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Korean student speaks out against government hiring practice requiring interpreters to “look pretty”

“Why is it my duty to be pretty just because the President [of Korea] is coming to town?
Image: JTBC News

A Korean student currently studying in Paris has spoken out against absurd hiring conditions imposed at the 2016 KCON France held at AccorHotels Arena on June 2nd (the original message can be found on her Facebook account. A transcript is available via Kyunghyang Daily)

Elodie Kim was hired as an interpreter at the KCON. But she was later demanded by KakaoTalk (equivalent of WhatsApp), to provide her measurements and a full-body photo. She asks whether they are indeed talking about the same job offer – that of an interpreter. The hiring agent replies “Yes, but looks are important”. Another student hired at the event is told that “You are hired as an assistant at an information booth for Korean SMEs. Looks matter as much as your [French] language skills”.

elodie 2

The hiring agency, CJ E&M, highlighted its recruiting conditions in red: “Looks are very important > French language skills > You must be pretty (Data: Elodie Kim via Kyunghyang Daily).

Bibigo (KoreaUS, UK), a Korean restaurant chain, has gone as far to highlight in red that their hiring requirements are “looks, French language skills, and looks”, and in the Korean e-mail specifies that “You must be pretty” (That’s the actual word they used). Models were hired through a separate selection round by CJ E&M – the emphasis placed on pretty by the agency was for interpreting jobs.

Most of the other participating organizations, both public and private, had similar hiring guidelines. “Must have good looks” is a condition set forth by the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism, Broadcaster MNET, as well as several other SMEs.

elodie 3

Girl group IOI poses for a photo. Kim has heavily edited the photo in order to guarantee anonymity to the other participants.

Whistleblower Elodie Kim also remarked, with a feeling of irony, that a girl group whose members are mostly underage had been hired to work at the event, and that they were required to pose for photos standing in front of a poster advocating girls’s rights.

elodie 1

What the “pretty” interpreters were hired to do – handing out drinks and sweets (Photo: Elodie Kim)

The Korean media has been exceptionally keen to report on this event. As one of the sources say, our dirty laundry is out. CJ E&M, the organising company, initially blamed the “mishap” on their “local hiring agency”, but as the media pursued the story has since issued an official apology, both to the public and to all those hired for the event.

So, the next time somebody jokes about getting plastic surgery for an office job in Korea – you might want to think back on this. It’s not an urban legend.


Event attended by President Park Geun-hye states “Good looks / Pretty women” as hiring condition. June 06th, Kyunghyang Daily (Link)

‘Pretty women” wasn’t enough so they also asked for a “full-body picture” –  Hallyu event held in Paris steps over the line with hiring practice.  June 09th, 2016. Kyunghyang Daily (Link)

Our dirty laundry is already hanging out in open air. June 8th. JTBC. (Link)

“Why should I be pretty?” Strange standards required by a certain conference. June 7th. YTN (Link)


  1. That’s the sad reality of present K-Culture: lots of cute stuff but little content. The K-POP mentality has wipe out every trace of the original Korean culture. That perception of women as advertising gimmicks is, sadly, very common in the country nowadays.

    • Emily Singh says

      You’re spot on José! So sad that people only associate Korean culture with K-pop. But the Korean government hasn’t done much to promote traditional culture in an internationally appealing way either. :/

  2. Pingback: 女性算不算人? | 紙上曇花

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