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.
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.
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.
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