Hey APC, it’s Esther Park. I started writing this a few days after Sulli’s passing, and now with the saddening news of her friend, Goo Hara’s death, I thought it would be timely to finally share my thoughts on the subject.
Sulli, a member of the K-pop group f(x) was found dead in her home on October 14th. This was a young woman of 25 who had been facing online bullying and harassment for a good part of the last decade. When she was photographed with her older boyfriend, they said she was not dedicated to her music and her fans, promiscuous and troublesome. When she uploaded braless pictures, they accused her of being desperate and relying on sex appeal, not musical talent, to get attention.
Over the past year, Goo Hara, formerly part of Kara, faced a physically, and mentally abusive ex-boyfriend who was publicly threatening to release revenge porn. She stood before court, saw her boyfriend get a suspended jail term, and mourned the loss of her dear friend Sulli, all while under the public eye. The media would post sensationalized articles of her private matters. Online, people suggested that the abuse could not have been unilateral. Today, the 28 year old who had been broken down, over and over again, was found dead in her home, after an apparent suicide.
I’ve long complained about how we need to change the way we talk about mental illness as Koreans, at risk of sounding ungrateful for the nation that gave me life, and raised me for the first seven years of my life. But the recent passing of these two women in the Korean music industry, evoked a deep sadness in me – it stuck with me for many days following Sulli’s passing, and resurfaced this morning when I saw the tragic news of Hara on Facebook. It hurt me, because their stories unfortunately speak to the struggles of so many in Korea, not just those in the spotlight. The fact that I had to change the wording of the previous sentence from her story (when I was initially writing this weeks ago about Sulli) to their stories, angers me in a way I wish I could explain.
I hope for the world to be more forgiving, to judge less. Everyone has a right to live freely, regardless of how “scandalous” their Instagram posts are, or if their relationship was public. As Koreans, we have a tendency to involve ourselves in others’ lives. We know aunts, cousins, and friends who spread gossip like wildfire. We’ve had comments made to us about our grades, our weight, our skin, our relationships and life choices. I’ve been both victim and instigator of this toxic cycle. This is obviously escalated to another level when you are a celebrity, and gossip culture has fatal consequences, as we’ve seen recently. I don’t know what it will take for us to evaluate ourselves as a society, and finally admit something needs to change, but if this isn’t enough for us to turn things around, I don’t know what is.
To all the Koreans (and frankly, anyone) raised under the close scrutiny of parents, relatives, family friends, church members, and so on, I hope you will make a life for yourself that fulfills you first and foremost. I hope we’ll remember that mental health is an integral aspect of our wellbeing, that simply working hard, and achieving our goals—whether that be a job, a relationship, or a college acceptance—can not always eliminate that deep-rooted sadness in our souls. I hope you know it’s okay to disappoint your parents, or to fail to meet your own expectations. That every emotion you feel is valid. Depression isn’t necessarily permanent, but it exists, and it’s as real of any medical condition such as asthma or hypertension. That even when it seems impossible, someone out there loves you unconditionally, and is excited to see what you’ll do with your life.
If you’ve had (or have) suicidal thoughts, I hope you can see that there is a place for you on this planet, and if you can’t see it now, I hope you’ll see it in your near future. Call 1-800-273-8255 for the national hotline in the States, and 02-1577-0199 if you’re in Korea. I love you; you are not disposable; your life is precious, and you will make it through. I believe this in my heart for you.