Does Kpop culture promote eating disorders?

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In this blog post, we shall answer the question “does Kpop culture promote eating disorders?” and look at the various eating disorders and their symptoms. We shall then focus on how Kpop culture promotes eating disorders. We shall then conclude by discussing the effects of media on the development of eating disorders.

Does Kpop culture promote eating disorders?

Yes, Kpop culture promotes eating disorders. Though it might be indirect, many Kpop fans emulate Kpop stars who they call idols. From how they dress, physical appearance, hair and even their body shapes.

On the other hand, Kpop stars are judged very harshly for what they eat, weigh, wear and say. South Korea has very rigid beauty standards. The male stars are expected to be slim and attractive while the female stars are judged very harshly when it comes to their body shapes.

What is Kpop?

Kpop stands for Korean pop music. It has gained global popularity from its vibrant dressing, distinct sound, captivating visuals, and vibrant music videos. They have a loyal following of fans who will emulate all their features, including the colour of their hair.

The Kpop stars are bound by very strict beauty standards and those who step away from it are condemned by their fans and management agencies. Some argue that being thin is a requirement for being a Kpop star. They are regularly interviewed about their diet and exercise routines and most of them are strenuous choreography training, restrictive diets and strenuous gym routines.

Some shared about their diets that have strict dos and donts that they must follow. This pressure and standards demanded of them have led to many Kpop stars developing mental illnesses and some of them committing suicide.

On the other hand, their fans follow blindly their routines in an effort to look like their idols. This has normalized disordered eating in South Korea and made the prevalence of eating disorders among young people to be dangerously high. This trend has now trickled down to Kpop fans all around the world.

Many of Kpop stars practising restrictive dieting and extreme exercises to reach the beauty standards of their idols. These behaviours lead to low self-esteem, the development of eating disorders and other mental disorders like depression.

The Asian population is at a very high risk of developing eating disorders from the strict scrutiny and beauty standards set by their idols and media. Before we look at the contribution of media in the development of eating disorders, let us look at what eating disorders are and the types with their symptoms.

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are mental illnesses characterized by abnormal eating habits, and complex and damaging relationships between food, exercise and body image that impairs physical and mental health.

Types of eating disorders

Pica 

Pica is a feeding and eating disorder characterized by eating non-nutritive non-food substances such as ice, clay, soil, paper and stones. Can be caused by nutrition deficiencies, pregnancy, stress and cultural factors.

Rumination 

Rumination is an eating disorder characterized by spitting up digested or partially digested food from the stomach, re-chewing the food and either re-swallowing or spitting it out. It occurs within 30 minutes of every meal. The causes of rumination remain unknown.

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder.

Formally referred to as selective eating disorder, is an eating disorder characterized by intense restriction or selection of food consumed. Unlike anorexia nervosa, people with this eating disorder are not interested in their body image, shape or size.

Anorexia nervosa

Is a severe eating disorder characterized by abnormal body weight, distorted body image, and unwarranted fear of gaining weight. In order to prevent weight gain, anorexic people try to control their body weight by vomiting food, using laxatives, diet aids, and excessive exercise. Many Kpop stars have developed anorexia nervosa from their disordered eating as they try to maintain their body sizes.

Common symptoms include extreme low body weight, dizziness, insomnia, fatigue, dry skin, hair that easily falls off, preoccupation with food, skipping meals, refusing to eat, denying hunger, complaints of being overweight, measuring weight often and lying about the quantity of food taken.

Causes include; biological factors such as genes, psychological factors such as temperaments and environmental factors such as societal demands.

Preverance

Usually begins during the teenage and early adulthood years. It is more common in women than in men.

Anorexia is the most deadly mental illness. One study found that people with anorexia are 56 times more likely to commit suicide than people without an eating disorder. (Eating Disorders Coalition, 2016).

Bulimia nervosa

Is a mental disorder characterized by binge eating (consuming large quantities of food over a short period of time) followed by calorie-reducing strategies such as purging (induced vomiting), fasting or exercising excessively. This is also common among Kpop stars as a way of maintaining their body sizes.

Bulimia is a severe, life-threatening eating disorder. Symptoms include; binge eating, vomiting, self-harm, fatigue, dehydration, avoiding food, irregular and absence of menstruation, constipation, heartburn and guilt.

Causes include genetic factors, psychological factors such as personality, dieting and societal pressure.

Binge eating disorder

Binge eating is an eating disorder characterized by consuming large amounts of food over a short period of time, and feelings of being unable to stop eating even when full. It is the most common eating disorder with a prevalence of  5.5%.

Symptoms include; eating large amounts of food over a short period of time, eating even when not hungry, feeling that your eating behaviour is out of control, eating until you are uncomfortably full, eating in secret, eating alone and feelings of depression and guilt.

