Asian-chested is not an oxymoron

Discovery: Miss I-Cup / I 컵 녀 / I 컵 여자

This is a bit different, but it’s the kind of angle that I want most for CurvyHK explore: what is an East Asian population’s reaction to a discussion of breasts and bras? I’m really excited to write and share this post!

Miss I-Cup, or I-Cup Girl, is a South Korean teenage girl who was featured on television because of her larger-than-average bust.

This post is going to be of the novel-length variety, so I’m going to learn how to use the cut feature. This is what you’ll find when you click in:

  • Links to the broadcasts featuring Miss I-Cup.
  • My summary/translation of the videos.
  • My opinion of the videos / the program.
  • How is this story and the way it was presented reflective of East Asian culture?
  • How do the individuals in these videos and reports compare to what we find/dicuss in the bra-blogging community?
  • My invitation for your feedback!


After I heard about Miss I-Cup, I knew I wanted to learn more. I hunted down two clips on Youtube. They seem to be the original broadcast clips of when she was first featured.

Here are the links to the clips:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Unfortunately, CJEN Media did not provide subtitles for these particular clips. Now, my Korean is not fantastic, but it’s not entirely shabby either so I feel just confident enough to give a hopefully not inaccurate summary of what’s going on.

Part 1:

The clip starts out at a swimming pool. The camera and narrator zero in on a girl sitting on the edge of the pool. This is our leading lady, Park Chaeri 박채리. They wonder why she’s wearing clothes instead of a swimsuit, and why she’s not enjoying herself in the pool. What’s she doing?

Someone from the program goes up to interview her: “Excuse me, why are you not wearing a swimsuit?”

Park Chaeri has a feeling she can’t wear one.

The interviewer asks about this feeling.

Park Chaeri: “My chest is too big, so there aren’t any that fit.”

Interviewer: “How big exactly is your chest, that there aren’t any swimsuits that fit?” [α]

Park Chaeri:” H-cup.”

Interviewer: “H-cup??” [β]

It’s a tone of surprise, of requesting confirmation (which Park Chaeri provides with a nod). The editing studio sings us the alphabet song up to H, emphasizing that last mind-blowing letter. [γ]

They give us a profile card. Her name is Park Chaeri and she’s nineteen years old. Two special facts: she has a baby face and a naturally H-cup chest.
*Modern Korean culture has a term, 베이비 페이스 “baby face”, referring to people whose faces look particularly youthful. Generally, I’ve found that people who bear this title have big eyes, fluffy or high cheeks and an angelic air of utter adorableness.

We go back to the pool and the program’s next observation: dude, she’s pretty slender![δ]

Park Chaeri’s friend goes on to swim alone. The narrators have a conversation that a lot of us have sweatdropped over. “Isn’t a big chest a good thing?”

The captions point out that her friend is totally having fun in the pool. He comes back to her and tries to get her to play too.

“Come on, just once.”
“I’m not going in! No, no, no, absolutely not.”

The interviewer jumps in: “Miss Chaeri, why are you not going into the water?”

“If I go in, my shirt will get wet and stick to my body. Men stare and it’s not good. It gives me a lot of pressure.” [ε]

The interviewer turns her attention to Park Chaeri’s friend: “You came together but you’re playing by yourself. Aren’t you bored?”
“Yeah, it’s annoying. We came together to hang out but she’s not wearing a swimsuit, only I am. It doesn’t feel like we’re hanging out at all.”
Park Chaeri laughs. I think we know that laugh.[ζ]
“I don’t even know why she said to hang out here.”

Now the interviewer asks about his perspective of the topic at hand: “Are you aware that Miss Chaeri’s [acting like this, doing this, feeling this way] because of her chest?”
“Yes. Even though she pesters [me?] about hanging out, we don’t actually play too much.”

They get up and the captions remark- are they already done playing in the water?

She walks out of the women’s (lockers, I guess) changed into her clothes after only 5 minutes.

Interviewer: “Why did you come back out right away?”
Park Chaeri: “I don’t really have anything else to do.”
Interviewer: “You didn’t shower?”
Park Chaeri: “I don’t really need to. I didn’t even go into the water.”
Interviewer: “Still, it’s hot, so you must have sweated. It’ll feel weird.”
Park Chaeri: “Bathing in this kind of place, people give really conspicuous looks. It’s really pressuring and I hate it. It’s the same problem when I go to public bathhouses; I’ll wear a towel going in. Even if it feels uncomfortable, it’s much better for me to wash up at home.”[η]

The next day, she’s going out with another friend.  Hold on, the narrator says; she looks familiar. Where have we seen her?

