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Eating Disorders in Korea

April 29, 2015


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So, we’re back to handling serious topics for TL;DRs! We felt the need to address this topic in response to the conversations from our Mukbang video. Now, this is a very complicated topic, I think, so the best we could really do is try to give as many stats as we could find and talk a bit about our experiences. Hopefully we can keep the conversation going here, and see how comparisons with our own experiences can shed light on Eating Disorders, not just in Korea but elsewhere.

For starters, we have difficulty understanding common Korean perceptions of weight management and weight loss. We talked about diets and eating disorders, but we notice a bit of it with fitness as well, particularly at all of the gyms we’ve been to. Maybe we’re just at the wrong gyms, but we’ve been to four different ones, and the experiences are all the same: we haven’t really seen a lot of Korean women busting arse at a gym. All of the weights that are used are the lightest possible, and all of the cardio is really, really slow. I’ve seen only one girl run on a treadmill, while everyone else we’ve seen just walks on them. Most of the Korean girls we’ve spoken with (except for Soo Zee) have the fear is that if they pick up a weight that’s a bit heavy they’ll instantly bulk up Hulk-size. Since they don’t want to get too muscular, it’s best to not over exert themselves with challenging weights. We’re not saying all Korean girls are like this, but if you’ve ever been to a gym in Korea you will know exactly what we’re talking about. Martina looks like the She-Hulk when she goes to our gym in Korea and a tiny sissy baby when she goes to the gym in Canada.

Now, I’m not trying to get into a big discussion about weightlifting and the science behind it, but it seems like most of the discussions about health and weight loss in Korea are more rooted in concepts of just not eating rather than in the science of how bodies work. When we hear someone say, “I’m trying to lose weight so I’m eating only three sweet potato a day because it burns fat” it makes us feel very upset. Yes of course you will lose weight but you’re also starving your body of an important range of vitamins and minerals. There is a way to limit your food intake in a healthy manner as well as pair it with exercise, but it doesn’t seem like tons of Korean people talk about it. It seems like the discussion about losing weight comes up very frequently in Korea, but the discussion on how to do so in a healthy manner does not.

A discussion we had in the studio was about how Eating Disorders in Korea are probably under diagnosed. The criteria for diagnosing an Eating Disorder is both behavioral and psychological, but it seems like in Korea, the focus is more on dieting and losing weight, not on the physical and mental harm their diets may have. Food restriction diets seem to be talked about in more pragmatic and straightforward terms, like “oh! Seems like I have to lose some weight. Time to eat less!” Diets in Korea, and the language used for them, doesn’t seem like an anxiety about food, you know? And, let me be clear: I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist. It’s just talked about with a different attitude than we’re used to.

Again, this is difficult for us to classify, because we know that there’s huge pressure that goes with dieting in Korea, which we talked about before in another video, but it feels like that pressure is received differently in Korea than it is received in North America. Our personal concern is that the pressure to lose weight in Korea is very real and affects many people, but perhaps because dieting is such a common and seemingly innocuous topic of conversation it hasn’t been acknowledged as problematic.

So, let us know what you think. Do our experiences in Korea match up with yours? Both Martina and I have been told to “go on a diet” or “to lose weight” by Korean friends, has this ever happened to you? How different it is where you’re from?



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Eating Disorders in Korea


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  1. I totally agree. In my college’s gym, I see girls (especially asian girls such as Chinese & Korean) walking on the treadmill. I’m a Chinese girl myself, but I was raised in America, so when I first saw these girls walking on the treadmill, I thought their joints were injure or something. But the more I come into the gym, the same thing I girls just walking on the treadmill (note: they were all different girls each time I went to the gym). I was the only asian girl running and jogging on the treadmill lol. In addition, they were all skinny & petite girls. I was the only one who was sweating and looked like I went through hell compared to them lol.

    4 years ago
  2. MARTINA! You didn’t have earrings on! You always have earrings on! :O

    5 years ago
  3. Ps. I forgot the word studies after some in the line regarding commercial exposure.

    Also, looking back and realizing the words I couldn’t find, is the expectation that, should one just try hard enough, they could through dieting and exercise alone change things like bone structure. Things that are genetic.

    Thanks again and g’night~

    5 years ago
  4. Hello~!

