Guest Post: So JYP Wants to Know Who My Mama Is

For those of you who watched the music video of JYP’s latest hit, Who’s Your Mama, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

The entire song is a tribute to big booties. When I first read the song title, I immediately remembered Will.i.Am’s song, I Got It From My Mama, which—surprise, surpriseis also a worship song for killer female bods.

Although the feminist in me wants to point out the fact that JYP’s entire song revolves around sexual harassment at the gym, that’s not what I’m going to talk about today.

But first, I need to quickly introduce myself. I’m a half-Korean hapa, who mostly identifies as a Korean. Although I was born in Seoul, the majority of my childhood was spent in Hong Kong because my parents decided to move there when I was 3. But thanks to my mother’s fear of me getting out of touch with my Korean roots, I spent almost every single vacation with my grandmother in Seoul.

Having grown up with in an interracial household, and in a cultural hub like Hong Kong, I considered myself to be pretty open-minded. Literally all of my Korean friends have often told me that my personality was “so American,” and I agreed with them (never mind the fact that I’ve never even lived in the States until I was 18).

But I was still very much tied to Korean culture whether I liked it or not. For example, up until high school, I was naturally skinny. And by skinny, I mean that I was basically skin and bones. But everyone in Korea always commented how my thigh gap was so nice, and how bony my arms were. A friend once casually commented on this by saying, “You have the ideal body—it’s like you have limb anorexia.”

Limb anorexia? Really?

But because the thin ideal is so prevalent in Korean society, I embraced it. I was so glad that I never gained any weight despite eating so much junk. However this “privilege” stopped in high school, when my metabolism completely slowed to a halt. I started gaining weight from my bad eating habits. Having been only used to wearing size 2 clothing, I cried the first time I wasn’t able to fit into my skinny jeans.

The funny thing is, I was never “fat.” It was the fact that I lost my thigh gap and “limb-anorexia look” that upset me. This led me to doing what any normal Korean female would do. I looked up dieting tips on Google and religiously researched any and every diet program I came across.

But this all changed when I chose to attend university in America.

Upon my arrival in the States, I realized that the standard for a “hot body” was much different. Sure, people thought thin people had nice figures, but for the most part—it was all about the curves. Fast forward to Sophomore year, I started feeling so much more comfortable in my own skin. I started weight training at the gym, which led me to discover the amazing sport of powerlifting. Watching my strength and endurance increase with each passing week allowed me to stay religiously devoted to my workout regimen. People started commenting on how “fit” I looked. The best part about weight training was that I could eat a lot more calories without worrying about looking fat. Hello restaurant deliveries.

After committing to a year of serious weight training, I went back to Korea to spend the summer. It was hilarious to hear my family and friends gasp and exclaim at how “big” I looked. My grandma said I looked obese. I tried to explain that it was muscle not fat—but she wasn’t convinced.

I thought I’d find more peace of mind at a gym, so I joined my neighborhood gym right away. It was a rather large chain, so their trainers were all “experienced.” On my first day at the gym, a few trainers came up to me and commented that I was lifting “too heavy.” I just brushed them off.

At least twice a week, some other gym-goer would come up to me to say that I was “lifting too heavy for a girl.” I didn’t care what anyone said. Their comments fueled my workouts. I loved that I was able to deadlift and squat more than most of the men at my gym.

I’d often have ahjussis or ajummas come up to me to say that I was really strong for a girl and that I should probably stop working out too much because I’d likely “hurt myself.”

My girl friends kept commenting on my “huge bicep” and “horse-like thighs” whenever we hung out. They weren’t trying to be mean—they just couldn’t understand why a skinny person wanted to get muscular.

I was in no way large. I finally reached a healthy BMI instead of being underweight. I was finally toned and healthy, and I was getting criticized for it. It’s funny to think that Koreans praise gool-bok-ji, or honey thighs (AKA healthy and toned thighs), but they’re only interested in seeing them on celebrities instead of normal people.

The standard of a fit body for Korea and the rest of the world is vastly different. Let’s refer back to the JYP video—the YouTube comment sections were all filled with non-Koreans exclaiming that none of the girls in the M/V were fit/curvy enough.

JYP Big BootyWhat do you think about these standards? Do you agree with my experience and observations? I’d love to hear your thoughts through the comment section below!

Anum Yoon hails from Korea, where she was raised on spam and eggs (with sesame oil and gochujang of course). She spent the last 4 years in America, tackling her cultural identity crisis, one awkward moment at a time. She’s currently blogging over at Current On Currency.

