This is my Body and I Love it: Defining Beauty in a Homogeneous Country
By: Soprano Musings
Living in South Korea for the last year has made me more aware of my body than I quite possibly have been in my entire life. That is no easy feat, given that my body type is seen by many as unattractive or unhealthy. Image is everything, especially in a homogeneous country such as South Korea. So I will not say that I have had no challenges when it comes to fully embracing the figure that I have. From cab drivers being told in both English and Korean not to touch my hair and still do so, to seeing people point at me directly and make hand gestures to their friends to demonstrate how my stomach moves while running to catch the last subway to get home.
After years of repeating Maya Angelou poems and many more inspiring quotes from well known women throughout history to myself to keep me motivated and finally learning to flow through my Yoga poses to remind myself of how capable my body can be, I honestly felt as though learning to love my body, rolls and all, was something that I had accomplished before getting on a plane to South Korea. I quickly realized that I still had a few well hidden internal issues when it came to dealing with my body image, the most recent one being how to respond to non-Westerners when they chose to comment on my body type. At first, I assumed that I had misheard them when they would say something about my looks. It is possible, since my Korean is not fluent. Some meanings can easily get lost in translation among folks that have separate mother tongues. So in those cases I would only smile and change the subject by mentioning another topic that was close to the previous one.
Luckily, I have not had too many incidences where someone rudely commented on my appearance, but I have had a few. A child during the first week of my teaching at my current school saw me for the first time and laughed before they said out loud, “Why is her stomach so big?” I know most would choose to just ignore this, but given my stance on nipping these kinds of remarks in the bud early, I approached them and said, “It is not nice to laugh at how someone looks. Everyone looks different and it is not something to be made fun of - it is something to celebrate.” Which then led to me changing my lesson plan for the day to one that I had prepared for another day on how what makes us different also makes us special.
Though these days the comments I get about my appearance mostly come from viewers of my YouTube channel, which I simply delete. Since my arrival here in South Korea, I have only had someone make a comment to my face about how I should ‘be more healthy and lose weight once. I decided in that moment to combat the discomfort that the conversation often would turn into. I have begun to take the direct approach with this statement: “This is my body and I love it. You do not have to be pleased with it and if seeing my body the way it is bothers you, then find somewhere else to stare.”
There are 2 key factors to this statement. First, I maintain full eye contact with the person that I am addressing. And lastly, I mean every word of what I chose to say. When it comes to my body image, that is my concern, not the society in which I am in, no matter if that is Western or Eastern (or any in between). Even with all of the pressure from those around me to ‘correct’ or ‘improve’ my appearance, this body is mine and as far as I am concerned, it fits me well. If I decide to make any changes to it in the future, it will be of my choosing and not any society that I am living in. My physical appearance may change, but my body image will always be ideal for me. That may change in the future, but for now my body image is ideal for me.
And that is all that matters.
Be inspired, stay inspiring,
About the Author
Soprano Musings is currently a South Korea based mixed media artist. A principle theme throughout her work is the seven levels of love with musical elements. She strives to constantly incorporate these mediums within her work in hopes of inspiring others to seek them out when possible to find their own happiness. While combining these two elements, she tries to remind her audience that they are the universal threads which connects every living being everywhere.