Although I normally don’t read USA Today, I came across an interesting article while I was traveling a couple of weeks ago. It was about the growing number of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean women with eating disorders due to societal pressures. Apparently, it’s not enough to go to a highly competitive university, study abroad, and have excellent skills and references. A woman has to look good, dress well, and be skinny (less than 100 pounds, ideally). To be “overweight” is to be considered lazy and unproductive—how can a person who cannot control her own body, serve the company and its clients properly?
The scary part is that a growing number of women in Asia don’t think starving or doing extreme dieting (liquid fasts, getting tapeworms, et al.) is a problem. To them, it’s worth the sacrifice of getting that job—especially in a tight job market—as well as be skinnier than her peers.
But how about weight loss the “old-fashioned way”—through healthy food choices/portion control and exercise? Who has time for that, and who wants muscles? Culturally, muscles on women are not deemed attractive, so exercise is discouraged because it bulks people up. “Lose weight first, and then exercise,” says one of the interviewees from a slimming center. In fact, why not bypass the whole exercise thing altogether and get plastic surgery? Apparently cosmetic muscle reshaping (reducing unwanted muscle bulk) is very popular, too.
Based on accounts I hear from friends and family who’ve recently visited Korea, the obsession with appearance and being slim has gotten out of hand. It’s not uncommon for people to spends lots of money on questionable ways to lose weight—pills, herbs, sweat spas, plastic surgery, slimming centers, and more. My cousin Sindey (a size 0) visited her mom in Korea last fall and was nagged about being “fat.” (Ironically, when her mom was living in the U.S. fifteen years ago, she was worried that Sindey was getting too skinny at size 0. It’s amazing to see how her standards have changed.)
Sindey was also telling me that so many people have gotten plastic surgery that they literally all start to look alike. Even some of the guys look like girls.
When I watch the Korean dramas, I am amazed at how skinny the actors are. And if they’re skinny in front of a camera (which adds 10-15 pounds to a person), imagine how skinny they must be in real life.
In Korean dramas, I also see that when people apply for any job, they have to include photographs of themselves. Appearances have a lot to say on whether or not a person gets hired for the job. In fact, it’s not uncommon for background checks to include an astrological chart reading and/or a face reading. (I am curious to find out how plastic surgery corrections affect face readings, especially when you consider that many of enhancements are influenced by Western ideals of beauty, and the fact that the West was looked suspiciously upon—back in the day.)
Needless to say, after reading this article I was even more grateful that my parents came to the U.S. I can’t imagine myself weighing 100 pounds, let alone the last time that I ever weighed that little.