December 2016 – Part I

Friday, December 2nd
… Our relationships are fragmented. Friendships aren’t bound to geographical locations anymore. We literally have friends from all over the world, friends whom we see maybe once a year if we are lucky. … We are still able to build on these friendships. Time may chip away at the foundation little by little, but we can renew a coat when we see each other again.
But we are always so busy catching each other up on the major events that have happened. As consequence, I have no one to turn to with the everyday tales – no one to fully share my life with. When I need a warm shelter from an emotional turmoil, I have no immediate number to dial, because first I’d need to renew some intimacy bridges with my friends before I pour out my woe to them.

Tuesday, December 6th
Return to mindfulness, Day Zero. …

Thursday, December 8th
… My body and I have a difficult relationship. At most, I tolerate my body. I have not grown to love it in all of its angles and varieties. I still hate my body in photos. My immediate thought is, no one will want to hug this ugly body.
Bodies are so… messy. So loud, burpy, slick with all sorts of liquids and semi-liquids. Bodies smell, sometimes terribly so. They make all kinds of noises.
But bodies are also wonderfully soft and comforting. Surprisingly agile and adaptive. They are an extension of ourselves, because they are so expressive. They are very intricate and delicately balanced out. The tip of our tongue leans against our palate and teeth to create sounds that have the tremendous power to release us from this agonizing isolation.

Friday, December 9th
… The best thing about the performance was this incredible and instinctive connectedness. As the showtime came nearer, we started to open up more, to rely on each other, to support each other. Audience didn’t really matter, only to the fact that their presence helped to bring us closer. Before, during and immediately after the performance – we were close and connected in ways that differ from the immediate & almost automatic love of family, or the easy and comfortable friendship, or even the quick surge of love between lovers.
Our connection was more instinctive. Intuitive. A smooth flow of bodies and consciousness. There was no judgment, only compassion. No one hid or shied away from the group. It was a big, warm hug, cozier than a sunny wintry morning with a cup of tea and a good book in front of a fireplace, safer than being in my mother’s arms.

Tuesday, December 13th
… Being strong means going through the life being who you are (or who you think you are), trying to not kill your heart but instead trying to feel its every beat. Being strong means allowing your heart to be torn into pieces and putting them back together, and letting that change you. Strength is the humble acknowledgment that we can’t control all of our lives, that unfair things will happen, that by chasing after happiness, we lose the present moment. …

Wednesday, December 14th
What is gender? What does it mean, in this 21st century, to be a woman? A man? By now, these have become personal questions for each of us, since there is no generalizable answer.
I find myself torn between wanting to assume the “traditionally male” behaviors and wanting to keep the integrity of femininity, whatever the fuck that means. Perhaps I should stop labeling/gendering everything I do, and just do whatever strikes my fancy.

Friday, December 16th
… I was afraid to have opinions, because none of them were “fully” informed, and I feared people would criticize me for it. The only thing that has changed is that I have begun to just acknowledge the shortcoming in myself & everyone else, because our opinions are always going to be partial, incomplete, subjective, unfinished.

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on image, expression, gender identity, and what society has got to do with them

There were days – more often than not – that I’d look in the mirror, and not like what I saw reflected on the smooth surface. Yes, that was my face. But there was… something missing? Something didn’t feel right. It was jarring.
Then there were days I’d look in the mirror, and say Oh yeah, that’s me all right and feel totally comfortable.

For the longest time, I thought Scenario 1 was the result of the pressure from the media and other people’s comments on how ‘a girl’ is ‘supposed to’ look. I wasn’t “girly” enough, so that’s why I thought I was lacking something. My response was to say fuck ’em and try not to bow to the pressure. I’d remain the way I am, no make-up and minimal hair fuss; I’d remain natural. I thought I was saying NO to the stereotyping of gender, that I wasn’t adhering to the society’s opinion of how I am supposed to look – ‘like a girl’. But by maintaining those ideas in my head (girl=make-up & frilly, soft-lined clothes), wasn’t I exactly doing that? I was affirming the society’s standard, even by refusing to bow to it.

What I never thought of doing was this: I’d look into the mirror, and not like what I saw reflected on its smooth surface. Yes, that was my face. But there was something missing – something didn’t feel right. So I’d take whatever tools I have available – clothes, hairbands, contact lenses, make-up, shoes – to add  to and substract from my natural body until I could express what I felt like that day. Until I could look in the mirror and say Yes, that’s who I am today. Until I could tell myself how feminine or masculine I feel today.
One day I’ll wear skinny jeans, a white, frilly blouse, my hairs in a ponytail, glasses and red lip gloss from NARS. The next one I’ll cut my hair really short, wear shirt with tie, black slacks and loafers. I’ll add foundation and maybe light eye-make-up. Or I will go out in baggy sweatshirts and trousers.

These different images I create every day – are they even real? Am I just applying a mask after another to confuse everyone, including me? Or are they maybe even more real than my naked face?

