Having spent a good five years mucking around in the murky waters of Korean entertainment (and spent about half of those years living in South Korea), I’ve put up with my fair share of appearance-related shenanigans, and there’s no getting around it: from any angle you choose, South Korean society appears, for better or for worse, hopelessly and undeniably oriented towards perfecting one’s appearance through whatever means possible. Despite the indignant fan denials that Jessica‘s jaw either spontaneously morphed into its new formation or was always like that (regardless of how much photographic evidence exists to say otherwise), plastic surgery is unbelievably rampant; advertisements and celebrity pictorials are Photoshopped to an almost criminal degree; and celebrity diets have reached inexcusable levels of absurdity. South Korea even remains one of the only countries in the OECD that requires the submission of an ID picture alongside most job applications, and a number of people have cited this as one of the reasons that has led them to surgically alter their face. For those for whom surgery isn’t an option…well, you remember what I said about Photoshop, right?
So perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that B2ST‘s Doojoon reacted so poorly to an overweight fan on a recent episode of KBS’ Entertainment Relay. But does that excuse his behavior?
Fans can view the video for themselves (start around the 3:30 mark), but essentially what transpired is this: Doojoon was challenged to carry a fan on his back for 10 seconds, until the program’s MC selected an overweight French fan in the audience. In what we can only hope was a kneejerk reaction, Doojoon made an expression to indicate his disgust, and then allowed the French fan to carry him for 10 seconds (I guess viewers are supposed to assume that having Doojoon carry the girl was an impossibility). When asked how she felt after carrying Doojoon, the French girl’s response was, “It was hard.” Well, no kidding.
It should surprise approximately nobody that fan reaction has been mixed; some netizens have commented that Doojoon’s facial expression was inappropriate and cruel, while others have given the standard “everyone-makes-mistakes-including-oppa-why-are-people-sooo-upset” response. Some have criticized the whole premise of the segment, which is probably the most fair thing to do. Sure, Doojoon’s reaction was asinine and unfunny, but the MC deliberately singled out an overweight girl for the challenge, stating “Let’s try to make this hard” — which is also asinine and unfunny, unless you are a total asshole.
I’m very reluctant to give Doojoon a pass on this, for a number of reasons. In the first place, it just isn’t cool to make fun of people for their weight, and it becomes even more of a faux-pas if you’re a public figure and doing it on a television program that thousands of people will see. Additionally, I’m starting to get really tired of seeing B2ST at the center of a whole bunch of avoidable and stupid controversies. Don’t think for a second that I’ve forgotten about that ridiculous advertisement for white girls that they placed when they were filming their music video, or the photos of Doojoon partying with the white models that accompanied the idiocy.
But really, I struggle to come up with reasons why Doojoon shouldn’t have reacted in the manner that he did — and given the current standards of beauty in South Korea, coupled with the ridiculous lengths that people will go to to attain them, I’m almost not even surprised.
Being overweight in South Korea is a vastly, vastly different experience than is being overweight in the United States — and it probably wouldn’t be inaccurate to venture a guess that it is an infinitely more negative one. There is no Dove Campaign for Real Beauty in South Korea; Korean magazines probably won’t pledge to feature unaltered, un-photoshopped pictorials after pressure from a petition started by a 14-year-old on the internet; damn near impossible to find are plus-size clothing stores (in fact, most clothing boutiques found in the Seoul metropolis don’t carry multiple sizes of their clothes — either you fit into the size offered, which is almost always small, or you don’t). Larger women are called “healthy” as though it were something to be ashamed of. Almost nothing in South Korea today suggests that overweight people, or even people whose natural body shape doesn’t conform to the ideal, will be celebrated, included, or at the very least, made to feel as though they aren’t a class of social pariahs. Having a different body shape or size than what is considered to be the norm in South Korea just sucks, plain and simple.
Think about it. South Korea has developed a hundred dumb terms to classify the “right” body figure (S-line, X-line, ant waist, honey thighs, etc), but being overweight is only acceptable inasmuch as it turns into a gag or a stunt. Shindong of Super Junior, who is himself guilty of shaming overweight women on public broadcasts, made fun of his own weight during an impersonation of Rain, and comedienne Kim Shin-young often used her plump figure as the butt of her jokes (before she went and lost 15 kilograms, that is). Even Piggy Dolls, who were originally marketed on the premise that women of all shapes and sizes should be accepted, seemed like some sort of sick sham; for as sad as the opening minute and a half of their music video for “Trend” were, they were also profoundly ridiculous and drew excessive attention to the fact that the Piggy Dolls members were fat. Double-fisting pizza slices and eating rolls out of a bag. Really? And at the end of the day, they dropped so much weight that that it practically rendered the title “Piggy Dolls” a misnomer. It seems as though being overweight isn’t okay unless you’re somehow using it as a means to some “hilarious” end.
All in all, this latest episode recalls to me the many blackface incidents that have occurred on South Korean television. Is blackface offensive and wrong? Yes, absolutely — but in a far different societal context than South Korea possesses. As hard as it is to swallow, it is difficult and somewhat unfair to project the societal norms that we have developed in the United States (and in other countries) onto South Korea. South Korea didn’t historically enslave Africans, and so it’s understandable (even if we don’t like it) that they wouldn’t have the same reservations as would Americans when it comes to the use of blackface in comedic sketches. Likewise, South Korea isn’t quite on board with the whole “accepting people as they are” bit (though I can’t quite understand why) — and so it’s unfortunately understandable, though no less condemnable, that South Korean comedy winds up poking more than its fair share of fun at overweight people. And it’s probably not fair to expect that we won’t see this sort of thing continue to happen until there is some dramatic re-evaluation of what South Koreans consider to be an acceptable figure.
Should people like Doojoon be let off the hook, then? Absolutely not. But it’s important to remember that in criticizing Doojoon, we’re also criticizing the flawed way of thinking prevalent in South Korea that made him this way, and ultimately, this is more important than making it a personal issue. Only by continuing to raise our voices against this sort of discrimination can we also hope for change.
What do you say, Seoulmates? Were you offended by Doojoon’s actions?