I had walked past the stores many times before. I was fresh off my LDS mission, feeling like an alien in the endless cityscape of Gangnam. Huge buildings blocked out the hazy sky, orange taxis ran red lights and millions of South Koreans were folding away receipts and selfie-stick-ing. What I wore in Korea a year and half earlier was now horribly outdated and needed to be mourned, cremated and scattered in the River Han. Shops were endless and if you wanted to find authentic, true love you would, in the form of deep fried swirly donuts and ttokbukki spicy rice cakes. Love at first sight it was.
Mina and I’s lunch date had turned into a shopping trip, and after an attempt to try a discount outlet store, we headed to the main street where the real shopping could begin. There was no guilt, because this was Korea! Swipe your credit card, breathe in. Grab your purchases, breathe out. Phew.
“How do we get to those shops up there?” I asked Mina, pointing over to the multi-storey shops with flashing signs. I thought I had visited every store in Gangnam, but had failed to open my eyes
just a little bit wider and see that most of the buildings had several levels.
“They aren’t shops, I’m pretty sure most of them are plastic surgery clinics. Do you want to get it Kelly? Maybe for your eyes?”
As a 21 year old this question was getting quite old. But at 10 years old it made me want to projectile vomit at whoever was talking to me. Volunteering to have a middle-aged man in a white coat snip my eye lids and sew them up like it’s Year Seven soft tech? I can see quite fine, thank you very much. My eyes do not need any kind of correcting.
However, that didn’t mean I was void of insecurities. And at 4 years old these seemed to bubble to the surface. My peers ensured that I was aware of how different my face was by pulling their eyes, (or for a redundant effect, pulling mine) and blurting out incoherent supposed Chinese. “I spy with my little eye” had snarky, under-the-breath connotations whenever we played it. But I had looked at myself in a mirror, told myself I was a solid 5 and eventually they got used to seeing a face that didn’t look like theirs.
But it wasn’t just the eyes that were different.
I could see that some people were like Coco Pops, some like the color of my cereal milk Pre-Coco Pops and some like speckled sandpaper. Examining my own body, I looked like my unvarnished wooden fence. A little yellow, a little white, a little dry and flaky. Probably suitable for burning.
But this would not do. No way. I needed to research this more and find out why my looks had so impacted on the quality of my 4 years of life.
My go-to source of all truth and knowledge was my kindergarten teacher. If anyone knew whether chocolate chips or chocolate buttons would taste better in cookies, if there really was a God or whether the universe’s expansion was accelerating… it would be Cris. I studied her face, wondering how in the world did Cris’ nose connect to her eye brows and if this was necessary, why didn’t I have it? No matter how hard I tried to tell lies to all my friends my nose wouldn’t grow and I had to revert back to my honest, God-fearing self.
Eventually my fascination with the differences between my facial features and their facial features became deeply rooted in the ventricles of my heart. It accompanied the thousands of comments I received the next years of growing up about how my body didn’t meet people’s expectations:
Age: 4-10 Theme : weight
“You face is too chubby. You look like an onion. You have to eat less if you want to peel those layers off.” (props to whichever Korean person said this to me, it is both rhetorically sound and cutting edge)
Age 12-15 Theme: the woes of puberty
“Those pimples are there because you touch your face. See?” *old woman touches the pimple*
Age 15-16 Theme: weight
“I’m on a plastic cup diet. You should try it. Basically you fill this little cup half with rice, half with something else and that’s what you can eat in one day.”
Age 16-17 Theme: eyes
“If you stretch your left eye with your left hand, and stick your tongue in the side of your right cheek, your eyes will get bigger.”
Age 18 Theme: weight
“I’m sending you a video with a 10 minute daily routine that gets your legs in the ratio of 5:3:2, thigh: calf: ankle. Tiffany from Girls Generation does it.”
It wasn’t too long before I was poking plastic rods into the crevices of my eyes and carefully patting down double-sided strips of tape that increased my eye size by 1 meagre millimeter. Only an all-seeing eye, a fellow Asian eye would notice the tiny sliver of tape holding together two folds of eye lid skin like its life depended on it.
But I got tired of that pretty quick. Purposefully forming an over glorified wrinkle on a face is a lot harder than you think.
And the exercise, all of the space-age routines just weren’t giving me the shape of legs that I was supposed to have by now.
And the weight, it just didn’t seem to budge no matter how hard I restricted my diet and counted my calories.
Maybe, a permanent solution didn’t seem that extreme.
“So what do you think? Are you going to get it?”