Here’s How K-Pop Agencies Force Idols to Fit the “Korean Beauty Standards”
K-pop has become a truly global phenomenon thanks to its catchy melodies, astounding choreography, high production values, dreamlike music videos, and, of course, its insanely beautiful idols.
Korean beauty standards are one of the most rigid beauty standards globally, including a slim figure, small face, v-shaped jaw, pale skin, straight eyebrows, flawless porcelain white skin, balanced under-eye fat, broad shoulders, and large eyes with double eyes eyelids.
Many K-pop idols, such as Jin from BTS, Kai from EXO, Tzuyu from Twice, and Sehun from EXO, were scouted on the streets purely based on their looks and given the role of the "visual" in a K-pop group.
"Visuals" are often one of the most popular members, which demonstrates the importance of good looks in the K-pop industry.
The prevalence of pretty privilege in South Korean society is evident. K-pop idols are confronted with a camera almost 24/7. Therefore, it is no surprise that K-pop idols are put under significant pressure to maintain the perfect image to be marketable to the fans.
Making K-Pop Idols
To become a K-pop idol, an individual must first go through a training process that involves long hours of training in vocals, dancing, rapping, and etiquette.
To join an Entertainment Company as a trainee, one has to pass the first audition and many more once they get in. Most trainees start from as young as 9-10 years old, and the oldest ones are between 18-20.
A trainee can train for a period ranging from 6 months to 10 years before making a debut—some don't debut at all.
Some entertainment companies like BigHit Entertainment (now Hybe) and Pnation Entertainment are liberal towards idols. However, many companies do not function in that way, and most trainees are not as lucky.
Many ex-trainees have revealed shocking stories of extreme control from their agencies, and, unfortunately, this is more common within the smaller agencies.
American YouTuber, Anthony Padilla, released a video with several former and now solo K-Pop idols, including Boyfriend's Jeongmin and former Blady member Tina, where they disclosed the hardships of being idols and the pressures of looking perfect all the time.
Tina revealed that, in most cases, the agency is in control of what one eats, which is extremely unhealthy, and the first thing the trainee has to do when they enter the agency is to weigh on a scale.
Some agencies make their idols go through laser hair removal, body padding, and plastic surgery.
For Tina, she recollected when her own company had an issue with her skin color and even recommended white-tanning for her, alongside other ways to "lighten" her skin.
"I remember at one time, they actually wanted me to do white-tanning. I could do white-tanning or lighten your foundation shade, or you could take vitamin C shots," said Tina when she recalled her time as an idol.
The Silver Lining in the Kpop Industry
Luckily, as K-pop has become more popular worldwide, the industry has shown some signs of progress.
The global audience has been calling out entertainment companies for putting their idols under a lot of pressure to fit into conventional beauty standards. Admittedly, the backlash has contributed to the industry slowly letting go of the rigid beauty standards.
While South Korea has always favored light skin over darker skin, idols like RM and V from BTS, Kai from EXO, Jennie from Blackpink, Jihyo from TWICE, and Haechan from NCT are being praised by their global fans for their beautiful skin tone.
Despite the pressure from society on strict beauty standards, more and more idols are breaking beauty standards in their own ways. This has promoted a healthy environment for K-pop idols and has inspired fans to love themselves.