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Hey guys,

With the season now totally kaput, I was planning to send you a 2023/2024 round-up, featuring my favourite and most crappy bits, probably with a number of jokes at a certain Women’s Super League manager’s expense thrown in.

Then, when I woke up this morning and the thought of football was tiring, the mere notion of Marc Skinner too much to contemplate.

Can you have too much of a good thing? They say that you can! And perhaps I have!

So fatigued by footie, my options were these — tell you, again, about Emma Hayes saying, again, that Chelsea “will never leave my heart”, with the smug coiffeured look of someone who’s about to seriously spoil our fun by coaching the Lionesses’ rivals to boring old world dominance, again, OR do something a bit silly instead 🤪

So I packed up my WSL Panini sticker album and headed to the office. Recently, I’ve been preparing a feature about footballers and their hair for the summer special of The Square Ball. With barnets on the brain, I wondered about compiling some kind of WSL hairstyle power rankings 🤔

But I’ve ended up getting lost in the shifting gender dynamics of South Korea over the past five years. And I'm going to tell you about it. So you know, there's descriptions of gender-based violence in this piece, but we'll chase it with something sweet.

Cheers for tuning in.

Flora xx
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I am not pretty

Lauren James has worn some great looks this season, and Ash Neville is doing something a bit different — but apart from that, flicking through my Panini sticker album looking for haircuts which said 'power' only taught me that a catwalk of WSL players’ hair would be a bit of a snore-fest.

Brighton and Hove Albion striker Lee Geum-Min's hairstyle won’t write headlines, but her crop was a welcome disruption to frame after frame of shoulder-length locks and ponies. I had vaguely understood that short hair is quite common in South Korea, so I didn’t imagine that Lee Geum-Min’s trim was anything too radical. Googling 'short hair in South Korea' to see if that was the case, I found out that I was wrong.
In the summer of 2021, South Korean archer An San made history by becoming the first archer in history to win three gold medals in a single Olympic games at Tokyo 2020. She also broke the 25-year record for points scored in the Women's Individual Archery's Ranking Round. She also had short hair.

You’d be amazed at which of these facts created the biggest noise among her compatriots back home. That’s right, An San’s hair provoked vicious online attacks by anti-feminists who accused their national sporting hero of being — yep — a feminist. The abuse prompted tens of thousands of South Korean women to cut their hair short in solidarity.

Lee Geum-Min’s crop preceded this wave of politically-motivated haircuts. Here she is, arriving at Manchester City in August 2019:
But in many ways, her short hair is all the more radical for it. South Korean society, I’ve learned today, is thoroughly appearance-obsessed and rife with ‘lookism’ – that is, discrimination based on the way that a person looks. It is totally normal, for instance, to be required to submit a headshot alongside your CV when applying for a job. Per capita, South Korea has the highest rate of cosmetic surgery in the world, and half of respondents to a 2017 survey said they would consider going under the knife just to increase their employment prospects.

In a society in which patriarchal ideologies remain deep-rooted, this look-ism disproportionately affects women, who have historically been expected to maintain expensive and time-consuming beauty regimes, dyeing, peeling, steam-towelling, eyelining, and lipsticking their way to acceptance.

Extreme standards are normalised, with public figures like K-Pop stars sharing drastic weight loss measures. A study conducted in 2021 predicted that approximately a third of South Korean’s female population suffers from disordered eating.
In 2018, South Korea did not escape the global wave of feminist action caused by the emergence of sexual abuse allegations surrounding Harvey Weinstein. The #MeToo movement empowered women to start questioning the way that they were being oppressed by the incredibly narrow beauty standards to which friends, family, and colleagues were holding them.

In May 2018, Lim Hyun-ju became the first woman ever to wear glasses on air as she presented the morning news on MBC in a pair of round-rimmed spectacles.

"I think these glasses brought a lot of change in me,” she said. “I no longer wear uncomfortable clothes and I wear shirts and trousers that I like.

“I became more free. I think these glasses gave me wings called freedom."

In June 2018, an unlikely figurehead emerged in the growing movement to reject strict attitudes toward feminine beauty — Lina Bae, a popular YouTube beauty influencer. In her video 나는 예쁘지 않습니다.’ (‘I am not pretty’), Bae’s make-up routine is accompanied by a string of horrible real-life comments about her appearance such as ‘I want to beat you up’ and ‘It’s a pig wearing makeup’. She then removes her make-up and appears bare-faced with the message, “You’re special just the way you are. Nobody can hurt you. I will always support you.”

The upload, viewed over 5 million times, attracted a lot of backlash and inspired other public acts of rebellion. Thousands shaved their heads or smashed up pricey cosmetic products, sharing the results on social media.
Speaking to the Guardian in October 2018, feminist YouTuber Cha Ji-Won described the effect of the so-called Escape the Corset (탈주 코르셋) movement, which brought her monthly cosmetics bill down from £70 to just the £2.75 needed to buy moisturiser and lip balm. “I felt as if I had been born again,“ she said. There’s only so much mental energy a person has each day, and I used to spend so much of it worrying about being ‘pretty’.

“Now I use that time to read books and exercise.”

The negativity that A San’s hairstyle provoked in 2021 shows that harmful traditional attitudes persist, even if a swelling number of women are choosing to ignore them. In 2022, conservative candidate Yoon Suk Yeol won the presidential election, going after the votes of young men who felt disenfranchised by the growth of the voice of women with pledges to enhance penalties for those found to have falsely accused men of sex crimes and to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, all while blaming feminism for the nation’s low birth rates.

One of the groups organised by the pissed-off hordes targeted by Yoon was ‘Man on Solidarity’, whose leader Bae In-kyu attempted to clarify their position as such: “We don't hate women, and we don't oppose elevating their rights. But feminists are a social evil.”

In November 2023, the anti-feminist group was forced to publicly deny affiliation with a man who claimed to be a member of Man on Solidarity when he was arrested by the police for a late-night attack on a female shop worker in Jinju.

"Since you have short hair, you must be a feminist. I'm a male chauvinist, and I think feminists deserve to be assaulted,” the man was reported to have said to the worker as his punching and kicking left her with severe ear and ligament damage.

The Jinju attack is an ugly snapshot of a society coming to terms with change, but the Escape the Corset movement serves as a reminder that appearances are powerful, and maybe writing about hair isn’t the silly idea I thought it was.
❤️💙 Remember when Lucy Bronze had a go at speaking Catalan to the excited shrieks of her Barcelona colleagues? Well, weeks back, Keira Walsh made a promise that if Barça won the Champions League, she would take her turn and, as you might imagine, the resulting video is incredibly sweet. 💙❤️

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