Guest Post: Challenging Korea’s Body Image Paradigm

Korea Body Image(Source)

If you are a person living in Korea, you are likely to have had your weight or appearance commented on. “You have gained/lost weight!” is a customary greeting. Dieting is the most common topic for daily conversations. Ads promote unrealistic beauty standards for both women and men. Worse, if you don’t look like them, you are likely to be discriminated against or dismissed as some who needs to get some work done. Self-love is prohibited unless you look like a Barbie doll. There are voices and messages everywhere, both internally and externally, that arouse insecurity around your looks. Body-policing is a common practice.

Prospecs W Get Slim Kim Yuna GIFOverwhelmingly obsessed with thinness, I dare to call Korea an eating-disordered society. I know this because I have been struggling with eating disorders for 9 years, now marching on the road to recovery. Living here, staying on the recovery-track is extremely difficult because all the internal eating-disordered voices and negative self-talk, which I have worked so hard to detach myself from, become real external voices to attack my vulnerable psychological wounds. On the other hand, recovering from eating disorders in this country is double-strengthening my immunity to these eating-disordered voices. I am well-aware of how self-destructive and unproductive these voices are, and how I can protect myself from them.

But, what about those who haven’t been consoled? So many Korean people, especially women of all ages, believe there is no other way to be loved or socially recognized without dieting or getting plastic surgery. Men believe women should naturally look like the ready-made Barbie dolls in fashion magazines or entertainment shows when they are in fact extremely unrealistic. I guarantee there is not a single woman in this country who hasn’t felt insecure about her looks or body parts. Under such circumstances, women and men are likely to fall victims of eating disorders. Statistical data can’t speak for the reality because people are not even aware that these voices are ‘disordered’ voices. Obsession with thinness, extreme dieting, judging others by appearance and feeling insecure about their natural looks feel too ‘normal’ for people to acknowledge them as problems. Walking on the streets, I would hear fat talk or negative self-talk 99% of the time. These voices kill me, even more so to realize that there are so many souls who are suffering from from-mild-to-severe forms of eating disorders but are not even aware of it (Source above — unknown; source, below).

Men like thin pretty womenThe need for body image activism in Korea is dire, for the consequences of continuing the eating-disordered talks in public are obviously disastrous, both for individuals and the society. So, I have brought the Operation Beautiful campaign to Korea to counter the prevailing negative self-talks. I have been posting about it on my (Korean) blog Your Stage is the World, Not the Scale, along with my personal stories of overcoming struggles with distorted body image as well as critiques on dieting ads that make one feel insecure. I am working on compiling these stories to publish a book under the title, Surviving Eating Disorders Where Barbie Dolls Reign Supreme (but I think this will take decades). Currently, I am planning workshops for improving body image, to create safe space to talk about struggles with negative body image, to promote body diversity (healthy-at-every-size approach) and media literacy. I don’t want to force people to stop dieting and start loving themselves immediately. Instead, the most ultimate goal for all these activities is to give people agency over their own bodies and self-esteem, which will allow people to see what really matters and what is there to enjoy in life regardless of how they look.

The movement is only fresh. I am aware that social change doesn’t come easily or fast. However, I have a strong faith that by transforming ourselves, we can transform the society we live in. We individuals construct the society; we are not to be constructed by it. We are active agents. I want to tell my stories to you and listen to yours. I am collecting personal stories of struggles with negative body image or external pressure to conform to the unrealistic standards of beauty. Then, I want to open up off and online discussions on how we want to redefine beauty that suits us healthily. Hopefully, we can remind each other how beautiful our bodies are just the way they are; encourage each other to love our own bodies instead of fitting ourselves to someone else’s standards to get approval.

Please share your thoughts, stories, comments, anything you want to say about this movement. Thank you!


64 thoughts on “Guest Post: Challenging Korea’s Body Image Paradigm

  1. Reblogged this on Spitfire Rants and Thoughts over the Kimchi & Adobo and commented:
    This post is simply to share to all readers who have issues in self-appreciation, dieting, and losing weight. James Turnbull never failed to enlighten readers about social issues surrounding Korea. I am not hating Kpop. Just that, it is cringe-inducing when you experience double-standards, society doesn’t want you to be confident unless you are as perfect as a Barbie doll, and when you are bound to one and only beauty standard that Korea (even in the Philippines too) has.


    1. Thanks for your support and reblogging it! Are you a foreigner living in Korea? If so, how do you deal with situations when you get inappropriately commented on your appearance or weight?


