Sunday, April 25, 2010

Survival of Boobs, Hips & Thighs in a Skinny Jeans Society

She prances in with pin straight hair. Skinny jeans cling to her bottom half and I wonder if she can really breathe properly with jeans that tight. She's perched on high heels and looks like she could topple over from a strong gust of wind.

She orders a Caramel Machiato and sits at the table next to mine. Her mug is heaped with cream and drizzled with caramel syrup. I feel bilious just looking at it. She sits cross legged as she texts at lightening speed on her pink cellphone.

A few minutes later, she's joined by two other girls. One is wearing a mini skirt also perched on heels while the other is wearing hot pants and sneakers. They also have drinks topped with cream and chocolate or strawberry syrup decorated on top. I can't really hear or understand what they're talking about, but they're giggling and sipping on their drinks. I don't know how many people are taking part in their conversation because even though they're all sitting at the same table, they're all busy on their cellphones.

And here I sit. With my Cafe Mocha ("cream pego" which means "no cream" in Korean). I won't tell you what I'm wearing, but it's not skinny jeans, a mini skirt or hot pants and I'm not trying to balance on killer heels, either.

We all know girls like that - who can eat cream-topped desserts, oily chips (fries) and drink ridiculous amounts of alcohol, but have NO weight issues.

I'm not one of these girls.

I look out the window of the coffee shop and notice the trees covered with pink flowers lining the pavement. Spring is finally here. After months of heavy snowfall and icy weather, people are wearing less layers of clothes and more smiles on their faces. Winter in Korea is beautiful. At the same time, it's also miserable. Roads are covered with thick layers of ice and everyone walks around covered in snow coats and unflattering snow boots.

I'm reminded that summer is just around the corner. My worst season. Ever. I absolutely hate the feeling of being wrapped by the humidity. Going anywhere that requires taking a bus or subway is a pain and I try to avoid it at all costs. Everyone's jammed up against each other. It's hard to avoid people in a crowded space. Especially the girls wearing very little on the bottom half of their body.

Many foreign women have told me that they stay far away from girls on the subway dressed in mini skirts or hot pants. It's damaging to the ego!

Foreigners (men and women) have also told me that Korea makes them feel "fat". In ones home country where you were probably a 'medium' or 'large', you will find that in Korea, you are "big size".

The stereotype about Asian people being small built still exists. This is a gross generalization, but the generalization is pretty accurate. Most of my Korean female friends are flat-chested with no bulging hips, flabby arms or inflated bellies. This is why it's SO easy for them to shop. NOTHING could be small for them, unless they're in the kiddies department - and it won't surprise me if even that fits them!

One of my least favourite things to do is to go clothes shopping (even back in South Africa). When my friend Sarah asked me to go shopping with her a few months ago, I couldn't refuse. She needed a new pair of jeans, boots and some tops. We walked around for about 30 minutes before we found a place that sells jeans. She only had to try on two pairs before she decided to take it, and she wore it out. Same with the boots. The tops? No problem.

A major reason I hate going (clothes) shopping in Korea - with friends - is the looks I get from people working in the store. Even if I take something off the rail and hold it up to just look at it, I feel their eyes scanning me up and down. I feel like they're thinking, "Are you serious?"

A South African friend once asked me if I felt any pressure living in a society where the women look like they've just wrapped up a photo shoot. I'm not even kidding. Late at night, young women on the subway look as fresh as daisies with designer clothes clutching their Louis Vioutton handbags...and of course perched on high heels. It's a mystery to me how women can balance standing on the bus/subway on stilts that high. Anyway, seeing skinny women almost everywhere never really bothered me. Or at least, I didn't let it bother me.

Truth be told, I'm not skinny. I have full breasts - much to the envy of some of my Korean female friends who say I'm "blessed". I have thighs which I would appreciate much less of and hips which I sometimes wish were non-existent.

In my blogs about my trip to Egypt earlier this year, I wrote about the attention I got from the local men there. This is not something I was used to. I was told that Egyptian men [how do I say this] appreciate full figured women. And well, that is what I am. Hey... I'm just being honest!

Needless to say, I left the Land of Pyramids with one hell of an ego boost. Wouldn't you if you were told you were beautiful - boobs, hips, thighs, ass and all?

