Thursday, August 17, 2006

Doenjang Girl

I found this article fascinating... and very true. One thought that surfaced as I read the article was its link to status--a deeply rooted aspect of Korean society.

Of Starbucks, New York and Doenjang {bean paste]

One of the more interesting sociological phenomena of
recent weeks [in Korea] is the birth of the so-called
"doenjangnyeo," a more-than-slightly derogatory term
that literally translates as "Doenjang Girl" (doenjang
refers to the ubiquitous Korean bean paste).

What is a "Doenjang Girl," you might ask? Definitions
differ, but tell-tale signs include the following:
using a lot of high-priced scents and makeup; wearing
luxury one-piece dresses and handbags; eating at
expensive "family restaurants" like TGI Friday's and
posting photos of the food on your homepage; frequent
window shopping at major department stores; imitating
"New Yorkers," or at least as they appear in "Sex and
the City," a favorite "Doenjang Girl" program.

And, the most obvious symptom---walking around with a
cup of Starbucks coffee in your hand.

Interestingly enough, this whole "Doenjang Girl"
phenomenon began when it was learned, much to the
dismay of Korea's vocal online community, that
Starbucks coffee cost more in Korea than it did in
other countries.

Many netizens pinned the blame on a "new breed" of
young, "ultra-feminist" Korean women who insist on
drinking the high-priced beverage not because of its
actual value, but because of the refined allure the
Starbucks brand conveyed.

Yet the debate didn't stop there. Soon, the "Doenjang
Girl" debate became something of a cottage industry,
with websites, comic books and even online computer
games dedicated to the topic. According to one recent
article in a Korean daily, some women are even
changing their consumer habits simply to avoid being
labeled a vain "Doenjang Girl" by those around them.
In the end, however, this may not be as new a
phenomenon as people think.

A cultural critic recently noted that some 100 years
ago, Korean newspapers expressed their fear of
consumer culture by criticizing young women for
wearing brightly colored clothing. So perhaps the more
things change, the more things stay the same.

Written by Robert Koehler (,
chief editor of SEOUL magazine.

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