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School uniform ad raises worries

Parents fear posters for slim-fit attire may give teens the wrong idea

Oct 22,2015
Singer Park Jin-young and members of the female idol group TWICE feature in a controversial school uniform ad by Skoolooks. [PARK YU-SEON]
A major school uniform brand has come under fire over its advertisements, which some parents and educators have claimed are potentially damaging to impressionable teens.

The advertisements, released by Skoolooks earlier this month, feature JYP Entertainment CEO Park Jin-young and the female idol group TWICE modeling slim-fitting jackets and skirts.

The uniform, branded as a “corset jacket” and “shading skirt,” emphasize a thin female silhouette. At the bottom of the poster, the slogan reads, “Let’s get it on with slim fit.”

Parents have denounced the advertisement as a sales gimmick that is potentially threatening to the health of adolescents.

The brand, however, said last week that it was merely emphasizing its comfortable and well-fitting school uniform and promised to withdraw the posters, while the Ministry of Health and Welfare announced it would advise Skoolooks to change the content of its advertisements and marketing concept.

Still, the advertisements have spread online and the posters have been taped up in middle and high schools as well as school uniform stores, with the reception among students mostly positive.

“When I saw the poster, I thought the models’ uniforms looked lovely,” said Ji Seung-yeon, a 16-year-old high school student. “I know the bodies of the models are unrealistic, but I still wanted to take after them because they looked pretty.”

Teachers and parents, by contrast, have been critical.

“Students cannot go on excessive diets to wear slim-fit uniforms,” said Kim Ji-in, the mother of two teenage daughters. “It’s already worrying that some students skip meals to diet. Advertisements like that should be regulated.”

Park You-sun, a nurse at Gumo Middle School in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi, added that many students in the normal weight range come by to check their weight, only to then complain that they are fat.

“I’m worried that the poster may encourage female students to try to imitate idol stars’ thin physiques. Middle and high schoolers tend to look up to celebrities they admire; the brand appears to be misleading students with a sales gimmick,” Park added.

Choi Mi-suk, who leads a parents’ association, said the group had outlined a joint resolution with four major school uniform companies including Skoolooks in April 2010, asking them not to highlight celebrities in their advertising, though so far none had kept their word.

Health experts agree that such advertisements could threaten student health.

“Many Korean girls and women tend to have distorted body images and believe they’re overweight even though they’re not,” said Kang Jae-heon, a family medicine doctor at Inje University Paik Hospital in Seoul.

“Because teenagers are experiencing so many physical changes, they’re vulnerable to eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, osteoporosis, menstrual irregularities and depression if they go on excessive diets,” Kang added.

According to the local Health Insurance Review & Assessment Service, the number of female patients who visited the hospital due to eating disorders increased by 22 percent, from 5,064 in 2010, to 6,184 in 2014.

In some countries, certain legal moves have prevented underweight models from appearing in mass media or fashion shows.

Olivier Veran, a member of the French Socialist Party, spearheaded a law in April making it illegal for agencies to hire excessively thin women as models. By law, anyone who employs underweight models will be fined 75,000 euros ($85,000) or sentenced to up to six months in prison.

BY LEE ESTHER, KIM JEONG-HEE [koo.yurim@joongang.co.kr]


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