These days, it seems like idols never stop trying to lose weight. Recently, aespa‘s Karina divulged on My Alcohol Diary that she puts on a sweatsuit and runs for four hours just to drop as many pounds as possible — and she’s not the only star going to extreme lengths. But just why are idols seemingly dieting more than ever? A K-Pop journalist recently revealed the key change in the industry that led us here.
Earlier this year, seasoned Korea JoongAng Daily reporter Haley Yang joined Korean Studies professor Dr. David Tizzard on his podcast, “Korea Deconstructed.” Yang, who has been delving into the heart of K-Pop, Hallyu, culture, and society, has been privy to first-hand accounts of the grueling diet routines idols face. Even during their interviews with her, Yang says, “They tell me they’re hungry.”
But why is constant dieting more prevalent than it used to be? Yang says it’s all down to one key difference between today’s idol schedules and those of yesteryear.
“Maybe five or ten years ago,” explains Yang, “there was this concept called ‘activity period’ and ‘rest period’. Back then, she says, when groups released an album, they were only active for a month or two. Between that, they weren’t seen as much by the public, so it was a given that they’d gain weight during that time.
They would get a bit fatter during that period, and when they had to get ready for a comeback, they would start losing weight. That was the known cycle, even among the public.
— Haley Yang
That meant that while idols still had to go through intense diets, they did get periods where they could enjoy their food like everyday people. However, these days, the lines between those periods of work and breaks have been blurred.
“Now, there’s no break,” says Yang, “because they’re always doing fansigns, they’re always doing Instagram lives.” Any K-Pop fan who’s been around since before the fourth generation knows well that the amount of content groups put out today is astronomical compared to their sunbaenims. From reality shows to YouTube content, fansigns and events to overseas concerts, active groups often have appearances every week.
While that’s great for fans — and for the members’ profits — it does come with an unfortunate side effect: the idols constantly have to look their best, and that means dieting.
They don’t have a period where they can catch a break and each the cake that they couldn’t, so now the diet just goes on and on.
— Haley Yang
Even Tizzard agreed, revealing that he once spoke to former MOMOLAND‘s Daisy about dieting. Even just looking at the idols, he said, you can feel their struggles.
[Daisy] was like, ‘I have to get weighed all the time, and they’re saying I’ve got to lose this much weight.’
— David Tizzard
Haley Yang had a similar experience of her own with an unnamed foreign group member. Yang explained that the idol wasn’t Korean, so she was usually able to claim language barrier issues whenever her manager “nagged her for something.” However, since the word “diet” sounds the same in Korean and English, the unfortunately couldn’t pretend not to understand the pressure they were putting on her to lose weight.
She was pretty open about that on camera. She was pretty open about the fact that the agency’s always talking about dieting.
— Haley Yang
Ultimately, the pressure of maintaining that “perfect” image is unyielding in an industry where stars are always on the go. While agencies are unlikely to scale back activities just so idols can eat comfortably, fans continue to call on them to prioritize their artists’ rest.