Insatiable craving for getting thinner
Many young women go on extreme diets
By Jung Min-ho, Bahk Eun-ji, Kim Bo-eun, Kim Jung-yoon
As much as a flat stomach is every woman’s wish, shedding a few extra pounds is every woman’s dream. Many Korean women are on a diet of one form or another, and some of them are extreme, putting their health at risk.
Kim, a 20-year-old college student, recently appeared on a popular TV show to introduce her diet “secrets” that helped her lose 15 kilograms. Shockingly, her secrets were spitting out the food before swallowing it and hitting herself to lose fat in particular areas of the body, clearly serious self-abusive behaviors.
Proud of pulling off her initial goal of losing 15 kilograms in five months, Kim showed off the large contusions on her legs, saying more bruises mean more fat to burn.
Although Kim’s methods sound far fetched, many young Korean women and teens _ obsessed with the goal of getting thinner and thinner _ are relying on unproven, unhealthy dieting.
Most young female Koreans are already skinny enough compared to those the same age overseas. Still, the weight-loss craze is at the heart of many young women.
They are easily tempted by commercials promoting “quick,” and “most effective” dieting methods, and crave to be stick thin to the extent of models in fashion magazines and celebrities on TV, glorified for their skinny legs and arms.
No pain no gain
For 26-year-old Kim, losing weight has been a life-long struggle. She has tried all sorts of methods to slim down including exercising, dieting, taking medicine and using various products such as cooling gels, which supposedly get rid of cellulite.
She has tried working out at the gym, as well as participating in Tae Bo (an aerobic exercise) and yoga classes. She has also been to a weight-loss clinic, which has exercise equipment and methods specializing in burning body fat.
As for dietary efforts, Kim has avoided consuming carbohydrates, and has refrained from eating after 6 p.m. She also drinks lots of mate tea, originating from South America, known to have a slimming effect.
She often substitutes fruit shakes and vegetable soups for meals and dietary food products she ordered online. Once she tried an extreme measure in which she restricted her diet to only green vegetables such as celery, cucumber and lettuce, but that only lasted a short while.
What Kim says worked best for her, however, was taking Chinese herbal medicine. “Several months ahead of my graduation photo shoot in my senior year in college, I ordered the medicine and starting taking it while working out at the gym. I think that was the time I lost the most weight,” she said.
The medicine, which cost around $100 for 10 days, suppressed her appetite and slimmed down her figure. But she has stopped taking it due to the financial burden it posed. She is now taking pills and drinks that break down body fat.
In Kim’s room are diverse products which serve a common purpose. On her dresser lie cooling gels, which help eliminate cellulite. Once applied on body parts such as the arms or thighs, the gel works on burning away body fat.
Under her desk is a Seven Liner, a machine that massages the legs to give them a slimmer shape. A set of scales and some other exercise equipment are also scattered around
Although she is well aware of the health risks involved in dieting, Kim is willing to try even riskier methods and products as long as she believes they will help her achieve the goal to lose weight and obtain the figure that the media portrays as the ideal one.
Her fanatical behavior apparently gives a weird impression to people who come from other countries. Even after a year in Korea, Jessica Weatherford, an ESL instructor at Chosun University, still does not understand why thin people want to be thinner.
“When I came here for the first time about a year ago, I was really surprised by the fact that skinny girls are so obsessed with losing even more weight, which could be offensive to people from different countries,” said Weatherford,.
Teens in jeopardy
For teenage girls, poor dieting choices are far more dangerous.
Cho Moon-ju, a 17-year-old high school senior, is extremely concerned about losing weight. High school seniors do not usually have enough time to exercise, as they concentrate most of their time on preparing for the annual College Scholastic Ability Test.
She feels not only inferior but depressed as well when she watches K-pop girl groups and actresses on TV.
“I know I should be more focused on my coursework than caring about my appearance, but whenever I watch cosmetics commercials starring pretty idol singers on television, I can’t stop thinking that my thighs and waistline are so big,” Cho said.
“I feel ugly when I compare my appearance with the pretty girls on TV. It feels like if I lost my weight or at least bought the cosmetics they are advertising, I could be just like them immediately.”
According to a report published by National Youth Policy Institute, nearly 70 percent of young Korean females have gone on a diet, compared with 48 percent in China, 46 percent in Japan and 33 percent in the United States.
Fanning this diet epidemic are companies that target teenagers and young women as their major customers. For these teens, their advertisements featuring top stars are a temptation hard to resist.
Among the top stars appearing in cosmetics commercials are Yoona of Girls’ Generation and Sandara Park from 2NE1 as their models. Teenage girls inspired by those idol singers are busy imitating them. Consequently, they admire abnormally skinny bodies and go on strenuous diets even if they risk serious side effects.
Nip and tuck
They use extreme and bizarre methods from cosmetic surgery to liposuction and “starvation camps.” They go to hospitals specializing in dieting and shedding weight, to see how much skinnier they can get.
But the cost is high, as is often the pain, and the side effects will linger.
“I started to get injections that burns the fat on my thighs and now I go there every once a month,” said a 24-year-old Kim on lipotropic injections or lipo shots.
They are administered so commonly not only in plastic surgery clinics, but also in many other hospitals in upscale districts of southern Seoul.
“There are tons of different shots you can choose from as well as partial liposuction operations, which you can apply to a certain part of your body that you feel is the most fat,” said Kim.
She went through a tough operation sucking out the fat out of her cheeks, so that she looks like one of those movie stars who have a slim V-line from their cheeks to their lower jaw.
“It was painful and costly. I could not get out of the house for about 15 days, because my face was all swollen like a balloon. It took three months altogether to get the slim face I wanted,” said Kim. “But you must endure pain to be beautiful. Being fat is never acceptable for a woman in Korea.”
Kim, an ordinary college senior, is not unusual among peers the same age. According to Kim, a handful of her friends suffer from bulimia and anorexia, not to mention going for regular check-ups at cosmetic clinics.
The problem is that society accepts and even encourages it. The media, culture, and businesses have helped to drive the trend by putting more pressure on young people to lose weight, regardless how skinny they might already be.
This forces young people to skip meals and go through painful surgery to fit in the standard of being beautiful to the point of becoming addicted to extreme dietary methods.
Some say the booming beauty industry is the result of the mounting supply and demand.
“I think all of society systematically drives people to the diet craze since how you look really matters. Does it really make them pretty, by the way?” Weatherford said.