Thoughts on Body Image in Korea

**Reader alert: this post contains a whole bunch of navel gazing that’s probably of no interest to anyone, but I’d genuinely love to know other expats’ thoughts on this topic if there are any of you reading this!**

2017 has been a big year for us so far. Jod graduated from university, we’ve both been undertaking more responsibilities at work, we decided to move abroad, and I’ve lost some weight. I’ve actually lost 60lb, over four stone for us Brits, and it’s completely changed my life. I’ve been overweight for the past ten years and must have tried to slim down fifty times since I was sixteen, using all manner of diets. I’ve bought shakes and bars, joined countless slimming clubs, cut out whole food groups and more, but nothing’s ever worked until now because I’ve never stuck at anything longer than a couple of weeks. The short term lure of delicious crisps, chocolate and cheese always won out over long term change, until now.

Blairah Sarah Weight Loss 1

I’ve no idea what was different about this year, but for some reason the will power stuck around after the second week in January, and by the end of March I had already lost 35lb. I stopped drinking alcohol in January (for charity) and ended up staying sober for most of the year. I started getting up early before work to go walking and in February when a friend suggested we sign up for a race together, the girl who never even attempted the 800m in high school athletics started running and didn’t look back. Jod even started running with me and we did a race of our own to celebrate our two year wedding anniversary! Later on in the year I started going to yoga with my mum, and sometimes on my own, something I never would have been brave enough to do when I was bigger. I stuck to a healthy eating plan loosely based on Slimming World, sometimes going to the group but mostly doing it alone, plodding along and losing a few more pounds every month.

By the time summer came around, I was suddenly fitting into size 10’s (US 6) when 16’s (US 12) had been too tight back at Christmas. I still find it surreal when clothes shopping that I can pick something up in a size small and be reasonably confident it will fit. It’s bizarre to be able to wear what you want when for ten years you’ve tried to become an expert at dressing just to camouflage your wobbly bits. The low level anxiety I always felt when out in public and sweaty-palmed panic at having my photo taken have all but disappeared. I’ve found my love for clothes again and can find comfort in going for a run when I’ve had a stressful day, when last year I would probably have just binged on a whole cheesecake and then cried about it afterwards instead.

Blairah Sarah Weight loss 2

I’m sure I probably shouldn’t tie up so much of my self-worth in what I look like or what I weigh, but I know that I feel so much happier and more relaxed than I ever have before, and that’s very important. I like knowing that I’ve achieved something I always thought was impossible, and now I feel brave enough to take on all kinds of new challenges.

Is that an appropriate segue into moving to Korea? Probably our biggest challenge so far! Not only are we moving to a country where image is everything (did you know South Korea is the plastic surgery capital of the world?), but we’ll also be stood in front of classes of students who I’m sure won’t hold back in commenting on what we look like. I used to be so insecure and constantly worried about what people thought of me ALL THE TIME (what a narcissist, eh?) but over the past few months I’ve finally started to just chill out and enjoy myself, are those feelings of self-doubt going to creep back in because we look so obviously foreign?

Blairah Sarah Weight Loss 3

I’m still five foot eight and pear shaped so I’m definitely not dainty by any means, especially by east Asian standards, and I wonder how it’s going to feel to be considered “big” again when I’ve worked so hard to be smaller. Will I be able to find any clothes that fit or will I have to order everything off ASOS and thank God for worldwide shipping?

How will I feel about not being in control of what I eat during social situations? In Korean culture groups often share a large communal meal and it’s unlikely we’ll be the ones to choose what to have. There’s also probably going to be a lot of alcohol involved as we put ourselves out there to try and meet new friends. I don’t want to offend anyone by refusing food and drink, but I also need to make sure I don’t slip back into old habits, overeating just for the sake of it and drinking past the point of tipsy.

Blairah Sarah Weight loss 4

So far my plan is to stay as healthy as I can during the week with oatmeal, fruit, school lunches and veggie stir fries as main meals, and relax at the weekends. I’m going to bring a few cans of Frylight in my suitcase for low calorie cooking at home and probably ask my mum to send more when we run out. I’m also going to buy a set of bathroom scales on our very first shopping trip and weigh myself once a week, tweaking as necessary. We’re going to try to keep running, find a yoga class and take advantage of Korea’s gorgeous mountains and hike at the weekends.

I know it’s important to relax and have fun and take every opportunity offered to us throughout our limited time living in Korea, but I’m also not prepared to sacrifice my improved mental and physical health because of a series of poor choices. It’s something I expect to struggle with, but I can only try my best to find some kind of balance. Wish me luck!

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