A new trend has taken over South Korea over the past two years or so. The “body profile challenge” is most popular among young people who book expensive professional shoots before they get their bodies as fit as possible and then pose in their underwear. It is a trend that shows off dramatic fitness progress. Usually, this would mean that in these pictures, the women are as thin as possible, according to the traditional Korean beauty standards. But the perspective of beauty is changing in the country as most women now aspire to be a geongangmi for that precious body shot.
Geongami, or “healthy beauty,” is gaining pace among South Korean women pretty swiftly as more and more of them choose an athletic body over a thin one. But there is more to this new body trend than just the build. While the traditionally beautiful Korean woman is pale and frail, a geongami is muscular and sun-kissed. Celebrities like Hyolyn and Lee Si Young are some of the typical inspirations in this case.
According to market research company Euromonitor, the geongami phenomenon has steadily grown in popularity in the last two to three years among South Korean millennials and gen z. 2020 census data shows that the number of people in their 20s who attend gyms routinely has gone up more than twofold between 2016 and 2020.
29-year-old Koo Hyun Kyung, a personal trainer at the women-only gym Timber, stated that in the last four years, she has seen an increased number of clients be interested in getting stronger and improving their quality of life instead of losing weight. Despite the pandemic causing disruptions to public businesses, her gym has tripled its revenue since its opening.
There is an aspiration towards excellence when you want to learn a certain skill or hobby, that being exercise in this case. You cannot have a pale, skinny body and be successful in fitness, so people tend to shift their beauty standards towards aligning with their goals.
—Koo Hyun Kyung, The Guardian
Though this new trend subverts all the existing female beauty standards, many critics argue that it is just as restrictive and narrow-minded. The geongangmi phenomenon bounds women’s beauty with new extreme ideals. A female blogger commented on this perspective, saying that before, she was expected to starve to be beautiful according to societal expectations. But now, she has to starve and work out at the same time.
Despite the criticism, many feel that this trend parallels the overall changing mental topography of women in South Korea. According to Yun Ji Yeong, feminist philosopher and associate professor at Changwon National University, the country is witnessing a growing sentiment of rebellion among young women who refuse to challenge every existing perception that dictates their lives. Refusal to get married and going against traditional body standards are a part of this larger movement.