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When “Healthy” Equals “Fat”

I myself have not been to Korea in a while, but I have plenty of friends and family members who visit regularly, and can confirm the fact that Korean girls hardly ever participate in sports, and would rather go on extreme diets than exercise to lose weight.

In fact, aside from low-intensity workouts and stretches, Korean girls are discouraged from exercise in fear that they will become too muscular, and thus be called “fat.”

Yes, you read that correctly. In Korea, having defined muscles = fat.

And if you can believe it, the direct translation of the word “healthy” — 건강하다 — actually has negative connotations. Because when someone tells you that you “look healthy,” it really means that you “look bulky.” Or, in the minds of image-conscious Korean girls, “you’re fat.”

I’ve always dismissed this phenomenon as another less-than-ideal quirk that is specific to my native country. However, when I saw the below clip from Arirang TV (an international, English-language network in Korea…probably the most popular of its kind) I became livid. Take a look:

Just the title of the segment is enough to draw ire: “A twist in figures! The beautiful stars with healthy lower bodies.” :-?

In the clip, reporters and so-called experts analyze the bodies of popular Korean celebrities who have thin upper bodies and “healthy,” muscular lower bodies. They clearly believe that having a “healthy” lower body is a flaw, and even go as far as to suggest outfits that would minimize the look of muscular legs as well as yoga poses that would help slim down the offending appendages.

What’s even more disturbing is that South Korea already has the lowest obesity rates in OECD.

Nevermind the fact that most Korean meals are half the size of those in the US, or that Koreans as a whole are much less sedentary than Americans due to the way their mass transit system is organized.

Because when you take into consideration “news” segments such as these, the proliferation of “thin is best” messages that permeate all Korean media, the image-conscious society and the unhealthy methods Korean girls employ to lose weight and look good (evidenced by the thriving diet pills/supplements industry and high rates of plastic surgery), one can’t help but wonder how healthy these thin girls are.

As a matter of fact, news of girls fainting on the subway, or of celebrities being admitted to hospitals as a result of their malnourished bodies — while sad — are not rare in Korea.

And jaw-shaving surgeries and calf-reduction surgeries, which go beyond liposuction to actually transform your bone and muscle structure, have become so popular in Korea that women fly in from all over the world to get it done in a country where not only do the doctors have the most experience performing such surgeries, but it is also quite inexpensive compared to similar procedures in other nations.

I personally think that the celebrities in the video who are criticized for having “healthy” lower bodies look great. Never would it have occurred to me that their legs are too muscular.

And the “before” legs in the picture above? I would actually love to have those legs.

But then again, I grew up in the U.S., where defined muscles are actually considered attractive.

Via The Grand Narrative.