How Jessi the K-Pop Goddess Teaches Me to Be Comfortable in My Own Skin

Jessi makes me realize that people will always have a say about you and your body, but the most important thing is for us to be comfortable with ourselves.

  • October 25, 2022
  • 8 min read
How Jessi the K-Pop Goddess Teaches Me to Be Comfortable in My Own Skin

Two years into the pandemic, I had managed to dodge COVID-19. I lived like a hermit to avoid all the risks of getting infected by the virus, and had three shots of the vaccine against it. Alas, the Omicron got me. I’m grateful that the symptoms were quite mild, saved from incessant cough and sore throat. But it could have come at a better time as I had to quarantine two days before the live concert that I had anticipated the most.

I may sound like a privileged little bitch for crying over a musical concert during this still trying time. But not only that it was my first concert after two years, it was also the performance of the K-pop goddess, my role model: Jessica Oh, a.k.a. Jessi. I had imagined that I would finally be able to see her live but the damn virus ruined it for me.



I ended up selling the tickets to my sister and her friend. I did not even realize my hijab-wearing, engineering graduate sister was also a fan of Jessi. But that just confirms her popularity and wide appeal even more.

The 33 year-old Korean American rapper/singer/talk show host started her career when she was 15, but she rose to global fame with the single Nunu Nana (2020). Early this year, another single Zoom became a hit and a TikTok fixture, with everybody joining the dance moves.

As a former K-pop fan, after losing interest in it after I graduated, Jessi’s catchy and ubiquitous song drew me back in. I googled her and was taken aback by her physique, which, with overly-tanned skin, bee-stung lips, and ample bosom, looks a bit porny to me. But there’s something about her that I could not quite point out that made me even more interested in her.

I started to immerse myself into her music, and boy does she have quite a pipe. Once a church choir girl back in the States, she has this raspy, powerful voice with a wide range. There is not much difference between her voice during recording and on live stage, the latter is even more compelling. She writes and arranges her own songs, with the lyrics that resonate with me in many ways because they speak a lot about self acceptance. She is frank and badass–it did not take that long for me to be obsessed with her.

Sumber: Instagram/Jessicah_oh

Also read: BTS and ARMY: Dismantling Western Hegemony, Breaking Stereotypes

K-Pop Industry’s Unrealistic Beauty Standard

Jessi was born in New York City and raised in New Jersey. Her immigrant parents were struggling to make ends meet, but encouraged her to pursue her career in music. She then sent a demo tape to an agency in South Korea and received a callback. After signing a contract, she flew thousands of miles to Seoul at age 15 by herself.

She debuted in 2006 with Get Up, an album released by Doremy record company. The album tanked, so the company put her in a mix group called Uptown. It did not fare well either. In addition, Jessi was struggling to fulfill the Korean beauty standards, which is often criticized for promoting the stereotypical East Asian beauty with fair skin, petite body, tiny oval face, and big eyelids. They always try to make idols look innocent, girly, and timid. All of these were not met by Jessi, who has darker shade and narrow eyes. Her Korean was not yet fluent, adding to the complexity of the situation.

In an interview, Jessi said that she lived like a machine, being told what to do by her agency amid the pressure to be accepted by the society. At some point, she said she would sing a cheerful song on stage but was crying inside. She was depressed.

With no progress in her career, Jessi decided to return to the US in 2010 and bury her dream to become a singer. But music is her calling and she returned to South Korea five years later. She then joined a hip hop trio called Lucky J, under the label YMC Entertainment. It did not work out either and the group disbanded in a few months.

Her fate changed after she joined a rap competition program called “Unpretty Rapstar” (2015). Her performance attracted many people as she was candid, powerful, and opinionated. She cursed a lot and told off other girls, creating drama in the reality show that other participants hated her. But all she did was be her true, authentic self as she was sick of being told to be a cute, innocent girl. It was actually a breath of fresh air. She gained a lot of attention and ended up being a runner-up.

Yet, as her popularity grew, so was the number of haters–mostly men. Undeterred, Jessie turned the pain into art, and released the single “I Want to Be Me” (2015) that reflects her frustration toward K-pop industry and how she wanted to be herself.

No matter what anyone says, Imma do me

Till the lights go off and the music stops

When the party ends, I can say, I did it my way

Jessi freed herself from the box designed for female idols. She is bold, outspoken, brave, and not ashamed of being herself. As a woman who lives in an equally patriarchal society I feel her so much. I know exactly what it is like to be pressured for being your true self. Seeing Jessi being comfortable in her own skin feels empowering for me.

Also read: 3 Reasons Why Rejecting Inclusive Beauty Standards is Ignorant and Sexist

Sumber: Instagram/Jessicah_oh

How Jessi Makes People Around Her Comfortable Being Themselves

In 2020, Jessi joined P-Nation agency founded by PSY of the famed “Gangnam Style”. She churned out hit singles she produced herself, such as “Who Dat B”, “Drip”, and “Down”. She was catapulted to global stardom, thanks to her catchy sound and the empowering lyrics.

During the same year, she made another ripple as she joined three other famous women singers to form Refund Sister, a seasonal idol group. With MAMAMOO’s Hwasa, Lee Hyori, and Uhm Jung-hwa–aged 27, 43, and 53, respectively–they fought against sexism and ageism in the music industry, showing that women in their “mature” age can still rock. Their debut single “Don’t Touch Me” was a sleeper hit.

With her outgoing personality, Jessi often appears in popular variety shows and had her own YouTube talk show called “Jessi Show Interview”. She has a great talent as talk show host, where guests could be comfortable around her. They could be as messy, loud, and fun. She would make every man blush for her brutal honesty it is so satisfying to watch. Her interview with boy group TXT garnered 14 million views, with people flooding the comment section, saying it was one the best interviews they had ever watched.

So imagine how crushed I was for failing to see her live when she came to Jakarta. My sister said during the concert, Jessi was so warm and humble that many in the audience were in tears. She invited some people onto the stage to dance together with her. She openly talked about how she almost gave up making music because of the unrealistic expectations of K-pop.

“Everything has been hard for me, you know, because of the beauty standard. But I decided to don’t give a fuck anymore. I make my own standard,” she said.

Her own standard is sometimes conflicting for me because she is on another spectrum of unrealistic beauty standards, where women are pressured to look like the Kardashians, with unbelievably small waist, flat stomach, and large breasts. But at least Jessi is owning it and is unapologetic about it.

Also read: Owning Our Insecurities and Needing Help for It is More Than Okay

She casually talks about her plastic surgery, something common in the industry but people have the “don’t ask don’t tell” attitude toward it.  “Shout out to Doctor Kim for making my boobies nice and firm. I got my boobs six years ago,” she said without a hint of irony.

In another interview, she said, “I’m just me and when it comes to you, just be you. The reason why I created music for all of you guys is to make you be yourself. Love yourself. It doesn’t really matter whether you wanna change your body or not.”

She makes me realize that people will always have a say about you and your body, but the most important thing is for us to be comfortable with ourselves. On that note, I hope I will still be able to meet her someday. Pandemic or not, I will isolate myself for 10 days and come out of the house just in time just to catch Jessi’s live in concert!

Illustration by Karina Tungari

About Author

Siti Parhani

Hani adalah seorang storyteller dan digital marketer. Terlepas dari pekerjaannya, Hani sebetulnya punya love-hate relationship dengan media sosial.

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