A lot of high expectations come with not just being a woman but being a K-Pop idol as well. From every corner, there are people sending unwarranted critiques on your appearance and behavior. It’s difficult to not get wrapped up in it. There are a few women in the K-Pop industry who have managed to stay true to themselves despite the pressures. Here are five female idols who continue to crush K-Pop stereotypes and gender norms.

1. TWICE’s Chaeyoung

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TWICE’s Chaeyoung is a free spirit. She once cut her hair short without permission from JYP Entertainment and has multiple tattoos despite the cultural taboos. In an interview with GQ Korea, she recognized that people oftentimes associate her with a cute image since she debuted in TWICE when she was young. She rejected this label for herself and said, “I think I suit a strong image like this as well.” She continued to express her desire to break out of the idol stereotypes and delve deeper in her own self-expression.

To me, freedom is expressing what you want to express. Just as Kristen Stewart wore Converse shoes with her dress at the Cannes Film Festival, I also want to become someone who breaks the unspoken rules. Some people think of idols as just pretty and cute people with lots of aegyo, but I want to expand that image. This image, that image, they can all be considered idols, and I think that can be expressed in different ways.

— Chaeyoung

She is not afraid of being herself. She also has made it clear that however she chooses to express herself, whether it is through clothing or makeup, is for herself, no one else.

| TWICE/VLIVE

2. MAMAMOO’s Moonbyul

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MAMAMOO as a group challenge K-Pop beauty standards. Moonbyul especially defies gender norms and stereotypes, regularly wearing suits. In her solo work, such as the music video for “Eclipse,” she dances rigorous choreography while dressed in a masculine style of clothing along with male backup dancers. Most of the moves in the choreography are typical of boy groups.

While she may enjoy clothing that is traditionally considered to be for males, she is still proud to be a woman and has asked fans not to call her oppa. She doesn’t reject her femininity but, instead, redefines it by her own terms.

3. F(x)’s Amber Liu

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Amber Liu debuted in SM Entertainment‘s girl group f(x) back in 2009. At a time when it seemed every girl group was filled with cute and girly concepts, Amber chose not to conform. Even if her fellow members had long hair and wore miniskirts, she maintained her unique androgynous style with a short haircut while wearing baggy shorts or pants.

Of course, she didn’t go without hate. Although people have been rude, mistaken her for a guy, and criticized her body, she continued to reject the notion that women have to act or look a certain way. She has always shown confidence in her individuality and has learned to take haters’ comments lightly and has even managed to joke about it.

4. PRISTIN’s Kyla

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Former member of the Pledis Entertainment girl group PRISTIN, Kyla has been through a lot. Growing up in America, she dreamed of becoming a doctor or idol. In 2016, it seemed as if one of those dreams would come true as she debuted with PRISTIN after being a trainee for six years. Unfortunately, a lot of people have high expectations for idols and Kyla didn’t meet theirs. She was ruthlessly body shamed, particularly online, although she was just a teenager.

In 2017, Pledis Entertainment halted all her promotions for Kyla to return to the States to “receive treatment on her poor health conditions.” In 2019, she officially terminated her contract with the company. Recently, she debuted as a solo artist with the vulnerable album Watch Me Glow.

5. Jessi

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Rapper Jessi has received a lot of hate due to her style. With her tanned skin, tattoos, and piercings, she does not fit the stereotypical female idol image. Many people send hate to her for having a “fake appearance.” Others even mistake her honesty for brashness. She is actually one of the most down-to-earth idols in the industry. She is not shy and speaks her mind while taking pride in who she is.

In the past, I was heavily criticized for my dark skin and having many piercings but I believed I’ll be accepted one day. I still have many hardships, but I can overcome it.

Jessi on MBC‘s I Live Alone

She has been heavily criticized for her complexion, as well as plastic surgery. While it’s not uncommon for idols to get plastic surgery, much of it is either minimal or kept secret. Jessi, on the other hand, has been honest and open about it. Regardless of what others think and say about her, she remains unapologetically herself.

| KBS WORLD TV/Happy Together