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Government rolls back ‘K-pop beauty guidelines’ following backlash

The government said Wednesday it is scrapping some of the more controversial guidelines it intended to bring diversity to the screen, following criticism from politicians and K-pop fans on suggestions of an appearance-based quota.

The decision comes just days after the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family published its new guidebook on gender equality on Feb. 12, in which it urged broadcasters not to present a “monolithic beauty standard” to help tackle lookism altogether.

“Most idol groups have skinny bodies, fair skin and similar hairstyles, and wear revealing clothes and makeup,” the 50-page guidebook reads, encouraging producers and TV networks to reduce the chances that people with similar looks appear on TV together.

Gender Minister Jin Sun-mi. (Yonhap)
Gender Minister Jin Sun-mi. (Yonhap)

Another clause said that women weather presenters should avoid wearing “too much makeup” or “revealing clothes,” and reduce “showing skin.”

Despite its original intent, the comprehensive guide on gender equality has proven controversial, drawing criticisms over its strict language.

“Can someone explain to me how this is related to gender equality?” one of the top tweets read.


Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the center-right Bareunmirae Party had some rather harsh words for Gender Minister Jin Sun-mi. “How is this any different to the crackdowns on longer hair and short skirts during a military dictatorship? Is the gender minister a female Chun Doo-hwan?” Ha posed on Facebook, comparing Jin to the former dictator and president.

A spokesperson for the Liberty Korea Party also slammed the minister for trying to “meddle in the appearances of members of the public.”

In a statement released Monday, however, the ministry disputed Ha’s claim and said broadcasters and producers could follow the guidelines at their discretion.

Some came to the ministry’s defense, including a Twitter user who wrote, “I don’t see anything wrong with telling TV programs to not present a monolithic beauty standard.”

Son Yoo-mi, an official at the ministry, told Kpop Herald on Tuesday that it was “regretful” that the guidebook written with good intentions has become embroiled in controversy over the examples and language used.

Pop culture expert Lee Jong-im, who covered the issue of a lack of diversity in beauty standards in the K-pop scene in her book “Idol Trainees’ Sweat and Tears,” said she finds it ironic that, of all groups, a government agency has issued a guideline on looks.

“I agree that we should be discussing topics such as a monolithic beauty standard and plastic surgery, or forcing people on a diet, but the problem here is that the government was behind the guidelines,” she said.

Lee said the approach is not that different to how an entertainment agency would control idol trainees’ looks, and it takes time and discourse to bring about real change.

“Perhaps we can talk about UNESCO’s broadcasting guidelines -- Media Diversity and Gender Equality -- which discuss racial diversity and minority inclusion as an example, but I find (the government’s) approach to people’s looks a little hard to understand.”

This is not the first time that celebrities in Korea have been told how to dress on TV. During a TV appearance in 2017, singer Lee Hyori and other panel members discussed how strict the dress code had become on music programs.

By Yim Hyun-su (