Whenever we think of Korean celebrities, we would think of ‘glamour’, ‘beautiful’, ‘handsome’, ‘talented’, etc etc. But did you know all that resulted from extreme training and hardship?
A former trainee from SM Entertainment shared her journey during her trainee days and the aftereffects of it on her life. Stella Kim is American-Korean. She was born in South Korea but at the age of 4, her family moved to the States.
During a school break many years ago, Stella was on a flight to Korea when an SM agent noticed her and invited her for a private audition. Being a huge fan of KPOP since her middle school days, she jumped at this opportunity. Especially since it is the label company of her favorite idols such as H.O.T and BOA, Stella tells Nextshark.
“They made me sing and dance in front of the camera. As a young middle school girl, it was very fun and cool to me. They ended up contacting my parents who were extremely against me doing anything in entertainment. They ended up saying no to them and not telling me about it.”
Coming from a strict Asian family, of course, her parents did not approve of her joining the agency. After much persuasion, her parents finally gave in and allowed her to train but only during her summer and winter breaks.
That was the beginning of Stella’s struggle with her self-image. The Korean entertainment industry is extremely harsh and it places a lot of pressure on each trainee and even famous celebrities to always look amazing. And that would mean being thin and flawless.
Stella describes some of the things the entertainment agency would do that caused major insecurities in every individual.
“They would make us stand in line and go on the scale. They would call out what your weight is in front of everyone. If your weight had not gone down from the week prior, you would get bashed on.”
She even mentions that the entertainment agency would always pressure her into reducing her calorie intake instead of working out at the gym.
Besides that, whenever Stella visited beauty salons for facials, the beauticians would constantly try to convince her to do certain procedures to make her look better.
“I would go to the dermatologist in Korea and trying to get skin care treatment because I had very bad acne prone skin. They would always recommend “why don’t you put some filler in here” or “why don’t you put something on the bridge of your nose to make it look higher.”
But thankfully she never caved in for any of these.
Just like any girl’s dream to become a super idol, Stella was to debut along with Girl’s Generation, but her parents were determined not sign the contract on her behalf (as she was still underaged). So she went back to America to further her studies.
“I was very upset that they wouldn’t do it,” Kim said.
“I just didn’t understand because that’s what I wanted so much at the time. Especially after SNSD debuted and they instantly just became a huge hit. The first couple of years I regretted it and was upset at my parents for not letting me do it.” she tells NextShark.
While in New York University, some Korean students recognized her and rumors started to fly about, sending Stella’s self-esteem lower. They would point at her and say things such as,
“That’s the girl. She was supposed to be a part of Girl’s Generation. She’s not as pretty as we thought she’d be. She’s fat, she’s ugly.”
These statements made Stella steer away from socializing and she soon developed an eating disorder. She was 40kg at her lowest point, which was realllllyyyy skinny considering her 170cm height.
Thankfully, after spending some time with her father in Korea, she was able to eat well again. So much so, she discovered her new-found passion in food. One thing’s for sure, Stella knows the kind of negative impact the industry has on people.
“In the Korean entertainment industry, beauty is often associated with physical appearance. Beauty is often an exaggeration of femininity or masculinity; that is, clear skin, lustrous hair, tall height, thinness, etc… All extremely distorted views that are unfortunately set by socio-cultural standards in a high-pressure, fast-paced society.”
“If you looked at how big K-Pop and how a lot of women are sexualized in the industry — I’m not sure what kind of impact that has on how young females view themselves, and how men view them as they grow up. They’re following them at a very young age and they don’t really understand the impact.”
After a few years, Stella was now old enough to make her own decisions and there were several companies who reached out to her to offer her jobs. She attended several meetings and was even offered an acting job by a major entertainment company. However, when it was time to sign the papers, she could never bring herself to do it.
“Even to this day, I think about it — ‘what if?’ But I think it’s a matter of what you value more in life, and I wasn’t willing to take the risk again and sacrifice what I had struggled to rebuild. I have a different purpose to serve versus being a musician or actress.”
So is the Korean entertainment industry as beautiful and glamorous as we thought it were? I guess it’s time to look at it closely and think again.
Till now, Stella still struggles with her body image thanks to her K-POP training days. But she’s trying hard to overcome her thoughts.
“I am not ‘perfectly’ fine with myself. There are always good and bad days, but I’ve learned how to have more of the former. It’s definitely a learning process. Practice doesn’t always necessarily make perfect, and that’s okay, because you do come to learn that not everything always has to be.
“There’s beauty in the imperfect, as cliché as that sounds, but we have to keep believing.”
The most important thing in life is our health and happiness. And these start with self-acceptance and self-love. Be yourself and don’t hate yourself for not being like someone else. You are unique and beautiful.
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