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:

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6 thoughts on “Guest Post: So JYP Wants to Know Who My Mama Is

  1. I’ve never liked J.Park – I find him tasteless at best and offensive the rest of the time. Nice to see I don’t have to re-think that.

    • I had a lot of sympathy for him after he left 2PM, both because the netizen witchhunt was unfair (what expat hasn’t privately said something negative about Korea to a friend on MySpace or FB?), and because JYP should have stood up for him. I haven’t followed his music at all since then though, so, now that I’m actually watching a MV of his, I’m finding my sympathy only extends so far. Not that I’m not offended by the MV or anything, as most K-pop is similarly objectifying, but…but…it’s just soooooo bad! (And the music itself is pretty forgettable.) Seriously, where’s the talent?? He can’t have just been making stuff like this for the past 6 years surely?

  2. I’m a US size 10 which is morbidly obese by Korean standards. The fat shaming I get from my female relatives is annoying, but I’m used to it. That’s just what Korean aunties are created to do – fuss over your weight. I’d be more surprised if they DIDN’T do it. The fat shaming that I really don’t appreciate, and is frankly just inconvenient, is going into a large chain clothing store, trying on the largest size, and finding it to be too small. Size 10 isn’t even “plus size” by Western standards, but in Korea, it is so massive that mainstream clothing brands don’t even acknowledge that women your size exist (or at least deserve to wear clothes). I won’t bother shopping at Korean owned brands like Top Ten or Eight Seconds, but even international for international brands like Zara or H&M, the Korean stores don’t carry the larger sizes. They sometimes have them online, which is a relief, because otherwise my only option would be to walk around in my pyjamas all day.

    To combat feelings of hating my body, hating myself, and wanting to crawl into a hole and die, I’ve taken on an attitude that I find works quite well. It’s to view my body as something of a political statement – my “obese” size 10 contributes to body size diversity here and I think that’s a good and important thing. My hope is that my chunky legs and wobbly arms will play it’s humble part in changing this culture’s attitude towards women and their bodies.

    • I can sympathize with Korean aunties (and grandmas) fussing over people’s weight. I share your struggle of not being able to find my size in most mainstream clothing stores in Korea. It’s funny because last summer I even got into an argument with a lady in a store because she wouldn’t let me try on a pair of pants (even though the store policy allowed it) saying that I wouldn’t fit in it anyway.

      But I completely admire your take on viewing your body as a positive statement. You do you, Heather! I’m with you in the movement to see more body diversity in Korea.

  3. I get the point of the post, but it’s still problematic. The phrase “The standard of a fit body for Korea and the rest of the world is vastly different” implies that South Korea alone has the “wrong” idea for a fit body while “the rest of the world” is “better.” Ideals for body types vary across the board, even within a country itself. So to say that South Korea is somehow wrong for having one set of standards is narrow-minded and simplistic. The image of fitness in the United States is not “the rest of the world.” Add on top of that that, what the media says is beautiful and what actual people are attracted to can also vary widely. Although the media can have influence, South Koreans are not mindless robots and they can see the hypocrisy in the media just as much as Americans can.

    As for the YouTube comments, it’s just a case of substituting one unrealistic set of body standards for another. Not everybody can gain weight easily, not everybody can put on muscle weight easily, and not everybody wants to. I see the YouTube comments as more of a backlash against the thin ideal, rather than any genuine concern over health. American girls/women in particular are quick to say someone has “no butt” or “no curves” as a way to put down someone else, and those thinner women in turn start that negative self-talk. It’s become a “real curves” (implying “real” womanhood) versus “no curves” (implying boyishness) issue.

    • I don’t think South Koreans are mindless robots in the least, but I do believe that physical attractiveness is a lot more valued in Korea compared to any of the other countries I’ve ever lived in. Based on my personal experiences, I’ve never been more body-conscious and body-shamed in any other place I’ve ever visited.

      That being said, I agree that I shouldn’t have made the generalization that the “rest of the world” was vastly different from Korea’s ideals on fit/healthy bodies. Korea doesn’t have the “wrong” idea for a fit body, but as vague as it may be, there does seem to be a negative connotation in Korean society to muscular girls. Again, I’m speaking from personal experience (I’ve had strangers comment on my “muscles” in clothing stores, gyms, subways, with one man even commenting that I could probably kill a horse with my biceps).

      I do see a lot of comments these days on what “real women” have or don’t have – and it’s a logical fallacy. Real women can have curves, be skinny, tall, short and everything in between. Women with muscle are still women and size 30 women are still women. My screenshot of the Youtube comment section was merely used to point out that seems to be a significant difference in what Koreans and non-Koreans perceive as “fit.” I thought that maybe it was this precise difference in ideals that led to me being criticized for my body in Korea. But I completely agree with you Rachel, this shouldn’t be an excuse to substitute one unrealistic set of body standards for another. Thank you for sharing your insights, I really appreciate it.

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