I vividly remember what fuelled my disordered eating when I was thirteen years old.
It started with watching music videos on MTV and glitzy, extravagant, bubblegum pop imagery seduced me into the music genre called K-pop, shortened from Korean popular music. It originated from South Korea rising to the scene in the early 1990’s and has attained huge global popularity since the 2010’s, which was exactly the time when I heavily invested my interests in it.
K-pop is unique for its extremely regimented, coordinated production system of artist management which also includes agencies notoriously policing their artists’ eating regime, putting them on unattainable weight loss diets, offering cosmetic surgeries and more, all in the pursuit of the thin ideal.
A reflection of K-media consumption
There is no doubt the exponential rise in social media is accountable for the immense exposure of media that we consume on a daily basis.
These cultural beauty ideals are harmful to both celebrities and the young audiences who eagerly follow them.
While celebrities are expected to uphold an image of ultra slimness as a major part of their definition of so-called “perfection” and “success”, many passionate K-pop fans may idolise them and will do anything to follow such diets… without fact-checking the context of these diets.
To the outsider, including family members and carers, this could be a major red flag. If you suspect someone you know who religiously follows celebrities and closely emulates their lifestyles…understand the damage it can potentially do long term.
View with caution
K-Pop celebrities are often explicit with the details of their dieting journey, notorious for their strenuous choreography, gym training, and dangerously inadequate diets revolving around strict food rules-usually lacking scientific evidence. Things can get blurry when celebrities share explicit details of their weight loss journey because they can be viewed with either lens: inspirational or cautionary.
The glamorised lifestyle of these entertainers, coupled with rampant social media usage means young people are imitating strict food rules and sharing their experiences and results on TikTok and YouTube and other social media outlets. These videos further fuel social media comparison and run the real risk of disordered eating to be normalised and even desired.
Unrealistic standards of beauty aren’t exclusive to the K-pop community but also affect people internationally, who consume K-pop content. The over-emphasis on extreme dieting practices and narrow body diversity is a recipe for low self-esteem, depression and eating disorders.
What we can do to help
Eating disorders are typically hard to evaluate from the outside. Not even the bathroom scales will tell the full story as most eating disorders manifest in different ways.
Parents and carers should be well aware that eating disorders do not discriminate between people of different ethnic cultures. The idea that eating disorders are seen exclusively in people of white, affluent or middle class socio-economic backgrounds is nothing but a harmful stereotype. Eating disorders affect people from all walks of life, poison lives and prevent individuals from seeking appropriate help.
Parents and carers can, and should, acknowledge the kind of media their loved ones are invested in. If the individual is susceptible to dichotomous thinking and feels highly conscious around food, then it’s time to re-think the way we manoeuvre our conversations regarding the way we view food. Within families, mealtimes can be challenging as eating can unleash either pleasure, conflict or both.
Eating behaviours become highly personal when the act of eating becomes a topic of intense scrutiny and therefore it is unsurprising that family relationships can become volatile.
Family mealtimes can be improved by steering conversations away from body weight and size, calories, and other diet-related talk. Young people carefully watch other people’s relationships with food and their bodies. It is our place as parents, carers and educators to provide safe opportunities for people to be comfortable in their own bodies and experience what the world has to offer that has nothing to do with body weight or size.