Interviewer: “Have you, by any chance, ever been on our program before?”
Lady: Yup.

They exchange a greeting and the interviewer asks for clarification: “So, what’s your relation that you’re going out together?”

The lady is actually Park Chaeri’s mother. Park Chaeri is her youngest (third) daughter. I’m not sure why Park Chaeri’s mother was on the program (I actually have no idea what the program’s premise is) but the caption points out that the lady was featured in their 33rd episode about a year ago and that she’s also got a baby face. Oh hey, Park Chaeri was on camera that time too.

Interviewer: “It seems like your daughter is really stressed out because of her bust.”
Mother: “Yes, it gives her incredible stress. There are no bras (속옷 underwear but I assume we’re talking bras) in her size. My size has never been right for her, either.”[θ]
Interviewer (to Park Chaeri): “What size do you usually wear?”
Park Chaeri: “I’m originally an H-cup, but that’s impossible to find places that sell that size.”
Interviewer: “What size do you wear, then?”
Park Chaeri: “I wear a lot of E and D cups. But I’ve found a place that sells bras in my size.”
Interviewer: “There’s a place that sells H-cups?”
Park Chaeri: “It’s not an actual store but a place that originally sells products online. But I wanted to try on and buy [their products] directly. I got the business owner’s consent to visit them.”[ι]

The narrator’s a little surprised and sounds slightly dubious that “our country has a store that sells H-cups.”

They find and enter the office with a round of hi, how do you dos. They get down to business quickly and the lady asks if Park Chaeri would like to get fitted first.

We get the measurements on camera: a 71 cm underbust and (with a drumroll introduction) 102 cm over the bust.

The lady explains that they’re actually going to want to start with around a 70I.[κ]

Not an H cup, but an I?? So the caption exclaims.

All right, that was a bit more play-by-play than I intended to do, but I thought a lot of these conversations and significant glances were pretty important so it’s all good.

On to part 2! (at least, I think this is the second part….)

She’s getting pretty formally interviewed, and I can’t get everything, but here goes!

Interviewer: “Is there any resentment towards your mother, who gave you your chest?”
Park Chaeri: “I can’t say that I’ve never had any resentment.” (something about factors/causes that I don’t understand) “Why is it only me with a bust this large? I think that I’ve resented my mother a lot because of that.”[λ]

We get a short montage about her life: studying abroad starting at a young age and having trouble because of her large bust.

Back indoors at a more normal setting with her mom.
Interviewer (to mother): Watching from the side is hard too, isn’t it?
I can’t catch the first half of what she says, but she does mention that when people see (Park Chaeri’s chest), their breath will catch. She says that Park Chaeri likes watermelon, and her two sisters have said, “Mom, Chaeri’s got two watermelons of her own.”[μ]

In the interview chair again. Park Chaeri explains that she’s started having back pains. She also admits that her 날개 뼈 hurts. (I looked up 날개 뼈 in my dictionary, Google Translate and on naver’s dictionary but they all give me wing bone, in birds. As far as I can tell, Park Chaeri is a beautiful young woman but not a bird. I’ll throw out shoulder pain because that’s a pretty typical BigBoobProblem.)

Health check-up.

Park Chaeri’s getting an x-ray, CT and MRI. The male narrator prefaces with, “I’m a guy so I don’t really know, but” and asks a question I can’t catch. The female narrator answers with “I’m an A-cup so I don’t really know.” (I’m curious as to what this question is!)

Park Chaeri goes in to meet and talk to a doctor (presumably). The captions comment on the fact that she looks nervous. They start looking at her scans. Her spine, apparently, has suffered and is not that great when compared to a “normal spine”. They look also at her neck and there’s something about discs 6 and 7. Park Chaeri doesn’t really understand and asks for clarification: “What is 퇴행성?”

I can only pick out words one by one out of the doctor’s explanation, but they don’t look great even separate: Excess tissue, stress, quick aging.

My dictionaries and Google translate: Degenerative. (Here and here are some pages about what’s called degenerative disc disease, which by the way is neither degenerative in terms of a disease nor a disease.)

