Natalie Naploes (@naploes), a Singaporean content creator and college student, disclosed a recent encounter she had while vacationing in Korea.
“Hi, so I just came back from Korea and I’m back in Singapore now, and I just want to talk about, like, my very real experience with the fatphobia and pretty privilege in Korea,” Naploes starts. “Every country has, like, different beauty standards but in Korea the beauty standard is, like, being a thin, pale, skinny woman. Because of the whole K-pop, like, culture in Korea, everybody’s very harsh on, like, looks and they expect you to be a certain size to fit in.”
While in Hongdae, a bustling neighborhood in Seoul, Naploes and her friend came across street performers who she noticed were “average-sized young girls.” They appeared to have a similar body type and were of similar age to Naploes, too.
‘When I tell you I never looked back so hard in my life, like, I nearly got whiplash.’
“It was raining the whole week, so it was really, really cold and they were wearing short skirts and, like, crop tops and stuff,” she explains. “So my friend made a comment and she was like, ‘Oh, the weather is so cold, like, how are these dancers, like, not feeling it?’ She said it in English.”
It seems Naploes and her friend weren’t the only ones in this conversation.
“These two Korean men behind us, they’re, like, about mid-20s. They said back in English, ‘It’s because they’re so fat. That’s why they don’t feel the cold,'” Naploes reveals. “When I tell you I never looked back so hard in my life, like, I nearly got whiplash…I just turned and I stared at the guys’ eyes. I was just appalled.”
According to a study conducted by Jaehee Jung, a fashion psychology and consumer culture professor at the University of Delaware, body dissatisfaction, disordered eating and distorted perception of body image and weight proved more prevalent in South Korea than in the West and China.
Naploes believes the men spoke in English because they knew she and her friend could understand them. Given that she is the same size as these dancers, Naploes wonders if the man made his comment in English in an effort to insult her as well.
“In Singapore, I would be considered an average-sized girl. But in Korea, they probably think I’m, like, overweight,” she says. “This is why I fully feel for those K-pop idols with, like, body image issues and stuff…Especially for young K-pop idols. They have millions of people commenting on their bodies every single day.”
The predisposition for Korean women to feel dissatisfied with their bodies and fear being overweight is further demonstrated by what’s known as the “50kg myth.” This “myth” stems from the belief that “a woman weighing over 50 kilograms (110 pounds) is chubby in Korea, regardless of their height, as girl group members often talk about breaching the 50kg bar as if it is something unimaginable,” Choi Jae-hee of The Korea Herald reports.
Despite her experience, Naploes does urge people to visit Korea, and notes that not everybody is like those two men. She reminds potential travelers, however, that pretty privilege is quite pervasive in the country as well.
“They treat you very, very differently if you’re all dolled up with makeup and wearing a nice outfit,” she says. “As compared to, like, if I had my glasses on, no makeup on. They treat you so differently.”
‘Omg I would’ve been so mad! I found that girls were the sweetest in Korea! They often came up to me and my friends to tell us how pretty we were etc.’
Naploes’s video has generated a conversation about beauty standards in Korea, with some commenters noting that the hyper-criticism of women’s bodies is also prevalent in Singapore.
“This is why I’m afraid to visit korea cause i know myself and i am a rather sensitive person so idk if it would turn out to be too much for me,” @ansqiii wrote.
“Omg I would’ve been so mad! I found that girls were the sweetest in Korea! They often came up to me and my friends to tell us how pretty we were etc,” @toucheamafleur revealed.
“I’m about to travel to Japan and Korea, and I am absolutely terrified of getting comments about my weight,” @aensily admitted.
“Beauty standards in Singapore are pretty much the same too if not worse,” @xxibgm argues.
“Isn’t it the same in Sg???” @tylersaaaf asked, referencing Singapore.
As suggested by some TikTok users, Singapore isn’t without its own narrow set of beauty standards. In fact, this was made especially evident in 2014 when British Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A. posed for the cover of Nylon Singapore’s January issue. Fans couldn’t help but notice that she looked different, and it’s due to the fact that the publication allegedly whitewashed the Grammy nominee’s photo.
“The bias toward fairer skin” in Singapore and beyond is a result of what Forbes writer Ruchika Tulshyan has dubbed a “colonial hangover.”
Rebecca Eu, a Singaporean entrepreneur and owner of Mei’s Own, a social enterprise that helps underprivileged students earn a living, revealed to Vogue Singapore that she’s struggled with weight her whole life.
“In Singapore, I always felt that the girls I grew up with had a particular look. They were all tall and fair and linear,” Eu explained. “I remember getting kicked out of ballet class because of the sound I made when I landed on the wooden floor versus the delicate tap these swans would make in comparison. I was 8 when my ballet teacher called me an elephant. I don’t remember much of my primary school life but I remember that.”
Naploes’s video serves as a reminder for women, regardless if they’re from Korea, Singapore or even the West, to be mindful of the harmful beauty standards that exist. While it’s unfair to reprimand an entire country for the actions of some, it’s important to remain vigilant in understanding that people’s opinions of your body do not define your worthiness or desirability.
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