I fit in pretty well in Korea – size-wise, that is.
Let me get personal for a minute: I am five feet tall and tip the scales at around one hundred pounds. I’m smaller than a lot of the students at my school – and I work in an elementary school.
When I lived in America, this caused a lot of problems when shopping. My shoe size is a five, which most stores carry very few of or even not at all. I had to hem pants and roll up shirt sleeves and tailor dresses in to fit my waist. Often, I would simply give up trying to shop in the ‘grown-up section’ of the store and head over to the kids’ section.
Korea is my dream country when it comes to shopping. On average, women are much slimmer here than in my home country. Obesity rates are under five percent, compared to nearly forty in the US, and the clothing sizes definitely reflect the smaller average stature. It’s the simple things about shopping that astounded me at first. I can now go to a store and pick out shoes that don’t light up when I walk! There aren’t any bedazzled unicorns on the shirts that fit me! (Which, tbh, is a bit of a drag.)
However, for most other foreigners, shopping is a nightmare.
In Korea, finding anything bigger than a six is a challenge, and a size eight or above is considered plus-sized. I’ve passed shops with “big size lady store!” plastered on the front. A few of my larger friends – whom would still be quite trim by US standards – have walked into stores only to be told “no big sizes” by the clerks working there. Larger sizes – and by larger sizes, I mean bigger than a six – women are forced to go to either Western-brand stores such as H&M to find clothes, head to foreigner districts such as Itaewon, or shop online for clothes.
What’s even worse for the ‘big size’ folks here is the social stigma. Thin culture in Korea is pretty extreme.
Most K-Pop stars tend to be underweight – severely underweight – and images of their bodies can be found everywhere. Back when I worked at a middle school, my female students would always talk about going on diets in a way I found extremely concerning, as my foreigner eyes couldn’t detect much, if any, fat on them.
So, while Korean sizes are a good thing for me, a person who ceased growing at the ripe old age of thirteen, they are far from being good for the general population. The pressure to be thin is enormous, and the penalties for not being able to squeeze into smaller sizes are definitely a lot higher than in the US.
Have you ever been shopping in Korea? Were you able to find your size? Let me know in the comments!