The Bold and the Beautiful: Female Idols Who Push the Beauty Envelope
The K-Pop world, much like the music itself, tends to fall into a safe space quite often when it comes to fashion and beauty. While there are a few individuals like G-Dragon and Key who stand out, in general most idols tend to play it safe by following beauty trends and sticking to comfortable looks they know best. With visuals being such a strong aspect of K-Pop, this most certainly isn’t a bad thing at all; however, I’m sure we can all admit that, in terms of appearances, there is a general lack of diversity.
Recently, the Korean government called for the requirement of more diversity in idol groups, and while that is quite a stretch, one can also see where that sentiment comes from. Female idols in particular tend to have a more rigid space to work with; however, there are a few female idols who challenge the norm of appearances with their fashion and makeup choices.
Having been taunted by her own agency about being “ugly,” CL powered through to become one of the strongest artists in the industry today. All the same, debuting in the idol industry means that visuals are a highly crucial element of the package. By Korean standards, CL’s small eyes and curvy body do not fall under the idea of conventional beauty. However, not only has she learned to love herself regardless of what her haters say, she’s even embraced it and made her uniqueness part of her identity. Her signature thick eyeliner and smokey eye give CL the confident “Queen Bee” image she’s managed to create for herself today.
While female idols are meant to look demure, hyper feminine, and pure, female hip-hop artists are required to look strong and tough. Jessi manages to dance between the two, highlighting both her sexuality and sharp features, while following an aesthetic of her own. In general, Jessi has been known to not follow the crowd and to go against the grain. With her curvy body and tan skin, she completely abolishes the stereotype of skinny, pale, and hyper-feminine. Her choices in both makeup and clothing also lean more towards being bold and confidently sexy as opposed to the dainty clothing we see in pop. She incorporates elements like bronzer and thick eyeliner in her look, something we aren’t used to seeing on female idols.
Ever since the debut of MAMAMOO, Hwasa has gained a fair bit of attention for her unique aesthetic. As opposed to rosy cheeks and cherry stained lips, she chooses to go for looks that pack a punch. From bold eye makeup to darker matte lip shades, Hwasa explores a range that complements her skin tone and allows her to create a brand of her own. She doesn’t fit the standard example of beauty in the idol industry, but her makeup and clothing choices show that not only does she not care, she’s proud of her appearance and not willing to conform to beauty ideals anytime soon.
Debuting through f(x) in an environment that is still pretty conservative about its expectations of women being elegant, feminine, and demure, Amber managed to retain her integrity throughout. These expectations don’t just come from the industry but also society in general, and oftentimes women who act out of this ideal face a fair bit of criticism. Androgyny is still pretty much seen as an acquired concept within K-Pop groups as opposed to being a part of an idol’s identity that they express through their music. In an industry that is so set on catering to the public’s expectations, Amber is one of the few idols who manages to express herself so freely. Aside from her clothing, Amber also uses her tattoos as a form of expression. While for a lot of us this isn’t really out of the norm, in South Korea tattoos are still seen in a negative light. Through her display of tattoos and androgynous fashion, she’s shown fans that you don’t need to adhere to society’s standards of gender to be more of a woman; the bottom line is to be yourself and do more of what makes you happy.
While the list may seem small, as of late we have been seeing an increasing number of idols who tend to not fall into the classic idol visual. Dami, of the group Dreamcatcher, is an example of a female idol who has a very androgynous style about her, a style that has yet to truly take off within K-Pop girl groups. In the words of Lee Jongim, a researcher at Korea's Center for Culture & Society and author of Idol Trainees' Sweat and Tears, “It's not K-Pop itself that is the problem, but agencies, the media, and the public that expect their idols to look like they do in music videos all the time.” Essentially, while the industry mindset does have a long way to go, it's up to us as fans to embrace and encourage this diversity and to push for change and diversity in K-Pop.