South Korea instructs mothers 'not to gain weight' in sexist guidelines

South Korea instructs mothers ‘not to gain weight’ in horrifyingly sexist official guidelines


Imagine a government instructing women on how to be perfect housewives and mothers. Now imagine an official set of guidelines with tips like the following:

– “Try not to gain weight”
– “Prepare meals for your husbands before you head into the hospital to have your baby”
– “Have a hair-tie with you so you don’t look disheveled after giving birth”

If you’re a woman in South Korea, this isn’t an imaginary equation, it’s reality.

On January 5, the Seoul city government’s Pregnancy and Childbirth Information Center published a set of guidelines on its website which included a number of archaic and sexist instructions for women, including advice to “prepare instant foods like curry, black bean paste and soup, so the husband (who’s unfamiliar with cooking) will be able to conveniently use them.”

The guidelines also instructed women to “…prepare undergarments, socks, shirts, handkerchiefs and outers in the drawer for the husband and children to wear for 3 to 7 days while you’re at the hospital.”

The guidelines also encouraged women to keep pre-pregnancy clothes visible to motivate weight loss.

“Hang the clothes you wore before you were pregnant in a place where they are easy to see as that will motivate you to keep your weight under control and go back to the same weight you were before you gave birth.” 

“If you are tempted to over-eat or skip exercise, take a look at the clothes,” another ‘suggestion’ claimed. “And buy a hairband so that you don’t look disheveled after having the baby.” 

The guidelines have since been taken down after a barrage of online criticism. This is not the first time the South Korean government has faced criticism for its monstrously conservative ways. 

Three years ago, it came under attack for issuing guidelines to high school students suggesting “women have to work on their appearance and men have to work on improving their financial capabilities”. The guidelines also implied that men who spent “a lot of money on dates” would expect to be “compensated”.

Sexism and discrimination is commonplace for South Korean women. The country has the highest rate of plastic surgery per capita in the world and domestically, the industry is worth roughly $10.7 billion dollars.

Franco-Korean author Élisa Shua Dusapin, told The Guardian last April that in South Korea, “…plastic surgery is another way of improving chances of achieving social recognition, no different from wearing makeup or dressing appropriately for a job interview,”.

“A friend told me the other day that she’d been turned down for a job on the grounds that these days, ‘surgery is affordable; it’s up to the individual to make every effort to show themselves in the best light possible’.”

Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women's Agenda in your inbox