We’ve all seen it before: whenever a beloved idol somehow gets him or herself into hot water, whether by running their mouth off when they shouldn’t, looking bored or tired during an interview, or failing to appropriately address an industry senior, the fan response is invariably the same. “Oppa is only human!” the fans cry. “Unni makes mistakes just like everyone else!” And even though the refrain is tired, the response cannot be said to not hold water; idols really are just people, and even though we are all guilty of doing it, it might not be the most fair thing to hold them to a higher standard than we do others.
As disappointing as it might be when they fall short of our expectations, it’s important to remember that our disappointment is directly a result of the fact that idols live their lives under a microscope: not only are their mistakes on display for the whole word to see, but they are also magnified to an extent that most of us could not conceptualize. Let’s be real – we’ve all looked bored or tired at work or in class, but the repercussions we face are far less damaging or widespread.
However, there is one realm where the “Oppa/Unni is a person just like all of us” excuse seems to not apply, and that is anything related to appearance. But it isn’t just that fans criticize our favorite idols for gaining too much weight, getting a terrible haircut, or wearing a questionable outfit; rather, oftentimes the problem is that fans project the utterly impossible or unrealistic attributes of celebrities onto themselves or those around them.
Consider this: last week on KBS’ variety program Hello, a young woman who made an appearance complained that her husband was micro-managing her weight in an incredibly unhealthy manner; though she was at one point overweight enough to merit something of a diet/lifestyle change (75 kilograms, or 165 pounds – by no means extremely overweight, but depending on one’s height, not terribly healthy, either), her current weight (46 kilograms, or 101 pounds) is not a great deal healthier, either. Her husband claimed that he was doing it for her – that prior to her weight loss, store keepers had paid no attention to his wife – but as many females in the audience recognized, there comes a point (and this fellow got there pretty quickly) where such concern goes overboard and becomes as unhealthy as is being overweight.
Unfortunately for this young woman, however, her husband seems to see absolutely no problem with badgering his wife to be unnaturally skinny; indeed, while trying to defend his (absolutely appalling and quite frankly, indefensible) behavior, he let loose this gem: “I want my wife to be as skinny as After School’s UEE.”
If you think that this statement is remarkably stupid, it’s because it is. First of all, let’s get one thing straight: if I had a friend who was over five feet tall and at a dangerously low weight, I wouldn’t tell him or her how totally awesome it was that they were just one stomach flu away from being forbidden to donate blood (although in the United States, I’m fairly sure that being under 115 pounds is enough to disqualify you from donating); rather, I would probably drag him or her to the nearest Burger King and order a deluxe Whopper with large fries, then swing by Wendy’s for a dessert Frosty. Maybe I’d throw in a McFlurry, too, if I were feeling ambitious. But let’s be realistic: if I had a friend who was as skinny as UEE…well, then my friend would probably be UEE. Or some other K-pop star who wears a size negative 2 dress and has a lucrative ad campaign contract with a soju company.
While we in the K-popiverse tend to throw around the term “idol” without much thought or care, it’s worth taking a moment to remember that idolizing idols can be a dangerous and slippery slope. In fact, actually idolizing idols just might be one of the silliest things that any K-pop fan can do. It’s one thing if you admire IU’s voice, or wish you could play the guitar as well as can CNBlue’s Yong-hwa; it’s another thing entirely to really, earnestly believe that Goo Hara’s “ant waist” is something to be realistically admired and sought-after. And it really doesn’t help that in addition to “ant waist,” a whole slew of somewhat ridiculous terms has developed to describe the many perfections that our ideal idols possess: honey thighs, chocolate abs, baby face + glamorous body (= bagel girl/boy), V-line chins, S-line curves, and the list goes on.
While a lot of K-pop fans certainly have their heads on straight, many (myself included) often seem to forget that the K-pop stars that we see on television, in magazines, on the internet, and pretty much everywhere else only look and seem the way that they do because it is basically their job to do and be so – and a hell of a lot of energy, time, dieting, plastic surgery, makeup, Photoshop, and cover-up goes into producing the final product. Even though it may just seem like a glitzy and trendy lifestyle from the outside looking in, being a celebrity – and especially being a celebrity in South Korea – is a full-time job just like any other, and as a job, it carries with it certain specifications, duties, and requirements.
In addition to all of the airbrushing, idols must spend a ridiculous amount of time polishing themselves in ways that people who are not celebrities do not. My job doesn’t currently require me to wear fancy and carefully coordinated outfits to the airport but SNSD’s certainly does; my job similarly doesn’t forbid me from eating before going to work (thank god), but SISTAR recently became the umpteenth girl group to report that they don’t eat before appearing on music programs.
As silly as it might sound, my point is this: no one except idols should reasonably expect to even kind of look like an idol – because for nearly everyone else on the planet, the career demands placed on an idol are completely antithetical to those placed on practically every other lifestyle. Unless you are a model, actress, or singer (and nearly every single Korean celebrity is at one point in their career or another), you cannot reasonably or realistically hold yourself to the standards to which K-pop idols must hold themselves – only disappointment (or incredibly ill health, or both) will ensue. Don’t be fooled, it’s a two way street – just as I don’t expect to be as skinny, pretty, or put-together as is Tiffany, I do not expect her to write a masters-level dissertation on some aspect of Korean history. Yet despite the fact that a wealth of news stories exists to remind us of the seemingly absurd lengths that idols go to in order to maintain their figures and keep up their appearances, this fact is all too easy to forget when we think about ourselves.
This is not to say that any and all imitation of idols is bad, of course – but as the ancient Greeks say, everything in moderation. So gentlemen, please don’t tell your lady that she should in any way, shape, or form resemble a Korean pop star; if she has any sense at all, she’ll either demand that you somehow morph into Taecyeon or get rid of you for your astounding lack of common sense.
And lest I be sexist, ladies, the same goes for you.