Update, James: Via Omona! They Didn’t, here’s a video showing model Eom Sang-mi’s reaction to her role in Jay Park’s Mommae MV, which is similarly objectifying. Alas, it’s not about JYP, as I misread when I first saw it, and it’s pretty laddish overall, but Sang-mi’s comments—e.g., “Why are they only showing my boobs?!”—are quite amusing and telling:

Related Posts:

Where Can You Find Spermicide and The Sponge in Korea??

Thought I’d liven up one of the rooms at the OBGYN(“Thought I’d liven up one of the rooms at the OBGYN.” Source: Reddit)

A request for help from a reader, edited for anonymity. Thanks in advance to anyone that can give her any assistance:

******…I don’t want to ask my Korean co-worker for help and all my Korean friends are very religious—so it’s awkward.

Anyways, I don’t take birth control for a multitude of reasons including blood clots with the last time I tried. I also haven’t been sexually active for awhile so birth control hasn’t been a priority to me until now.

I’ve dug into pages on the Internet, but all birth control in Korea searches are about the pill or condom. I went to Dr. Sung’s clinic [in Itaewon], but they were only helpful in regarding IUDs and the pill. I wanted some information about spermicide or the sponge, which I’ve used successfully in the past.

Anyways, I’ve met an awesome guy. He’s great and understands my choice about birth control. He’s willing to try condoms and spermicide combination, which I’ve used in the past with a long term relationship.

He was able to find his western brand of condoms, but I’m at a lost as to how to obtain spermicide or the sponge. Can you get either in Korea…?

An update:

******…I live in the Gangnam area and went to all 4 pharmacies on my way to school and asked for spermicide using Google translate. [Saljeongje/살정제] is the word for it, but at each pharmacy it took about a minute to figure out what I was asking for and locate it.

The first pharmacy was only men and they looked it up on the computer and told me they didn’t have any. The second pharmacy (the one I usually go to) was a young female pharmacist who speaks English but she had to look it up on the computer and then asked me if it was for not getting pregnant and I said yes. All she had were depositories (which are not as good as gel or foam) and they were hidden behind the vitamins. She said she didn’t know if there was a gel or foam spermicide available. The third pharmacy (a large hospital one) all female pharmacists of different ages didn’t have any. The younger pharmacists didn’t know what I was talking about and asked the older one who was a bit confused so she asked an old lady customer who explained what it was. The fourth pharmacy was two older female pharmacists who had to discuss it and then asked why not go to the doctor for “not pregnant medicine” I said “make very sick”. She then digs around in a drawer pulls out a box looks at the ingredients and says “Yes. For no baby.” But this was also a depository.

All in all the pharmacists were very helpful and kind, but slightly confused as to what spermicide is. I am going to start walking into every pharmacy I see ~ maybe only depositories exist and only a limited supply. It’s strange. Back home I can get a huge box at CVS or Walmart!

If You’re in Seoul, You Should Totally Go to This Presentation on Thursday

Aljosa Puzar Coming of Age in South Korea Don’t just take my word for it though: Aljosa is not just a cool guy (we’ve met a few times), but he’s also the author of “Asian Dolls and the Westernized Gaze: Notes on the Female Dollification in South Korea”, in Asian Women Vol.27 No.2, which should ring bells among many of you. If not, it can still be read online here (or email me if you’d like your own copy), and I highly recommend Melissa Johnson’s posts on dollification in K-pop to accompany it.

What are you waiting for? ;)

On Grandly Narrating…Korean Dramas?

Misaeng(Source: The Huffington Post Korea)

Sorry for the slow blogging everyone. Not just for the last few weeks, but for the last few months. Many of you have noticed and have been wondering, so I thought I should offer a quick explanation.

Long story short, I’ve got much less time than I had in 2014.

I’m doing a Master’s again. I’m teaching more classes this semester. I’m working on my first academic journal article. My daughters have started a (lovely) alternative school for multiracial children, which is a long commute away; it’s nice spending the extra time with them, but that’s another 10 hours a week that I used to spend on other things. And so on.

Still, I could and did work on the blog a little. But then I caught an on-off, debilitating flu for over a month. As you can imagine, now I’m behind on just about everything.

All that said, after 8 years of blogging, I am in a bit of a rut with regards to topics and style, and am looking for new ideas to motivate myself—and hopefully to interest and entertain you too. One possibility might be an episode by episode discussion of the recent(ish) drama Misaeng, which I’ve heard was a very realistic portrayal of Korean corporate life, and especially of the position of women therein. I’ve already watched the first episode, and, although it wasn’t earth-shattering, it was refreshingly free of K-Drama cliches, especially the childish female roles. If, like me, you’ve been disappointed with “progressive” Korean dramas before, this might finally be one worth getting stuck into.