Unlike people with bulimia, binge eaters are not concerned with weight reduction through vomiting, using laxatives or excessive exercise and can thus suffer from other physical conditions such as obesity.

It is more common in women than in men and usually begins during early adulthood. Causes include dieting and psychological issues such as depression and low self-esteem.

Influence of media on the development of eating disorders

Many celebrities, like Kpop stars, have come out and opened up about their struggles with eating disorders. Though there are some who have not spoken about it, they are speculated to be struggling with eating disorders from their physical appearances and behaviours. Media contributes to the development of eating disorders in the following ways:

The societal standards of beauty

Many people perceive beautiful women to be petite or skinny. The internet today is filled with beautiful women with petite figures and they represent the standards of beauty today. Kpop male stars are expected to be attractive and thin. The ladies must have a certain body shape, failure to which they will receive backlash from their management and their fans. The most famous models and those who model for Victoria’s secret are extremely slender and are portrayed as beautiful or “sexy” and this has been accepted as the standard for beauty.

Digital manipulation

Technology today has allowed us to manipulate pictures to our liking. You can be transformed into a glamorous, thin woman by trimming, shaping and enhancing the photo on the computer. It is very difficult to identify fake pictures and those that have been manipulated. Young people are deluded into looking ‘perfect’ like their idols without realizing that some of them have used digital manipulation.

Increased non-invasive surgeries

Many celebrities have been deluded into getting “perfect” bodies by undergoing surgeries to correct parts of their bodies that they don’t like. Procedures like liposuction and rib removal surgeries are in high demand for celebrities to achieve perfect body shapes. They put pressure on young people who want to emulate them and resulting in restrictive dieting and disordered eating to look like their idols.

Diet culture 

Diet culture is an extreme belief that one’s appearance and body shape is more important than one’s general well-being. It gives the idea that controlling what you eat and how much you eat is normal. The Kpop stars are judged by how they look. Examples of diet culture include:

  • Having guilt or shame for eating
  • Feelings of unworthiness due to your physical appearance
  • Suppressing appetite with caffeine, nicotine, water, etc.
  • Labelling food as good or bad

On-screen sexual objectification

Most of the time, women and sometimes men on-screen are seen as sex objects than cognitive and emotional beings. This is clearly seen in Kpop culture where the idols are expected to meet certain beauty standards. People tend to focus on the parts of their bodies. Influencers, musicians and actors/ actresses are criticized for how they look, their physical appearances and their body shapes. Sexually objectifying women in media can lead to self-objectification, body dissatisfaction, sexist beliefs and increased tolerance of violence against women.

Demand for their jobs

Most celebrities have demanding jobs that leave them little or no time to relax and engage in healthy eating habits. Most of them get used to having fast foods or snacks in between their busy schedules. Those in the film industry are forced to cut weight overnight so as to fit certain roles and these factors can be triggers for eating disorders. In Kpop culture, the media and management demand that the idols remain thin. It is said to be a requirement of being a Kpop idol.

These influences by the media have led to the development and increase of disordered eating among Kpop fans and the young generation in general. We hope that the Kpop industry will realize the negative impact the appearance pressure is putting on their artists and fans as well.

Conclusion

We have discussed who Kpop is and whether they contribute to the development of eating disorders. We have also defined eating disorders and looked at their types. Finally, we have discussed how the media influences and leads to the development of eating disorders.

If you have any questions or comments, please let us know in the comment section below.

Frequently asked questions: Does Kpop culture promote eating disorders? 

How do Kpop idols lose weight?

  • Eat fewer calories
  • Eat less
  • Exercise regularly
  • Minimize added sugar
  • Eat less fat

Why are Kpop idols malnourished?

There is pressure from the fans to be skinny, as they will be called fat the moment they add weight. The Korean beauty standards force some to consume 300 calories a day as they burn 1600 calories.

What diet do Kpop idols do?

The Kpop diet is based on traditional staples of Korean cuisine that include whole, minimally processed food, and minimised fat-rich, processed and sugary foods.

Citations

The wave clinic (May 21, 2021). Where Barbie meets K-pop: The rise in eating disorders in Asia. Retrieved from https://thewaveclinic.com/blog/where-barbie-meets-k-pop-the-rise-in-eating-disorders-in-asia/

EDGI, (April 15, 2021). K-Pop and Disordered Eating. Retrieved from https://edgi.nz/k-pop-disordered-eating/

Koreaboo, (May 1, 2018). 5 Idols Who’ve Confessed To Suffering From Eating Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.koreaboo.com/lists/5-idols-confessed-suffering-eating-disorders/

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