      1. Oh, you are most welcome. I am a foreigner but I do not live in Korea, but in the Philippines. It’s just that my mind, eyes and ears have been wallowing in K-Pop and the rest of Korean culture since Q1 of 2006. I have good times and bad times in Kpop and Korean culture, and sexism, double-standards and some societal issues surrounding Korean society did not affect my love and appreciation to Korean music, dramas, fashion and style, and food.

        I have grown obese since 2005. However, despite all the bickering and stuff I am encountering from some people (that includes my mom), I no longer thought of pressuring myself to be thin. I am open to weight-loss suggestions, it’s just that I simply love food, and if I haven’t eaten, I am grumpy. I am aware of the possible problems I might encounter, but living to the pressures of being slim (that sometimes bordering skinny) like some women I see on our local magazines and TV is I think NOT WORTH living for. And being a fan of Kpop can’t also drive me to starve and stress like hell to achieve the figure like SNSD members (I like SNSD, but Park Jinri — the FHM Philippines’ cover girl — has more beautiful figure than them. I think there are women in Korea out there has better built and figure than SNSD). I am still in the process of overcoming pressures, but sometimes, I felt I have withstood ’em all and won’t give a fuck on those who would attempt to bitch out on me simply because I am fat, short and brown-skinned.

        Everyone has the right to love themselves and self-esteem, and each woman is entitled for a weight-loss and body-shaping techniques at their own pace and financial availability. I also strongly believe that there is NO SUCH THING as SINGLE BEAUTY STANDARD. I am saying this because Philippine society — the society I belong with — is also plagued with SINGLE STANDARD just like Korea does, it’s just that Filipinos are only onto being thin (so much they are counting the skeletally-thin actress Kim Chiu as one of the most beautiful), having bigger boobs, whiter skin and anything that can turn “Western”, since Filipinos have eternal penchant for western looks/looking like an American. Even moms even want or simply let their daughters to marry Americans or Europeans, or simply get impregnated by them. In the Philippines, if having a child is also an achievement, then having a half-American/European is considered as “higher achievement”. After all, having beautiful children is every parents’ pride.

        The only thing I appreciate in our society is that Filipino parents in our country neither thought nor shoved the plastic surgery thing to their children, especially when their children reaches adolescence.

        Before I forget, having a “standard jawline” does not exist in Filipina standard of beauty, as we recognize there are styles that will really work great with each jawline, and women can be beautiful despite having a little prominent jawline.
        Back to weight-loss stuff, I also realize as well that being thin does not equate to being sexy. A woman can be a bit chubby and still able to look sexy. After all, there are more curvaceous on chubby women than thin women. Yet then again, beauty comes in different textures, shapes, sizes and colours. A woman can have pimple scars, not being flawless and having darker skin and still manage to be beautiful.

        It all boils down to having beautiful personality, because a woman can have slim body, lighter skin, beautiful teeth, doe-eyes, but having bland personality and aura. Those traits do not equate to how beautiful a woman can be.

        I am replying this to you as part of relating with the current article you have shared on the Grand Narrative. I know I have said a lot, but I have been through a lot of drama in terms of weight loss. I was just a chubby girl, and while I have lost weight during my teens, thinking I have achieved the desired body shape I have wanted despite some fleshiness on me, my body experienced yo-yo effect due to my inconsistency in my diet. Sometimes, you can’t help indulging with the foods you wanted, and you can’t help eating a lot while concentrating on your studies and reviews for college entrance exams. While I have lost weight before turning College, though still having baby fat, I was being taunted by my classmates. In a university I studied, since majority of my classmates there hails from working class families, it is no surprising they are thin, and I was deemed fat by them, eventhough there was someone whose face looks fatter than me. On my 4th year in College, my weight dropped down to 115lbs (my height is 5’0, so having a weight of 115lbs is still not considered overweight, it is just that there are wellness companies impose some unrealistic-and-too-Asian weight-for-height standards), I am receiving compliments from some acquaintances, but not from some of my classmates whom I usually mingle with. Anothing thing I hate is, back at home, while I have lost weight that my mom noticed that, there are moments when I hear these words from my mom “I know you have lost weight, but your current waistline (that time was 28) is no match to the 23″ waistline I used to have when I was at your age”. I am also being discouraged from wearing tight-fitting pants because I was “too curvy” and that I would end up looking slutty, unless I pair it with blouses that are long enough to cover my hips. I had great deal of issues in looking great, just for the people to shut the fuck up before they could call me “fat”. I was even told by my classmates in college I should use Ponds whitening cream and to have myself whitened, and stop wearing clothes reserved for office stetting. I had my struggles… I was forced to conform, yet still rebelled.

