I want to start this off with a disclaimer; these are just my personal experiences. I’m going to try to avoid making generalizations but I’m sure there will be a few in here. Today’s post is going to be about being Big in Korea.
I’ve always been a “big” girl, yes I’m overweight. Yes, I do know it, and always have. I’ve tried going to the gym but I usually fall back into the same patterns of overeating and under exercising. This is completely fixable and completely my own fault. I want to change, and I will eventually in my own time. That’s beside the point. I’m just going to talk about my experiences in Korea being a big girl.
Let’s start off with the informative bits: Can women (and men I think) get clothes in Korea if we’re not “Korean” sized? Yes! You can. Now they’re not always going to be in exactly your size, but you can find clothes in the subway stations and stores just like anyone else. A lot of the super cheap clothes in subway stations are in “Free size”, which sometimes can be an oversized version. I love summer clothes in Korea because there’s a lot of huge, loose, flowing shirts that look great oversized and sometimes they fit just right for girls like me.
You won’t be able to find bras here, especially if you’re over a C cup. Please bring those with you (I brought more than enough) because they’ll be expensive to replace and you’re more than likely going to have to order them online. Undies can be found at Uniqlo and H&M in larger sizes, but if you’ve got a big booty you might be better off coming prepared (like I did). Keep your eye out for American brands, I ended up with new undies unexpectedly when I went to Japan. They had an American Eagle Outfitters and I was super happy getting some XL Aerie undies.
Store brands in Korea like MIXXO and SPAO will carry “large” sized clothing (sometimes XL too) but remember those are “Asian size”. It’s not typical of Koreans to be larger in body type, though there are “larger” people here, so it wouldn’t make sense for them to carry North American sized clothes. These Large sized clothes in Asian stores might be a size down compared to North American brands, like a Large would be a Medium in N.A, etc. Sometimes even American companies that usually go up to an XL or XXL will not carry that size run because there’s no market for it here, aside from expats and tourists. Old Navy in Japan did not have XL sizes, or anything above a large in the ladies department.
H&M is basically the savior for expats in Korea. At least the ones in Busan who don’t have access to Forever 21 (there’s 3 in Seoul, come on!!). H&M’s sizes are the same world-wide. They have XS-L, sometimes even XLs in some of the women’s clothing (they carry XL in Men’s). I don’t really buy pants at H&M but as I’m “plus size” at home, I don’t expect them to carry pants in my size. I’ve seen them carry up to a 14, but I’m usually an 18 in pants so I don’t bother. I buy my basics like tanks and tees at H&M and my entire summer wardrobe came from H&M. I got lots of cute, comfortable summer dresses. And H&M also carries great maxi dresses. I have bought clothes from H&M at home so this was not unusual for me. I love getting deals at H&M and they have sales often so it’s pretty great. If you’re not too far above “plus size” in America (I’m on the lower end between 16-20) then you can fit in most H&M clothing.
There are also “big size” clothing shops in Korea. There are some bigger Koreans so it only makes sense. These shops are less common than the regular shops, of course, but they can be super helpful. One place I have bought a few things from, including Korean made jeans, is OKBT. This is OK BigTall, a plus size shop in Seoul and Busan that carries American brands. They also carry shoes in sizes above 9, or 255 in Korea. OKBT has lots of new styles and they change their clothes with the seasons. The prices are usually a bit higher than what you’d find at a North American shop but this is because the import everything. They have LOFT, Old Navy, Gap, Forever 21 plus, etc. They also have larger Korean made clothes, like jackets and jeans. I picked up a super comfy pair of black jeans for $45 that is arguably one of the best purchases I’ve made here, as well as a pair of blue jeans. I wear them a lot, and they go with everything. The clothes they carry can be life savers for women in Korea because they’re the only place you can go for winter jackets that fit, or clothes that aren’t entirely Asian sized. OKBT fits women who are seen as plus size in North America ranging in sizes from 16-24. I’ve seen posts on their facebook page of people who specifically make trips to Seoul and Busan to buy clothes.
