Korean Entertainment Show Reflects on Societal Beauty Standards

“Infinite Challenge” is a popular entertainment TV show in Korea that features six well-known TV hosts. In each weekly episode, they face off against each other in a series of difficult challenges. The challenge for last week’s episode was to find a match for No Hong-chul, one of the TV hosts and participants on the show. A recent article challenges and finds it discomforting that Hong-chul’s main standard was that his partner is pretty. Netizens find this report on the episode amusing.

Article from Sports Hankook:

My discomfort over the special “Hong-chul, get married” on the show “Infinite Challenge”

Last week on the 24th, MBC entertainment TV program “Infinite Challenge” broadcast a special episode titled “Hong-chul, get married.” In the episode, the members focus on finding a match for No Hong-chul, the only single man among the six members. No’s ideal woman is younger than 26, 170-cm-tall, and pretty. The members went around looking for his ideal match on the bus, around the Han River, and in other places.

The problem is how the episode blatantly objectified women. The members focused on the womens’ outer appearance and age. There was no outward discrimination, but women were rated based on their appearance and age and portrayed as types of goods, rather than as human beings. There is a scene in the special where Comedian Jeong Hyeong-don looks through the window at the writers of entertainment show “Dad! Where Are We Going?” which is on the same channel as “Infinite Challenge.” The writers are in the midst of a meeting, and Jeong says “The writers of “Dad! Where Are We Going?” look like they would only ever work.” The implied connotation made viewers feel uncomfortable.

The ideal match for every person differs depending on one’s tastes. It’s just that the way they portrayed it was no different than going to a market and choosing an item. Lookism may be rampant in our society. When he said “They look like they would only ever work,” it was a trivial joke between them. However, it’s unfortunate that a program like “Infinite Challenge”, which unlike cable channel programs, is regarded as an entertainment show promoting public interests, brazenly jumped on lookism.

In March 2009, “Infinite Challenge” had a special on “Women’s Day,” and last July they had a special titled “Seven Famous Princesses.” In the “Seven Famous Princesses” special, the members had a heated discussion about whether women’s looks give them a competitive edge. One of the hosts Yoo Jae-suk even said “Looks by themselves do not give you an edge. What kind of society would we be in if what mattered the most was good looks?”

Entertainment is essentially supposed to make people laugh. Entertainment is just that. But it merits another look if it leads to uncomfortable grimaces.

Comments from Naver:

gogo****

I just saw it as entertainment.

hhee**** [Responding to above]

The journalist isn’t saying that it’s wrong to look at women’s outer appearance… Sigh, the class of Infinite Challenge bugs [hardcore fans].

eon**** [Responding to gogo]

When No Hong-chul mentioned pretty girls, he wasn’t talking about other standards, just looking for pretty girls, so why is everyone so mad? Ke ke, it’s not like he’s taking the census, just looking for pretty girls because that’s his ideal type, so cool it, ke ke.

woxj****

I’m a girl but to me, it was just an entertaining show

vhrl**** [Responding to above]

The reporter was the one who started this fuss.

xody****

Everyone has their own ideal type, and this forms the basis for finding a partner that they like. The fact that other people are uncomfortable with that and see it as debasing women makes me more uncomfortable.

qudt****

Truthfully, doesn’t everyone like pretty girls?

bott****

What do you expect him to do when that’s his ideal type?

jiyo****

On so many dating shows, the contestants are nitpicky about their standards, so why is it such a big deal to have standards about appearance now? When participants like Shin Bong-sun and Park So-hyun appeared on the show, they seemed to be promoting a product, looking at monkeys in a zoo and chortling with glee when they described their ideal types as having washboard abs, being handsome, a CEO in their 20s, with a butt, etc. but these remarks were brushed off. What a double standard and a persecution complex, ke ke.

bseb****

No Hong-chul said his ideal woman was older than 26, but why do these articles say younger than 26?

anza****

It was a “Plastic Monster Special” except for a few on the episode.

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  • 금정산

    Let’s face it, attraction is (and this is not necessarily a problem) the single biggest determining factor for instigating a relationship.

    But only a fool would marry for looks. Beauty fades and won’t look after you when you are ill. Nor will it help a couple raise their children between shared values. The more people focus on looks, the more they will be disappointed in the future. Was he searching for “this type” of girl for comic purposes or is he foolish? At least he didn’t mention the housework.

    If you were wondering, he is 35.

    • tomoe723

      Reading your comment, I’m reminded of Socrates’ age-old saying:
      “Beauty is a short-lived tyranny.”

  • faves_slayer

    Just for nitpicking, “Infinite challenge” fan here. They have challenge face-off in some episodes but there’s a lot of great challenges extending to many weeks like the time they were training and making their own wrestling (like WWE) show. The show has almost 10 years and while today it has normal ratings it’s considered by many one the best korean tv shows ever. So articles like this that would be brushed off in many other shows are what make the production team to cancel this special. They have some kind of reputation to maintain.