If you’re interested in following along with me, at the pace of one episode per week say, please let me know in the comments. And/or, about anything else you’d like to see more of on the blog. Thanks!

Update (July): Thanks for the comments everyone, and sorry for the false starts in June. I’ll start sometime this month.

p.s. Three Cheers for Halcion, the only way I managed to finally get a good night’s sleep last night!

“We Are Korean Women” Workshop, This Thursday Morning in Seoul

We are Korean Women WomenlabkoreaI’ve been asked to pass on the following:

*******WOMENLABKOREA is a creative space to test ideas, initiatives, and projects, a space to co-create, to co-design and prototype with other women, a supportive space where risks can be taken.

WOMENLABKOREA is about social innovation, empowerment and entrepreneurship!

The purpose is to help women step out of their comfort zones to improve their lives and the lives of women around them.

Next Thursday, May 7th we are hosting another #WMLABTALK called “We are Korean Women.”

We have conceived of these #WMLABTALKS as events where we can share and understand more about our lives; events to discover more about our wishes and hopes.

We wanted to create a space where women can speak freely and be ready to challenge stereotypes.

Furthermore, we wanted to dedicate a time to celebrate us, to celebrate women’s rhythms and women’s vision of the world´s cultures. To celebrate how far we have come and all that we have conquered.

Swedish Women. FIKA. #WMLABTALKLast time we focused on Swedish women (“The battle of female numbers: Swedish women beyond myths, stereotypes and preposterous clichés”), this will be the time for Korean women.

We are Korean Women” will be a female-focused collective dialogue to challenge stereotypes and clichés about being a woman in South Korea.

We will practice yogafit with Uliana Golovko and taste the traditional Spanish tapa pantumaca, a Catalonian breakfast or snack.

Following the breakfast, we will begin our presentation and open dialogue (the World Café process created by Juanita Brown and David Isaacs).

Korea has come so far in fifty years, how have women driven that growth? What are the challenges that women face in Korean society? We seek to break down stereotypes and go beyond clichés. Varying cultural opinions will deepen the discussion and hopefully widen our viewpoints.

Finally, we will taste and learn about Sogokju, the 1500 year old beverage, and be captured by Simcheongjeon, a story of Korean Pansori storytelling tradition.

More than a workshop, “We are Korean Women” will be a celebration.

Prepare to interact and discuss!

For further details and RSVPs, please contact Ana Dols at 010-4119-7790 or womenlabkorea@gmail.com. Also, make sure to check out their blog, their Facebook page, and pinterest board.

Listen to This Korean Girl’s Perspective on Korean Men’s Absurd Body-Image Standards

왕쥬 가슴 비법 ABCDE(Source: YouTube. See there for her secret method!)

Remember my last post on assessing celebrities’ impact on Korean body-image standards? Where I stressed that it was crucial to listen to what ordinary Koreans thought of them?

I’m going to start with 여신왕쥬 (Goddess Wang-ju), who doesn’t mince words about what impact they’ve had on her. Or, more precisely, about what impact they’ve had on Korean men, who constantly compare her to slim, big-busted K-pop stars.

That’s a sweeping generalization about the men of course (my apologies), but you’ll soon understand her need to rant once you listen. NSFW warning for the Korean swearing:

Wang-ju is a little difficult to pin down: she’s made hundreds of videos, on a wide variety of subjects. Generally though, she seems refreshingly outspoken, and funny, a combination which has won her hundreds of thousands of subscribers on YouTube, Facebook, and Afreeca TV.

Unfortunately, this video seems to be the only one a fan has added English subtitles to, so I’ll have to let readers know if I find any more (or please let me know!). In the meantime, for Korean speakers, here’s her most recent one on body-image, from two days ago:

Update: Some great news!

The Skinny on the Thigh Gap

Mannequins with jeans(Source: Lion Hirth @Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0)

My latest article for Busan Haps, on (mostly) US teenage girls’ latest body image obsession, and why, to my great dismay, they themselves prove to be largely responsible for its success. Researching it taught me a lot about how people negotiate the messages about body image perpetuated by the media — read: never assume any groups are simply passive consumers — and how crucial it is to examine the role of social media to understand body image in 2015.

Also, I mention that, in December, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority forced Urban Outfitters to remove a photo of a model with a thigh gap; since writing, France’s Parliament has also moved to make it a crime to use models below a certain BMI. I’m still not convinced that demonizing one body type (or part) is necessarily the answer though.

What do you think? Please let me know in the comments, either here or in the article.