The Not-So-Golden Proportions of K-pop
V-line, s-line, x-line, ant waist, small face, honey thighs, golden proportions. Korean beauty standards, and specifically K-pop beauty standards, are based around a list of specific traits and proportions that when put together make the perfect body.
Some of these traits, such as a v-shaped jaw, are gained though biology (or surgery), and some, like the ant waist, can be gained through dieting and exercise. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be beautiful, but the specific proportions that are ideal in K-pop end up contradicting each other, making perfection difficult to reach. When multiple ideal body proportions are grasped by luck of the genetic draw, or some other method, it tends to end up looking more unnatural than beautiful.
Let’s talk about faces. Do you consider the small size of your head and face to determine your beauty? Are your eyes big and round like a kitten’s? Well, both of these are desirable traits in K-pop. There are a number of idols who fit the tiny face description and their faces are often measured in units of food. Jaekyung of Rainbow posted pictures of herself on Twitter in which a cookie was placed in front of her head and it covered her entire face, and similarly, Youngjae of B.A.P posted pictures of himself with a hamburger covering his entire face (not surprising since it was an American hamburger).
Not only is having a small face desirable in K-pop, but having a small head in general is as well. The members of B2ST got their heads measured on MBC’s All the K-pop, and it actually caused a bit of stress for the members who weren’t confident about their head size, and of course, Yoseob ended up winning the competition with a head measuring 54.4 centimeters.
Along with having a small face, having big eyes is also a desirable trait in K-pop. Some idols known for their large eyes are Qri, of T-ARA, and Yoon-hye, of Rainbow. These are just two examples in a list that goes on and on and on, and, let us be honest, includes many idols whose large eyes are anything but natural. To increase the large eye look, a lot of idols are wearing circle lenses these days, which makes their eyes look bigger by increasing the diameter of their irises, but it is fairly obvious that it is unnatural when seen up close.
The biological norm is to have small features that are proportionate to your small face, which is why eyelid tape and contacts and plastic surgery have to be used to create the idol “big eye” look. Since, genetically, it is contradictory to want to have a small face but to want facial features to be large, when these two traits are actually combined it causes the face to have a disproportionate look, reminiscent of a baby animal.
It’s not that kittens aren’t cute; it’s just that a human is not a kitten, so the overall look can be a turn off for some fans. A good example of this is the Jo twins from the group Boyfriend, because they have both small faces and giant eyes, with a v-shaped jaw line to boot. This has resulted in them being compared to many small animals (such as sugar gliders) and called scary by the international netizen community. On the other hand, the Korean audience seems to find the twins extremely handsome, which speaks to the culture difference in beauty standards.
What about body size in general? Well, obviously being skinny is the ideal, but having curves is also important. This is where the ideal proportions of having an ant waist and having an s-curve conflict, because it is hard to be very skinny but also maintain weight in just the right areas (ahem, chest). Some idols known for their ant waists are Girl’s Day’s Sojin, Seo In-Young, and Taeyeon of SNSD. Sojin’s waist, for example, is supposedly 22 inches, a size that can be compared to plenty of people’s thighs.
Compare to that, the list of idols with an s-line includes Hyuna, SECRET’s Zinger, and Minzy of 2NE1. S-line is just what it sounds like; when the idol stands sideways their butt and chest stick out, causing the vague shape of the letter S. The problem with dieting and exercise is that you can’t choose which parts of the body lose weight, and with women it is often the chest and butt that get smaller first. This is why there is a market for items like butt pads and padded bras, in lots of countries, because women feel like they have to have it all.
Striving for either an ant waist or an s-line isn’t so bad, but when you try to get both you end up looking like a doll, or as we would say in the US, like Barbie. Barbie was designed to have the perfect body, including an ant waist and s-line, but when the proportions of the doll were eventually studied and compared to real-life proportions it turned out that her back would break from the weight of her chest without a more realistic waist size to support it. Despite the disproportionate nature of this “perfect” figure, having a curvy figure but still being skinny is sometimes called an x-line in the K-pop world, so it is certainly strived for, no matter how unrealistic. The s-line category doesn’t really apply to male idols as much, but there are certainly some who are recognized as having an s-line like body, such as Xiah Junsu and Dongjoon of ZE:A.
As for body shape in general, being tall with long skinny legs is often touted as the ideal frame. Once again, this is a bit of a contradiction because an equally proportioned body will not have legs too skinny to support the height. Often it is male idols that win the competition for skinny legs and then girls talk about how much they wish they could have legs as skinny as SHINee’s Taemin (and he sure flaunts it when dressed as a girl). 2AM’s Jo Kwon and SHINee’s Key are also known for sporting tight pants that show off their skinny legs. Yoona from SNSD is an example of a woman with very skinny legs, but, after all, she is just plain skinny all over.
As for long legs, normally that goes along with being tall, but not always, as some people have a longer torso than legs. As far as leggy idols go, Sohee of the Wonder Girls and Park Bom of 2NE1 are known for having luscious legs that look long no matter what the situation. The boys from EXO are quickly reaching the top of the long leg list for male idols, as Kris from EXO-M and Chanyeol from EXO-K are both very tall and have a longer leg to torso proportions.
When you put these two things together, tall height and skinny leg size, it generally results in the idol looking like a giant stick figure. This isn’t too unnatural for young men, because it is often their natural adolescent state, but many netizens comment on idols needing to eat more when they seem too skinny due to all their weight being stretched out over a tall frame. Here is another excellent time to mention the Boyfriend twins; in their recent “Janus” comeback the twins are looking taller and skinnier than ever, to the point of looking a little malnourished. However, I am willing to say that their legs are perfectly skinny and they are nice and tall, so according to beauty standards they are achieving the ideal.
Combine that with their face proportions and you’ve got the whole package. So why do many K-pop fans find them more scary than attractive? It is the same way I feel about JYJ’s Jaejoong, it isn’t that he isn’t beautiful it’s just that he looks so perfect that it seems unnatural. Both Jaejoong and the twins have multiple perfect proportions, by Korean standards, which appeals to many people, but it also turns many people away because it looks fake, abnormal, and like an animated character.
There are many beauty standards in Korean culture and in the K-pop world, I only mentioned a few of them here, that contradict each other. This makes it difficult for idols to achieve a perfect face and figure, let alone a normal person. Idols are chosen because they have one or more of these traits, but when too many of these traits are combined in one person it begins to look unnatural. What do you think, Seoulmates? Do you prefer idols with a look like Jaejoong, or idols with a more average-joe look?
(MBC TV Entertainment, Twitter)