“It is not a force that is involved in mainstream sports where there are a lot of barriers and difficulties like this entering that area,” he said. “The focus here on a variety of abilities and strengths through compartmentalization allows us to see the potential really close. We can almost imagine ourselves there.
Experts say the women on the show also powerfully challenge the stereotype that Asian women can be weak and hyperfeminine. Like their male counterparts, women are leaders in sports ranging from bodybuilding to wrestling. And they’re not shy about showing off their toned arms and broad shoulders. The show, in part, Thangaraj said, “completely destroyed” limited notions of Asian and Asian American womanhood.
Rachel Xu, an associate professor of American studies at Middlebury College whose research focuses on sports media and the South Korean and Korean American communities, underlined that there is still a sexism problem on the show. While it claims to be exploring the perfect physique “regardless of gender, age and race,” women are eliminated early on in the show, already declining by the third episode. The rules may be similar, Xu said, but they are not the same.
Some contestants also display rampant sexism, Xu said. Many male competitors view their female teammates as the weak link, unable to see them as formidable opponents. And in some co-ed deathmatches, male competitors received feedback for how they appeared to perform against their female competitors.
Netflix did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment.
Joo said this coincides with an increased attitude against gender equality in South Korea.
Critics say the anti-feminist movement in the country has gained steam in recent years, especially under President Yoon Suk Yeol, who in October announced his intention to abolish the country’s Ministry of Gender Equality and the Family .
Ju said, “That … to me was a sign of this growing anti-feminist sentiment in Korea.” “Like, ‘Women don’t belong here and I’m going to put you in your place and I’ll show you why with just a little effort.'”
Chin equally noted that the show was a “missed opportunity” to address or correct pervasive sexism.
While the vast collection of strong, athletic Asian bodies on the show is a powerful sight for Western audiences, the focus on physicality and physical fitness has become increasingly integral to success in Korean society, Joo said. He is not always healthy.
“There’s a lot written on plastic surgery in Korea, and in many ways, it’s a result of that, where body perfection is just another way to show you’re a little better than the person next to you,” Joo said. , “People who are looking for a job in their 20s, maybe even 30s, are expected to work as a part of their self-improvement.”
There is still a long way to go before Asian bodies are portrayed in a nuanced and responsible manner. But experts say that this show will definitely change the thinking of some people.
“Size and muscularity are not the definition of strength and fitness that we all have always taken for granted,” Thangaraj said. “Rather it compels us to think about the ways in which these athletes have trained and put in the time and put in the devotion and passion.”