[Student Voices]‘Beauty’ at what cost?"Anorexia" and "Bulimia" are still words that are very much foreign in the Korean community, and only a decade ago, it was virtually unknown. Yet despite the relatively small number of people who know of it, eating disorders are a problem that is rapidly growing in the developing nation of Korea, with nearly 1% of collage students being diagnosed with anorexia. Many say that the cause of such rising rates of people being diagnosed with this disease is caused by the expansion into the western way of life and because of the globalization of the western fashion industry.
With North Koreans starving due to poverty not so far away, it is slightly ironic that South Koreans, who have the option of eating, should choose to starve themselves to fit what they consider to be the 'ideal body'. Anorexia and Bulimia have only recently begun to integrate themselves in Korea, and only about 30 years ago in the 1970s full figured women were considered to be more attractive than skinny women. In a time so shortly after World War II, skinniness was seen as poverty, and plump, well-fed women were the most sought after wives - being considered more conventionally attractive.
Perhaps this is why the older generation does not understand the concept of these new diseases; after all, they grew up in a community where the common greeting was "Have you eaten?" Eating disorders had practically not even touched the Asian community, and in the 1970s anorexia was christened "Golden Girl Syndrome" in Europe, because the typical anorexic was a white, rich, American girl. Yet since then the Korean community is noticeably shrinking - in the sense of weight, of course. Most noticeable is the rapidly changing standard for beauty, shown most clearly in the Miss Korea contests, where the contestant's height has risen since 1970 (162 cm) to the modern day (171 cm), yet the weight has stayed constantly and unerringly below 51 kilograms.
So why is a disease, which a decade ago was virtually unheard of, affecting Koreans so strongly today? Why is it that the percentage of Korean High-schoolers who are diagnosed with anorexia (0.7%) is steadily creeping closer to the percentage of Americans diagnosed with anorexia (1%)?
Many blame the western fashion industry, which is steadily taking over globally, and regards a more emaciated look as beautiful, which is evident in celebrities such as Kate Moss and Mary-Kate Olsen. Western magazines full of skinny models portrayed to be "beautiful", are selling fast in Korea and Western T.V. programs such as America's Next Top Model, are also gaining more and more viewers in Korea. These media images promote skinny celebrities as "beautiful", changing and warping the traditional, plump, and healthy perspective of Korean beauty.
As women see these pictures, insecurity develops and dieting begins; it is estimated that around 70% of Korea's woman population is on a diet. A disturbing trend developing lately is turning to anorexia to lose weight, with a distressing number of Korean pro-anorexia blogs springing up on the Internet. However what these people do not realize is that an eating disorder is not something which you can choose and turn on and off, but a mental illness that will gradually start to take over you entire life. These people have a distorted view of anorexia; viewing it as some sort of glamorous lifestyle choice which will help you realize what they believe to be perfection - thinness.
Yet anorexia and bulimia are far from the glamorous fantasy that people may imagine it to be, and affects the brain to give an actual psychological illness as well as a physical one.
Is it glamorous that your hair on your head will start to fall out, whilst you develop hair elsewhere on your body, such as a mustache? Is it exciting that your skin will flake, be a mottled purple and that colds and the flu will be an everyday occurrence? Is it really beautiful that your nails will turn blue or that you will have ulcers in your stomach? Do you really want to watch your family suffer as you fall apart?
Well, at least you'll be skinny. Right?
Korean people should realize themselves not to embrace all aspects of western culture too readily- including stick thin models, gaunt actresses, and "golden girl" syndrome. There is nothing "golden" or glamorous about it. Westernization may be the way forward - but what is the cost?
*Korea International School Ashley Kim