[INSIGHT]The Unbearable Burden to Be Thin

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[INSIGHT]The Unbearable Burden to Be Thin

When comedienne Lee Young-ja, who weighed 97 kilograms at her heaviest, returned to television screens with a new slimline 64-kilogram figure, audiences were amazed. She gave people hope that, with some effort, anybody could become slender.

When she recently admitted that this weight loss had been supplemented by three liposuction surgeries, it looked as though the "Lee Young-ja effect" had been shattered. But what happened? Women abandoned Ms. Lee's purported "secret method" - jogging or walking seven kilometers every day, cutting food intake by half and abstaining from starchy foods - and rushed to cosmetic surgery clinics to inquire about liposuction. The "Lee Young-ja effect" had simply mutated into something else.

Right now, countless women throughout the country are buckling down in pursuit of the ideal body. There are almost as many diet regimes as women: eating only one sort of food, such as apples or grapes, eating only lean meat, giving up starchy food, going without supper, fasting after 6 p.m. Hula-hooping, aerobics, jogging - women are trying everything. Now there is even a blood type diet program whereby people of different blood types are assigned different diets. The program recommends that those of type B blood should eat a variety of low-fat foods and participate in a range of sports while those of type O blood should use intensive, short-term methods.

But only a few women attain their goal and maintain it, because it is very difficult to continue any strict regime long-term.

Women are so stressed about their body shapes that a woman's "top secret" is no longer her age, but her weight. In a poll of workers at a Korean company, some 70 percent of respondents said that they needed to go on a diet or otherwise change their body shapes.

Research overseas concludes that some women are 10 times as likely to believe they are fat as men. According to research at Glasgow University, the number of female university staff members who consider themselves overweight is three times that of equivalent male staff members. Female bank workers are 10 times more likely to think they are fat than their male counterparts.

Why do women maltreat their bodies? I think it is because of an immovable equation of beauty with thinness. Social pressures both sow and nurture this idea.

In the case of the poll at the Korean company, 37 percent of female workers said the most serious problem stemming from being fat was difficulties in personal relations. Some 35 percent of the female workers cited negative effects on health and 21 percent referred to social disadvantages. This indicates how serious social pressure on women - and particularly overweight women - is.

The author of an autobiographical story that recently won first prize in a contest held by the Korea Foundation for Women, said that despite overcoming sexism at home by entering a first-class university, she still succumbed to society's obsession with body weight and began dieting, because she recognized that getting even a part-time job-not to mention a date-was largely dependent on looks.

The main issues of the scandal regarding Ms. Lee's weight loss - which broke when her cosmetic surgeon disclosed that she had had liposuction - were that Ms. Lee lied and that there is a dispute over money between Ms. Lee and her doctor. But the scandal also illuminated society's view of women. The commercialization of Ms. Lee was entirely dependent on the social dictate that women must be slim to be glamorous. What woman cares that a diet may harm her health when society judges her body?

Back in the 1980s, Jane Fonda hit the jackpot by unveiling her exercise methods. In Korea, popular entertainers are learning that revealing their secrets to slimness is a way to make money. It's likely another Lee Young-ja will be along soon.


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The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Hong Eun-hee

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