        I know that your eyes are bleeding now because of the lengthy reply I have made. Just to let you know I am with the girls you are fighting for.


      2. BTW, here is my follow-up: Nowadays, I am weighing around 177lbs, and while I feel I am starting to experience some weight-related health problems like Chronic Veinous Insufficiency (since I also smoke and eat junk food on some occasions) I am starting to battle against, I no longer consider myself PIG. Yeah, I can kid myself on some occassions PIGGY, but I believe my face doesn’t look like a PIG. My cheeks and jawline went chubbier, but still in right proportions. I don’t have a high nosebridge but my nose is just sized right — not too bulbous, not even flat n’ wide. I do not possess the cover girl/beauty queeen type of beauty, but I don’t think I am butt ugly. I feel beautiful, and I am proud of the beautiful smile shown by my face when happy. I am freaking fat, but I still have my S-Line. Since my pair of boobs is of the same size as that of some famous American pornstars (around 40DD), the tip of my boobs does not end lower or same level as with the tip of my tummy, and I have larger hips as well, and I am still able to retain the pretty curves of my back. I’d rather prefer that, than having the same body as Yoona or Sooyoung of SNSD and not having any boobs or butts.

        Ms. Kim, I hope I won’t sound too overconfident for your eyes. I also want women as fat as me should also feel the same way for their bodies. They don’t need to look like a Barbie Doll to love themselves. They can be fat, or just looking fat, but LOOKING FAB!


        1. Thank you for your story! Do you mind sharing it on my blog? I can post it anonymous, if you would like. If you are not comfortable with it, I won’t post it. Please let me know! Thank you.


  2. I love this, and I’m fully supportive of this initiative you’re undertaking. Thanks so much, on behalf of everyone who might find this campaign life saving. Should I come to Korea next year, I’ll definitely be attending.


          1. I don’t know which one yet, my applications start in a few months. :) I’m just researching previously done studies and synthesizing on the causes effects etc. haha :)


  3. I’m now 18 months into recovery from an eating disorder as well, and started reading your blog at about the same time I got out of treatment. Knowing how hard it has been to quell body dysmorphic thoughts and negative body talk while living in the States, I can’t imagine how difficult that is in Korea, in fact, I often find that even if I just consume too much Korean media, I begin to think more negatively about my body. I salute you and your bravery, and wish you the best with your endeavors. I’m only in undergrad right now, majoring in Asian Studies, but have begun to ponder the idea of becoming a therapist, and working with ED patients in Eastern Asia. The need there is great, and I support you in every step of your journey. It’s long, and it’s difficult, but it’s possible to succeed.


    1. I AM SO PROUD OF YOU for being in recovery! I know it’s tough, especially living in the midst of eating-disordered images and messages. Someone needs to tell East Asia that there isn’t the only way and that we can make choices. I think there are a lot of research topics here related to gender roles, images and behaviors. I look forward to seeing your work!!


  4. Koreans need to realize they don’t need to have the typical features of “white people” to look beautiful. The “Asian style” nose isn’t inferior to the high bridge nose and it’s not a requirement to be good looking. It’s just baffling how everyone wants one.


    1. Yeah, I know… Racism is rampant here, I think. One friend asked me: “Isn’t it because facial/bodilg features of the white are naturally more attractive? Just as some philosophers believed that there was ratio for universal beauty?” What do you think?


      1. Haha, my friend used to say that too, instead she was referring to TV stars. She said “don’t people say they are pretty because they are ACTUALLY beautiful?”. I couldn’t say more, because I didn’t want to be judgmental, but clearly I felt that the Korean society is severely sick. People don’t really recognize that it’s the media that forces them to think in a certain way…they just accept everything the media feeds them.


  5. I love your courage and your iniative, Minji! Keep on going! There should be more people in this world like you to raise attention to such social wrongs. I have to admit that I am lucky to be surrounded by people, who, like me, have completey normal feminine bodies and I have a supporting boyfriend who stops me right away when I start complaining about my legs or belly, etc. There is no single definition for being perfect, everyone is perfect in his or her own ways!
    It is important to feel loved equally no matter how you look! And I’m sure you are giving a lot of hope to many people right now!