Park Chaeri’s shocked and so is the narrator.[ν]

Park Chaeri confirms: “But, so, this is degenerative?”
Doctor: (Mhm noise of affirmation) “So, if we have degeneration, a disc in a situation like this will later on burst/collapse.” (I’m not sure which between burst and collapse but they’re both pretty incredibly terrible scenarios.)

The interviewer asks about treatment. The doctor’s answer is grim: orthopedic treatment would help but only temporarily. It wouldn’t be effective in the long run due to the weight in her chest.
(All this medical disc stuff is 2:30-2:40, for anyone who has a better grasp of Korean and medical descriptions!)

In the interview chair set, the interviewer asks Park Chaeri: “If you were reborn, what would you choose between this and a cliff?”
Park Chaeri: “The cliff. Absolutely. I can’t even live with this chest.”
Interviewer: “Have you thought about surgery?”
Park Chaeri: “Yes. The worries and frustrations I have now… I don’t want them anymore.”

They go back to the hospital/clinic where they’re poking the poor girl with needles. They go through basic pre-surgery examinations. Then she goes to meet with another doctor, who explains that “Asian women are typically A or B cup, if not sub-A. We get a visual explanation of what the doctor means with cartons of milk and bottles of water.[π]

A-cup, he says, is 200cc (one breast). I-cup is over 2,000 cc, which is ten times the previous number.

Can’t catch the next question but I have the doctor’s answer: The nipples are typically positioned between the shoulder and the elbow. Park Chaeri’s are heading for the navel. On a [slender] body like hers, a bust of her size is incredibly heavy.

Then, some good news.
Doctor: “As long as we’re careful about scarring, the surgery has no adverse effects.”[ρ]

And finally, (the captions comment on this too) we see Park Chaeri’s beautiful face made even sweeter with a smile.[ς]

Back on the interview set, Park Chaeri says that she was pretty frightened of having surgery. Still… “I want to do it soon.”[τ]

These clips were both uploaded onto Youtube on September 3, 2012.

Here are my thoughts about every meticulous second of the video clips:

α: I have no comment about how they set up a premise so that we the viewers can meet this girl slowly, but it’s a very radical shift from “Who is this ordinary girl sitting on the edge of a pool?” to “How big is your chest exactly?” It’s just discouraging that they didn’t come up with a more sensitive segway, or even a more sensitive way of phrasing the question.

β: It’s not the worst reaction, and even gentle for a stereotypical East Asian, and probably staged. I’m not dissatisfied with this tone of voice.

γ: I really don’t like their use of the alphabet song, but it does build up to the surprise for later when we find out she’s larger than H. I don’t know if I like that or not, but I understand the editor’s reason for the emphasis.

δ: This would be a good place to mention that a slender rib cage contributes to letters visually going up the range. They don’t though.

ε: Here’s a shining moment of traditionally taught Asian thought processes. “If my body shows, it will turn all men who can see into raving perverts.” My mom tells me this too. People on the Hong Kong subway system tell me this with their disapproving eyes when I wear normal shirts (that all turn into low-cut tops due to my own bust). But to be perfectly honest, I can’t say I’ve ever been victim to a lewd glance. I know I’m lucky, and I’ve lived in places where populations are generally made of very very decent people, and I know that there are actual perverts in the world (both relatively harmless and totally malignant), and I know that there is a line that people will deliberately step across for ‘skanky’ but it still really sucks to have that kind of perspective taught into your head, and I’m really sorry that Park Chaeri and other women suffer because of all of this.

ζ: Is it just me or is this the “I’m actually really uncomfortable right now” laugh?

η: I don’t even have a perspective on this because there are no public bathhouses around here (or even that I know of in the US), or any other arena for giant public nudity. I can understand her really not wanting to talk about this though, and the interviewer is just not letting go until she gets that long reasoning. Yes, this is the point of the television program and yes, we understand Park Chaeri more because of it, but it’s really awkward to hear her force this out. Maybe it’s a purge of the good kind. Clearly, I will never be an interrogator for the CIA.

θ: This just reminds me of my mom trying to get me my first bra. “I was this size when I was your age, so let’s buy this for you.”

ι: I think that this business owner is an absolute angel. Just saying.