    Please have patience with this long post, and especially check the links at the end if you can.

    To start: I think that health, like gender, is-in this part- a performance. How we act out health issues is like how we act out gender issues. Old and warped, but we continue to see those models of behavior and replicate them, thus ‘doing health’ as a behavior rather than a beneficial lifestyle. I do think that the main perps for this behavior are especially in family, peers, and media. Which I will get into more in a bit. Before that:
    When I took Intro to Psych and Maladaptive Psych I learned the DSM criterion for treatment is established upon the basis of finance and tax. Essentially, in America, how much your insurance will cover. This was important to me because I learned it effects that essentially, the DSM is highly political. In the Eating Disorders section, there is ‘Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified’. This is in actually a category that many people are advocating for the expansion of as it effects a great majority of people who suffer from ‘disordered eating’. Additionally, when a term like that is used in a study they mean behaviors that are abnormal but do not fit the listed criteria in a way that would fit an existing condition.

    While it is completely true that some people are more inclined towards certain conditions, I believe- and more studies and people are realizing- that media causes a problem with how interpret themselves. In a capitalistic society where people are trying to sell things, aesthetics is often the key to commercial success. The issue here is that people underestimate the amount of power media has on the people in a society, from the beginning of a person’s socialization to the end of someone’s life. When I took Sociology I learned that Media is, in fact, one of the largest organizations in our life: others being school (and other such establishments, like church if you go), family, and peers.
    At the level in which we become exposed to the nature of the media that we do in a modern society (some say that by the time one is a teenager they have been exposed to this ‘ideal’ MILLIONS of times in their lives. People don’t have that many discussions with family sometimes to compare) a mental compass of healthy can become alarmingly warped. Many people, thick and thin a like, complain about other peoples’ negative interpretation of their size and eating habits. These leads me to believe that it is becoming a norm for people to have trouble identifying what is healthy anymore.
    My friend and I make characters. While we both make very diverse characters I recently was looking through his sketch book and was shocked by the intricacies of an average healthy person. They are perfectly flawed and so human. A cover of a magazine, a commercial, the social conditioning to match a presented ideal without realizing if it’s acceptable; these are things that further lead us away from what we really are.
    Moreover, I was shocked by how I- who drives myself crazy by questioning absolutely everything- hadn’t noticed how easily what I had expected as norm had been replaced by an unrealistic ideal. People have pores. People rarely have flawless skin. Even when people have one thing that doesn’t mean they’ll have another.
    Ultimately, I think that it’s time for a change in media. Several of my friends and I, we want to see less photoshop and more real human beings of all shapes and sizes.
    Moreover, it’s not just body size that is focused on. It’s that people want a specific shape. They want skin that isn’t even real. Boobs that aren’t even real (at least not without being small or having an underwire bra). Thigh gaps are genetic and some people just don’t have them even if skinny or petite.

    I want to bring it back to the topic of weight and wrap it up with this:
    I was watching this guy do a slam poem about bullying (To This Day, Shane Koczyan). In it, there was a part about how this lady is now a Mom but she doesn’t think she’s beautiful when she has two kids ‘whose definition of beauty begins with the word Mom’.
    When I was younger I would hear my Mother, my very definition of beauty, put herself down in front of mirrors in dressing rooms. It wasn’t in a way that I now realize is of the norm for most people. To me, I think that’s even more disturbing. To realize my Mom is fallible and sees tinge world around her and thinks she isn’t good enough as herself. That, with that photoshopped end goal, she wasn’t beautiful. To hear loved ones say that. To cite that they don’t look enough like this photoshopped or heavily made up (or both) random person. It makes me sad. It makes me sad that I’m trapped in the same cycle of self abuse. That my body as it is will never be enough.
    I still can’t hear anything be said about my body. I’m scared to lose weight. I’m scared not to. I don’t want to get diabetes due to binge eating and lose my legs or kidneys and die a painful death. I want to be healthy though. I’d really like that. I just wish the process weren’t so closely related to easy trigger issues that have thrown me off before. Like being very female appearing (very curvy and busty) but being agender. Dysphoria already sucks ass. I am scared to lose weight because I fear that the curves will be even more exaggerated and I’ll look even more socially female. I always wanted to be a stick. Literally thin and curve less and totally gender ambiguous just slap on a binder and you can never tell. I need to stop and breath.

