Bethany: The Inevitable Body Dialogue Every Expat has with Korea

Jun 19

Bethany:  The Inevitable Body Dialogue Every Expat has with Korea

There are a million posts from Western bloggers in Korea about the standards for attractive bodies in the supa-thin SK.  I’ve read a lot of them because it’s a one of those cultural shocks that I didn’t expect to hit me.  I’m thin.  When I’m off meds, I’m very thin.  I always have the kids poke at or even pinch the fat around my belly and ask about the baby, but I just  think of that as youth’s honesty.  Children don’t have to concern themselves with social taboos.

However, here, it isn’t really taboo to talk about someone’s fat (or any aspect of their appearance).  I have had students point to my eyes and say, “Teach-uh, why black?” referring to my dark circles.  I went to lunch with Erica and her Korean friend, Julia, who told Erica casually over lunch that her skin was a “little not good.”  In those moments, you can’t argue with what they can see right in front of them.  (Although, Erica’s skin is flawless–seriously a Neutragena ad.)  You just have to humbly agree, or I just told my students I was tired which is not the cause of my dark shadows beneath my eyes.  My coworkers have inquired, “Are you okay?  You don’t look good.”  I appreciate the concern, but the question has not always come when I was sick.  Adam’s students have repeatedly pointed out that he is fat and lazy, when I know that he is active and keeps our house running when I sit down every night upon arrival and don’t let my feet meet the ground until morning unless I have to use the bathroom.

Maybe this “okaying” the conversation about appearance and body image, the touchiest of esteem subjects for many, helps to enforce the skinnier than skinny standard here.  You don’t want to be overweight if you know someone might point it out in front of everyone.

Koreans use roman letters to describe the body.


S-Line – Ample breasts and buttocks when viewed from the side

V-Line – A slim and oval face narrowing towards the chin

V-Line (second use) – The line in-between the breasts

W-Line – Breasts viewed from the front

X-Line – Long legs and arms connected by a narrow waist

U-Line – Exposed lower back in low cut clothing

M-Line – A “six pack” of abdominal muscles on men

D-Line – A pregnant (or pregnant-appearing) abdomen

B-Line – Big breasts, big abdomen

O-Line – Generalized obesity

Anyway, the recovery from a particularly yucky flare up of crohn’s has me feeling better and also gaining back some of the weight I lost.  Around February and March, I tipped the scales at around 110 lbs and fit easily into my size 4s.  After the prednisone, antibiotics, Humira, and intravenous feeding, I have reached a healthier weight for my 5’7: frame, between 125 and 130.  It’s the heaviest I’ve been in awhile and I really didn’t pack for that much of a weight gain.  So my clothes are tight and uncomfortable.  My chocolate chip muffin breakfasts hang over my size 4s until dinner time when I take off my pants.  It’s an inner battle to appreciate the health even if it means that I can’t be small.  (A ping pong mind game that I want to write about for the notorious project.)

Well, summer has arrived in the tiny, stuffy classrooms.  My shorts are too small now.  So yesterday I tried to buy a couple pairs.  I went to the department store by my house.  Adam may have explained the descrepancies with Asian and American sizing.  He usually wears an XL t-shirt, but the XLs in Korea (when you can find them) fit like a Medium in the States.  I found a pair of shorts I liked, found the biggest size, tried them on.  Not loose at all, but not uncomfortable–score.  I found another pair I liked at another part of the store and asked for the same size–76.  All the online conversions charts tell me this is the equivalent of a size L, 12 in the US.  (I refuse to believe that I have jumped 4 sizes in 4 weeks though.  I’m bigger, but I don’t know that anyone but me has even noticed yet.  Four sizes is noticeable.)  Well we couldn’t find another pair of shorts in my size.  All too small. How can a big department store not carry a size for someone who would still be thin in the US.  Here, in Korea though, it’s the bargain basement for me.

So there’s my rant.  Everyone has one.  The moment the expat realizes we are just these humongous monsters stomping around the natives’ country, teaching their kids, but not allowed to wear their clothes.  We can’t understand it because although thinness is the ideal in the West, our bodies are just bigger, our stomachs are still our gods, and plastic surgery is not a completely respectable option to obtain results in the pursuit.

Korea, we get it.  Another reminder, no matter how much you like us or we like you, we are the other.  In the sea of faces, you are Carson Daly circa 2010.  We are Carson in 2002.

One comment

  1. Amy /

    Wow oh wow Carson Daly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *