The other day, I saw a friend who I have not seen for awhile, and one of the first thoughts that popped into my head was, "You've lost weight!" Thankfully, I managed to catch myself before uttering this out loud.
First of all, my friend did not need to lose any weight, so for me to exclaim "You've lost weight" in a complimentary tone would be silly. Secondly, I haven't seen my dear friend in over a year, and the first thing that pops into my head is a comment about her weight!?!
That's so ajumma.
I don't recall ever being so weight-conscious. I hesitate to pinpoint my year in the Motherland as the source of my subconscious weight-hatin'. After all, we are so weight-conscious in America that even rich folks willingly go without food. On the other hand, unless you're a host on some American style-makeover show or just a plain ol' jerk, you rarely say something about a person's chunkiness -- to his or her FACE.
For the past couple of years my weight has fluctuated by a small margin. Nonetheless, whenever I go home to see my family, someone will comment on my weight. One person will say that I've lost weight, while the next person will exclaim that I've gained weight. I never know how to reply to such remarks. I certainly can't thank the person for keeping tabs on my weight. I usually just reply with an awkward shrug and say, "No, I weigh pretty much the same as when I last saw you."
I've decided to stick with this response for the rest of my life. Even after I've gained 40 pounds of post-baby weight, I'm just going to say, "Really? My weight's still about the same."
I'm not really bothered by comments on my weight, but rather, am disturbed by the hyper-awareness exhibited by my family members, as well as people in the Motherland, all in the name of appearance. At the same time, I honestly don't think they mean to be hurtful when they say something about a person's weight.
I think Korean weight-hate can be attributed to projection. The person is so concerned about their weight that they assume you are too. Most of the weight-hatin' comes from Korean ajummas, after all, who were probably very petite and slim in their youth, and thus, have difficulty accepting plus-size status in their middle years.
I also think there's a significant difference between Korean small-talk and American small-talk. In America, you're more likely to ask something innocuous like "Ooh, did you cut your hair?" or "Did you see that new Mark Wahlberg movie?" No harm, no foul. In contrast, Koreans, perhaps due to a greater sense of oneness, do not hesitate to ask something more personal like, "Did you gain weight?" or "What happened to your skin? Why do you have so many pimples?"
I'm sure that some people take a little pleasure in pointing out seeming flaws, but I think that for the most part,when a Korean says something critical about your appearance, I think he or she actually thinks s/he's helping you...? It's as if they mean to say, "In case no one's told you, your butt has grown at least five meters since I last saw you." It's like telling someone that his fly is down or her skirt is tucked in her pantyhose...I guess.
I have to also add, though Koreans are quick to comment on your extra blubber or the pockmarks on your face, they're also just as quick to compliment you or revel in your uncanny resemblance to some celebrity that's in actuality way hotter than you.
It's sort of like how your mother still unfailingly believes that you could be the future president of the U.S.A, but at the same time, is the first person to point out (and herald) your laziness or any of your other many flaws. They hurt you only because they care (and can).
I guess the whole point of today's ramble is that I'm am slowly turning into an ajumma. The transformation is inevitable...