In her book Never Skinny Enough: the Diary of a Top Model , French author Victoire Mason Dauxerre recounts how she fell into anorexia after becoming a top model for Elite. With great lucidity, she explains how she became obsessed with losing weight and by the “gap between her legs”. She came to weigh only 46 kg for 178 cm.
It is by reading her story that I got interested in K-Pop stars’ BMI (particularly in girl groups). The result is surprising and frightening… But first, what is BMI (Body Mass Index)? It is a value that can help to estimate a person’s corpulence. It takes into account size and weight, and was invented to objectively diagnose risks of overweight and undernutrition. BMI is currently the most useful indicator for detecting potential health risks of an overweight or underweight person. However, you must be careful because BMI does not judge body aesthetics, it only reveals whether the person’s weight represents a risk to his or her health.
For a person over the age of eighteen, this is how BMI is calculated:
BMI = Weight (kg) / (Size (m)) ²
When the result is below 16, it is called undernutrition, and if it is between 16.5 and 18.5, there is leanness. Between 18.5 and 25, the corpulence is called normal, then between 25 and 30, there is overweight. People with a score between 30 and 35 are moderately obese; between 35 and 40, obesity is said to be high, and finally, with a BMI upper than 40, there is morbid obesity… These last figures, far from being uninteresting, are not the ones that worry us in this case.
WHO (World Health Organization) has also developed a table of different levels corresponding to the values of BMI and their interpretations. This time, people under 16.5 are underweight; between 16.5 and 16.99, there is moderate underweight; between 17 and 18.49, this is a slight underweight (reached by some girls).
BMI of K-Pop girls
I started my research simply by taking the profiles of the most famous girlsbands and calculating BMI of each member. Sometimes size and/or weight information was not available, but most of the time, it is data that agencies feel free to communicate. Of course, they can be questioned because these official figures are sometimes boosted or revised downwards (the most frequent case) to guarantee a more “glamorous” image to the members of the groups. But they remain on the whole, and in any case, a good indicator of a certain vision of women imposed by society (in general, since the phenomenon is not only confined to South Korea).
As indicated earlier, the result is without appeal and can be frightening. I analyzed BMI of 49 girl groups and thirteen idols. Of these 49 groups, only 19 girls appear in BMI “normal corpulence” : CL and Minzy of 2ne1, Ji Hyun of 4Minute, Hye Jeong of AOA, Je-A of Brown Eyed Girls, Luna of f(x), Yuri of Girls Generation, Young Ji of Kara, Min of Miss A, Hyo Sung and Hana of Secret, Hyo Lyn and Soyu of Sistar, Euna Kim and Jane of The Ark, Yoon Kyung and You Jin of TheSeeya, Ji Hyo and Chae Young of Twice and Na Da of Wassup. Among them, Yuri, Luna and Hana (and Minzy?) have also lost weight and are therefore likely to no longer belong to this category. In solo singers, only Ailee and Lee Hyori have a BMI in the standard.
There are 42 female members whose BMI indicates a state of undernutrition (very advanced, in some cases, for example Hyo Min of T-Ara who, with her 167 cm and 43 kg, has a BMI less than 15.42 indicating severe underweight). Among them are: 2ne1’s Dara, 4Minute’s HyunA, After School’s Lizzy and E-Young, AOA’s ChoA and Min A, A-Pink’s Ha Young, April’s Na Eun, BESTie’s Hae Ryung, CLC’s Yu Jin, Pencil Pop’s Ellin (the weight of the other members has not been communicated), all the Delight except for Su Min (BMI leanness), DIA’s Seung Hee, Fiestar’s Jei, Global Icon’s Eun Ji, Jewelry’s Eun Jung and Baby-J, Kara’s Hara, Laboum’s Yujeong, Ladies’ Code’s Zuny, Miss A’s Jia, Purfles’s Geon Hee, all the Rainbow except Yoon Hye (BMI leanness), RaNia’s Xia, Wendy + Joy and Seul Gi of Red Velvet, Su Min + D.ana and Na Hyun of Sonamoo, all Stellar with the exception of Ga Young (BMI leanness), all the T-Ara except Boram (weight not communicated) and Qri (BMI leanness), Tahiti’s Ji Su, Two X’s Su Rin, and Sun Mi of Wonder Girls. As for the solo singer, the same deafening verdict: Anda, Baek Ji Young, BoA, Ivy, Kan Mi Yeon, NS Yoon Gi all have a BMI undernutrition. As for the other girls not mentioned here, their weight has not been communicated (so no calculation of BMI possible) or their BMI corresponds to “thinness”, which is certainly less frightening but still alarming.