κ: I like the “starting point” implication that she puts into her sentence. It’s absolutely essential to understand that measurements and numbers are just part of the whole process. She could’ve gone into a little more detail, and maybe she did and just got edited out, but I’m happy with the “around a 70I”.

λ: This is kind of new to me… the thought of genetics in big-boobedness. Of course genes have a hand in play, but it’s not like your mom sat down and said, “For Chaeri, the slim gene… the big chest gene… let’s not give her the bowlegged gene then…” At the same time, I know where she’s coming from with the “WHY ME”.

μ: I wish I understood more of this. I’m sure their household is a good place to grow up in general, but from a cold and pessimistic point of view this sounds a LOT like insensitive familial bullying. It’s hurtful, permanently damaging, and I’ve suffered from it too.

ν: And so am I. Holy shit.

ξ: I’m feeling incredibly lucky that I got educated before ever getting to this point. Egoistically, I’m pretty resilient to the suicidal corner of depression–I can get pretty depressed and stay there for a while without actual danger–but it’s so disheartening to see with my own eyes someone so desperate for an out.

ο: Also, this kind of happens throughout the clips, but it’s especially noticeable to me on this set: does anyone else think that she’s been doing the hide-my-chest hunch with her shoulders?

π: This actually applies to all the times they’re throwing out “H-cup”, “I-cup”, “A-cup”, but HI CUP SIZE BAND SIZE RELATIVE YES YES? I’d really have liked for any of the professionals to speak up about this but they don’t. They’re even promoting the thought of “Asians are A-cups” by saying, well, “Asians are A-cups”. Even if yes, Asian women may (or may not) tend to purchase or need A-cup bras more often, it feels more accurate for you to mention that cup size is a difference measurement and not a size measurement, and Asian women have a tendency to fall in a range of such-and-such a difference between over-the-bust and underbust. If you REALLY like those liquid container visuals, make it accurate. Say, this is 200cc, which is an A-cup IN THIS BAND, and step it up with by the way this is a B-cup in the next band up and an AA in the next band down. After watching this display I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT A-CUP YOU ARE REFERRING TO. (Okay. Caps party’s over. Sorry.)

ρ: Is this actually right? I’m pretty sure about the translation but it sounds a little sketchy to say that opening up any part of your body is cost-free.

ς: She was pretty before, but with a smile? What a gorgeous lady.

τ: I’m glad that it’s a decision she’s able to make. If what the doctors said was all true, then it does sound like she needs to take a course of action like this. Although I wish we’d had a reaction to a well-fitting bra, I guess the point of the feature was “big chest and psychological and health problems” rather than “big chest and bra problems”.


I’ve also found two articles. Again, my Korean’s not up to a full translation, but I think I have the gist of the Korean one.

1. This is the secondary (maybe even tertiary, actually) report where I first learned about “Miss I-Cup”:

The blog is under DramaFever, a website that legally streams dramas and movies, specializing in Korean dramas. They usually cover news about dramas, movies, singers, actors and other celebrities with a focus on Asia.

It’s a very short post but covers the basics of her story and her time on the television program. It reports that she was featured “for her abnormally large breast size”, providing the premise that “Asian women usually have smaller boobs [so] having I-Cup as an Asian is very unusual”.

I love DramaFever and the service it provides. Having declared myself as their fan, I supremely dislike the vocabulary they chose to use. The tone and the content is gentle enough, but “abnormal” is a label that anyone will balk at, and that some will take offense to. And using “boobs” is something that all of us bra bloggers will do, but it’s a semi-professional website with a huge readership range… boobs seems out of place and even flippant to me. Also, the image is named boob.jpg. It’s hard to come up with a tasteful name for this story and not many people look at the filename for images but I’m sure you could have done better than boob.jpg.

I’ll grant that it’s an unusual story that needs delicate handling. Only a few fumbles from my point of view.

2. A Sports Chosun article:

It says that she reduced her bust, removing 40%. She was very happy to be able to wear a bikini for the first time. The conclusion is a quote from Park Chaeri: “I suffered a lot of post-surgery pain, but now I’m going ahead with all the things I could never do before, one by one. I want to live with my head up.”

She sounds happy, and it sounds like the surgery went well. Good!


Considering the clips, the article, and the secondhand reporting by DramaFever, I think it’s not a bad time to try to address the question, how is this reflective of East Asian culture?

