K-pop stars risk health to stay stick-thin
LEE Hyo Min (not her real name) says she has no fancy tricks when it comes to dieting. The 22-year-old simply "starves" herself.
"I drink water and iced Americano," said the aspiring dancer who is in a college dance group. "If I get really hungry, I have one bite of pizza or something that the group has ordered."
It takes tremendous effort to look like the members of K-pop girl groups on screen, according to Ms Lee.
"Some of the skinniest girls in our group look chubby on camera. Your body has to have almost no fat to look good."
In the world of K-pop, which touts stick-thin figures as achievable and even admirable, there is a fine line between dieting and starvation.
But the pressure to look slender can lead to dangerous consequences - not just for the celebrities, but also the hordes of ordinary women who are influenced by them.
Last month, it was revealed that JinE of girl group Oh My Girl will be taking a break due to anorexia.
JinE had shown symptoms of the eating disorder and has been receiving treatment since her debut, the group's management agency WM Entertainment announced on Aug 25.
The petite 159cm-tall singer used to weigh 30-plus kg.
The influence of the mass media "cannot be ignored" when it comes to anorexic patients in Korea, according to psychiatrist Kim Hwan Ki.
"The media glamorises the unrealistic bodies of a few," he wrote in a column in March.
This leads to to patients' "obsession over unrealistically thin bodies" and "a strange sense of pride in being unhealthily underweight", added Mr Kim.
But several K-pop singers have confessed to having diet-related health problems.
In February, Sojung of Ladies' Code revealed on variety show Girl Spirit that she did not have her period for nearly a year after she started dieting.
"My hormone levels were (similar to) those of a menopausal woman," she said.
Seeing herself on television for the first time was "shocking," she recalled, and prompted the 163cm-tall singer to shed 11kg. Her weight dropped to a mere 38kg.
Singer Park Bo Ram admitted on a May episode of King of Mask Singer that her vocal range became drastically limited after she lost 32kg.
Girl groups have shared testimonials of extreme diet regimens on television, from the "cup" routine - where all contents of a meal fit inside one small paper cup - to the "one meal a day" method.
As of 2013, some 17.5 per cent of South Korean women aged 19 to 24 are underweight, said a report released in March by the National Research Institute of Health (NIH).
Another NIH report found that between 2005 and 2015, 34.7 per cent of non-obese female middle and high school students considered themselves "fat."
Despite the negative health impact, it is hard for celebrities to avoid extreme dieting, said make-up artist Park So Jung.
"Losing weight makes your eyes and nose pop out (and) become more distinct," said Ms Park.
"It's the equivalent of getting plastic surgery."
A representative from a K-pop management agency admitted: "The girl groups you see onscreen are pretty much dieting all the time."
While the agency tries to "enforce healthy guidelines", the celebrities go out of their way to diet, he added.
THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK