The Racist, Sexist, Fat-Shaming Show Lighting Up German TV

The new Reality Show 'Curvy Supermodel' is supposed to be about body positivity. But the reality is that it's just positively offensive.

Curvy Supermodel 2017 contestants posing for a photoshoot
Curvy Supermodel 2017 contestants posing for a photoshoot
Julia Friese

BERLIN — Of course, it begins on a racecourse. Curvy women run around until they obtain a golden ticket, just like in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Giving up isn't an option. One of them will become the new "Curvy Supermodel", a leader of the Body Positive movement, a fresh face of the Body Revolution. At least, that's what's promised by the voiceover on the television show Curvy Supermodel, which is broadcast on Germany's RTL 2.

Body positivity is about accepting your body as it is, whether you're skinny, fat, or something in between, the voiceover says. It's apparently something these women have struggled with their entire lives.

And "curvy" as used in the English language means more than curvy here. It also means sexy. And that's very important. A curvy woman must be sexy. No surprise there, of course, since women always have to look sexy on TV anyway. What's more, they must do what women always do on TV — fight other women. In the name of sexiness.

Who is the most alluring object of sexual desire? Now it includes those bigger than size 38. This is the "Body Revolution" according to RTL 2. Jury member Angelina Kirsch, a "curvy model", stresses that, on this show, there's more of everything: "More curves, more emotion, more passion."

Curvy isn't just something you are. It is something you're daring to be.

A young woman apologetically tells the camera that she doesn't want to "shock" the jury with her big breasts. She actually wants to hide them a little, but they simply keep attracting attention. "They're always the first thing you see of me," she says. Following Kirsch's advice, the "Curvy Supermodel" contender puts on a minimizer bra, thereby reducing her breasts by two sizes.

She then moves her body before the jury. "Aahhh," they say.

A model agent speaks to a contestant: "I'm guessing you're from Africa. Which country are you from?" This is the first question posed to the woman, who is black. She responds that she's from Senegal, to which the jury says that she should be confident. Because she's curvy.

Curvy, the viewer now learns, isn't just something you are. It is, first and foremost, something you're daring to be.

Curvy Supermodel's fashion show — Photo: Facebook page

The next young woman explains that she was bullied at school. She is 17 years old and white. But no one asks her which country she comes from. South Africa? Iceland? Denmark? It could be anywhere but it doesn't interest anyone. She is wearing a fishnet dress over a black bodysuit. As she turns around, the model expert and jury member Jana Ina is shocked by her bottom. "I find that atrocious," she says emphatically to the young woman. "That's not sexy."

At that moment, you can see in the eyes of the 17-year-old that something breaks inside her. She won't cry. She knows what bullying is. The pain sits deep inside her, but she takes it.

The rest of the jury is more forgiving now. She should just wear a dress, they advise. The student could be forgiven for feeling confused after such advice. Wasn't she, after all, wearing a dress?

It has to look different, they say. Not a fishnet dress, at least not for her. The 17-year-old nods: "Okay, okay, I'll change, I'll fight, one day I can wear that dress! And then she turns around, and there is her bottom on the screen again. "Put some clothes on!" Ina shouts.

The viewer is still struggling to come to grips with what just happened when another young woman comes in and, hastily anticipating potential criticism, calls herself "Miss Pudding."

She was on the show last year. But because of her body, which was called "Wackelpeter" — a gelatinous German dessert — she didn't make the cut that time. But it should all be firmer this year. She's been training hard. She looks confident on the catwalk in her shiny silver leggings. "I've got curves in the right places," she says, beaming.

The curves are not at all where they should be.

"Well, you do have confidence," the jury says. But the model agent immediately adds that, unfortunately, the curves are not at all "where they should be".

"What we're looking for is an hourglass figure," he says, to hammer the point home.

"Miss Pudding" could retort that the show is called "Curvy Supermodel" and not "Best Hourglass'. She could say that the rules are stupid. But she won't get that opportunity. She's out.

"I think we really had better curves at the beginning," the model agent says. Ina, the model expert, nods.

The next candidate is sporty and muscular. She's barely a size 40. "Now that's exactly what we want to see, confidence," the jury rejoices. "Great outfit," they tell her. The young woman is wearing nothing but underwear. "Any extra piece of fabric would be a waste." Ina stands up and slaps the 17-year-old's backside. The young woman laughs. Because, you know, she is a fighter. She has to endure it.

The rest of the show features, among other things, Curvy Supermodel contenders posing as chocolates in a box as well as being sprayed in white and arranged like Baroque sculptures in the park of a castle. When the camera hovers on a black participant, the title under her name simply states: "Has Kenyan roots."

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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