    I have watched the special and I think while they were looking for pretty woman (like absolutely everyone, just change the gender) they were very careful to ask everyone if they wanted to go on a blind date with Hong Chul, so they had the power to accept or deny. It would be really beautiful exploring with every woman they asked for their personality, how they behave, how they felt about life as a human being and what was the ambient in which they were raised but there’s some problems:
    1- If you want to cover let’s say 30 women (assuming most of them will reject Hong Chul) this in insanely long.
    2 – How do you make good television out of it without being a documental?
    3- All of the datings shows are exactly like that.

    • 금정산

      1- The producers could sample the 30 or so women and and present just two or three of them.
      2- It wouldn’t have to be documentary-style. I would have thought the fans of the show would be interested to better understand the personalities, dreams and desires of the comedians they are familiar with.
      3. Do you mean all dating shows in Korea? None of the dating shows I’ve seen in Western TV focus so much on looks. In fact, I would say they almost entirely focus on the personality of contestants.

      Rather than street viewing, he could have been introduced to the profiles from an online dating site; with the identities hidden, obviously. Or he could have said he wanted a girl interested in arts and culture (or whatever)- and then he could have been taken to meet girls at an art gallery and discussed the meaning of some sculpture with the girls.

      … But no.

      • Insomnicide

        ” None of the dating shows I’ve seen in Western TV focus so much on looks. In fact, I would say they almost entirely focus on the personality of contestants.”

        The Bachelor, or it’s female variant The Bachelorette? Beauty and the Geek?

        All dating shows do this, if no one was good looking people wouldn’t watch it.

        • 금정산

          Sure, these shows have good looking contestants. But they don’t focus nearly as much on their looks as their personalities. These shows try especially to show the personalities and compatibilities of the contestants and the relationships that develop between them.

          You are right to say good looking contestants are chosen for the show’s ratings. And they go to the pool or wherever to strip down etc.

  • linette lee

    This is the reason why women run to get plastic surgery. because of these useless shallow men.

    • Doge Wallace

      What came first; the chicken or the egg?

      • walltard

        WTF, how does that analogy even apply to that comment?

        • Doge Wallace

          Let me simplify:

          Are women running to get plastic surgery because of useless shallow men?

          Or are useless shallow men a result of women running to get plastic surgery?

          • linette lee

            Young girls don’t understand beauty standard when they are 9 or 10. Only when they grow up being around boys and men then they become self conscious about their physical appearance. The young girls see how the pretty girls get all the love from boys so they too want to be pretty. They begin to understand being nice and have good personality is not enough. The men only care about physical appearance. The men will marry to pretty mean girls over ugly nice girls.

          • Doge Wallace

            So maybe we can blame Disney.

          • linette lee

            hahaha….no..that’s about poor young girl who wants to marry rich and don’t want to work or be self independent. Lol. They all want $$$$$ prince.

          • Doge Wallace

            …maybe that’s the reason why they get surgery? So they can look like a beautiful princess to get a rich man and not have to work.

          • why

            um

      • Gordon Gogodancer

        well put

    • Har GAO

      Maybe you need some surgery ㅋㅋㅋ

      • linette lee

        oh be quiet.

    • bang2tang

      then why woman feel they need to cater the image of “ideal” body as portrayed by media or majority of men?

      • linette lee

        Because women are looking for spouse. Unfortunately many men judge women by their physical appearance instead of their hearts and personality.

    • almighty NB user

      Typical stupid feminist blaming everything on men.
      Are all women reluctant to marry these useless shallow men?
      No. But if they choose that path, then they’re fucking responsible for the outcome.

      • why

        uh

      • AndImAGirl

        BOOYAH!!!

    • Cokeman987

      They get it because of low self esteem period.

  • bigmamat

    Really because I think this “ideal type” question gets asked a lot on Korean television. The answers are never about personality it’s always about looks and social status. This is absolutely nothing new for Korean tv except for the idea of them going out “window shopping” for girls.

    • almighty NB user

      In the old days, Korean celebrities, whether men or women never mentioned about looks, social status, or money, because it made them look cheap. But these days, Knetz mock celebrities who say they only look for personality, because it’s too damn fake.

  • FYIADragoon

    A 35 year old man, who has not aged that well to begin with, looking for someone under 26…I’m just going to roll my eyes here.

    • Zappa Frank

      that’s pretty common anywhere..men more get old more like young girls.. I remember one above 70 looking for underage girls..

    • naluuna

      “No Hong-chul said his ideal woman was older than 26, but why do these articles say younger than 26?”

      • 금정산

        I would like to know what he said. Did you see the show? How old were the girls in the street?

        • Guest

          Yes I saw the show. He said older than 26. He also said that looks don’t matter in his solo interview, but he did joke about good looks at one point. He emphasized personality, and he said he liked tall girls, supposedly because his past college girlfriends were both tall. It was mostly the other members going on about looks. Some of the girls were younger, Yoo Jae Suk rode a bus around the Ewha area (college girls) to find potential matches; most of the girls declined the offer once they found out who it was (which was probably the motivation for him going there, because their reactions make for good variety) and one said she was only 20 with the implication that it’d be weird for her to date him, and Jaesuk reacted similarly. Some members were more focused on beauty. Myungsoo actually searched at teaching hospitals to find medical students (because his wife is a doctor). Haha went to a pro women’s basketball retreat. A lot of the girls were in their late 20s to early 30s, and when they were actually serious, the members seemed to target late 20s, early 30s. It did regress into pointing out pretty girls in the street at times. Or you could just watch it and judge for yourself.

