The most frequent compliment I receive from Korean people is, “Your face is so beautiful, if you lose weight, you’d be lovely.”
Sometimes, I don’t know whether that really is a compliment. Does that mean I’m not lovely now, even though my face is beautiful? Or are they hinting that I should lose weight to look beautiful? Or is it just a nice way of mentioning that they noticed I was fat?
Okay, I’m touchy. But maybe it’s not my fault, since my collection of cellulite is the only real thing people seem to be interested in.
I took a taxi to work today and right after I told him where I was going, he said, “Let me guess, you were really beautiful when you were five, right?” I thought to myself, “O-kay, where is this going…” He then went on to say that I had probably been very skinny in my youth, just like his niece, who had recently shed a lot of weight after getting married.
“No,” I said. “I have never been skinny.”
“That can’t be!” he cried, “What is your job? To lose weight, you have to have a job! Like the case of my niece.”
I was going to point out that I was NOT his niece, but instead was extremely satisfied in saying in a very haughty tone of voice that I was a reporter.
“Oh,” he said, obviously disappointed. “Where?”
“At JoongAng,” I said, conveniently leaving out the fact that I was writing for the English JoongAng Daily and not the Korean JoongAng Ilbo, knowing he would ask more questions and maybe request that I speak something in English for him.
“Oh,” he said again. “But that’s so strange…if you have a job you should lose weight…” I ignored him, nudged down the window a bit to cool my face and pretended to go to sleep to avoid further conversation.
As I mentioned before, I have never been skinny, but I wasn’t always fat. In fact, as a child my face was very round and chubby, always giving the impression that I was a roly poly girl, especially since the other members of my family were very slender. When I entered college, however, the baby fat dissolved from my face and I was able to enjoy years of flaunting a full figure with appropriate curves, although I was far from being a model. Hardships in starting a venture company, publishing my own magazine, and perhaps a dozen more projects that I pursued in my senior year and post-graduation pumped in more pounds and through the period of three or four years, my body got out of my control. First, I was fat, then I was more fat, and then I was just…too fat.
I know I should have checked myself while I had the chance, but somehow there was this stupid spiteful feeling that I had towards society. I was a skilled young woman with many talents. Did I have to add a perfect figure to my already long resume?
Apparently, yes. In fact, I tearfully discovered that in Korean society, I could get nowhere without looking good first. “Prejudiced, pig-headed hypocrites,” I thought, but after ramming head-first into a brick wall several times, all I ended up with was a bashed-in head, loss of confidence, and a battered soul.
I suppose I should consider myself lucky that I got a job as a reported in this job-crisis, but I remember the first personal question my desk editor asked me was, “Why don’t you go on a diet?” It wasn’t an accusation. He was just curious why I didn’t want to lose weight.
It is an exasperating question. I mean, do people really think that fat people don’t want to look like Naomi Campbell? What do they know of all the alternate therapy and one-food yo-yo diets that I’ve gone through? Or of the luxury fitness center and personal trainer, where I gained a few pounds after months of exercising every day? Do they know of the condescending looks that I receive from shopkeepers at boutiques, who sidle up to me saying “We don’t have your size” when I was actually looking for a dress for my sister?
Anger built up inside me. At everyone, everything. My poor boyfriend, who I blamed for not mentioning a word about my weight. My parents for mentioning my weight. The entire Korean society, for always having something to say about my weight. The bitch vendors who tried to sell me diet products. The bastards who designed small seats on the bus. Everyone.
Even when I am exercising, sometimes some do-gooder comes up to me and encouraging says, “You should keep on exercising.” I politely agree, but inside, I’m thinking, “Duh, you idiot, why do you think I’m here?”
I’m not saying people should be fat. Obesity is a disease, and it can lead to a lot of physical problems. But that’s the point. It’s a disease, a handicap. You don’t go up to a bald person and say, “Gee, you really need more hair” or to a student with bad grades and say “If you study, your grades will go up.” It seems like common sense, but these rules are broken all the time, especially in Korea, where people are either terribly concerned with the well-being of others, or simply take delight unconsciously in the defects of others. I am inclined towards the latter.
I believe that physically-abundant people are like alcoholics in many ways. We need confidence, friends, professional help, and above anything, time. Every week, my senior co-worker asks me, “So, are you exercising these days?” It is amazing how people think that pounds can just disappear with a wink of an eye. It’s not their fault, but when they talk about success stories of celebrities or other people who lost a lot a weight, they forget that everyone is different. Perhaps if I had a lot of money and time to run three or four hours every day, I could lose weight quickly. But I have a job, and other worries in my life. It isn’t easy to put weight loss in priority, when it’s such a long-term goal. I know I shouldn’t be making excuses for myself, but I’m human. It’s something people tend to forget about fat people. We have ears and feelings and untold stories. We’re not always lazy and we’re not always dumb. And don’t think we’ve never tried.
Next time you see a fat lady, bite your tongue and just give her a friendly smile. Fat people need to know that they can still be loved. They need to know they have a chance. Because everyone has their own handicaps, it’s just that ours can be seen by the eye.