As impressionable young people observe these idols and their unhealthy behavior, they tend to follow and replicate them, hoping to be the idol they look up to.
"Life is so much more beautiful and complex than a number on a scale" ~Tess Munster