    Sorry about such a long rant, but here’s to the positive:
    My healthy body isn’t your healthy body and it’s not the next persons either.

    Thanks again for your hard work Simon and Martina.
    I was wondering- though I may have asked before and if so I apologize- if you could do a TL;DR on Gender Identity in Korea or Kink in Korea (or link people who would talk about the scene in Korea).

    Trying to love myself,
    Pendulum Swing

    These may be helpful (sorry they are English and don’t have subtitles and I don’t know languages or computer skills to add them):




    5 years ago
  5. I have had anorexia and bulimia in the past (not at the same time) and this topic is very interesting. Thank you for talking/writing about this.

    OT: Thank you. Your videos have helped me me get better from severe depression/anxiety/being scared of social interaction and I am very thankful for having found your videos. I have been able to feel more social and not so scared about social situations, through thinking how brave you two are. (I also live in a country that is not where I grew up). I always think of you two when I feel particularly bad and have managed to counter blacking out and panic attacks with this. Just thank you with all my heart.

    5 years ago
  6. What is a typical Korean hobby? Is there a lot of DIYs, and is knitting and sewing a big thing?
    I like your videos a lot! No, I mean I really, really like your videos they are so informative, and fun.
    That is why i became a subscriber. Keep up the good work.

    5 years ago
  7. Hey guise,

    Sooo this really isn’t a question about anything Korea-related, but could you talk about budgeting and some things you guys do to save money or live economically? Maybe this doesn’t apply as much to you now as it did when you were just out of college but I would like to hear about it nonetheless.


    5 years ago
  8. Here’s a tl;dr questionbomb for you: (sorry for the somewhat unrelated nature, I just read about that 42 year old actor, Bae Yong Joon, marrying a 29 year old actress, Park Soo Jin, coming fall, and I was curious about it. I know it’s not too uncommon to see couples with large age gaps in other Asian countries but from what I understood it is quite uncommon in Korea?)

    In Korean celeb world there are some pretty large age gaps between couples. How does this compare to normal society and what are the perceptions of large age gaps for couples within Korean society? When is a guy too old for a girl (and vice versa), and what are the images of these couples respectively?

    5 years ago
  9. This might be silly but living in Asia and working with small children all day can definitely make you feel like a hugh monster so recently I’ve started standing in front of the mirror and saying out loud, I am thin. ^^ I think the problem before is that I would say in my head I am fat but now that I’ve changed what I say I’ve actually started seeing what I say. I’m not slim but I have a good lifestyle and am me and I need to realize that I am me whatever size and that’s ok :)

    5 years ago
  10. hello simon and martina I just wanted to ask if you could do a TL;DR about sopa and how much it cost or what it takes to go there.
    I really want to go to korea and study there but I don’t know yet if I can… (sorry my writting skills sucks :p)
    so I hope that you will like do a video about it or just replay me cuz I tried to search more things about sopa but it never show up!!

    (I’m writting this while it is like 2 o’clock in the night and I got school tomorow)

    5 years ago
  11. Min

    oh boy, this tldr really does hit home quite a bit. I used to have a rather distorted body image of myself in high school, I was always, always imagining myself as “FAT” even though I weighed 120 pounds and was five foot two with a BMI of 21.3 which made me actually in the midrange of normal. But I inherited my father’s family traits which meant meaty thighs and that always made me feel self conscious. Of course it didn’t help that my mom and my little sister had small thighs and I couldn’t help but wish for that body type. Now that 10 years have passed since those days I look back at my picture and think, “hey I was actually skinny!”
    Another thing that didn’t help was that I’m from a mexican american family and if you think Korean’s are the only ones that are so open about telling other’s they are fat or should lose weight, you haven’t met a mexican aunty or grandma.
    Korean’s might be matter of fact about their comments but mexican family’s make jokes about their “gordita” and even sometimes give their overweight family member the nickname “flaca”(skinny) as a joke. They will also feel that it is their right to tell you to lose weight, nevermind if you’ve already asked them to stop mentioning your weight because of course you know your own weight and don’t need the mood spoiled by a reminder that it’s not the actual weight goal for your size anymore. I’ve had people be mad at me, MAD!! i tell you, because I politely asked them to not comment on my weight unless I make one about it first. They self righteously claim that they’re doing it for my own “good” and that I should be grateful that they care so much about me, because if they didn’t care they would just let me be fat all by myself, and boy does it annoy the crap out of me.

