Advertising and the Feminisation of Men in Korea.
Introduction – The Situation in Korea
The traditional criteria for male attractiveness seemed to be the inverse-triangle shaped body, muscles, broad shoulders and a sculpted face. These are all indicators of high levels of testosterone, and would be desirable according to evolutionary psychology. Then the advent of the metrosexual man broke a new frontier, making it acceptable for men to care about their appearance. However, there is now a new criteria for male beauty that is completely different, and some attractive men now look like women. Ren a member of a newly launched Kpop group NU’EST, for example, has often been mistaken for a girl, and he is in fact praised for this femininity. He is not the only one, with Taemin from Shinee and Dongho from U-Kiss have also been said to be ‘prettier than a girl’. There has even been a term coined for men like this - Kkotminam (꽃미남), or “Flower Boys”. Furthermore, there are certain trends in the Korean entertainment industry that were once the sole custody of females – jewelry, for example. The wearing of multiple ornaments seems largely a feminine practice that has been adopted by male idols in Korea. In addition, Korean idols and actors now frequently endorse cosmetics and skincare brands. For instance, Shinee now fronts a campaign for Etude House, Kim Hyun Joong smiles for The Face Shop and Song Joong Ki is the face of Tony Moly. The fact that they now dominate a space traditionally occupied by women indicates that the industry is choosing to market their products in a very specific way, as well as the fact that there seems to be a loosening of the ideals that constitute male beauty. Shinee endorsing Etude House – including lipsticks, mascaras, etc.
But not only are the male idols in Korea expected to look more feminine, they are in a way forced to behave more femininely as well. Male idols are routinely asked to perform dances belonging to the girl groups, perform cute ‘aegyo’ behaviour as well as cross-dress – not always for humourous purposes either. In an episode of Idol Maknae Rebellion, all of the participating idols were made to cross dress and decide which of them made the prettiest girl. The fetishisation of male idols as women seems rather odd, and definitely does not emerge naturally, given that they are subverting millennia-long ideals of conventional male beauty. In this paper, I will illustrate how and why the media has been able to propagate this new image of men, and why it has become such a trend. Unintentional Messages
Men are not the main target audience of any cosmetics company, and even though some companies have skincare lines targeted at men, these are rarely what the male idols end up endorsing. Rather, these cosmetics campaigns seek to encourage women to purchase these products, by packaging them as what their idols would like a girl to use. In the Shinee advertisement for Etude House pictured above, for instance, the fact that they are pointing the lipsticks at the viewer suggests that they want the viewer to use it, not themselves. Given that these idols can sell anything from socks to alcohol to a particular brand of chicken, asking them to sell cosmetics and skincare really is not that big of a stretch. However, because of the very existence of these advertising campaigns, there exists a connection between men and the use of cosmetics and skincare, and this connection does not always connect in the same way as the above argument. In semiotics (Rose, 2012), for example, a man holding a lipstick and smiling can be interpreted in a few different ways. The signifer – the man, the lipstick and the smile – has no meaning outside of a particular context. The signified – the concept attached to the image – is however not always the same, because signs are polysemic, and have different interpretations depending on the context. While the ad featuring Shinee is not trying to say that...
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