K-pop fans need to fight against idol abuse

It’s time that Kpop fans call out the abusive behaviors of management companies


Courtesy of Only Ũ via Creative Commons

The idols of Blackpink pose during one of their concerts. The singers (from left to right: Rosé, Jennie, Lisa, and Jisoo) are often judged online for their appearance and weight. “These idols don’t get to choose what they look like unless it’s their day off, which is rare,” freshman Gabrielle Short said.

Kpop fans are known for being toxic and overbearing, oftentimes stalking the singers and attacking people who don’t share their opinions. Comparing the different groups and idols does nothing but push unattainable standards for the singers and encourages their management companies to force them to meet those standards. This toxicity on the part of the fans has done nothing but hurt other fans and the idols themselves. “I think it is so unnecessary knowing that we all like the same thing, so why do the groups we stan have to be better than the other?” sophomore Leiah Soriano said.

The last thing that idols need is for their managers to push more beauty standards on them. The Korean music industry is not only shaped by musical culture, but by Korean culture as well. Korean culture pushes insane beauty standards onto women, with the country’s ideal proportions being 162 cm (5 feet and 4 inches) and 42 kg (93 pounds). This combination is considered underweight and dangerously unhealthy. “Korean beauty standards are tough to achieve. Most of the females are extremely underweight battling with eating disorders,” Castillo said.

The everyday woman of South Korea has the option to ignore these beauty standards of course. Just like everyone, Korean women can choose to love their bodies just the way they are and disregard what others may think. Idols, on the other hand? It’s their job to care what people think of them. Their job is not only to sing and dance but to become an unattainable image of beauty. Fans don’t call them ‘gods’ and ‘goddesses’ for nothing.

“Kpop pushes unattainable standards of beauty! It saddens me to watch my favorite artists not be able to eat because of their busy schedules or diet. The diets that management companies put their idols on are incredibly unattainable, but they have no choice but to do it.” Soriano said.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking to achieve a certain body to be healthy. Having goals for self-improvement is a healthy thing. However, pushing the idea that you must be perfect is nonsense, especially when ‘perfection’ is an actively self-destructive lifestyle. Add the pressure of millions of fans and looming record labels that see the idols as no more than dollar signs, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

“Idol dieting” is a trend that has been going around for a while now. It goes like this: fans of idol groups study the ways that Korean idols eat, and attempt to imitate it and see how much weight they lose in a week or a month. One of these is a technique introduced by the girl group Nine Muses, in which they would measure their food based on paper cups. For each meal, they’d measure their food of grains, vegetables and fruit using three-ounce paper cups. Three paper cups per meal, meaning a total of nine cups a day. Twenty-seven ounces of food in a day. That is nowhere near a healthy diet, with the calorie intake being approximately half of the recommended daily value (Spoon University).

“Diets that [management companies force on idols] have made idols heavily sick for not getting the right nutrients,” Short said.

This is no joke. The worst part is that the idols don’t have a choice. Their management companies lay pressure on them to have a certain image of perfection, egged on by comments from the public. Jimin, a member of the top idol group BTS, has made his past struggles with eating disorders public. Jimin often went days without eating, once saying that he went ten days on one meal. “I lost about 7kg [15 pounds] after dieting this [way],” he said in an interview in the group’s “Wings” concept book. Jimin revealed that he often passed out during practice due to a lack of strength. His fellow group members encouraged him to stop starving himself and eat with them, but he refused and pushed on.

Kpop fans are only encouraging this kind of behavior, even if many don’t realize it. Wars between fans of different groups breed hate comments directed at the different idols. Jimin in particular has received a lot of this negative attention after coming forward about his struggles with dieting. Many comments and “jokes” were made about his eating disorders, as well as people saying that they hope he gets sexually assaulted when he joins the military. The management company Big Hit, which manages BTS, has said that they plan to take legal action against people who have been harassing Jimin online. Allegedly, that’s because he’s read the comments (Distractify).

