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In recent years, I remember visiting Korea and seeing only skinny people (compared to America). Thus, just having a few extra pounds made me a target. So when I went there in summer of 2008, I got called fat. Every time I met up with an ahjumma*, I heard it again:
“Lynn, you got so much fatter!” Oh damn, this feels awkward. What the hell do they want me to say back? Yeah...thanks! It's crazy how they said such a hurtful comment with endearment. They slipped out of people's mouths naturally but left a mark in my mind.
During that summer, I went to a water park with my twenty-year-old cousin. She had just lost a bunch of weight. We came back, plugged her tiny camera into the giant TV and viewed the pictures from there. I would never forget one of the photos. Up on the big screen, my ddong-bae* seemed to hold the spotlight. It stared at me, it stared at everybody. It felt as if someone had taken the picture and zoomed in to publicize the disgusting fat. It felt like someone took a stick and smacked it on the TV screen to point out how not to look.
“Oh my God. That is really bad. That is serious,” my aunt said about my flaw.
“Wow. You really need to lose that,” my cousin added on.
Commanding the camera, my cousin pressed back to the picture after having moved on. No need to look at that nastiness again. I reminisced about all the grease and salt from the foods I eat and became disgusted with myself in a matter of a few seconds. Then, I looked at the fat TV set and thought, I feel for you.
My struggles did not stop there - just a few days later, it all came barking back at me.
As I stepped on to the scale, the meter spun around fiercely. The numbers spun until it stopped at 68kg. I was thankful of the kilogram measurements because seeing it in pounds would make it more real.
Looking away because I had told her to, my aunt sat right beside me. I had to weigh myself, weigh myself with my suitcase and then subtract one from the other to get the weight of the bag. The poor suitcase, too fat to fit on the scale, kept on falling off. I feel for you.
I needed the weight of my suitcase (the one I brought back to the States) to see if it would fit in the upper compartment, to see if it could really squeeeeze in, but I knew the big bulky bag could never fit in the upper compartment.
I still had more to fit in my bag (packaged goods my aunt was packing me). With these things, he would end up too fat to get on any plane. He could not hide his ddong-bae either.
I covered a piece of paper as if someone had been cheating off of me on a math test and wrote my weight lightly in a small corner.
“Aigoo! Why are you hiding it so much?” my aunt jokingly asked.
“Because I weigh a lot,” I replied.
My cousin jumped in, “How much could you weight?” Another point for her.
“She must weight like 75kg if she's freaking out this much.”
“No! I don't weigh that much! I don't! I really don't!” I said as I laughed on the outside. It's not really funny but I didn’t want to let it get to me; I wanted to stay strong.
I wanted to say that I weighed 7kg less. I wanted to prove them wrong. That same lucky number seven didn't seem so lucky at this point. Somehow that number made me feel the rolls of fat on my stomach making a crease in my skin, my big boned arms pressing against my body and looking wide, and my thighs looking flabby. My aunt and my cousin's eyes looked down on me, even though we all sat on the floor. I looked at the luggage and it looked down on me too.
However, he said to me, “I feel for you.”
With the bag in my hand, I got on. There we stood: the two fatties under the spotlight on the tiny and fragile stage. I subtracted my weight from both of our weights on the same corner of the piece of paper and told my aunt what the suitcase weighed.
After I finished, I crossed out my calculations. Then, I crossed it out again, and again, and again until all you could see was a dark blue ink cross out. I flipped the paper to see if it showed through on the other side. I saw some creases coming through so I crossed it out again on that side too, again, and again, and again. I was done. It seemed hidden now. Thus, no one could see it. Oddly, for some reason, I could still see it through the fierce cross-outs of my blue pen.
Adolescents gain around 24 pounds (during puberty) which can result in depression and lower self-esteem. Furthermore, girls feel more dissatisfied with their weight than guys. However, African American girls tend to feel more confident in their appearance because they do not associate beauty with thinness. I feel for you.
Being raised as a Korean, a certain type of beauty builds in your mind. The perfect girl will have long straight hair, big eyes, Western eye-lids, a very small face, a raised nose, pale white skin, and a skinny body. The standard Korean beauty somehow resembles a Western person. Unfortunately for the eyes of my relatives, I am quite the opposite; I am big boned, a little heavy compared to Koreans, big headed and I have no eye-lids, a flat nose and tanned-skin.
$800 for ssang-kuh-peul* surgery. Anesthesia to numb the pain of cutting parts of a girl's skin and blinding her to the blood that will pour out. The swollen face she will carry for days and even weeks while recovering from the surgery. The thought of never going back. The risk of screwing up her whole face. The power given to a stranger to change how she will turn out. The empty stomach of a girl who starves herself. I don’t feel for you.
In this competitive world, Koreans often find plastic surgery as a mean of survival to reach perfection. Girls as young as the age of 14 drop by plastic surgeons and get ssang-kuh-peul. Graduates often get ssang-kuh-peul surgery as a gift.
“Congratulations! Here, go cut up your face!” What a jolly present.
Drug stores in Korea sell skin whitening creams – in fact, four out of every ten women in South Korea use these creams. The women have a deep desire for bbo yan* skin just like how Americans like to get tanned. Except something about getting a tan (not the spray tan in a salon) seems more natural to me; you’re soaking up the sun and letting in the warmth of the world but some opt to hide from the nature and smear themselves with a cream that they believe will make them happier.
I remember in grade school when I so badly wanted to change my skin color to look exactly like my best friend’s, pale and white. I took shame in my tans – some days, I piled on sunscreen at the beach and other times, I looked away when I saw pictures of myself from the summer. Hoping for a tan, I now lay proudly on the beach. I don’t hope for sunburns anymore.
When my mom’s best friend (who I could call my second mother) told me I would look perfect with surgery to make my eyes bigger, I felt more intrigued than disgusted.
“You would be all set. Just gotta rip that little corner,” she said as she smoked her cigarette. I finally took a breath and the smoke slithered into my throat where my body and my mind fully absorbed it. Then, I coughed. I took a sip of my strawberry juice and the sweet cold drink washed away the smoke, in my body and in my mind.
Sometimes, I play hide-and-go-seek by myself. I stare deeply into another person and search for all the beautiful qualities; their flat and chunky nose, their thin pink lips, their watery brown eyes, their wavy blonde curls, their awkwardly big ears, their sharp and distinct cheekbones all hide until I finally spot them. Some people are better at playing this game than me. I want to tell them, Why are you still hiding? Time’s up.
Definitions for Korean words:
Ahjumma = direct translation: middle aged woman. The term is used to describe obnoxious, annoying, and overly friendly and honest middle aged woman ranging from the age of 40 to 60 or so. They tend to blurt out what they think without filtering it in their mind.
Ddong-bae = direct translation: crap belly. This term is used for a fat stomach. It is used even when people have just a tiny bit of fat on their stomach. It is negatively used. People do not have a positive attitude towards it whatesoever.
Ssang-kuh-peul = direct translation: double eye-lids. The term is used for eye-lid surgery, the most common surgery done in Korea, where the patient has a layer of skin removed from their eye-lid to make it look like they have double eye-lids, which is a characteristic of Westerners.
Bbo-yan = direct translation: immaculate skin. This terms is used to describe the picture perfect skin, white, pale, clean, clear and did I mention white? People like to photoshop their images or raise the brightness on their cameras to appear to have this type of skin color.