Are K-Pop Idols Inspiring a New Generation of Beauty Standards?
K-pop idols embody South Korean beauty standards. Learn more about them and the pressures that follow. Plus, their potential impact on devoted fans.
When the Hallyu wave first began to make its way to local shores in the early 2000s, groups like Girls’ Generation (SNSD), 2NE1, and Wonder Girls reigned supreme. K-pop idols were larger than life back then, too. They were glamorous performers with incredible stage presence and enviable good looks.
Over the last decade, K-pop has broken out of its South Korean niche and into the global mainstream. As a result, idols have become even more of a force –affecting everything from music trends to beauty standards. Now, it’s abundantly clear that the baseline for “beautiful” in the K-pop world only gets more unattainable with every new generation of K-pop idols.
The truth is: the “idol look” is more than just about having healthy skin, a strong body, and a face that lights up when you smile. Here’s what beauty in the industry looks like today, the lengths some idols go to achieve it, and how these norms can affect their devoted fans.
The Exclusivity of Korean Beauty Standards
Most of the biggest K-pop idols today have these in common.
Fair and dewy skin, free of blemishes.
Idols are known for their pore less, airbrushed skin and unreal glow. Even in their casual selfies, they look like they just stepped out of a professional photoshoot. Most of them are incredibly pale – their faces look almost translucent. You might call it “”: luminous and delicate.
Some achieve this through skincare and makeup: they and wear foundation a few shades too light. Others get skin treatments to banish blemishes. In extreme cases, they might go for a round of skin-bleaching. But filters and lighting do a lot of heavy lifting in photos, too. Fan pages and magazines are notorious for artificially “whitening” the complexions of these celebrities.
Tall and slim with a small waist.
Idols are usually taller than average, with most men and women coming in at 5'3 (160cm) and 5'8 (177cm), respectively. They have , defined in all the right places: flat tummies, visible abs, and long, toned legs. The female idols have tiny waists, while the males have strong, broad shoulders. In K-pop, being skinny is always "in" –it's the unspoken "Korean body standard," at least in showbiz.
Big, bright eyes, a tiny nose, and a small jaw.
Idols look like with their large, shimmering eyes and soft baby faces. Their are narrow yet well-defined, so their profiles look chiseled even from afar. The "V-shaped jaw" is widely coveted: high cheekbones, small chin, and minimal buccal fat. Many celebs have small, pointy noses with rounded tips. Think of the soloist IU or Red Velvet's Irene, two of the most beloved faces in K-pop.
The Dark Side of Being the “Perfect Korean Idol”
Though idols have an air of effortlessness about them, meeting the sky-high standards of the industry is anything but easy. Behind all the glitz and glamor, many of them must keep up with long training days, strict diets, and the constant threat of backlash. The rules of K-pop dictate that you always have to look good and be as close to perfection as possible. No matter what it takes.
They do crash diets, calorie restriction, and daily training routines.
The immense pressures and constant criticism have led many to undergo crash diets and commit to unhealthy calorie restrictions. A quick web search for "shocking K-pop diets" will net you hundreds of results – including regular people taking on "idol diet challenges" to shed unwanted pounds.
Besides watching what they eat, idols also need to train every day – partly to "stay slim," but also to hone their skills. , so they can spend 10+ hours rehearsing. They're always moving, but low-calorie meal plans make it nearly impossible to maintain your energy. So, unfortunately, instances of idols fainting on stage from exhaustion are well-documented.
Some undergo cosmetic surgeries to transform natural features.
South Korea is also known as "the cosmetic surgery capital of the world." According to an article published in the Harvard Medical Student Review, the country currently performs 24% of total cosmetic surgeries. Plastic surgery is so sought-after that it's become a popular graduation gift for students.
Given the trend, it's normal – even expected – for idols to undergo procedures. Blepharoplasty () is so routine that it's less common not to get it. While few celebs are upfront about getting any work done, some (like Jessi and MOMOLAND's JooE) have openly discussed it.
They endure gossip, cyberbullying, and harassment.
Every time an idol experiences , eagle-eyed netizens ramp up the scrutiny. If one appears "dangerously thin," people say they're sick or overworked. Suddenly, they’re a “bad role model.” On the other hand, weight gain is taken as a sign that someone has "let themselves go." is spot-lit as a terrible, unthinkable flaw.
Whenever a celeb falls short of the public's expectations, their critics have a field day tearing them down, especially online. Idols get caught in the most innocuous scandals, like lip-syncing on stage or being spotted reading a feminist book. The cyberbullying and harassment are rarely warranted. They've gotten flack for not wearing a bra, dating other idols, and even speaking out against their .
How to Embrace Your Natural Beauty as a K-pop Stan
When you idolize the human equivalent of "," it's normal to want to be perfect, too. Once you feel that type of pressure, it’s hard to shake it off. Before you know it, you’re working out like crazy and hyper-fixating on your "flaws." Suddenly, everything that makes you unique is a problem. A bad skin day feels like a personal failure.
But it's important to remember that K-pop artists are human, despite what the K-pop industry wants you to believe. Once you look beyond the glossy magazine covers, high-budget music videos, and airbrushed billboards, it's easy to see that much of it is an illusion. Why should you force yourself to fit into an impossible – not to mention, highly curated –mold?
Be Your Biggest Stan
Having a natural , acne marks, and a may not be the “idol standard,” but these qualities shouldn’t make you feel less beautiful or worthy. Don’t punish your body and for the sake of being exactly like someone else.
Whenever you start to feel down because you’re not measuring up to your idols, focus your energy on instead. Light some candles and lather up with Dove Facial Cleansing Mousse Moisture Care to pamper and nourish your skin. And don’t forget to apply your go-to POND'S Bright Sunscreen SPF 50 PA+++ before rushing out the door! It’s lightweight, non-sticky, and glow-boosting to boot.
Finally, treat your strands to Sunsilk Smooth & Manageable Shampoo. It has five flower essences that make your hair five times smoother and more fragrant – just the confidence boost you need.
Think of it this way: the most radical thing you can do is to , no matter what “” dictate. Yes, you can keep rooting for your favorite K-pop idols– but don’t forget to root for yourself, too.