  6. On the other hand, people with negative body image continually compare their bodies to others, feel shame, anxiety and self-consciousness about their bodies, and may have a distorted perception of their shape and size. A poor body image can lead to unhappiness, emotional distress, low self-esteem, dieting, anxiety, depression, obsession with weight loss, and a greater likelihood of developing an eating disorder. When you look in the mirror, do you like what you see? Is your body image positive or negative?


    1. Yes, self body image is a big player here, but we can’t blame it all on the individuals. There has got to be a sociological reason why so many people fall into the negative self-image trap. Or, is it inherent human nature to feel inadequate and crave others’ approval for self-worth? Why are so many people destroying themselves instead of finding healthier solutions?


  7. Hi Minji,

    I just want to applaud you for your words and that I wish you the absolute best on your awareness and movement for healthy bodies in Korea. As a fellow Korean woman, I also have a personal interest in eating disorders, esp. in Koreans, and am currently working to do to get into graduate programs to learn more about the disorder.

    Ultimately, I wish to change the rigid mindset many Koreans have regarding what is considered beautiful or pretty. More awareness of the consequences of the rigid mindset and negative remarks is also something I’m interested in bringing up in Korea.

    I would love to talk with you more over email regarding your thoughts and experiences on the issue. Please let me know if you feel the same! Best of luck on your endeavors!



  8. I’d like to preface my comment by saying that I’m in full support of your message Minji.

    I’m generally interested in the Sinosphere as a whole but I’d like to know something about South Korea concerning the issue at hand. How much public discourse is there about this body image paradigm in Korea’s established media?


    1. The body image issue has been addressed many times already, and there once was a anti-dieting movement in 2005. Unfortunately, that has been dismissed as an “excuse to justify being lazy”. Now, people feel helpless around this issue because measuring up to the Barbie beauty standard became a prerequisite for being “normal”. Negative self-image and discrimination against the fat are so widespread that individuals often feel powerless to counter it. Here, thinness is a proof of self-help and development. Clothes come in one size (literally, oftentimes there is no choice other than that one size), so it’s really easy for heavy people (even those at healthy weight) to feel rejected, ashamed of their bodies. Worse, as James has said many times, the mainstream media is really tabloish, full of gossips that focus on female celebrities’ body parts and cellulites (that are not even there). Media literacy is completely lacking, and female images continue to be sexualized, objectified and mafe unrealistic. How does an individual go about thinking outside the frame when the public perception is that you can’t go against the stream?!

      How did you get interested in Asian media, Eren? Thank you for your support.


      1. I really appreciate you engaging me.

        The idea that there seems to little respite from body image sounds really disheartening especially, as you mentioned, when it’s been established in a burgeoning consumer culture where choice is restricted. I don’t recall where I read this from so please correct me if this is wrong: there are a lot of job sectors that require a photograph from prospective applicants. Out of this comes new industries where there are several services dedicated to image enhancement. So industry upon industry rely on image management, which of course wouldn’t limited to Korea. I imagine the difficulty of the task being undertaken to change this as there are many areas to tackle. Maybe I’m being naive but with a woman as president I believe your choice to bring Operation Beautiful among other causes is very timely and crucial so I also hope you get that book published.

        I have a few questions: How much coverage do progressive movements like these get? Will there be effective advertising reforms? What about the education of young children when it comes to this? Haha I apologise for the questions. There are many things I wish to understand.


        1. Please do not apologize for your wonderful questions! I think these are very important to address. First of all, it is true that employers require photos on resume. If the photo doesn’t look good, chances of getting the job are slim. As a result, image-making/photoshopping industry thrives here. One day, I had my photo taken for an application for scholarship (!!!!!!!!), and the guy photoshopped to take the edge off from my chin without asking me. The photographer thought it was weird that I didn’t want to ‘fix’ my face to ‘look right’. Well, that’s the daily practice. So I couldn’t blame him. Second of all, about the female president… Regardless of my political stance, I am not happy for having a female president, for her image is often a “puppet” that friends and kins of her father in the politicosphere. It’s one thing to have a female in higher position, but another to have women without all that material power break the glass ceiling. Besides, all the media talks about his her clothes and style, not here political leverage.

          Speaking of the mainstream media, as James often talks about, it is often tabloish. In addition, the market for dieting and plastic surgery industry is so large that alternative voices like this rarely gets heard or broadcasted. :(

          I hope these were helpful. I would like to know how you’ve become interested as well, Please email me if you want to further the conversation. minjitaism at gmail.


