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Body image expectations are harmful

Written by Elizabeth Chung

Growing up in Korea, ideal beauty was determined by numbers—weight, bust and waist size and other measurements. The “golden number” was 120. If your height(cm) minus weight(kg) equaled 120, you were the girl with the perfect body. At least that is what my friends and I used to believe in middle school because during that time, Miss Korea models fit this standard.

When I was younger, I didn’t care about my body. I was more interested in reading books and watching Disney movies. Once I went to middle school, everything changed. People started judging me by my looks and I became uncomfortable. My mom always told me that the beauty inside the heart was what mattered, not the beauty of my body. Yet, I felt as if my outer looks were what defined me now, not what was inside. Some started wearing makeup to cover their imperfections with layers of foundation while others tightened their shirts and skirts to show off their bodies. What did I do? I did neither. This wasn’t how I wanted to be presented. Yes, I wanted to be pretty and yes, I was slender. However, I didn’t want to be pressured into doing what I didn’t connect to. I wanted to hold on to the belief that my inner beauty was more important than my outer one. Never did I know that the craving for beauty would be infectious.

My friends started to be jealous of my skinniness and somehow, it felt nice. I felt like I had something special that they didn’t have. I started to think that maybe being slim was my beauty and that I should be proud of it. I decided to borrow a tightened uniform from a friend and wear it for a day. I was sure that now I would be viewed as a different person. It turned out to be true, but in the exact opposite way I wanted. Some students scanned me and some gave me disgusted looks. I could hear some snicker about me being too skinny. Too skinny. I was shocked. Never have I thought that one could be “too” skinny.

As a part of society, I wanted to be accepted and embraced. I thought being skinny would make me presentable but it did not. I was kicked out of the box of “beautiful” people and I was desperate to get back into that box.

The solution I came up with was to gain weight. It was ironic and yet, if I was “too” skinny, I had to be “less” skinny to look better. I constantly ate to gain weight and wore oversized clothes to cover the suddenly expanded body. I started dreading the numbers that glared at me on the scale, and my mindset changed. I wanted food but did not dare eat for I was afraid I would gain more weight. When I couldn’t abstain from eating any longer, I would binge-eat to satisfy my appetite and throw up after.

After a few months of my eating disorder, I realized and decided that I really needed to get better. I started to work out everyday. My mom helped me take care of my menu and the amount of exercise I should do. I took baby steps and I got frustrated at how slow my progress was, but my mom was there to coax and support me.

Turns out, wanting to look pretty wasn’t the problem. The fact that I wanted to look pretty to others was what caused me to trip and fall. People expected me to look skinny, but when I looked skinny, they shunned me away, saying it wasn’t what they wanted. It is impossible to meet everyone’s standard, and it is meaningless to try to do so. Now I understand that I should be the one setting the standards, not the people around me.

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