This is not a judgment of value, nor an aesthetic judgment, I remind you. This is to show that the weights displayed proudly by idols and agencies are weights, that in truth, represent a health risk.
From body to body
Obtaining such silhouettes is not without sacrifice and we suspect that, it is also the case for the idols. All practice dance at a certain level, and therefore make a lot of physical effort. That said, physical efforts alone can not explain such low BMI. They are necessarily the sign of a very strict diet (because “no pain no gain”, friends). Like a lot of stars, the stars of K-Pop, members of groups or solo singers, diet, often with the help of a nutritionist… or not, for that matter.
No need to dig a lot to know what the schemes are like. With just a few clicks, it’s easy to find with what idol feeds on. I prefer to warn you in advance, in no case I will advise you to follow such diets at home. I am not a specialist in this field, but I think I can say without sticking my neck out so much that the diets you are going to see are quite harmful to your health, if practiced too long.
Among the most popular, the famous “one-food diet”, literally, the single-feed diet. It’s simple: just choose a vegetable or a fruit with very low caloric intake (like cucumber for Dasom) and eat only that, all day. It can be melon, salad, no matter… Apart from the obvious monotonous side, with this kind of diet, the deficiencies are enormous and the fat intake of the muscles, catastrophic. But if this seems hard to follow, it’s nothing compared to other types of diets. There is a diet that consists in making only one meal, and the least caloric possible, per day, that Soyou has followed. And there’s… the Lemon Detox! It is so difficult to hold that Hyori left it after three days (no kidding), it is just : tea with herbs, water and lemon. Awesome the day after a hangover, less to take a step before the other without fear of starvation. I let you imagine when you have to dance and sing, without appearing out of breath while that is all there is in your belly.
Less extreme, the Nine Muses boast of a diet called “paper cup”. It is a matter of taking a small plastic or paper cup and to put inside some rice, vegetables, fruits… in short everything you want, provided it is not peanut butter and sausages from Toulouse, and eat the contents (yes, otherwise, there is no point). These portions constitute their meal. They take one in the morning, one at noon and one at night. For the diet to be sufficiently nutritious, it is therefore necessary to do everything possible to balance the intake of vitamins and minerals necessary for the proper functioning of the body. Problem, the portions are too small and intakes are too low.
The same goes for the diet followed by Secret. It does not have a name but consists of a very simple menu prepared in advance… In practice, it gives something like this:
Breakfast: a toast, an apple, a sweet potato
Lunch: a salad of chicken breast
Meals: 8 cherry tomatoes, one cucumber
Breakfast: a toast, low-calorie milk
Lunch: a sweet potato
Meals: 8 strawberries, 5 cherry tomatoes
And it continues until Saturday, a day of celebration where they have the right to eat outside in the evening… with extra three cherry tomatoes! Once again, the deficiencies of this kind of diet seem obvious to me (although I am not expert) because even if all the vitamins and minerals are there, there remains the problem of the small amount that limits intakes of these vitamins and minerals.
The singer IU, meanwhile, recounted eating an apple, two sweet potatoes and a glass of protein drink during the day. Again, intakes of vitamins and minerals are too low. The diet that seems to me the most balanced is the one followed by the SNSD. The goal is to limit calorie intake to 1,500 per day (After School’s UEE diet is similar but is limited to 1,000 calories). In theory, the idea is rather good because technically, a thin woman burns about 1,300 calories a day to run her body and renew her cells, except that this number of calories is advised if, and only if, the woman in question does a little or no physical activities. However, it is not so much the diet that matters to the SNSD but especially the exercise. And here is the rub. Idols follow this kind of diet most often when they are on promotion, so when they do a lot of exercise and would need a higher calorie intake. Again, the regime can lead to long-term health problems.
You said “eating disorder”?