          • 금정산

            Good detail.

            Do you think this reaction to the program was reasonable or an over reaction? Do you think the women were overly objectified or was it perceptive?

  • Who is responsible for the ferry accident?

  • mei mei

    he’s not even cute

  • goldengluvsk2

    It isnt just in IC… some weeks ago in RM in that episode where they had to cross Han River with university students, about the male students : “they have to be strong, to be good at making boats,blah blah blah” and for the girls: should have long hair! be this height! be pretty!” and i was like WTF?? I thought they were going to say stuff like ohh she should know how to design, etc.etc. since they had lots of careers to choose from but NOPE girl just had to be pretty T___T there was a girl who nailed and drilled like a pro! one member had 2 girls n his team and the captions repeatedly stated how he had the weakest members.. weaaak??? the girls pretty much designed and build the whole thing by themselves and crossed THE FRIGGING HAN RIVER WITHOUT DROWNING! weak who? lol I was trying to think it was just a variety show but those comments… not cool at ALL!

  • Insomnicide

    You’d have to be lying your face off if you think appearances don’t matter.
    Let’s face it, all relationships start with physical attraction. You don’t have be a gorgeous 10/10 model but you have to have decent appearance in some way or other. He was looking for a ‘pretty’ girl. That could mean anything. But because of the connotations behind the term, people overreact and think he’s looking for a girl with A-list star looks.

    • AndImAGirl

      I agree with you, but INSOMNI-CIDE?? Really? ;)

  • I love K-Pop!!!!

  • bang2tang

    MBC aren’t willing to put english subs on their variety shows, arrrggghhh….

  • Balkan

    ” The implied connotation made viewers feel uncomfortable.” Not really, probably only the article writer felt uncomfortable – there is no way to know how millions of viewers felt. Some of them felt uncomfortable, but this kind of generalization is manipulative. I consider myself a feminist and am strongly against women being objectified, but many women do the same things to men and in addition, many Korean women see potential mates as cash cows as well. It is very difficult for men to marry in Korea if they don’t have a lot of money, an apartment and car(s).

    • 于丹尼

      That might be because women generally have to call it quits on their career once they settle down instead of splitting all the costs.

  • CellarDoor

    so if beauty is subjective and preferences are unique in a sense, what exactly is wrong with marrying for looks? aren’t people supposedly attracted to those with facial features similar to themselves anyway? people who see this negatively are almost suggesting koreans are a bunch of conformists who stick to one “objective” beauty, and only want girls everyone else will think is pretty. say it ain’t so

    • 금정산

      Marrying for looks isn’t “wrong or right”. People should have the freedom to marry who they want. It is a personal choice and marriage is one of the biggest decisions in life. Some people make better decisions than others.

      It isn’t “wrong” to marry for looks; but it would be an unwise and short-sighted decision. There are many important things to consider in a husband/wife. Looks are one of these things, but a lot more is needed.

      A person’s “ideal type” can be whatever they want. Each to their own. If a 35 year old’s ideal type (when considering marriage) is beautiful, taller than 170cm and older than 26 (he could have said older than 30), then that is shallow. And this is where ‘lookism’ arises.

      Did you watch the show? Did he mention his ideal type has a certain type of personality (outgoing, sociable, talkative etc)? Did he mention his ideal type is has certain beliefs (Christian, atheist or Buddhist)? Did he mention his ideal type has certain values (family, cultural or political)? If he did mention these things in as much detail as “appearances”, it would be unfair to call him shallow.

      • CellarDoor

        I’m sorry, no, I did not watch the show. I personally, couldn’t care less why people marry who they marry. It’s too personal a choice for me to judge. It may or may not be wise or short-sighted to marry someone who fits your ideal physical type on the spot, but I find it odd that that’s an issue. Mainly because people just don’t marry on the spot. I can’t imagine his ideal girl agreeing to marry him on the spot just because she was picked by him. Naturally, there’s a get-to-know-each-other phase, right? That’s if the person even agrees to go on a first date. So the whole personality-background aspect that you feel needs to be considered is not something that never comes into conversation. Yet, it’s up to the individual whether not they make those things a deal-breaker.

  • Amy

    Most korean entertainment revolves about the korean concept of beauty. It is disturbing how accepting korean women of these standards that many feel pressured to modify their looks to suit the tastes of others.
    Yet, at the end of the day, the shows merely reflect the views of society. The problem lies with the korean society’s obsession with beauty. People need to accept that looks are only superficial and do something about it. Celebrities and the media have the power to do that, but only if they themselves are willing to deviate from social conformities.
    Change starts with the young. But the young can only change if the older generations attempt to trigger that change.

    • Amy

      * “how accepting korean women…” ^are “…of these standards…”

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