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!

  1. I wonder if I would be fat and ugly I am 62.5(159CM) inches tall, my legs are 31.5(80CM) inches long, I wear 34C bra my measurements are: 37 inches(94CM) breast, 24 inches(61CM)waist, 34 inches(86CM) hips, 36 inches(92CM) butt, legs: 19.5 inches(50CM)Thighs, 12.5 inches(32CM) Calves, 7 inches(18CM) Ankles, with a face of Shin Min Ah according to my Asian friends.

    • I forgot to add my under bust is 29(73.5(CM)on my bra size app(on bra size charts 34C) I would be a 34D US or a 75F in Korea I realized that Koreans like to mark the bra size two size bigger but general sizes in the US compare to Asia it is two size smaller.

  2. I’m 166cm and 105 lbs and i’m not flat T_T ^^

  3. ALSO, am I the only one who thinks the member closest to Simon looks hilarious? It looks like he’s challenging martina’s dorthraki warrior to a fight.

  4. T O T So tiny…. *says the girl that is 5’3* lol I definitely want to know about Rain’s height, or Kai and Kris from EXO.

    ….. Or Eric from Shinhwha. Oh…. Eric. <3

  5. Just saying, but if you think that is short, I’m 5ft2, and all of my friends bar 2 are 5ft7/8 plus. I get carried:(

  6. Wanna give you a big hand! How come you explain so logically like this?!

  7. OMO…I could really go off on this discussion. 

  8. Huh? What are you talking about? Unless those two people who appear on your videos aren’t actually you, then I’d say that both of you are still smokin’ hot. ANG!! p(^o^)g

  9. I don’t think Simon and Martina have ever been disrespectful of Korean culture or pretended (or intended) to present their views as the ultimate truth. Instead of blindly accusing them of insensitivity, point out their “mistakes” and the things you consider to be incorrect, and correct them here or email them about it. I didn’t really notice anything in this video that would be considered offensive from Korean perspective.

  10. OMG, Martina I lurve your hair! Sorry, I just saw it and I had to say something cuz its flippin’ adorable. I also wanted to say that I love that pic/macro/whatev of you guys and SJ. I dunno, the fact that their short just makes them seem cute to me. Seriously, they’re like adorable little elves. Well, compared to you guys, at least. (I mean no offense to other short Korean people, I’m American and I’m 5′ 1, so shorties represent!) I can totally see why people would be confused by that pic, though, what with online resources and other pictures portraying otherwise. I don’t care though, it just makes them more real. And that picture is priceless.

  11. Hi, Simon and Martina, I think you guys are mistaken. There was a study that found that western and Korean ideal body shapes are the same at Bust=Hip:Waiste ratio of 100:60. The ratio for 38-24-38 measurement you mention is 100:63, waist a little thicker than ideal. On the other hand, the value 36-22-36, an examplary Korean glamour measurement, is 100:61, closer to the ideal. So the latter should appear more curvy. Unless you have a bias for bigger women.

    • Ah, the standard of beauty, there are certainly individual and cultural differences, but we humans share more common universal inclinations.What I wanted to say is that some westerners think western women have more curves. Simon said Korean women who are admired for their “S-curves” by other Koreans have no curves according to his taste. This I disagree. For most easterners, western female figure tend to appear stubbier (except for some model figures) than asian women. In US, 40% of population is out of shape (fat) so this perception is not without foundations. I lived in US and Korea many years, and I think Korean women on average have more balanced shape than North American women. More S-curves…

  12. I also think there’s a difference between the North American & Korean perspective of beauty/body image in the concept of diet.
    In Canada: Going on a diet means eating differently then normal so no meat, Atkins, Weight Watchers, all fruit & veggies, etc. Typically this can be healthy but this is not always the case, depending on the diet type.
    In Korea (and most Asian countries): Going on a diet is most popularly a code for NOT EATING. This is NOT NOT NOT healthy for a lot of reasons and can not only hurt your body, but cause you to GAIN weight and your body to start eating your muscles. I’m not going to argue about changing Korea’s perspective of body image but they need to take a serious look at ditching this no eating diet.
    FYI: When I was in Korea I saw a few heavy-set Koreans (not gyopos either) and I was living in a small town. I just wondered where the heck they got clothes!!!

  13. Body image and physical appearance is a touchy subject everywhere, but man….I feel like sometimes it’s on a whole new level here.  I’m a pretty big girl, by Korean standards and North American standards, and Korean people are always eager to point it out.  It used to be something that *really* bothered me, but now, four years later, it mostly just cracks me up.  When I meet a new group of students and they say, “Teacher! You’re fat!” now I’m just like, “Yes, and I’m Canadian, 28 years old, blood type O, etc.”  Then they don’t know what to do haha.  But then the total opposite will happen.  For example, I was out in Hongdae this past weekend, and two separate Korean girls came up to me and told me I looked like Kate Middleton.  Let’s put this into perspective — I look about as much like Kate Middleton as Simon looks like David Beckham.  We’ve both got brown hair and green eyes, and that’s where the similarities end.  Long story short, I don’t think I will ever truly understand Korean culture when it comes to standards of beauty, but my confusing brings never-ending LOLs.

  14. I must agree with everything you said, but omg I stopped for a LOOONG time on that one suju vs you guise picture and I just started LAUGHING, because the things is not only with the difference of heights but body proportions too (no I’m not saying you’re freakishly fat or tall or w/e) I know from experience that us foreigner just look bigger in general next to Koreans, and well… it’s freaky, and when you see four boys that are small and two that are big, you’d obviously say that the two are the outliers, although we can’t really say it’s either…. right? from own experience of seeing idol stars with and without their insoles (SHINee) I can tell you that Minho, really is tall, but he’s still that stick figure compared to a white man of the same size, while Jonghyun without insoles probably is just about 3 cm taller than me….

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