Updated: May 28
“If you were a bit skinnier, you could do it.”, my classmate taunted. These words numbed me, told me that I would never be a good dancer. “If you were a bit skinnier, you could do it.” Heat flushed to my face in an instant as I felt shame and insecurity drape over me, smothering my pride. Skinny. I hated that word. I wanted to fit into its standards, but the word’s selectiveness was not generous enough to slip me in. Skinny became a number on the scale. A target goal that, if reached, made my self-worth skyrocket. If not, it made me sink into a lair of self-doubt.
Two years ago, I was a freshman in high school who found solace in music, especially K-pop. I idolized the celebrities for more than just their mesmerizing voices and precise movements; I admired their slim frames —from their long, thin legs, to their 23-inch waists, I desperately wanted their physiques. And as I would learn, skinny did not come without a cost.
When browsing through K-pop related content on Youtube, I eventually came across diet videos with captivating titles like, “I lost 7 pounds a week doing the IU diet!” and “I followed Kang Sora’s diet and lost 20kg!”. Numbers, numbers, and more numbers. As direct proof of results, numbers represented self-worth. Was my weight all I was worth? Did one number determine my future? My happiness? My obsession to become skinnier left me discouraged when my diet attempts met dead ends. Though I have not succumbed to such strict diets, I have made attempts by counting calories, or exercising excessively if I consumed “too much.”
On top of the already strict beauty standards in Asia, the extreme methods K-Pop idols used to transform their bodies also perpetuate eating disorders and self-image issues. Young women feel pressured to pursue societal beauty standards through mirroring actions of their models and utilize unhealthy methods in so doing. In a study designed to identify the prevalence of eating disorders in South Korean students, seven percent were found to have disturbed eating patterns. Participants sampled were in fourth and seventh grade. Of 2,200 adolescents tested, patterns of eating disorders were found in 155, with significantly higher prevalence in fourth graders. Even at such young ages, children feel Korean culture’s emphasis on appearance, thus neglect sustenance to please parents, relatives, and society. In an interview with the Youtube channel Asian Boss, the 2018 Miss Korea, Kim Soo Min, recalls being called “too fat” for the crown and reveals Korean ideals for women (of any height) to weigh 45 to 50 kg. The pageant winner is 5’8 and weighs close to 59 kg, a healthy weight in proportion to her height. The criticism Kim received conveys is only one example of how Korean beauty standards are potentially harmful to young women.
As for me, I refuse to sit and let someone judge me or my body. No matter how self conscious I am, I refuse to let someone else’s words hold me hostage and force change in me due to their dissections of my imperfections. I refuse to allow their words to cut me and determine my future. His blatant attack on my body battered my confidence and sank my stomach everytime I replayed them in my head. Even so, I acknowledged that I am better than those words. I define my own worth. I am proud of my body and I do not need to change it. Without hesitating, I blocked him. I blocked his hurtful, twisted words, and I blocked myself from further harm. I fought myself to prove him wrong but I refused to be broken. I refused to prove a great transformation just to concede to his words.
Two years have passed since that incident and though I remain insecure about my body at times, I gradually reclaimed my broken pieces by learning to love myself first. Rather than caving into social pressures of meeting beauty standards through extreme methods, I find fulfillment in exercising for the objective of improving my overall mood and energy. My goal is not to lose weight or achieve a certain body type through doing so, but instead to have more energy to complete tasks to the best of my ability and enjoy foods I love without feeling guilty.
Cultural beauty standards may serve as a way for us to justify our self-criticism and further the toxic cycle of comparing ourselves to others. Even with these ideals gone, we will continuously seek imperfections within ourselves due to our nature of criticizing and judging. Needless to say, there is no perfect body type since standards are always fluctuating due to each individual’s preference. Leonardo Da Vinci's painting, “The Vitruvian Man,” serves as a representation of what a perfectly proportioned person would look like. “Perfect” means that this perception would hold true to a universal audience. Yet, what may be held as vitruvian to one may be an image another feels repelled by. Though we do not hold power over perspectives of others, as long as we accept ourselves as “vitruvians,” whether immediately or through a natural process of change, we will find satisfaction and worth in ourselves by loving, accepting, and cherishing our own bodies.