Monday, September 29, 2014

Let That Be Enough

Yesterday, after lunch, I went downstairs to the teacher's room for our daily gatchi time. That's not what's it called. But "gatchi" means "together" and we get a lot of together time in Korea.

Someone didn't have time for breakfast but brought kimbap to share: gatchi.
After lunch: gatchi.
Someone baked sweet potatoes to share: gatchi.
Someone didn't like lunch in the cafeteria and ordered fried chicken: gatchi.
It's Thursday afternoon and the cafeteria has leftover grapes: gatchi.

Similar to Americans, Koreans congregate and socialize around food. Different from Americans, you don't say "No, thanks." It's kinda, sorta expected that you come even if you don't feel like it, even if you're not hungry. Which, admittedly, is something I really struggle with.

The introverted part of me who grows tired of conversations I don't understand and food I'm not hungry for can get a wee bit weary. But I go anyway because I know they appreciate it. And more often than not, I learn something new I wouldn't have come to on my own.

Like yesterday.

I sat down for gatchi time with the women who had gathered to sip instant coffee out of small paper cups and gab in Korean. Graciously, a co-worker leaned over to me and said, "They are talking about how Jimmy should get eye lid surgery."

I looked at Jimmy who overheard and she explained, "Yesterday, I went to get my picture taken and the photographer kept telling me to open my eyes. But they were already open! My eyes are too small, too saggy. I want to have eyes like you!"

Surprise. "Umm..." Stalling. "Our eyes are different and I think that's okay. That photographer was not being very kind."

"No, he's right," she told me. "I need to get eye surgery."

Now, I'm not exactly sure how old Jimmy is. Her mother, I found out yesterday, is sixty-seven years-old. So, I would guess that Jimmy is in her mid-forties.

I asked, "Is this surgery common?"

Everyone reacted, the way Americans would if you said, "Is the sky blue?" In unison: "Of course!"

And they continued: "It's very common and cheap." And the longer I listened, the more I felt like the logic must go: If it's cheap and I look younger or more "beautiful" than, why not?

I imagine the same logic applies to what Jiyoung, another teacher, brought up next: "My husband is thinking about getting buttox surgery on his forehead."

"Wait, what surgery does he want?"


"How do you spell it?"


"Oh, BOtox surgery! Got it."

(What followed was a brief explanation of two very different words: "Botox" and "buttocks." And we might have taken a moment to giggle and draw a picture of someone who got a butt surgically attached to their forehead. But I digress...)

I asked, "How old is your husband?"

"He's thirty-two."

"Oh wow. He's so young. Do you want him to have the surgery?"

"Sure. Why not? It's so cheap." Ans she's right. It only costs about $50 USD.

Price is a powerful motivator. In a world where we can get so much at our convenience and pay so little, instead of asking "Why?" now we ask "Why not?" Do we rationalize purchases we don't really need simply because it's cheap?

I will probably never get any kind of cosmetic surgery because of what it would represent for me. If I ever find myself in a plastic surgeon's office, that means I have decided that what I am, what I have, and what I look like is not good enough and needs to be fixed. But I don't think any of us are broken.

And I feel like in the eyes of my co-workers, I don't carry much clout in conversations about what is considered beautiful. After all, according to them, I've hit the "good looks lottery" simply because I am not Korean. To them, probably because there isn't a large Asian model representation in a lot of foreign media, I am the closest resemblance to what they've seen in magazines. I'm surely not model material, but that doesn't stop one male teacher from calling me Scarlett Johansson when he sees me in the hallway.

So instead of trying to convince my co-workers that they look perfectly fine, all I can do is run my own race. I can fight for my own self-acceptance. I can avoid joining conversations about "what we don't like about our appearance today."

I can let that be enough.


Carley Brown said...

I always enjoy reading your blog. You're so encouraging and so real. Thanks for sharing the story.

Heather said...

Carley, I always appreciate reading your comments. You're so encouraging! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Boy! I sure do love you, girl. More & more. Keep riding the wave. ^_^

Heather said...

Thanks, "Anonymous". Have we met before?