"Teacher, you’re so beautiful!"

Who thought skinny would be a problem?

This is not a weight bragging or whining post, but a comment on the psychological roller coaster that many women face here in Korea.Only this is a story from the “other” side.

I have the reverse “problem” of many female teachers in Korea. Many very normal, healthy-sized female teachers get together to share, “Are you pregnant?-” “You need to diet-” stories. I shake my head and tsk disapprovingly at all the right moments, but can never share my own weight woes without sounding like a jerk…”I know! I hate getting told I’m beautiful.”

Since I was a kid I’ve always been at the low end of the BMI…to the point where I had nicknames like Bean Pole, bathing suits never fit me and my teenage diaries were scribbled full of laments about guys never noticing me because I looked like an 11-year-old.This was despite the fact I ate like a horse and probably due to my active lifestyle.

I never used to think “fat,” or “skinny.”

In Korea, however, I’ve found myself thinking more and more about food, weight and exercise. Like any other country, Korean’s come in all shapes and sizes, but thanks to Korea’s magnified focus on starving K-pop idols and physical perfection, anorexia is the new beautiful.

When I first arrived in Korea, I lost a few pounds due to adjusting and getting sick within the first month. I was looking pretty scrawny. From students, and even strangers, however, I was getting the, “You’re so beautiful!” line.

"Really? I almost passed out this morning and I’m pale as a ghost…but ok." I look around and see a handful of women more beautiful and thinner than me and shrug my shoulders.

It’s hard to prevent Korea’s body image ideals from rubbing off when you hear, “The students and teachers think you are very pretty…that means you must have many friends back home.” [Actually, I never believed I was close to beautiful and actually I don’t claim to have a huge social circle back home.] …But, it never hurts the ego to hear you’re beautiful. Right?

Then some part of me that’s lain dormant…since forever, awakes and starts nudging. What if you do gain a few pounds, will that make you fat?! You bought a couple things in those first few months when you lost weight, if they stop fitting, you’ll have to work until they fit again.

The other day I was eating lunch with my co-teachers:

"You look better. You gained some weight." Part of me actually freaked out a bit.

Since realizing it’s begun to be an issue, I bought a scale and decided to focus on getting back into shape: running, joining the gym, cutting out drinking so much and eating healthier.

Skinny is fine if you can run 10 km, play a soccer game and join a Muay Thai gym. Skinny is loosing out if you feel exhausted all the time and have a hard time catching your breath.