  9. I’m an American who lives in California. My last name and ancestry is Scottish, which is a fancy way of saying that I’m white. I enjoy watching Kpop videos but if I watch them too much than I start to feel bad about myself because I’m not skinny and never will be as skinny as the Kpop stars. I’m lumpy/chubby and beautiful. :) But, living out here in the San Francisco Bay Area, there is a large Asian American population. I’ve come to find Asian features extremely beautiful based on all the amazing friends that I’ve befriended out here. I guess my point is that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. I hope and pray that people anywhere/everywhere can overcome the stupid/evil pressures and voices telling them that their not attractive and listen to the divine/amazing voices coming from anywhere/everywhere that tell them that they are truly beautiful. Come on human race! We truly are a group of gorgeous human beings and our imperfections are part of what makes us unique and beautiful. Plastic Barbies will never be as attractive as real live beautiful human beings.


    1. Can you imagine what the images of women are doing to even younger consumers of Kpop both domestically and abroad?! It’s really heartbreaking.

      What do you do to keep yourself from the beauty comparison? Or to assure yourself that you are enough?


      1. It is heartbreaking to think of Kpop having a negative effect on younger consumers. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for someone living in South Korea to try and maintain a healthy self-image. Not to say eating disorders aren’t a problem in the US.

        Well, as far as saving myself from the beauty comparison, since I’m a spiritual person. I just believe we are meant to look the way we look. I believe that most people on planet earth are cute/attractive/beautiful without the need of any plastic surgery. It’s a fundamental belief that I have. So, if someone doesn’t find me to be attractive, I just either consider them unenlightened or I’m just not their type (lol).

        I feel that if God created the constellations, our respiratory system, all the mountains, oceans in the world etc. Than, God designed how we look. So, this is the nose, eyes, chin that I was meant to have. So, if some jerk is trying to say some fundamental aspect of what I look like isn’t attractive. That’s bull crap. How does a jerk know better than God. I was designed by God.

        Even, if you don’t believe in God. It’s a nice idea.

        I find Kpop to be entertaining. However, I don’t take it too seriously, because I know that it primarily exists to make money. I don’t consider that art. I more appreciate musicians who bare their heart and soul into their music and songs and are musicians because of their love of music.

        I assure myself that I’m enough because I believe I’m a child of God and that tends to help me. If you’re not a believer, than a child of the world. We’re all supposed to be made of star dust which is a beautiful thought that makes me feel beautiful. I hope that helps.


  10. you are taking too much of one side of the spectrum minji. yes, i think that too much focus on appearance is bad, but on the other hand not enough is also bad. we are visual animals by nature and to deny that aspect of our existence is fallacious and doesn’t solve anything.

    people SHOULD care about what they look like. not to the extent that the media would like you to, but they should be conscious of it. taking one extreme side or the other is NOT a solution.

    to make a crusade based on the fact that you got upset about something is not the proper way to handle it.


    1. I don’t think anybody needs to waste their time listening to the rant of someone who dismisses an eating disorder as “got upset about something” and taking positive social action as a “crusade” in the pejorative sense. Keep up the fantastic work, Minji!


      1. if you would utilize reading comprehension you’d understand that my reference to her getting upset about something was her getting upset about how media portrays women to be beautiful and perfect because obviously that’s not realistic and to see it from that perspective would save a lot of heartache.

        and sorry, her “crusade” as it were is NOT a positive social action. again, taking one extreme stance or the other is not the solution. it only creates a divide from reality and further creates a separation from a real solution to the problem.

        keep trying though “gomushin girl”.


    2. I completely agree with you! Standing up for only one side is not healthy. I have been reading lots of books and research on beauty to assess what problem really needs to be addressed. I haven’t figured it all out yet, I think it will be a long process until I find an answer (maybe never), but this is what I found so far. People have inherent desire to look good, to be better and to get approval from others. If meeting the beauty standard brings one such satisfaction, she/he has all the right to pursue that. However, the beauty standards right now is too unrealistic, can be unhealthy, and too narrow. Besides, appearance and weight are so emphasized that other dimensions of beauty that mirrors cannot show are often ignored. Since beauty is a prerequisite for entering social stage, women who are not considered beautiful are discrimated or waste time and energy on trying to be what they are not. It’s exhausting. (Not everyone can be beautiful as the word ‘beauty’ implies that there are those who are not)

      The message I want to send is that one should be able to lead a “normal” life regardless of how she looks. If she can’t lose weight, she still should be able to work, meet people, and lead a healthy and happy life. But the reality is the opposite. I have so many friends who wouldn’t come out of their house just because they think themselves as fat (even when they are at normal weight). “Vacation? Put that off until I lose weight.”

