Editorial / Sisterhood and Solidarity

sisterhood and solidarity-final artwork

artwork and text by Hyeyoon Cho
edited by Tiffany Dai



In my artwork, I wanted to bring attention to the anti-corset movement, a contemporary feminist movement that has been receiving media attention in South Korea. The term ‘anti-corset’ refers to the idea that women, who have been oppressed by the beauty norms set by local patriarchy and corporate capitalism, must be liberated from the feminine ‘corset’ they are pressured to fit in[1]. What is empowering about this movement is that activists digitally record and transcribe their experiences with oppressive beauty practices like extreme dieting, cosmetic surgery, and wearing make-up on daily basis. These activists post before-and-after “selfies” on social media, which typically contain images of destroyed beauty products and dieting pills, as well as themselves sporting short haircuts and butch fashion. Because certain images – such as the soft and feminine or sexually objectified women – are celebrated in Korean digital media[2], the beauty resisters create an alternative narrative that encourages diverse ways of expressing femininity.

The beige text in the image is an excerpt of Na Hye-seok’s 1934 essay titled “A Divorce Confession.” Na was a pioneer Korean feminist writer during the early 20th century. She was also a painter who first became vocal about women’s issues during the time. Particularly, Na is known for her criticism against the marital institution, in which she spoke about the injustices that women faced in the context of their marriage. For example, Na criticized “the patriarchal practice of chastity in Korea[3].” Since chastity was demanded for women and not men, Na stated that the double standard of chastity was a “man-made norm that had been used as a way to control and restrict a woman’s body, treating it as the property of her husband[4].” Evidently, in the 1920s, women intellectuals like Na were influenced by the modern idea of self as an independent being; she therefore tried to challenge the social code of the time, which measured women’s worth by their chastity to their husbands[5]. Because married women were still valued only for their ability to bear heirs for their husbands and maintain household[6], they were deprived of “individual identity, [and they were viewed as] the full property of [men][7].” Therefore, Na tried to shift the discourse on the female body, from it being supposedly “pure and limited” to something that is “unlimited, resilient, and creative.”[8]

To the men of Joseon,
I refuse to be your doll
Even if you put my body on fire, burn it in a flame
I would rather become a handful of ashes.
And sometime in the distant future
My blood and cries will be strewed and seeded on this earth
Our future women
Will live a life, a human life that’s worth living
And shall remember my name.

I chose to include this excerpt of Na’s essay (translation mine) because it resonates with women’s experiences in Korea today.

Women are still expected to conform to certain images of femininity demanded by patriarchy, which is now disguised in the form of a beauty regime. Indeed, this beauty economy pressures women to be aesthetically pleasing to the eyes of the men and primes them to be a readily available source of profit for the cosmetics market. Thus, in my artwork, I wanted to emphasize how patriarchy has sustained its power throughout history by objectifying women and controlling how they should look. By building connection between Na Hye-Seok and the contemporary beauty resisters, I wanted to talk about the struggles Korean women had faced historically and also highlight what contemporary activists are doing to resist beauty norms.

In terms of the composition, I depicted two women leaning against each other. The woman on the right conforms to beauty norms, which are imposed on her by social and patriarchal cultures. The woman on the left resists these arbitrary standards – her short hair and face without makeup are potent symbols of her liberation. This symbolic moment of freeing oneself from beauty norms is praised and supported by the people in the background, who are holding pickets that translate to “My body, my rules,” “My life is not your porn,” “We are not delicate flowers,” and “Ban spy cams and illicit filming.” I drew this photo from the news footage of feminist demonstration in Seoul[9]

In conclusion, my work sheds light on the contemporary anti-corset movement in Korea. I believe that this cultural activism is important because it encourages liberation from oppressive beauty practices, as well as emphasizing the fundamental right women should have, which is the freedom to express their own definitions of womanhood.


Hyeyoon Cho is a third year Sociology student with a minor in Communication Studies. She is particularly interested in the media representations of women of colour, contemporary Korean literature and poetry, as well as feminist movements in East Asia. Working as a creative content contributor for Orientations, she aims to create pieces that open up discussions about the gender and social issues in East Asia.



[1] Laura Bicker, Why Women in South Korea are Cutting ‘the Corset’ (BBC news: 2018), //www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-46478449.

[2] Jihye Kuk, Hyejung Park & Caroline Norma, South Korea’s ‘take off the corset’ Movement Should Inspire Feminists Everywhere Towards Radical Action (Feminist Current: 2018), //www.feministcurrent.com/2018/09/06/south-koreas-take-off-corset-movement-inspire-feminists-everywhere-towards-radical-action/

[3] Jung-Soon Shim, Reconfiguring the ‘New Woman’ in Koreanized Feminist Discursivity: Na Hye-Suk’s Play the Woman in Paris (5th World Humanities Forum: p. 295-302: 2018), //www.unesco.or.kr/assets/data/report/rx9TZZk0BfnxJerUqlZk3CBDCl8DdS_1549607868_2.pdf.

[4] Hyaeweol Choi, New women in colonial Korea: A sourcebook (2012, //http://ebookcentral.proquest.com

[5] Choi, New women in colonial Korea: A sourcebook

[6] Katrina Maynes, Korean Perceptions of Chastity, Gender Roles, and Libido; From Kisaengs to the Twenty First Century (Grand Valley Journal of History: 2012: p.1-19), //scholarworks.gvsu.edu/gvjh/vol1/iss1/2

[7] Katrina Maynes, Korean Perceptions of Chastity, Gender Roles, and Libido

[8] Choi, New women in colonial Korea: A sourcebook

[9] Dam-Eun Seon, (2018) //www.hani.co.kr/arti/society/society_general/848590.html



Bicker, Laura. (2018, December 10). Why women in South Korea are cutting ‘the corset’. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-46478449.

Choi, Hyaeweol. (2012). New women in colonial Korea : A sourcebook. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com.

Kuk, Jihye., Park, Hyejung., & Norma, Caroline. (2018, September 06). South Korea’s ‘take off the corset’ movement should inspire feminists everywhere towards radical action. Retrieved from https://www.feministcurrent.com/2018/09/06/south-koreas-take-off-corset-movement-inspire-feminists-everywhere-towards-radical-action/.

Maynes, Katrina. (2012). Korean Perceptions of Chastity, Gender Roles, and Libido; From Kisaengs to the Twenty First Century. Grand Valley Journal of History,1(1), 1-19.      Retrieved from http://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/gvjh/vol1/iss1/2.

Seon, Dam-Eun. (2018, June 11). Hani.co.kr. Retrieved from http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/society/society_general/848590.html.

Shim, Jung-Soon. (2018). Reconfiguring the ‘New Woman’ in Koreanized Feminist Discursivity: Na Hye-Suk’s Play the Woman in Paris. 5th World Humanities Forum, 295-302. Retrieved from https://www.unesco.or.kr/assets/data/report/rx9TZZk0BfnxJerUqlZk3CBDCl8DdS_1549607868_2.pdf.

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