Over the past few years, I've grown to accept my body the way it is. Not to say I should neglect taking care of it. If I abandon my gym routine and eat junk all day everyday, I'm going to definitely feel the effect on my body. But if I eat (somewhat) healthily and exercise as often as I can, I will feel good, not only with my physical sense of well-being but mentally and spiritually as well. The more I exercise, the more energy I seem to have and I feel like I can take on anything.

After about two weeks of being ill on and off and being swamped with work and deadlines, I made a solemn promise that I would get back into my gym routine again. On Friday evening after work, I wasn't in the best mood, but it was definitely beginning to pick up as I got into my workout.

I went into the studio area of my gym and greeted the two ladies who were already there. One of them works in the kitchen at my school and the other one...we just acknowledge each other when we meet at the gym. She annoys me a bit because she always puts the TV volume on very high when she's on the treadmill without any consideration to those around her.

She was using the thick hula hoop that I wanted to use, so I picked up another thinner one to use until she was finished. She gave me hers and took the thinner one from me. "So sweet," I thought. Ok - I guess I can overlook her annoying habit of having the TV volume on full blast.

Now I'm not fluent in Korean, but I understand enough to know when someone is talking about me - especially right in front of me. And more so when they use body language and bob their head or roll their eyes in my direction. Just because I don't understand the language doesn't automatically make me invisible. She was saying something about me to the other lady (the one who works in my school's kitchen)

In Korean, and putting her hands to her face, she told me that I was beautiful.

Then she pulled her face and looked below my neck and said that my body wasn't beautiful.

I need confirmation.

She repeated herself saying that my face was beautiful, but that my body was not.

The smile on my face disappeared instantly.

"You're rude," I told her (in English) Clearly, she didn't understand because she went on to tell the other woman (in Korean) that "foreign people have small faces, but big bodies."

I don't know if the other lady picked up that I was irritated by the other ones comment, but she left the studio, followed by the rude woman.

Looking at my reflection in the mirror, I know that I don't have a runway model's body. I don't even long for it. I was very irritated and the good mood and energy I picked up from my hour workout suddenly melted away into nothingness.

On my way home, I kept thinking - When are Korean women (especially) going to realize that foreigner's body's are different to theirs? We've grown up on different diets. Different lifestyles. Hell, even shoes don't fit foreigners here!

There are so many cultural differences I've had to learn and accept since living in Korea. At any given opportunity, my Korean colleagues and friends want to share tidbits about what and what not to do to offend others - whether it's at a meal or the manner in which someone older or in authority should be spoken to. I've learned all these things and so far [if I may say so] my manners have been impeccable. No one can fault me for speaking out of turn or being rude.

...but what about people who fail to understand that THEY may be offending ME?

I hate how cliché it sounds, but these are just some of the...ummm...challenges that one has to face when living in a foreign country. What makes it that much harder when people are not English-speaking is that I'm unable to defend myself, making me feel weak at times.

Language is a powerful tool. My Korean colleagues often tell me how they 'envy' me for being able to speak English because it opens up a world of opportunities for me, like travel. On the flip side, however not being able to speak Korean puts me at such a disadvantage.

One of the worst moments (for example) is at lunch time where the principal or vice principal will say something about me. Everyone at the table will chuckle, but it will take my asking at least twice for it to be translated. Whatever is being said is not necessarily bad, but just imagine putting yourself in my position.

I'm not aiming for rock hard abs or twiggy arms. All I want is to be healthy. And part of achieving that is not taking heed to what others have to say to or about me. I can either choose to take it to heart or just simply ignore it. Easier said than done, right?

Let them carry on drinking their Caramel Machiato's (topped with cream) as they bounce around on heels and skinny jeans. And I'll just carry on dragging my non-model and oh-so-curvy body to the gym. Not for anyone else, but me.

I'd love to know your comments / opinions!

  All images from Google Images


Jax Cassidy said...

*Hugs* I think beauty comes from inside out.

I'm petite and I've been one of those skinny girls once but no matter who you are, you're never going to be happy with how you look. As I've gotten older, I try to maintain a healthy diet and attitude. I don't look too hard at others because I don't want to pick out more of my imperfections. I'm thankful I'm as healthy as I can be.