      I appreciate your caution. More debates need to happen here.


      1. minji, i also used to have issues with myself and my own image of what the media and the people around me thought was ideal because i don’t fit all of them.

        however, as i grew older i became self-confident in myself based on my personality. this in turn helped me to become more confident in my appearance. as seemingly un-connected as one’s ideas and physical manifestation (body) might be, they go hand-in-hand and neither can be discounted. it also helps to look at it from other perspectives. i go to the gym and keep fit not only for me but for others. not particularly for random people mind you, but for the ones i love and care for. the one absolute fact throughout this entire discuss, my opinions, your opinions and other people’s opinions aside, is that being overweight is not healthy for you. many people don’t have the self-motivation or the courage to do something about being overweight so it becomes a downward spiral. however these people tend to not realize that not only does their lifestyle affect them, it affects EVERYONE around them. i eventually realized this as i got older and less selfish so i adapted the way i think and now i also stay healthy and in shape because i’d rather not leave the people i love earlier than i have to.

        the best way to approach a topic like this is with reasoning and rationale. the people who are angry and cannot accept that “self-love no matter what” isn’t a solution aren’t exactly the paragons of problem solving, nor are the people who think “everyone should be a barbie doll.”

        simply put, the world is not black and white and instead contains endless shades of gray. the shade of gray that best lets you, the people around you and society at large live in a co-habilitative state is the most ideal. ignoring that we have eyes or trying to become the apex of beauty will get us nowhere.


        1. Thank you for sharing your earlier struggles. I am happy you are comfortable with yourself now.
          As for obesity and exercise, I take great pleasure in exercising as well because I do it for myself. However, I think the topic for discussion is not about avoiding obesity but about embracing body diversity. Everyone has different body types, and naturally curvy people are healthy even though they may not look like fashion mag models. Thin body does not guarantee health. In fact, more people become ill by dieting to look like the superstars in media. The point I am trying to make is that appearance should not be subjected to discrimination or prejudice.


  11. In other depressing Korean body image news, Victoria from f(x) says “Because I have so much muscles on my legs, it doesn’t make a difference if I try to lose weight. It’s stressful to have a lot of leg muscles.” She seems to be apologising for being unable to make her muscles disappear.

    I remember that Luna from f(x) used to be proud of her strong legs, until one day her leg muscles mysteriously vanished. I suppose she “succeeded” where Victoria has “failed”.


    1. I fixed the link for you, and added one for Luna too. Naturally I agree with the first commenter at the former who said:

      “it’s so messed up that we live in a society that teaches women that it’s better for them to have thin legs than muscular ones, even if they’re a dancer that needs strong legs like wtf.

      i’ve never even noticed her having thick legs anyway so meh.”

      Sorry if this next is too much information, but I really noticed Luna’s great body in the MV for Hot Hot Summer a couple of years ago, so was especially dismayed by the news about her. Now that I hear that Victoria’s done the same though, I wonder if and/or to what extent their management company SM Entertainment is behind it?


          1. Apologies for that – and for messing up the HTML in my other comment too.

            Meanwhile on allkpop: New girl group Wassup to bring twerking to the K-pop scene + demonstrates with 2 video clips (NSFW because they’re dancing to uncensored gangsta rap). Needless to say the comment thread is full of slut-shaming, along with people saying they don’t know how to twerk, they haven’t got the right body shape for twerking, they’ll be banned from Korean TV anyway, etc. Incidentally, one of the members looks like she might be mixed Korean/black.


  12. Your article rings true. Having grown up in Hong Kong, where the explicitly skinny ideal is akin to the one here in Korea (although with much less focus on plastic surgery), I’ve always struggled with my weight despite being a US dress size 6-8. After my first year in college in the US, LA no less, I feel so much better about my body. It’s ironic how LA is considered beauty-obsessed, yet I have come to embrace myself better from living there. I guess a lot of the Western-centric articles and perspectives don’t reflect the naturalized body policing in Asian countries like Korea.

