Whitewashing in Kpop


Sophia Davis

In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Korean dramas, music, and beauty products started to gain popularity across the globe. With the help of the internet, Korean trends have spread across the world quickly. After some time, Korean products and entertainment started to make their way into mainstream media. With the “Korean Wave” or as some people call it, “The Hallyu,” came  thousands of adoring fans worldwide. One of the current trending Korean beauty products is the “The Animal Face Mask.” The respective popularity of Korean dramas and music have, in some ways, fed off each other because a lot of the musical artists or “idols” are also actors in Korean dramas.


There are huge entertainment businesses that train the dancers, singers and rappers that we admire today as Kpop idols. The Kpop idols do not start out as idols. Obviously, they have to audition for the entertainment companies, and if they get past that stage, they go into an intense training to perfect their dancing, singing, rapping and sometimes acting. The work hours of some trainees are hard to wrap our heads around; some idols train twelve hours per day, dancing for eight of those hours. Most of the trainees are young, in their late teens and early twenties, so they also have to earn an education. Generally, Kpop idols train for years. but there is no guarantee to fame. Some are lucky enough to make it to the top of the charts, or even make an “all kill” which is when one group has the top song or album on all the charts in Korea.


A lot of Kpop fans comment that the idols appear unrealistically perfect and doll like. Many of the Kpop stars get plastic surgery to alter their appearance. It is true that there is a lot of controversy surrounding the ways that idols alter their appearance; some believe the lengths they go to are unethical and wrong.


There are many websites, fanbases, and articles dedicated to Kpop and Kpop related subjects. There are many topics discussed in the fandom of Kpop, but there is one that is particularly heated with many different sides: whitewashing the idols. This is a process where Kpop idols use makeup and skin lightening products to appear as though they have much lighter skin than the natural Asian skintone. Many fans are outraged by this, while other fans simply don’t care. Although with this consistent flow of opinions on the topic, it got me thinking; Why white-washing? I once heard a non-fan of Kpop say, “It’s as though they are trying to look like English schoolboys.” Why would that be? Korea is not the most stable country in the world. It is a developing nation in politics and in the land itself, and at constant war with North Korea. But why would the kpop idols want to have lighter skin? In dance rehearsals many fans are surprised to see their favorite stars have darke natural skin tones than when they are on stage of in their music videos. Some fans agree that the reason for white washing is to appeal to a bigger audience. Kpop also incorporates other languages besides Korean in their songs. Lately there has been a higher demand for foreign talent in the entertainment companies.


Back to the main question: why do Kpop idols get white washed? There are many reasons that the idols feel the need to be unrealistically pale. One of the reasons is that they need to cover up the nature imperfections of their skin on stage with a lot of make up, and as a result of that they appear to have much lighter skin tones. Another reason could be that the artists want to appeal to a wider audience. Whatever the reason, many people are split on the detate. On one side of the argument fans worry that idols do not appreciate their appearance and their nature skin tone. However on the other side of the argument, idols do more radical things to their bodies to appear unrealistically perfect such as; plastic surgery, intense skin care treatments and ridged work out and practice schedules.


There is a radical difference from the pictures of Kpop stars with their natural glowing Asian skin tones and the pictures that are put on billboards. Many fans advocate for natural skin tones for their idols, but then that is one of the aspects to Kpop and its idols being unbelievably perfect in their appearances on and off the stage. This is an ongoing struggle between fans: whitewashing or not?



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