Idols are good-looking. No, idols are gorgeous. Male or female, each idol has to have some amount of attractiveness in order to make it in the K-pop industry. Many idols go through strenuous diets and workout routines to achieve the “perfect” body and it’s not uncommon to notice an idol has lost a couple of pounds in between promotion periods. They can also be spotted underneath several layers of makeup on stage, which completely alters their expressions or facial features.
Unfortunately, the pressures idols face to look perfect can often affect the self-esteem of their fans as well, who vicariously feel the pressure to look a certain way. When fans watch broadcasts of idols and the idols talk about only eating a certain way or being overly concerned about a pimple on their face, it can turn the show from a broadcast to an extremely triggering situation for a fan who may be struggling with self-worth issues.
There was an incident in January of 2017 where Jungkook of BTS was photographed barefaced. He was not wearing a mask, nor was he wearing any makeup, and it was clear that he had a couple of acne spots on his cheek. Instead of accepting these imperfections as the regular occurrences that reside during teenage years, fans went ballistic, pestering Jungkook with suggestions of skin care routines and acne spot treatments. They commented under his pictures with well wishes for his skin to look better. They urged him to become perfect.
And while this may seem insignificant to an outside witness — meaning someone who is not currently struggling with esteem issues — the floods of comments appearing under the photographs of Jungkook were certainly damaging to other fans. On the one hand, here was an idol’s face, captured raw and naked, showing that even megastars can struggle with acne and that it is okay for “regular” people to have acne too. On the other hand, here were thousands and thousands of comments underneath the idol’s picture saying, “No, that’s not okay,” and making the “regular” person with acne feel even worse about themselves. Sometimes words that carry no ill intentions can still harm others.
Though the fans do contribute to the downfall of self-love, idols can be just as blissfully unaware of their words as fans can. There have been too many instances of idols speaking about weight loss for the K-pop community not to notice weight is a large factor in popularity.
It usually starts out like this: a group (male or female) is brought on to some type of variety show as a get-to-know-you event intended for the fans. Once the group is all settled in and the hosts have warmed them up with some softball questions, they delve in to deeper, more personal topics. Then the topic of weight arises, a host asks in passing, “Oh, do you like this food,” and an idol hesitantly responds, “Yes, but I’m not allowed to eat it, I’m on a diet.” A few nods are shared, and then the conversation moves full speed ahead. It’s an ordinary show with an overplayed script, but those questions can still cut a fan’s self-esteem in half in one fell swoop. (Watch the interaction unfold at the nine-minute mark).
This is because fans look up to idols. After all, that is part of the reason they are called “idols.” They are role models and leaders in their community and set an example for trainees and fans. So when an idol — who already has a slender body — comments casually that they need to diet, it can make fans feel insecure about their own bodies. Not all fans have a regimented workout routine and meal plan. Many fans eat via the courtesy of their parents or a school meal plan or from their own pocket and do not always have the choice about what they put in their bodies. When a fan hears an idol say, “I can not eat that chicken, I’m on a diet,” it gets difficult for them to then go and eat a healthy meal that contains chicken.
It all contributes to this mindset of not being perfect enough. The thought that if the idol, the epitome of grace and beauty, thinks they are imperfect, then surely a fan — a “regular” person — can be nowhere near perfect.
This mindset is a trap. It’s a life-sucking, vision-altering, soul-crushing trap, and it’s one of the hardest traps to ever escape from. See, poor self-esteem doesn’t just feel like a rope tying you down. It feels like a chain, a chain attached to every limb on your body, and the chain is connected to the core of the earth so that there’s no possible way you could move forward. Oh, and just as a bonus, on the chain there are hundreds of “Make America Great Again” hats that serve as the constant reminder you’re not good enough to make it in today’s society. And all of this crippling self-doubt is located in your brain, the one organ that controls the rest of your body. As one can imagine, it’s not easy to purge something from your brain, especially when the toxin is coming from a source that you love.
The best recommendation I can give? Take a break. Give yourself some time away from the pressure, away from fansite photographs and away from music videos. Take some time to become in tune with yourself and learn about other hobbies that don’t involve triggering situations. It’s difficult, especially because we as fans receive so much enjoyment from watching the benefits of the K-pop industry. But it will be so, so worth it in the end.
A break from situations that cause you distress can help you remember what a beautiful person you are. It won’t cure self-esteem issues completely, because improving self-love means going through a personal journey and that journey doesn’t happen overnight; but taking a step back from people who feel insecure means that secondary pressure to be perfect is no longer on your shoulders. It means even if the chains are still there, one of them might feel a little looser now.
Don’t feel the need to change yourself just because your idol does. You are so perfect, just the way you are.