South Korean gender ministry sparks K-pop controversy with cap on singers ‘who look the same’

South Korea’s government has reportedly come under fire for suggesting a cap on K-pop stars appearing on television shows as the singers look too alike. 

According to the Korea Times, guidelines issued by the ministry of gender equality and family sparked controversy at the weekend for recommending restrictions on how many singers could be allowed on set at any given time. 

"Are the singers on TV music shows twins? They seriously look identical. Most are idol group members," the guidelines apparently say. "Most of them are skinny and have similar hairstyles and makeup with outfits exposing their bodies."

The ministry said on Monday that the guidelines, which are not mandatory, only aim at raising awareness on the negative effects of “lookism” and the promotion of a narrow perception of beauty on public health.

But their efforts were not universally well-received. Ha Tae-keung, a member of the opposition Bareunmirae party argued that beauty was a matter of individual taste and should not be subject to government regulation. 

"The gender ministry says K-pop idols should not star together on television because they are all skinny and pretty with pale skin. What’s the difference between this and the crackdowns on the length of hair and skirts during the military dictatorship of Chun Doo-hwan?" he said, referring to the late army general who ruled South Korea in the 1980s. 

Others welcomed the move which comes against the backdrop of a wider public debate in South Korea, dubbed the plastic surgery capital of the world, over the pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty standards.  

For years, young South Korean women have faced huge societal pressures to look flawless, driving an estimated one in three to seek plastic surgery and many others to go to skin clinics. 

K-pop stars, many of whom are groomed to perfection at specialist academies, have influenced the “K-beauty” industry, which promotes pale, soft skin and delicate pink lips, and which is one of the largest in the world, believed to be worth some $18-24 billion.

However, in recent months, women have started to rebel against society’s expectations about their looks, calling themselves “beauty resisters” and joining the so-called “remove corset” movement where they have been publicly destroying their make-up. 

Since late last year, beauty YouTuber Lina Bae has racked up 6.9 million views for her video ‘I am not pretty’, in which she defiantly takes off heavy make-up and tells her viewers that “you’re special the way you are.”

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