    5 years ago
  12. Min

    oh boy, this tldr really does hit home quite a bit. I used to have a rather distorted body image of myself in high school, I was always, always imagining myself as “FAT” even though I weighed 120 pounds and was five foot two with a BMI of 21.3 which made me actually in the midrange of normal. But I inherited my father’s family traits which meant meaty thighs and that always made me feel self conscious. Of course it didn’t help that my mom and my little sister had small thighs and I couldn’t help but wish for that body type. Now that 10 years have passed since those days I look back at my picture and think, “hey I was actually skinny!”
    Another thing that didn’t help was that I’m from a mexican american family and if you think Korean’s are the only ones that are so open about telling other’s they are fat or should lose weight, you haven’t met a mexican aunty or grandma.
    Korean’s might be matter of fact about their comments but mexican family’s make jokes about their “gordita” and even sometimes give their overweight family member the nickname “flaca”(skinny) as a joke. They will also feel that it is their right to tell you to lose weight, nevermind if you’ve already asked them to stop mentioning your weight because of course you

    5 years ago
  13. My sucky internet erased all I’ve wrote, crap!
    I was just asking if you could do a TL;DR about what’s up with your channel and your overall plan for the next few years. I’ve ssen a few people that live in Korea for a while going back to their country for many reasons and I wanted to ask about it, what’s your perspective on this. Also if it’s still in your future plan to go live in Japan and do Eat Your Sushi or something like that. And maybe take the opportunity to update us on EYK project for the channel (except, of course, the American Tour that we already know about). Like talking about the way the channel has evolve, if it’s still in your plans to do some videos about music here and there or not, that kind of stuff.

    5 years ago
  14. I think people in Korea (and everywhere else) think of thinness in terms of body volume (overall size) and not in terms of body fat, which is really what it’s all about. That’s why different people have different notions of what thin is, when in fact thinness is something that can be objectively measured. In Korea thinness means being petite, having a body that doesn’t occupy a lot of space. That’s why someone who is actually (very) thin, let’s say a woman with 15% body fat, but isn’t petite because she has a large bone structure and some muscle, will still be considered big (probably fat) in Korea. What’s ironic is that studies have shown that “on the basis of the available data in Asia, the WHO expert consultation concluded that Asians generally have a higher percentage of body fat than white people of the same age, sex, and BMI. Also, the proportion of Asian people with risk factors for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease is substantial even below the existing WHO BMI cut-off point of 25kg/m2.” (source below). So, a person from Korea might actually be fatter than a white person even though she looks thinner (or in this case, smaller).

    The truth is, Koreans aren’t the only ones who think like that. Many people have no consideration for body composition, when in fact being fat is about body fat. The health risks of being fat are related to too much body fat, not to weight or size. In terms of aesthetics, Koreans, as well as other Asian populations, simply prefer their people to be more petite than Western countries do. To be fair, they actually are more petite (smaller bone structure) than the majority of people in the West, so that attitude is not surprising. That’s why Korean women don’t use heavy weights in the gym (a lot of women in the West don’t either for the same reasons). The tiniest amount of muscle will indeed make them look like She-Hulk because to them that tiny amount is already too much. It’s a matter of aesthetic preferences. I see female fitness trainers tell other women all the time that lifting heavy won’t make them bulky (under normal circumstances it won’t), but the problem is those trainers are too bulky for most women, even if they themselves don’t think they are (and “normal” women will never look like that unless they want to). So in the end, women will still believe lifting heavy weights will make them look manly (again, it won’t) and miss out on the many benefits of doing so.

    When it comes to dieting, I’m personally against it unless someone needs to lose a good amount of weight. The issue with dieting is that it’s usually temporary and then people go back to their normal way of eating and gain all the weight/fat back, and maybe even some extra. There’s also the problem with many diets being very unhealthy. The best way to be lean and healthy is to have a healthy lifestyle. Lifestyle, unlike diet, is meant to be permanent. The point is eating healthy food and leading an active life as long as you live, and in doing so maintain a healthy weight (percentage of body fat) throughout your entire life. A beautiful body is a healthy body.

