South Korea nixes diversity rules after saying K-pop stars 'look identical'

Guidelines to address promotion of unrealistic beauty standards withdrawn in state censorship row

Government guidelines aimed at promoting more diversity in South Korea’s K-pop world have been withdrawn after critics said they amounted to state censorship of a booming industry.

The guidelines issued last week by the ministry of gender equality and family complained that K-pop stars looked too alike, saying “the problem of … uniformity among singers is serious”, and noting most idols were thin and wore identical makeup and skimpy outfits.

The paragraphs that caused offence advised restricting the number of K-pop singers who appear on a TV show, for fear that similar appearances may promote unrealistic and narrow standards of beauty.

“Are the singers on TV music shows twins? They seriously look identical. Most are idol group members,” the guidelines say, according to the Korea Times. “Most of them are skinny and have similar hairstyles and makeup with outfits exposing their bodies.”

A petition was submitted to the Korean government calling for the ministry’s abolition on the grounds that it was trying to censor “how female pop stars look”, reported the Korea JoongAng Daily.

The petition said the ministry was going “down the path of [dictator] Chun Doo-hwan, starting with internet censorship and now appearance censorship”.

Comparisons with the dictator, who ruled South Korea from 1980-1988, were also drawn by opposition politicians, including Ha Tae-keung of the minor opposition Bareunmirae party, reported the Korea Times.

“The gender ministry says K-pop idols should not star together on television because they are all skinny and pretty with pale skin,” he wrote on Facebook. “What’s the difference between this and the crackdowns on the length of hair and skirts during the military dictatorship of Chun Doo-hwan?”

The government said the guidelines were not mandatory but were aimed at addressing the negative impact of unrealistic beauty standards.

But after criticism, the ministry said on Tuesday it would withdraw the recommendation after it had “caused unnecessary confusion”.

It claimed it had neither the intention nor authority to control TV production and it had simply tried to “prevent media, which has big influence on people’s daily life, from undermining human rights or fostering discrimination unintentionally”.

South Korea is famous for its cosmetic surgery industry, with as many as one third of young women in the country believed to have gone under the knife.

In 2017 all four members of the K-pop band SixBomb went through extensive plastic surgery, including nose jobsand breast implants, before releasing a single. A series of videos showed the four women visiting a clinic, strutting into an operating theatre and lying on the operating table.

Last year, South Korean women began a social media movement reacting against the country’s culture of exacting beauty standards, which suggested women engage in cosmetic surgery and laborious multi-step skin care regimes.

The movement, called Escape the Corset, saw Korean women post makeup-free selfies and videos of themselves destroying their makeup, in a rebellion against beauty norms.

AFP contributed to this report


Kate Lyons

The GuardianTramp

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