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Are You a Fat and Ugly Foreigner?

November 10, 2011


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No, we’re not suggesting that you are fat and ugly, or fat, or ugly. But living in Korea can make you feel that way sometimes. For us, being 6’4 and 5’7, we definitely feel oversized here. We try on the XL clothing here, which is roughly a North American medium, and then we feel like fat and ugly monsters because we can’t even fit into those XL. And when we see how everyone here seems to be slim, how obesity just doesn’t seem to exist here, and then we feel like fatter and uglier monsters. And then we hear about some Korean people, who we already think are ridiculously slim and healthy, and how they supposedly put on some fat, and still think to ourselves that they’re still really slim and healthy, and then we feel like super fat and super ugly monsters. Then we have a conversation with a Korean person in which they let slip a question about our fatness, and then…you get the point.

So the question we got this week is:

Is having a little bit of fat a big deal in Korea? I have Korean friends that always say they need to diet….but they look really healthy to me. It also becomes a hot topic when a little “FAT” shows up on idols? (UEE, Tiffany, Taeyun, etc). WTF?!

Basically, our position in our video is that, in Korea, a little fat means something completely than a little fat to Canadians/Americans. This is because we have totally different body types, and we’re not used to noticing small amounts of fat that a Korean person would notice. The best equivalent we can think of is this: a rich person hears one not-rich person argue with another not-rich person about five dollars. To the rich man, he’s probably like, “WTF is five dollars?” If you’re dealing with millions, a fiver means nothing to you. Canadian/American bodies seem to have a much larger range of shapes and sizes than Korean bodies (seriously, go to Korea and you’ll ask yourself WTF does “free size” on a clothing tag mean), and so a little bit of fat by our standards counts for a lot more by Korean standards.

And of course, Korean media (as well as every other media outlet in the world) pushes the importance of being slim and fit. The idea of having an “s-line” (curvy figure) or “x-line” (hourglass figure) are sought after as ideal body types, and celebrities are often praised for these various alphabet lines. Take this ad, for example:

Now, what’s interesting about this ad, is that to us, that girl’s body is not curvy at all, nor does it similar to the shape of an S. Similarly, Yoon Eun Hye (the boy/girl from Coffee Prince) supposedly has an ideal X Line body. Yes, the same girl who acted and looked like a boy and has the body of a boy and masquerades as a boy and is easily thought of by everyone as a boy. That one. She supposedly has a womanly curvy body. o_O

We’re not her to argue if these two bodies are curvy or not. The point is that – to us – the curviness that the Korean media seems to depict is indistinguishable; any differences in the curvature of those bodies are lost to us. Having grown up in North America and having seen so many different kinds of body types, and thinking of Tyra Banks and Christina Hendricks as examples of curviness, these two Korean examples of bodies just seem more like “l” lines than any other letter of the alphabet. BUT that’s because we’re not sensitive to the nuances. So what are we getting at here? We’re trying to say that a totally healthy foreigner visiting Korea is suddenly an XL and can be seen as overweight to a Korean person, only because that Korean person has different experiences of body weight and “fatness” after having grown up with a smaller range of body types.

Interestingly, we have NEVER ever seen an obese Korean person, though we have seen some chubby kids. In fact, we remember in our first few months in Korea being struck by this fact, and we went out LOOKING for obese people, to no avail. We often wonder if an emphasis on exercise has a deciding factor in this, as there are free exercise parks scattered around every city and they are ALWAYS being used by people of all ages. But then again, there are tons of Korean teenagers that spend all their time sitting at school and then sitting in front of the computer playing computer games. So what the heck? Is it genetic? Who knows.

Super Junior is Short

Simon is not 8 feet tall, FYI. Super Junior is just short.

Lastly, the major misconception we disagree with is how kpop idols are often looked up to and idolized for having perfect bodies…that they don’t actually have. We don’t like the fact that, back when we were teachers, our students would feel low about themselves and their looks because they aren’t as tall or aren’t as skinny or aren’t as small-faced as _____ kpop idol. From our perspective, as two people who have met many idols (and we’ve met many), we can honestly say that their reported heights via online sources are totally false. When this picture of us beside Super Junior was released, many SJ fans were SHOCKED to see how short SJ actually were. We even had people defending SJ, saying that it was a weird camera angle that somehow made JUST SJ look short (that doesn’t make any sense BTW) or that Simon and Martina are both over 6’9 and freakishly huge. No. Actually, SJ are just average Korean height, if not shorter, and they are actually one of the few groups that openly admit to wearing shoe lifts to make themselves look taller, so in fact, that picture should have another 2-3 inches taken off each member.

The point here, though, isn’t that Super Junior or Big Bang or any other Kpop group is shorter and smaller than they report to be. The point is that the combination of a) heightened sensitivities to small variations in body size and b) falsified reports of the measurements of Kpop idols with supposedly ideal body types leads to some severe damage occurring to the self-esteem of kids all over Korea. And, yes, we know that North American media is also guilty of airbrushing, trimming off body fat, and other lovely things to make a celebrity’s body look “just right,” and so the same kind of damage is being done to North American teenagers as well, but we feel like at least there’s more wiggle room in North America, no? For us, it seems like fitting within the archetype of either a supermodel or Christina Hendricks is a lot more forgiving, than, say, trying to fit into the S line or X line body, both of which are nearly identical to us.

Now, we’re only observing Korea from an outside perspective, so there are surely lots of points we’re missing out on, but we’re hoping that a discussion can be opened up at least. Let us know what you think!



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