    Spending my summer here back in Korea, I’m once again struggling to accept and love my body the way it is. Whereas the US had me feeling comfortable in my own skin, I did inevitably gain weight (although I exercised regularly, running around 40-60 minutes at least two times a week, along with doing yoga and walking around my rather large campus), and now I’m left here in Korea trying to lose weight. I feel like a hypocrite and have all these conflicting feelings towards my body. I know I should love it–especially because I am not at all an unhealthy weight and do not look chubby, yet I still want to lose 5-10 pounds and look the way I did before going to college; I want to love my body like I should, but only on the condition that it looks a particular heternormative way… which are two logically conflicting desires.

    I admit my portions grew in the US as my discipline shrunk… but can I honestly say I am now trying to revert back to my old ways for health when thoughts of calories and weight loss linger in the back of my mind?


    1. Thanks for sharing your compelling story.
      I often feel like an hypocrite as well, because here I am telling people to respect body diversity, but hating/policing my own body on the other hand. I had been blaming myself for that, but now I consider it as just part of the process. Gradually, by establishing more rational body-philosophy and respect for my body, I trust I can kick off my body-hating emotions. It won’t happen all at once. It will take place slowly. This can’t be rushed. Besides, having acknowledged how destructive body-policing is is a big step forward already. Acknowleding and identifying the iron cage I am living in is the most difficult part, and you’ve already done your job.
      There is another up-side: we know how much it hurts to hate our own bodies. We know how difficult it is to fight the internalized pressure to look a certain way. We ‘ve experienced it. we know, we understand, so we can have compassion for others who are also suffering.

      As for America, body image and body diversity activism have taken place for some time, and I think that has had created room for individuals to embrace their body. In particular, America has a very individualistic culture, so individuals trump the society. However, in Asia, whose cultures are mostly collective, the society trumps individual preference. I think that plays part in the internalization of body policing in Asia.


  13. This is a really good article and it definitely touches upon the most important and dreadful problem in Korea. People are overtly obsessed with their looks and weights and always seem to under-appreciate themselves. This under-appreciation manifests on all levels – outer appearance first, and then social status and relationship status. Such pressure creates useless and time consuming competition among people and sense of depression and helplessness in society. I don’t know why people are so obsessed with looks, while their happiness is the most important thing in the world.
    Although many comments here are encouraging, I don’t know whether this phenomenon can be ever changed. I also agree that agents change society, but considering that almost everyone you meet are obsessed with their looks (have you ever seen a teenage Korean girl or a girl in their 20s and early 30s NOT taking self-cameras?) it is difficult to keep your pace.

    I hope I’m not the only one who is struggling!!


  14. Really great article, Minji! I admire you for choosing to live in a place that can produce some serious triggers for your eating disorder and actively fight against it, all while encouraging activism in others. I’ve lived in Korea for 4 years now, and being here has caused me to think long and hard about my relationship to my own body (as well as others), and has inspired me to start writing about it. Now, I write a popular body-positive blog (via Instagram/Tumblr), documenting my own experiences as well as highlighting and criticizing the appearance-centric bullshit that women encounter every day. I was Googling for some research and found your blog, and I’d love to chat with you more!


  15. I’m a filipina and teenager…I agree 100% with this article, I’m not the kind of girl that goes with whats in in this world w/c means “the invasion of Koreans more specifically k-pop” I knew the first tym that it became the “IN” topic in our HS batch because as they converse all they would sa”Omg they’re so perfect,etc and what not” I know that they will copy their style and all that other stuffs…And me being me I’ve always been the observer and mostly is the invasion of k-pop isn’t a VERY good idea at all not only most of my batchmates and other people I’ve seen change the way they look(making their skin white and their fashion sense when it comes to clothing) but their personality as well they are pretty vain and vicious in terms of how not they only look but they look upon other people that doesn’t pass up to KOREAN BEAUTIFUL STANDARDS….I admire korean drama and their song but not what my fellow filipino says that they are so beautiful and other what not that they look like perfect barbie dolls..People who copy korean lifestyle became a diffeent person physical & personality-wise they put it in their minds that they have to be PERFECT as well as their barbie like personality…I have nothing against koreans because I respect their culture and love watching their dramas but their effect has gone wild especially with teenagers…they gave off a very high standard to achieve thank God my fellow filipino’s not that I’ve known everyone of them hadnt gone under the knife just to look korean their more on fashion trends,hairstyles,make-up, korean girly stuffs but never plastic surgery…


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