If I were to ask you what you think of fatphobia, eating disorders, and other subsets of body image and health, where would you fall on the spectrum? I would be willing to bet that a lot of people would say that fatphobic acts are regurgitated in the media far too often, and that we as a society should stray away from such archaic beliefs. They may even mention the health risks and possibility of developing eating disorders. Even those who don’t have these exact opinions– preceding they aren’t someone who spends too much time on Reddit — would agree that fatphobia should not be condoned — and that if health is the priority, it should be achieved in attainable and constructive ways.
Now let’s switch scenes for a second: Enter my mundane life. Scrolling through social media one day, I came across a few pictures of the K-pop idol from GOT7, Jackson Wang. Undoubtedly, he is an extremely handsome man, with awards for appearance under his belt and a broad fanbase not only in the GOT7 audience, but also under his personal brand Team Wang. Just as I was about to paste the photo link into the message bar of a group chat, a memory from a while ago hit me.
It was a video of the same idol, Jackson. An interviewer was asking him what he eats in a day. The look of tiredness and hunger were evident in his eyes, and as the video progressed my bewilderment grew. Besides remembering snippets of him talking about eating inconsistent meals (“whenever I have time”) and the mention of small salads, I distinctively recalled the interviewer’s final question: what is a weekend cheat meal? The answer parroted back in my mind and the shape of his face was carved into my eyes. I couldn’t forget his expression, so sad and tired. He talked of a burger with comedic passion, describing the meat and lettuce in a spark of excitement, then quieting down once again to utter the words that would disturb me for a while after:
“I try to take the top of the bread out, because I feel better.” Said before going off on a related tangent about definitely avoiding carbs.
You may be laughing at this comment. I know the picture in your head; an overly skinny person (the gender I will leave to your imagination, but I have an inkling I know the one you’re thinking of) eating out? The request in an obnoxious voice? I too have seen the memes, but there was no comedy in the way he said it,. Jackson Wang, standing at 6’1 tall, over the past 10 minutes or so had told me about his meals and none of them, I hypothesize, were nearly delivering the carbs that a person of his stature requires. It was nothing in tune to what you, the reader, probably pictured. It was horrific.
As a result of what I’d assume was his rigorous exercise routine and small calorie intake, Jackson Wang would go on to collapse at his own concert months later. And I wouldn’t go as far as to say that he’s had other accidents like that, but taking into consideration that the audience only knew of his collapse due to it being live, I wouldn’t deem it impossible. All actions like this do take a toll, and one of the scariest parts is that people can only perceive the external ones.
Wang’s situation, I learned, isn’t a singular event. Multiple other artists have also talked about their eating habits, however it’s more common to do so in the form of “diets”. As I read into this more, I realized this trend is more common in the female idol world, but surely not absent in males too, and it is important to note this because these struggles are not exclusive to any human being. The singer IU has one of the most popularized(and disturbing) diets, consisting of 3 square meals a day; an apple, a sweet potato, and a cup of protein drink. This, combined with the fact that she does high-energy workouts makes it unsurprising that she fainted and was rushed to the hospital a few hours before she promoted her “Real” album.
You may be thinking, fainting seems to be a common theme throughout the idol career- and you’d be correct. Joy from Red Velvet, Krystal from f(x), SinB from GFRIEND, Onew from SHINee, Hyeri from Girl’s day, Kim Jang Hoon, the list of individuals who throw their hats in the ring are endless. These diets, the creators will let you know, are usually for a time period before a recent come-back or promotional event. The problem is that even admitting to having these crazed diets and still practicing them, is a confession of weighing beauty standards and other external expectations and pressures above one’s own health. The K-pop fandom, mostly composed of youth girls, will learn a similar message, and they most likely won’t be doing it for a career.
The truth is, the entire K-pop industry is built off of these health-risking beauty standards, and when that realization hit me, a question whirled in my head as I sat at my desk, recalling these facts and staring at the picture in front of me. How could I, or anyone else more involved in the fandom find it appropriate to shamelessly call these idols beautiful and stunning when we know what they’ve been through to fit these ridiculous beauty standards? After all, appreciating a painting comes with the condonation of art; one is the product of the other. These idols we are quick to put on a pedestal, these idols that we make fan pages for and thirst for in the YouTube comment section— putting timestamps of moments we thought they looked the most fab. With every view, every like, every repost and dollar from our pocket that goes towards buying merchandise, would it not be accurate to say that buying into this superficial market is contributing to an industry that is permissive of the blatantly reckless diets and meal plans that go into producing the looks that we worship?
What’s irksome to me is most K-pop fans including myself are in agreeance to the statements at the beginning of this article. They don’t condone fatphobia, and they are well aware that it is regurgitated in the media. In most scenarios, they are all in agreement that a healthy lifestyle and body should be attained in ways that do not sacrifice mental health. It should be constructive and self serving.
Why is a blind eye turned here?
Almost everyone has heard of the endless pattern of idols fainting, the radical diets of Wendy from Red Velvet or Jimin from BTS. Why do we not have the same opinion here? Why does the fact that every time they are performing in a concert, they have probably endured a week or two of ruthless dieting, not disturb the same people who vouch for constructive health and positive body image? In this day and age, we probably scroll through and store several different images and videos in our brain, and when pictures of Jackson Wang come up, people seldom stop and think of what lies behind the dimpled smile. When they see the videos of crazy diets, they do not take the time to wonder about the correlations between them and the uncoverings of several idols having health problems.
It’s not that we as humans don’t care, but that we are lazed from action and hence guilty of being enablers.
Allowing ourselves to not look deeper than what is presented to us on a particular illuminated screen is nothing short of eerie, as it is the equivalent of sinking in a quicksand of naivety. Ignorance, we will find, may very well be bliss, but not in the long term. Not in this day and age. Critical thinking is humanity’s greatest friend, and those little screens, technology as a whole, is meant to assist this, not cripple it. As it turns out, effective change is not just reposting slides to your story. It is owning up to the responsibility of actually thinking about the media we consume.
Our greatest weapons are our minds and technological advancement, and dear reader, if there’s one thing you should take away from this article it is this fact: the manner in which we wield our weapons is our choice, and ours alone.
Photo: Getty Images