    In my country (Portugal, Europe) eating disorders exist like they do everywhere else, but I don’t believe it’s a widespread problem. Or better yet, it is if you consider eating too much and/or too much unhealthy food an eating disorder. About 60% of the Portuguese population is overweight, we have the fattest teenage girls in Europe (teenage boys come in 3rd) and among 7-year olds, 40% of boys and 35% of girls are overweight. As you can see, we certainly don’t have a problem with excessive dieting. There are, obviously, people who do suffer from eating disorders and while I don’t think they like to talk about it, society in general will openly discuss the problem. I don’t know much about how eating disorders are treated here, but I believe our national health service has ways of helping those who seek it.

    Here in Portugal people will very casually tell you you need to gain weight, but telling someone they need to lose weight is kind of rude, unless you’re very good friends, or the person brings it up herself. I’ve been told I’m very thin by a lot of people, even complete strangers. The funny thing is I’m not too thin, I’m barely thin. My BMI puts me right between the normal weight and mild thinness categories (http://apps.who.int/bmi/index.jsp?introPage=intro_3.html) and my body fat percentage is relatively low (normal for athletes) but still within healthy values. I run 6 miles at a fast pace several times a week, I lift heavy three times a week, I eat healthy and satisfying food and I feel strong, healthy and fit. I might be thinner than most people walking around the streets but I’m definitely not too thin.

    source: http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/bmi_asia_strategies.pdf

    5 years ago
  15. I live in Los Angeles and the Korean cafes I go to I see some odd things. It is not uncommon to see 2 girls with 3-4 entrees. And one entree is big to begin with. I used to wonder why the bathroom would have a line or why little bits of food were in the sink.

    Now I have an idea why. :(

    5 years ago
  16. TL;DR I watched an old TL;DR recently and you mentioned fan fiction. I was just wondering if you know of any EYK fanfic, and what you think about it. I generally think Real Person Fic is super creepy, but I wanted to know your thoughts on people writing stories about you and the other people in the studio.

    5 years ago
  17. TL;DR Hello, I was wondering if there are any good thrift shops or if they even exist in Korea? I have been to Seoul and I love the street shops, but I don’t think I saw a thrift store on my trip there. Since thrifting has become a huge trend currently and there’s that whole issue with recycling clothes because many people just throw them away, I was curious if there are any places to recycle clothes and buy? I will be visiting Korea in a couple summers and I want to thrift alot! Thank you!

    5 years ago
  18. TL;DR hi i would like to know if its hard to live in Korea if your Muslim, because we don’t drink alcohol or eat pork etc.. for example if I wanted to go to a samgyupsal like could i order beef to grill (if they have any ) or if i was with my friends which are drinking soju for example and one of my older friend pours me a shot and i say sorry i can’t drink. would it be disrespectful? and if there are Korean muslims i would like to know and i’m not saying just Muslim religion also other religions u could talk about THANK YOU.

    5 years ago
  19. I actually have a similar case with your sister, Martina. I’m not petite, not at all (on the contrary, I’m 5’8), but I am really skinny. My whole life people have been saying I’m too skinny and I should eat more, or I have no meat on my bones, and I’m malnourished, which is far from the truth. I have a small stomach and a fast metabolism, so my meals are usually quite small before I am legitimately full, but people around me would think I’m dieting or trying to lose weight, when that’s far from the case. It can become burdensome, especially when you hear it from the same people over and over again. I’ve just learned to ignore those comments or tell people that no, I’m not on a diet, and yes, I am very well-nourished. It’s good to know that it’s not just me who gets those kind of comments, though.

    5 years ago
  20. Hi lovelies^^ I’m been pondering about this topic for a long time. Thank you for whoever mentioned this because it’s a topic I’m been wanting to be talked about.
    To start off, I am a mental health advocate and for a while now, I’ve been working and going to school to become a psychologist. I personally have my own experience with an eating disorder, and recovery for me was not so easy.