I used to think – I can choose only one – girl or boy; if I want to be feminine, I have to be feminine every day until I switch to the masculine side – then I have to be masculine every day until I switch back, but these periods should be of substantial duration, like, I can’t switch back and forth every frickin’ day; I can’t buy a tie for myself; I’m a girl I’m a girl I’m a girl I’magirli’magirlimagirl; I wish I was a boy; I don’t hate my body, I love my female body, but why do I have to LOOK so female?; Why do I always look like an awkward boy?; I have super short hair, so I can’t wear skirts; Damn it, I want to wear a tie.
All these thoughts were driving me crazy.
Today I say: Do whatever you want so you can express the YOU every day; if it means you have to create a different look every day, or even twice a day, so be it. It’s YOU. No one can tell YOU what to do, how to look, how to behave, what to think.

I had this epiphany yesterday when my sister said how people are so driven to look pretty, they never look beautiful. I asked her to elaborate, and what looking beautiful has to do with make-ups.
She said, and I paraphrase: “Well, a person is beautiful when their – essence – shines through. Their personality – you can see it in their eyes, it just radiates. It’s very striking. But so many people just look at the models in magazines or celebrities in TV and think ‘oh, they look sooo pretty, so I will copy their exact make-up and apply it on myself, so I’ll look just like them’. What they don’t get is that what looks good on those models doesn’t necessarily look good on them. They are just following the “trend”. Like, smokey eyes are super in in Korea right now, so I see friends making smokey eyes even though they have such beautiful eyes that should not be smudged by smokey eyeshadow! Make-ups are just tools to express yourself – but you have to really know your face to do that. First you have to experiment, though, until you get to know your face.”

I hate it when people tell me “Oh, that’s so not you!”. This does not apply only to how I look, but what I say and how I behave. Like, who are they to tell me how I have to be? How dare they tell me that they know me better than I myself? I let myself retreat from myself due to this sort of comments. I let my self-confidence that I had built up crumble because I wanted to blend in, unnoticeable and off the hook. If they had done that because they hate me and want me to feel bad, maybe I’d have stood up to my ideas of myself. But very often, these people were the ones who loved me, or at least wanted the best for me. They didn’t mean to cripple my self-esteem. They just were careless, like all of us can be careless. They just wanted their opinions to overpower mine.
I had to find myself. So I retreated from the society. Not literally, like Thoreau. But I avoided human company and when I couldn’t, I forced myself to be indifferent so that nothing they said could touch me. I wanted to create myself before I let others in. But I could feel myself become really indifferent to the point of inconsiderate. That’s not who I wanted to be.
So right now I am learning to be empathetic and considerate but still to be able to say no firmly when others try to shove their ideas of ‘what I should be’ at me.

In short, I am trying to be authentic, inside and out. It’s a long process, but one that I can and want to control.

the words demand to get out

Normally, I have a pretty good relationship with my body. I remind myself as often as I can how joyous it is to be able-bodied. I kind of suck at stamina but try to make a short work-out a part of my daily routine. In every season excepting winter, it is very pleasant to walk around instead of taking the bus. When I look at the mirror, I more likely grin and stick my tongue out at myself than frown. I avoid binge-eating and since I can tolerate only a small amount of chocolate or candy, not-eating-sweets works out pretty well for me.

And yet. It takes only one circumstance to occur for my healthy body image to crumble down and be swept away in mere seconds. That circumstance is occurring right now. It’s called going-back-to-Korea.

I have a love-hate relationship going on with my country, but for now let’s stick to body image. I have seldom met folks who are as obsessed with physical appearances as Koreans. Not all Koreans, of course. Especially not those living abroad, but there are also Koreans living in Korea who do not adhere to the “standard beauty” and are aware of its deadly effects.

I’ve been living in Germany close to a decade now, and I’ve gone back to Korea four times so far. Once in sixth grade, once in seventh, once in ninth, and just last summer (first year of university). The last two times, the first thing every single fucking relative I met in Seoul did was to do a head-to-toe scan and criticize my looks. Or more accurately, my weight. I swear, the first comment they utter is Why are you so fat?
For the record, I am in the range of normal weight. So okay, I’m not skinny. I’m not long and lean. So what?! Why are these people so obsessed with how I look? It’s not Nice to see you. It’s never How were your years? It must be difficult living abroad all alone (actually, my answer to that would be no). It’s always Why are you so fat?

It’s so fucking hard to love my body when almost everyone I meet in Korea tells me to hate it. Oh, they chalk it up to health reasons, of course. It’s not healthy for you to have so much fat – it wears down your kneecaps or some other shit.
It feels like they can’t tolerate any body type other than skinny. There are many skinny young people in Korea, maybe it’s the genes or something.

So every time before I embark on the plane ride to Korea, I spend a few days in full-out stress mode, my stomach in knots and hating every bite of food I ingest. I brace myself for the verbal blows that are bound to assault me the second I enter a relative’s house. My immediate family does not comment on my body because I asked them, again and again, not to. My mother slips occasionally, and my father, the laughable so-called feminist, comments on every woman’s body as if she were a piece of meat instead of a human being. Actually, because of him, I had a totally screwed sense of feminism until I learned differently through the internet.

All this fat-shaming, especially among relatives because it’s “allowed”, but also openly done in TV talk shows and TV series, makes it hard for me to breathe because I know I have to go through this toxic mess again when I go to Korea. Knowing their obsession with “health” and “beauty” is extreme and narrow-minded does not help me much when I’m in the midst of the same thoughts, same social pressure, same criticism bearing down on me.

Going back to the country of my origin is a tiring process. I have to steel myself every time because I fear losing myself in the mindlessness of it all.