Luckily, as noted just above, most idols only follow these drastic regimes in times of promotion or activity. This does not mean that there is no risk. Indeed, “yo-yo effect” is not recommended either, and constantly switching from a free (and often balanced diet, junk food is like the rest… with moderation friends) to a strict diet can also bring its share of health concerns.
A question then burns our lips… No rather two, but one thing at a time. The first, which is of utmost importance to us, at the moment, is the following: do idols in undernutrition and leanness exhibit signs of eating disorders?
I would tend to answer no. Anorexia is a symptom, a fear of fattening or regrowing accompanied by a need to reduce your diet and has nothing to do with loss of appetite. The same goes for bulimia, which is accompanied in addition to a feeling of loss of control and the absolute need to get rid of the food ingested. The diets that follow the idols seem to be often imposed on them and most of them go back to conventional ways of eating as soon as they can… I suppose. Because there is not much information on that side. Moreover, clinically, anorexia is now diagnosed without “taking into account the elements of anorexic thought”. As far as, vomiting is no longer a mandatory part of the diagnosis. In addition, BMI factor is paramount. As we have seen, many singers have a very low BMI, sometimes even worrisome. To say that all those in undernutrition are anorexic and / or bulimic, there is only one step that I will not cross. We are not behind the scenes to see what is really happening, and we can not make a generality based on things that we do not see, that are far from us…
That said, some tongues have untied. They are still very few, because the subject must be taboo (as it remains in our society, which tends to treat it with a very “sensational” side) but some idols have confessed to having suffered serious eating disorders. Amongst them, Gyuri, from Kara, explained in the Quiz to Change the World program that she felt big in comparison with the members of her group, especially Seung Yeon and Hara, often shown as an example for their “dream” figure (in conditional… to each their own dreams). She confided: “Because doing a diet is very difficult, after a major shoot, because of stress, I want to eat something good. I eat a lot and then I feel guilty. So I exercise, but it often gives me nausea and I finally vomit before going to bed. Because of this, I had gastroesophageal reflux. In the past, this has been my method not to get fatter but it’s over. Now my diet is more balanced”. In this testimony, even if Gyuri never said the word, it seems to me that she confesses by a somewhat diverted way that she was bulimic: guilt, vomiting, reflux problems… It should be noted that Seung Yeon, of the same group (and to whom Gyuri is often compared), would have confessed to being able to restricted eating to the point of being on the verge of fainting, which is anorexia.
And speaking of anorexia… Again, the idol never pronounces this word, but Sojung of Ladie’s Code, has already confessed to having followed a most restrictive diet. Her weigh was 49 kg at its beginning, before falling to the weight of… 38 kg (the same weight as HyunA in “Bubble Pop”, where his surplus skin due to too fast diet shakes close to the camera)! The young girl ate only 5 cherry tomatoes every 2 or 3 days and water, to the point of not having her period for almost a year, and to hate herself when she was hungry. Fortunately for her, she regained weight before the comeback of “Kiss Kiss”, which certainly saved her life. At 38 kg, it is a safe bet that his body would not have held the shock during the car accident which also cost the lives of RiSe and EunB.
And the second question that burned our lips, then? Is it good for pigs (without offending pigs)?
But here she is! Who is the culprit? Who should be blamed for this health catastrophe? To delicate question, delicate answer, can one accuse the agencies, the Korean society, fans… As I said earlier, no one can really know. Of course, the agencies communicate weights of idols and do not hesitate, sometimes, to see them downwards to “make the masses dream”. That said, women’s poor image of themselves and their bodies is a quasi-international problem. It is not inherent in Korean society only. Of course, it is a society very much on appearance, it is undeniable, but I do not think that is enough to explain this frenzy of thinness (needless to lie). It is an evil that affects all the entertainment industries in most countries.
Actually, I’d rather let you try to answer that question by yourself, and make your own idea on the thing.
The problem is the image conveyed by these leanness images presented as an absolute goal to achieve. They establish in the minds of women (who are the first targets) an ideal that does not exist. This leads them to misjudge themselves and leads to decreases in self-esteem that can have a strong impact on the most easily influenced of them. In the end, this can even lead them to deprive themselves despite all the harmful effects this may have on their health.
The eternal debate seems endless, like the snake biting his tail…
Original article by K.Owls: “Dangereuse alliance ? K-pop et régime”