“It takes 5 seconds for someone with a passing feeling of animosity towards me to type a hate comment. But I read that comment and mull it over for 5 hours, 5 days,” RM, another member of BTS said.

Kpop not all bright lights, happy songs, and pretty smiles like the management companies of idol groups would have you believe.

“The suicide attempts by idols also demonstrate the unattainable standards the industry puts on them,” Soriano said.
There have been many suicides by idols over the years, and the main cause seems to be harassment online, social pressure and abuse by their managers. A notable case of this was the death of Sulli, whose real name was Choi Jin-Ri. Her death was linked to cyberbullying, something she experienced more than most idols because she didn’t fit the model of what an idol should be. She was very outspoken, regularly challenging the social expectations of women in South Korea. This led to media outposts criticizing her, calling her “inappropriate” and “absurd”, and parodies of her being made on the Korean version of Saturday Night Live.

“They’re still people, not animals,” sophomore Camryn Baggs said. “They shouldn’t have to lose so much weight in one day and should be allowed to date. Like it’s their life they should be able to control it.”

Fans should open up their eyes and realize that management companies are just like pet owners who treat their animals like decorations, forcing them to act a certain way and harshly punishing even the smallest of whimpers.

The pressure on idols is a lot, and all of this can take a serious toll on their mental health. The system is carefully crafted so that idols can’t escape their debts to the management companies. Idols often don’t know how much money they’re expected to pay until the day comes. From training to debut, the whole process is calculated to cost up to a million dollars.

“Kpop idols work so hard during their trainee years. I’m not even sure if they’re aware that they’re being mistreated or if it’s normalized,” Soriano said.

It’s much worse than most people realize. The trainees were expected to work from 5 am to 1 am every day, only allowed to leave the building they train in to attend classes. If they aren’t up to par, they sleep on the floor. No matter how tall they are, if they aren’t under a certain weight, then they aren’t given food.

“It is no secret to the Kpop community that these management companies treat their idols terribly. I truly believe that more people should raise awareness about the abuse that Kpop idols go through,” Soriano said.

Management companies’ mistreatment of idols is something that has been on fans’ radar for a while, so it’s shocking that they aren’t doing more about it. This suggests that their “unconditional” support of the idols only runs skin-deep. It’s a fact that people know about the abuse. Blackpink’s Lisa has been the subject of many abuse accusations for a good while. The group is under the management of YG Entertainment, one of the biggest management companies in South Korea. People have been putting the company under fire as of late for not taking care of the idol. The company only took action against the threats that had been made against her life when the embassy contacted them and her fans started calling them out for their inaction. The same thing happened when her manager stole a billion won (more than 800,000 USD) from her. There’s also a lot of commotion over whether she’s had plastic surgery. Normally, it would be said that people need to drop it. After all, it’s her body and her money, right? But regardless of whether the accusations are true or not, fans should pay attention to the topic of plastic surgery with idols. They’re often forced to get these surgeries.

If K-pop fans truly love and respect the idols and the work they do, then stop the group wars. Stop the hate comments. Stop the judgment. Stop justifying the actions of the management groups. Fans have to join together to support these idols, because if they don’t, then who will? Certainly not the management groups who fail to take care of them. Fans are all here to enjoy their music, so they need to put their differences aside here

“To be honest, when I first got into Kpop I was known for getting mad at people who had the same bias as me or biasing people off their looks…” Short said. “Bias” refers to someone’s favorite idol. “To be honest I think every new K-pop stan could feel like this but will hopefully mature and grow out of it,” Short said.

We need to move on from the toxic behavior like attacking someone’s look alike. These people aren’t hurting idols. The industry is. The fans are.

The ability to stand together is humanity’s greatest weapon. Don’t sheathe it to fight over who has the most views, the biggest fanbase, or the most attractive members. Real support is putting all that behind us and fighting against the real enemy: the companies who have exploited their stars time and time again. Kpop stans have shut down rallies. They’ve done loads to protect protesters. Let’s use that fighting spirit to protect the kings and queens of Kpop. After all, isn’t that what defines fans?