    Treatment for eating disorders are a bit more complicated to find. If one is looking for more intense treatment, it gets harder to find. Any mental health treatment is costly as well so ofcourse it will be more expensive. In my own experience i had to find a residential facility to start treatment. Now, residential treatment entails that one lives at the place with others while receiving helping from eating disorder specialists. It varies in different facilities too. After these facilities, you step down to less intense care which can include intensive outpatient treatment which makes you more able to receive care while partaking back into a more normal life you did live in before. Specialists can include psychiatrist, therapists, nutritionists, and group therapy/ support groups help. One of the major setbacks in finding this type of treatment (residential treatment in particular) is insurance. I’ve heard horror stories of this from my friends I’ve made and sometimes insurance will only grant you a certain amount of days and that’s it. I’ve had a friend who needed to stay longer and they only let her stay for three days.Insurance companies also complicate how one will receive care and won’t usually grant you treatment especially if you have to receive more treatment.Other people know more about insurance but they claim they don’t grant you days because it will cost you but people need treatment anyways so as much as you will be up to your neck with bills why should people not be granted help. insurance companies are really tricky and annoying because they are not the ones assessing and checking on people. I’ve had professionals fighting for more days while the insurance agents would be like nope Another setback is distance. Now, I’ve had to be three states away from my family to receive intense care while my other friends were like across the country or from another country.
    But nonetheless, I do advise people to research places to get treatment and take other peoples’s advice from their experience with certain facilities.

    One thing I’m really sad to say but eating disorders have the highest mortality rate and are the least talked about in the mental health field. Anyone can have an eating disorder; it does not discriminate race or gender. This also means any body type can have it. With that also said, it doesn’t mean skinny people just have eating disorders because you can’t just look at a person and say she/he has it. There isn’t a definite reason why someone would have an ED (it might be because of trauma, stress, etc etc there are many reasons why).
    Onto Korea and people struggling with eating disorders, I feel like their is A LOT of pressure amongst people to be skinny. One of the main underlying key features are being a perfectionist and low self-esteem. I do feel as there is a pressure to be perfect and i don’t feel their is enough ways to boost self-esteem. Now i do also feel that their aren’t adequate role models for young people in particular considering k-pop idols and actors boast about their diets which are horrible. The media in Korea plays a key role in young people’s self esteem considering it everywhere. I do wish their were more ways to help Koreans understand this underlying issues especially considering the high suicide rate and the lack of awareness and talking here. but i do understand that I personally haven’t been exposed to Korean culture and I’m not fully aware of everything , coming from talking a cross cultural psych class, culture does play a role on how certain subjects are talked about .
    My advice for those who are recovering, take it one day at a time. Find people who support you during this hard process, find a higher power, learn about yourself so that you can work on your issues. Talk to your therapist counselor and professionals who are there to help you. And always ask for help! I’m here too and I know this is a hard process!I did make it out alive lovelies^^ You deserve so much^^ Thank you again guys^^

    5 years ago
  21. When I lived in Mauritania, beauty standards were very different. Heavier women were considered the most beautiful, and the implication was that if your wife and daughters were larger, you were very well off and successful, since they clearly didn’t have to do much work and had plenty to eat. And indeed, the emphasis on bulking up their daughters prior to marriage varied widely from family to family depending on economic status, and only more wealthy families were able to devote the time to procuring high fat foods like milk and dates for their adolescent daughters. There were even some “fat camps” – villages in the desert where girls would be sent to basically do very little except eat and drink a lot of milk. The goal was to gain weight fast enough to develop stretch marks. Obviously, the poor families had neither the time nor income for that, but women still tended to be heavier than their husbands. My village thought I was too skinny (and I wasn’t thin, I had a pretty average figure) so they kept trying to get me to eat more, because they wanted me to gain lots of weight so everyone would see me and know “Ah, the village of Jidrel Mohghuen is so hospitable, look at how well they feed their white woman!”

    5 years ago
  22. I struggled on the edge of full blown eating disorders for a couple years. I feel a lot better now ^^. However, eating, or rather not eating has become a way to deal with stress.

    On counceling; speaking from experience, if there was ever a time I did not feel like counceling, that would be it. Not eating without being noticed can be rather difficult, so secrecy becomes your best friend and a habit. For me at least.
    I still don’t feel like counceling, it feels like I lost to myself for some reason :)

    5 years ago
  23. I think that kind of mentality exists in most parts of Asia. I’m Filipino but I was born and raised in Brunei Darussalam for most of my life because my dad works there, and am currently staying in Singapore and I’ve had my weight commented on by random strangers no matter which country I was in. And it certainly didn’t help that my two older sisters and mother were naturally slimmer than I, who inherited more of my father’s stockier frame.