Clothes are not the only things that come in smaller Asian sizes. Shoes for women stop at 250-255, which is about an 8-8.5. I know men’s go up to 280-290 (about 11-12 men’s) so it can be a blessing finding women’s shoes in a size 9. You can also find some locations of Payless Shoes! They carry up to a 270 in Women’s (size 10, my size!). I purchased two pairs of super cute fall boots that I wore all winter. The best part was that they were only $10 a pair. I have yet to get a better deal on shoes. I just googled “Payless shoes Korea, Busan” (because I’m in Busan). Most results will be expats talking about how excited they were to find a Payless shoes in Korea. The Payless shoes in Busan is at the Busan International Finance center stop (I think it’s stop #217 on the green line) and it’s located on the 3rd floor of the eMart, just outside exit 1. I’ll be heading there soon so I can replace my flats that have fallen apart while I’ve been here.
Now my experience otherwise: Koreans will stare at you. No matter if you’re huge or not, if you’re not Korean or don’t fit the common appearance of Koreans, they will stare. Some will be short stares, some will be extended stares that make you completely uncomfortable. I’ve gotten used to it, and usually I’ll stare back or make a stupid face. Most people will stop staring. I can’t blame them though, I’m so cute. Hahaha I’m kidding, I know it’s hard to stop staring at something new and different. I’ve stopped taking offense to stares. I guess I’m just used to it. It used to really bother me, but now it rolls off my back like water on a duck. I’m used to Canada, a multicultural mixing pot. Korea is a pretty homogeneous society. Even though there’s a big expat population in Seoul and Busan, and many other cities in Korea, the number of Koreans outweighs the non-Koreans (no pun intended).
I was really worried before I came about people making comments, especially my students. And it happened. When it first happened, the first time one of my students called me a “pig” or “dwegi” in Korean (I learned that one fast) I felt horrible. I almost cried. I never scolded them for it though, never lost my temper. Not with the little kids, but I was a bit short with the older kids who should’ve known better. I simply told them that they were being rude and it was unacceptable. It usually only happened once per new class I taught, every so often one of my younger kids will slip up and say something like “Teacher is fat” or “Teacher is pig” or some variation. It has gotten less hurtful each time. I’ve grown up with a lot of bullying and comments about my weight, so I’m certainly used to it. It still sucks, but I’ve learned to deal with it. I’m not at all condoning it, but it will happen. Prepare yourself. Even my friends who are nowhere near as big as me have been called pigs, or asked if they were pregnant. Kids have no filter, really. I’ve grown to love my middle school kids because they really don’t give a fuck about what you look like, as long as you let them study their vocabulary books at all times or are somewhat entertaining.
When my kids bully each other, like call one another fat (when they’re clearly not, they’re proportionate to their size), I get mad. I will tell them they’re being rude, and dole out whatever punishment I see fit. Usually some points or stickers are taken away. I really hate when my kids are rude to each other. I do hate when they’re rude to me but when they are rude to each other, it just makes me sad. I know kids will do whatever they want, but in my classrooms, I don’t allow them to be jerks to each other.
Everyone’s experience will vary. You could have a school full of angels that think the sun shines out of your butt, some of my kids do and I love them for that, but in reality not all of us will have that. There’s always going to be that one little jerk that wants to make the other kids laugh at someone’s expense. You just have to learn to deal with it. But never sink down to their level, and never punish them more severely than they deserve. Some people will send kids out of the class, or they will do some sort of physical punishment. I don’t, but you do whatever works for you. I think this is also just another part of the job. Being a teacher is for the thick-skinned people of the world. If you’re hurt easily, you’re going to have a bit of trouble.
All in all, it’s not hard being big in Korea. It’s almost the same as being big everywhere else. Like most things in Korea, it can come as a challenge but challenges were made to be accepted. I remember I often googled things like “jimjilbang Korea fat/big” just to see if there was any information out there. I hope that this post helps anyone, even just one person, because I know it would’ve helped me. You can go to a jimjilbang and fit in the clothes that are “one size fits all”. Sometimes it’ll be a bit snug, but like most things in Korea you’ve just gotta roll with it. It’s a beautiful country with lots of amazing things, and it’s becoming more accommodating as the years go on.
Until next time,