You are BEAUTIFUL, it just takes believing no matter what others think. I'm sure it's tough being in Korea where everyone over a size 1 is considered 'big'. My Korean girl friends hate to return to Korea for visits for that reason. It's sad when society has their idea of perfect, but at what cost?

Anonymous said...

omw!!!! i loved the posting. you have the right attitude girl. dont worry about those skinny koreans.
believe in yourself.
well written. loved it

Anonymous said...

We are all beautiful, and it's so hard to compare ourselves to others. I hear what you say though, living in the warm Western part of the US means all the cute young hotties wear very little, making it very obvious that they are adorable and thin. But we can't be truly happy till we accept who we are. Thanks for the reminder.

Anonymous said...

You make some great points with wit and humor. Thanks

Nicki said...

Wow, girl. This is an awesome post because I can relate to every single thing that you've mentioned.

I think you're beautiful the way you are too. Maybe that's why I'm into Indian movies and not into most Asian cinema (although I do watch some of them).

Asian women are very into being stick skinny. It's so unattractive, to me. No curves at all.

I've been struggling with my weight all my life. It's been a huge roller coaster ride for me. It's been rough. Really.

Sheetal said...


Thank you so very much for your lovely & kind words. I, too have learned to accept and love who I am and the shape of my body. As I said, I wouldn't want to be a size zero. I also think it doesn't matter what the number on the scale says. As long as YOU feel healthy, that's all that matters. I appreciate your time to read my blog. Much love x

Sheetal said...


Thank you for taking the time to read it. Much appreciated. Love x

Sheetal said...


Thanks for taking the time to read this. And we all need a reminder now and then. We first have to think we're beautiful before we expect others to see the beauty that lies within us, right? Thank you :-)

Sheetal said...


Thank you so much! I appreciate you reading this :-)

Sheetal said...


Regardless of ones background or upbringing, I think the one thing that connects women across the board is the issue of weight. As always, thank you for reading this - my cyber friend :) Love & hugs to you x

Aniya said...

I really wanted to say my bit - but time got in the way so perhaps when I have nothing to do I'll come back...I really enjoyed reading the post and in the meantime here's something to think about... lol

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye. (as said by Miss Piggy)"
— Jim Henson

ajira said...

hi love,

Great post about your experiences about an issue that is being felt by women the world over. I blame misogyny for this preoccupation with the idea of perfection. Both issues of unhealthy under or over weight can be traced back to society's ideals of beauty which are unrealistic and IMO quite disturbing. We all have such different body types. Regardless of our diets, body shape and metabolism as well as exercise etc can affect how our bodies look. Far more important to me is how our bodies feel and what use we can put them to.

I think a huge component in this whole thing is to only consider how you feel and not how or what others think about you. You know? Do what makes you feel pleasure in and about your body. Eat well, drink well, exercise and get as much rest as you can.

I would also like to suggest another factor with regard to the 'rude' issue. Different cultures have different taboos and so what is considered rude can be so different from place to place. Don't take it personally. Educate them about your culture and feelings if you want to.

Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. It really depends on my mood at the time. I get tired of teaching people about my culture. You know? So, I won't bother AND I also won't take what they say in a negative way. You know?

You're beautiful Sheetal. I hope you know that intrinsically. I hope that one of these days I'll get to photograph you and show you what I see when I look at you! :)

I wrote on a similar topic quite recently on my blog- except it was a lot more specific to me. I've been amazed and energized by the encouraging comments I've received! :)

Sheetal said...


Thank you my far-away friend! I appreciate your words and for your time to read this :-) x

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed this post - lovely blog Sheetal! And it's soooo true; I don't know how these women sustain it. I wore pointy-toed heels yesterday, for the first time since the millennium, and by nightfall was ready for a toe amputation. Back in loafers today! Have a super day, love Louise

Sheetal said...


My heart is filled with gratitude for your lovely words that you've written. Thank you so much! To answer your question/suggestion - it's not easy trying to educate people on different cultures when there's a very definite language barrier. I've tried, but some people aren't as open-minded as others and don't see what they say or do as 'wrong'.

I'm happy to have 'met' you and also wish you all the best for your projects - will be following it! Much love to you x

Sheetal said...


Thanks so much for taking the time to read my ramblings :-) I appreciate it!