Today I’m tackling a topic that is very sensitive to many people who are suffering because of their weight. I hope to let go of some of my frustrations with this post, and at the same time inform you regarding the treatment of overweight people in the Korean society. Mind you, this piece of writing comes solely from my experience, an overweight person among many living in this country; therefore, don’t take what I say in absolute terms.
Furthermore, it is impossible to encapsulate everything in one post, so I will talk more generally and with what comes to mind at the moment, but you can ask me more specific questions and I will be glad to answer them!
As a preface, I would like to speak to all those people that finger point at overweight people and brush them as “lazy;” you don’t know anything about me nor my story enough and I don’t deserve your judgement, neither do other overweight people. Everyone has their own story and set of circumstances, and I believe that very few people find themselves in this situation simply because of unhealthy choices. I don’t want to go into private details, but it should suffice you to know that I have a medical condition related to my hormones and insulin which is the major culprit for my current weight situation.
Enough said.. now I want to go into more concrete examples. If you wish to come to South Korea, I don’t want this post to detain you from coming to this country. You should always experience things by yourself and take your decisions thereafter. Having said this, it is also good to prepare yourself mentally beforehand. Even if you don’t plan on coming here, this post might be useful in giving you insight into another country’s society and its views.
As a general observation, we could say that Asian societies count fewer overweight people than Western, in particular compared to the U.S. As a result of this, as it is less common to see overweight people walking about the streets, you’d tend to stand out in a crowd. Often, it might happen that older people (ajossi and ajummas) stare at you and make some comment; some might even come and poke at your arms or belly fat. Of course this is incredibly rude, but as they belong to the generation that experienced war or fast development, they didn’t have the opportunity to reap the fruits of education, as the young generation could. On this account, the youth knows a bit more about politeness code not to blatantly finger point at you; nevertheless, I don’t exclude that some of them might hold some negative judgement towards you. Let’s always keep in mind that Korea is the number one country for plastic surgery procedures and technology in the world. Appearances are everything here.
There are several instances in which I feel terribly weight conscious; as a foreigner I already stand out on my own, but being overweight makes me feel even more isolated from this society. On several occasions, it has happened to me on public transportation to have adjacent empty seats or people leaving to avoid the uncomfortable squiggles that they would have to make to find the best position in which they can fit.
The second instance, and perhaps the most daunting one, is obviously finding clothes. As most people here are on the skinny side, it is incredibly hard to come by fitting apparel. As I have mentioned in my post about buying fabrics in dongdaemun (you can read the post here: https://franoculars.home.blog/2019/01/31/fabric-market-in-dongdaemun-and-being-plus-size-in-south-korea/), this task does not concern only overweight people, but more generally Western people, who have a different body build compared to Asians. Therefore, I am forced to buy all of my clothing online, which shrinks my options considerably, costs money, takes forever to come, and not necessarily would look flattering (we all know about the expectation vs. reality combo that comes into play when buying on the internet, I don’t need to say more about this aha). Korea has a very cute sense of fashion, but every time I walk down the shopping districts I have to look at the 10 inch-wide pieces of clothing (seriously, they are extremely small even for “normal” size people) that I will never wear, which makes me feel incredibly hateful towards myself and my body. As hard as it is, I really want to get healthier, but in the meantime I don’t want to keep being reminded of how unfit and ugly I am for this society. At least, when I am in my country I feel slightly more confident because people wouldn’t stare or comment at me as much and I might find some offline stores in which I can try and buy clothes.
Lastly, whenever I go to any kind of doctor the issue of my weight always comes up, even though it’s not relevant at all. For example, last year I went to remove some moles on my face, and during the second visit the doctor felt we were “close” enough (like, who knows you dude just do your job I’m paying you for it.. ) to ask me why i didn’t try to lose weight. Wt eff.. it just makes me so angry, I went there to remove my moles and there he is making me feel so useless and frustrated, as if I am not already by myself… He doesn’t know anything about me, yet he assumes I am not already trying to do something about it. This is not the only case I assure you; almost any doctor will surely ask you/comment about it, or at least that has been my experience.
So far these are the things that come to my mind about being plus size in Korea. Without a doubt there are million other occasions in which I feel super conscious about my weight, and there are many days that I don’t even want to go out of my room for the shame that I feel in showing my body.
Have you experienced/ are you experiencing similar struggles? it doesn’t have to be necessarily in Korea. I wish we could support each other 🙂 feel free to leave a comment or any questions that you may have!