A despised concept by the Korean industry itself, plus size fashion gains space helping women on accepting and imposing themselves before society.

From animal violence to harmful beauty standards, the fashion industry has many cruel sides. In South Korean fashion, the issue of standards goes even more extreme. Just a quick search for the term “korean fashion” to come across extremely thin, pale, practically uniform and hard-to-reach bodies.

“In Korea, the term ‘plus size model’ isn’t only strange, but it isn’t a concept in the market itself,” explains a representative of LSAC Model. The agency recruited its first plus size model earlier this year: Jeon GaYoung. According to the company, they were the first ones to add a plus size model into their team, and so far they are the only ones in all Korea.

According to GaYoung, this universe expands into slow, expensive and virtual steps. That is, according to the model, because South Korean physical stores only offer small clothing numbers, making the process of trying on and buying clothes in these establishments even more difficult for women with larger sizes. For GaYoung, this scenario also implies the value of clothes: “the price is also more expensive than the ‘normal size’”, she says.

The lack of physical spaces selling clothes to all kinds of bodies, helped the online stores on growing and getting more clients. Like Jstyle Evellet.  With over 150k followers on Instagram, the idea of the store started when CEO YongJa Kim questioned: “why do plus-sized clothes aren’t cute?”. Since then, ten years ago, they’d began the challenge of making attractive designs that can fit a wider body variety. According to Head of Marketing Director SeJin Lee, initially the factories doubdted the potential on these designs: “we took our own samples and shown them how it fits well with the plus-sized girls. Of course, it took a long time for them to fully understand. We explained over and over to figure out the problems.”, she recalls.

But the difficulty with the factories goes beyond the comprehension of the plus size concept. SeJin explains that a small number of factories commit to plus size clothing confection and that the ones producing regular sizes (S-XL), would cancel the orders, most of the time they’d realize plus size clothing demands more fabric to be made. These difficulties on the confectioning process end up affecting the clothes’ cost and increasing the commercialization value.

“Plus-sized body shapes are so diverse. Even when they have the same weight, the shapes are so different from each other. Thus, we try to make well-fitted outfits for every plus-sized girls”, SeJin explains. According to the model and content creator in Jstyle Gyogyo, the company doesn’t only consider body diversity but also product variety: selling from bikinis to lingeries to work out outfits.

Independent market

Although Jstyle leasing the South Korean market, there’s an increasing number of independent stores showing up. As reported by head of strategy & planning department SunAe Jang, these smaller stores are thriving on social media now, where the sellers are their own models, sharing daily their #OOTD. It’s the case of Jeon SeonA, model and CEO of osoondosoon. She started in the market after she realized that the public demand for new styles was growing in Korea and now she has more than 23K followers on her personal account on Instagram.

Aside from her, models like @molding_c, @ps_loveyourself_, @unilovit are making It possible for other women to have access to K-Fashion without worrying that they won’t find their sizes.

Social life

Away from the runaways and outfits of the day, daily life for plus size women in Korea is filled with social complications. Although aesthetic pressure is a problem faced by every woman in Korea, GaYoung explains that the fat women are the ones being stigmatized as loose, lazy and ugly. “When I walk around every street, cloth stores, and wherever I go, most of the people focus on me. Like a monkey in a zoo…” she confesses.

SeonA reassures that when it comes to fat men, on the other hand, the stigmas turn into quailities: “Korea has a remarkably high rate of male obesity. Nevertheless, men are packaged with the words ‘steady and reliable’. Meanwhile, women have their health questioned, in judgments masked by fake worries.

The relationship between South Korean society and the bodies that doesn’t fit their standards, is constantly bringing difficulties into different aspects of an uncountable number of women. According to SeonA, even job opportunities might be jeopardized when it comes to fat women. GaYoung, on the other hand, says that a lot of people think that romantic relationships are out of their league and fear going out to the world.

From the difficulties in love, sexual and professional lives, to the words and looks of judgment, fat women’s lives can get lonelier and make the process of self acceptance harder: “I overcame it now, but it was never easy to raise my broken self-esteem and it took me a lot of time”, declares Daisy, who recently debuted in the K-Pop MVs universe.

Representation on the media

“In Korean media, fat women are often portrayed as objects of ridicule and avoidance”, SeonA explains. She tells us that she never had a woman to look up as a role model, while growing up, and that just now this is changing with the growing popularity of people like the comedian Lee GookJu and the plus size model Kim GeeYang.

Daisy, who recently starred on The Rose’s WooSung ‘Face’ MV, is now part of this place of reference — until then very little occupied. She tell us that gets emocional whenever she receives messages of people telling her that they feel encouraged by her work and that she was very excited when she got to know the music video’s idea: “I’ve always wanted to appear in music videos like this. I remember when I was in high school, I played with my friend making a music video. It was really fun”, she confides.

Jstyle has also recently released a MV with, not only one, but ten plus size models. The music video ‘Watch Me Now’, has piled up over 2,5K views on YouTube, and is a part of the ‘I Love Myself Now’ campaign, which aims to promote self-acceptance and body positivity amongst plus size women. Jstyle’s Gyogyo explains that “we wanted to give a chance to girls who loved dancing but thought that, learning alone was hard, was afraid of other’s sight, or gave up for some reason.”

Because it has a wider range and less freedom, on TV the way to advance might take a little longer. Recently KBS aired the ‘Project 3 Days’ documentary, which depicts a contest exclusively amongst plus size models. Aside from that, the very same channel aired the drama ‘Perfume’, criticized by disseminating the idea of beauty attached to thinness. Ha JaeSook, who portrays the older version of the main character was accused of glamourising obesity, lately. In the drama, she is Min JaeHee, a woman who finds about a perfume that makes her younger — and thin.

“It is a small movement, but society is changing now”, Daisy explains. To her, people are now beginning to understand these concepts and starting to express themselves about It. “Diversity should be respected in Korean society and I hope they do not lose their courage”, concludes the model.

To bring this article to life, K4US had the help of several collaborators. We thank JStyle for gathering its team in order to give us the best answers possible. We also appreciate the availability of models GaYoung (and her representative agency LSAC Model), Daisy and SeonA for sharing their experiences so honestly with us.

Interview and article by Bea | K4US Writing Team
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