    When I was growing up, my siblings gave me nicknames like “Piglet” which would sound cute to anyone else, but it never failed to hit a nerve in me. Growing up, I was referred to as the chubby one and was constantly scolded by my parents to control my weight or teased by my siblings for being pudgy. Even as young as the age of six, I remember my mom telling me to suck in my stomach in order to hide my belly. Grownups around me were constantly comparing to my older sisters and advising me to be more slight like them which, ironically, made me turn to food for comfort.

    A few years ago, I decided on my own that I wanted to better my health for myself because at the time, I was just eating garbage everyday and not caring for my body. I cut out all the junk food and started eating more proper meals. Although I am still not as slim as my sisters, I have lost a considerable amount of weight and will continue to do so until I reach my target, but even now, at the most confident I have ever been, I still feel a sense of inferiority when I stand next to my sisters at family gatherings. I still feel like I’m constantly being judged for my appearance every where I go so now I’m trying my best to care for myself mentally.

    My point is that I don’t think that this mentality is exclusive to Korea. It can be found in other Asian countries and I feel like people should practice being a bit more sensitive because you never really know how deeply affected they are from one just shallow comment.

    5 years ago
    • Yes! I feel you. I was picked on for continuing with Ballet when I was younger because I was heavier, and was once called ‘princess elephant ballerina’ by my tuition classmates when I was late because ballet lessons had dragged on. I also get commented on by relatives, strangers, and even close family members; my mum never fails to remind me that i ‘need’ to lose weight, even though I’ve cut down on junk food and carbs (no rice why ;w;) to try and lose weight.

      It sucks, big time.

      5 years ago
  24. Meg

    I was very petite most of my life. I didn’t even break triple digits until senior year of high school. I would have so many people comment on it, doctors would do tests on me and it made me really self conscious. I used to feel really left out when the school would have a blood drive because I was one of the only people who couldn’t participate. I finally became a healthy weight about 2 years ago when I was 22. But now when my family see’s me or old friends from high school I actually feel fat because they’ll make comments like “oh you’ve gained weight!” and bring focus to it. I think it’s so unfortunate how much emphasis is put on weight now. It’s like no matter what you weight, you’ll end up feeling bad about yourself at some point or another in your life.

    5 years ago
  25. I live in America but I worked in a coffee shop owned by a Korean couple for two years. One of my co-workers was starting to gain a little weight (I’m talking maybe 10lbs, not very noticeable) and our boss came up to her one day at work and said “Oh, you should lose some weight, your middle looks fat”. She took it well and just brushed it off, but it scared me a little. I’ve struggled with anorexia since the 5th grade and when she told me what our boss said to her it made me worried that he may say the same thing to me. Luckily he never did, and I think after that incident he left her alone as well. We just figured it was a cultural difference since he lived almost his whole life in Korea.
    That being said, I think eating disorders really manage to fly under the radar in America, or at least where I live. Even when I was at my worst, it was never noticed. People would just say to me “Oh, you’ve lost some weight, you look really good” which would just feed into my desire to be even skinnier. I’m proud to say that I managed to kick my anorexia’s arse by myself, but I do wonder if things would be different if it had been noticed by others and if I’d had that support. People here think weight loss is always good until you get to a point, and then all of a sudden they’ll turn on you for being “too skinny”, like how Martina’s sister experienced. Anorexic jokes are made fairly often as well, and I really think that people make light of a serious problem here.

    5 years ago
  26. i have been in Korea for 8 months and now i’m doing my 4 months internship and my co – workers (which is just known for 2 weeks) suddenly tell me may be you should lose weight and got a little plastic surgery here and there. OUCH!! at first i really shock!! i feel like, am i that ugly? am i that fat? T_T…. and then as time goes by i know that it’s normal for Korean to do that, like asking your weight, comparing your height to other, asking you to do plastic surgery, asking why you don’t do diet, why don’t you use make up?… i think it is like their culture to ask some personal question and joke a lot about that kind of stuff.

    5 years ago
  27. This is a very interesting topic!

    At first I was going to comment about how I felt dieting and beauty standards create eating disorders, but then I read a comment from someone with an eating disorder, writing that it’s not really about that so much as all the other stresses in their day to day life that creates a disorder related to food.

