Here’s another fun read from The Grand Narrative, albeit one with a serious mis-step at the beginning.
James starts with a rather odd line of thinking about gay fashion designers and their preference for thin models. My impression was that fashion designers, gay or otherwise, liked rail-thin, tall models because clothing draped better on them – kind of like getting a walking hanger on the runway. I could be wrong on that, and I never thought it was exclusively gay designers who wanted the waif look, but the article James links to doesn’t even address such a utilitarian argument – and if anything, is just a tad homophobic in its accusations (especially at the end of that article). James doesn’t seem to agree with the piece anyway, but that just makes it more frustrating to have this straw man poking around the intro, as it sets off weird tangents in my head rather than focuses the piece where it should.
From there, however, things go swimmingly. James writes of the problems South Korean women have with body image, especially in terms of consumerist messages, and sees the hints of a possible conspiracy to promote such body images by cosmetics and dieting companies. He then segues into the Kpop idol world and trots out some familiar examples of troubling body image issues in such things as SNSD’s notorious diet – though he also rightfully complicates the matter by showing how SNSD are also famous for endorsing food. Though really, saying that capitalism is the driving engine and not patriarchy isn’t too worrisome, since you can link one with the other pretty handily…
And finally we come to the heart of the matter: James is awestruck by After School’s UEE and how she recently provided some common sense advice about eating habits on some TV show. James goes a long way to get to “UEE thinks starving doesn’t help you lose weight”, but – shaky intro aside – he packs in enough information and insight to make it a worthwhile ride. By the end, he turns what could’ve been a shaggy-dog story with gay prostitutes and conspiracy theories into a Diogenes-esque quest for a single idol who will speak nutritional truths.
And we all have another reason to love UEE even more. Though perhaps not as much as Nana or Raina.
All that said, I’d love to know what James thinks of the Piggy Dolls and their recent turn into slimmer idols. Turn for the healthier by not being obese, or sending the wrong message by saying plump girls aren’t welcome in the public eye? And as he rightfully points out, UEE still engages in the objectification of her body – what the hell, it’s expected of her as an idol – so is this a pyrrhic victory at best?