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Beauty Revisited: The FAT Post

April 25, 2009

As a result of the discussion at Hub of Sparkle and the five fingers across the face delivered by The Metropolitician during said discussion, I’ve gone back into the field my classroom and had some discussion with my students about being fat, and whether or not that term can be used without causing insult or hurt feelings. Away we go.

So I went into class and for our discussion, I told the students that we would talk about “fatness” and whether or not it was okay to tell someone they were fat or describe them as fat, and how people described that way felt about it.  I started by saying that from my perspective, it seemed Koreans were less sensitive to that word than Americans.

Responses as follows:

Female student: “I can’t say to a stranger or someone I don’t know ‘You are fat,’ but to my close friend I can say ‘You are fat, and you should lose some weight.’ My friend will understand that it is because I care about her.'” This underscores the point that the Metropolitician made in his comment to my Beauty post at the Hub: that such comments are NORMATIVE and meant to socialize the recipient into following the group: to Koreans, being fat is anomalous.

“Korea, America, fat comments are same-same.” He was saying that Koreans are also sensitive, just like Americans. I told the class a story about how an ajjumma told an American woman I knew at a pool that her legs were fat and she needed to go upstairs to the gym and get on a running machine. She said it every time the American took  a rest, until the American told her to stop bothering her and go away (entire conversation in Korean, not English). The student’s response to the story, was “Older women are…different human,” and the entire class concurred, acknowledging that ajjummas don’t need to follow the same social mores.

“Viewpoint is important,” another student said. “Some people don’t care about that, but some care.”

Yet another student told a fascinating story. She had chubby a little brother whose nickname was ddungdangi (뚱당이) which is a slang term for “fat.” One day someone read his diary while he was at school and he had written that since they started calling him that, he was ashamed and had stopped eating rice. This piece of information was passed around the family and they stopped using that nickname.

I told the story (mentioned in the Beauty post) of how a Korean man showed me a picture of his wife and said “She’s not beautiful, but I love her.” I had interpreted the statement as acceptance of his wife’s lack of beauty, but a student said that he interpreted it as expressing modesty. I hadn’t thought of that and appreciated the perspective.

So these anecdotal investiations support The Metropolitician’s assertions that the term is normative, and Gomushin Girl and other’s assertions that the term is received negatively by Koreans, regardless of the intention of the sender.


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