    I mean, from here in Canada, losing weight and going on diets is a very broad topic, but eating disorders not so much. Comparing to Korea though, I feel like there’s a little more education and seriousness behind discovering if someone has an eating disorder. Not eating enough or at all is a no-no here. And there are a lot of odd diets I’ve seen, but the most popular here is the juicing or “paleo” food trend. Exercise is valued too. I feel we care more for health than beauty when it comes to dieting, even if media doesn’t make it seem that way. Still, like all mental illnesses, it can be very complex. How much does our dieting and celebrity culture really influence a person? That isn’t to say that standards of beauty don’t contribute to eating disorders though, because it definitely does affect all of us (especially women) in a usually stressful way…

    That said, I feel awful that people would just stop eating altogether to lose weight. When you get to your goal, are you really just going to keep eating nothing? Because you’re going to gain weight again if you start eating normally. It’s not a good thought process, when your dieting isn’t focused on health but on this lowered magical number that will supposedly make your problems disappear. That’s not something you want to foster.

    5 years ago
  28. Yeah. In the U.S., generally there isn’t a correlation between weight and wealth. Actually at the moment media is trying to be more “accepting” of weight, whether you are healthy or not, no matter your wage level. I notice, material possession is a bigger gauge of wealth. I see so many poor families with have fancy gadgets and brand name clothes for appearance sake, but live in broken homes.

    Also, I kinda understand how Martina’s sister feels. I’m 22, 5’1″ at around 37-38kg (83-85lbs). My size is a genetic trait. Finally filling out, now. I grew up with a few people bringing up the topic of anorexia. Never really bothered me though since I knew I was perfectly healthy.

    5 years ago
  29. Woah, interesting statistics. I know every culture has its beauty standards, but I didn’t know that S. Korea had so much eating disorders until I read articles about celebrity interviews praising how these K-idols- females, in particular- maintain such reedy figures. So many of them quote that they stick to something like 200 calories A DAY,liquids-only diets, and fasting. I’m wondering, “So where’s the meat? Where’s the protein!?” But why is Korean media celebrating such destructive health maintenance? I struggled with my weight in high school, but since starting university, I’ve resorted to better methods of weight maintenance. I love boxing, so I’m at my boxing gym in between work and school, and eating far better than I used to. Dieting is not about starvation. Eating properly is about eating little bits of everything for a full-balanced diet. And no diet is complete without exercising our hearts! Boxing may be my thing, but for you it might be bike riding, swimming, or simply walking. Strengthen your mind, body, and heart, not deprive it.

    5 years ago
  30. AHHAHAHAHAHH!!!!!!!! My question was chosen!!!!

    I am the chosen one this week….

    5 years ago
  31. Holy cow, thank you so so so SO so much for what you said at the beginning! I get a little uneasy when people talk about weight because my whole life I was always very small. My grandma used to tell me to hold onto other people’s hands when it was windy or I’d blow away. And, while that was cute, comments that made it sound as though there was something wrong with me because I was skinny was not cool. I grew up embarrassed about my size and then, as I entered my late teens, I started to gain some more weight (literally, not a lot, just a little more than before) And suddenly I’d get lots of positive comments from people who meant well, but it was frustrating because they’d say, “Wow! You’ve gained weight! That’s great!” And, being a teen, I heard “wow, you are getting pudgy! I’m so happy about you looking different!”

    People mean well. I truly believe this. But I swear I really think that some people get eating disorders from some of these well meaning people… I’m just thankful that my parents are really great. And, I’m really happy to hear you guys say this too.

    OH! And it’s so hypocritical that we (in North America) are not to mention other people’s weights, because it ONLY APPLIES IF YOU ARE OVERWEIGHT. I was in a store with my mom and I quietly complained because I was frustrated that I couldn’t find any clothes that were in my size and a COMPLETE STRANGER said, “well, maybe you should gain some weight then” ?!?!??!? Complete mood spoiler. So, yeah, I don’t believe that weight is the taboo topic here, I think “overweight” or even the potential to be overweight is what we aren’t allowed to talk about.

    tl;dr Thank you for acknowledging that people who are skinny aren’t necessarily unhealthy.

    5 years ago