There was a lot of shock and surprise from everyone: people from the program, Park Chaeri herself, and the secondary reports. I think the fact of the shock is a decent parallel of a discovery of the same kind in Western culture, say, in the US or Canada. However–and the fact that this is broadcast media might come into play–the reaction never strays into mention of “porn star boobs”, which I’ve seen a lot of in US online forums. Clearly, they’re not going to mention porn on a South Korean documentary-type program, but the focus of their attention is more on “wait, there are problems? Really?” and, for those personally involved, on the unwanted attention of both men and women.

There’s also a lot of “but we’re usually small, so” repeated by both the women and professionals in these clips. The collective instinct is really apparent, and while sometimes it’s great and fun, in this case it’s so hurtful. The outsider-ness of someone who has some factor that doesn’t match the typical mold builds up with long, daggered stares at public places, bullying from people as close to you as your own sisters, and words  from strangers like abnormal and unusual. Yes, someone who stands out will get looked at and talked about in any culture, but here in the US I feel more of a me-vs-you contrast. In these clips and in Hong Kong and China, I feel a definite us-vs-you. It’s much stronger and a lot more pressure. Over a sustained period of time, I’ll bet it’s irreversibly damaging.

At the same time, we’ve got this bright, intelligent girl taking the initiative to set up a less-than-customary meet-up with an online shop owner. She knows her needs–a bra in a bigger cup size–and finds a supplier–an online shop–arranges for her preferences–a face-to-face transaction–and goes about making this happen responsibly–with a trusted adult, her mom (and an army of cameramen…). She’s practical, thoughtful and resourceful, and I wish the program had highlighted these qualities instead of zooming in on her chest all the time!

In my opinion, out of all the professionals we met, the people on the program, and the reporters who wrote the article and post online, Park Chaeri came out as the most mature and composed individual.

In a more introspective examination, how do the individuals in these videos compare to what we find/discuss in the bra-blogging community?

Park Chaeri: Like I said before, I think she did really well.

Park Chaeri’s mother: Supportive and sympathetic. I wish I understood what she was saying about the two older sisters.

The business owner: She was sweet and very friendly. I think that most of the bra-blogging circle would be happy with her giving Park Chaeri a 70 cm band as a starting point for a 71 cm underbust. Also, we saw her instructing Park Chaeri to lean over for her over-the-bust measurements. She gets several extra bonus points for that, right?

The professionals: All physical medical stuff. They weren’t shown talking about psychological or behavioral aspects. I think that’s something they could have covered, and I hope they did cover that off the camera.

The camera: Dude, enough with the zooming in.

Wow, that was a lot of writing! (And a lot of dictionarying!) I hope you found this useful or good to read. I would LOVE to hear back from you about this story or the people who covered it (…which now includes me. Whoa.)


Do you have similar experiences in feeling pressured to change your behavior around your friends and the public? What do you think of Park Chaeri’s decisions and how she dealt with being measured a 70I? What do you think of the media calling her “Miss I-Cup”?

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9 thoughts on “Discovery: Miss I-Cup / I 컵 녀 / I 컵 여자

  1. Wow, that was quite fascinating… and pretty sad as well, even though it seems that her surgery went well and she can start a normal life, she shouldn’t have had to go through all this.

  2. Great post! I think it’s really interesting that different ethnic groups have different body type norms that dictate the way you “should” and “shouldn’t” be (although some assumptions transcend all groups), especially regarding breast size. Great topic for your post! This is a story I never would have come across (not speaking Korean) so your translation and analysis is helpful. It does feel kind of gross the way the people on the show were shaming her about her chest and suggesting that surgery was the way she could be ‘fixed’. Poor girl, I’m glad it seems to have worked out for her though!

    • Thanks! My mission feels wildly accomplished to hear that I brought something new to the table. 🙂

      I hear you about the body shaming! It’s such an accepted part of the culture that it can get really hard to call out sometimes.

  3. bralessinbrasil on said:

    Great post! Living in Brasil and having many of the same stereotypes here about women with large breasts it’s fascinating to see the parallels and divergences. Brazilian women are always know for their hips/butts and not for their breasts so there’s definitely an underlying assumption that most women here are B cups (couldn’t be farther from the truth, though!).

    Bra fitting knowledge is extremely low and I could see Dr’s here saying almost exactly the same things. I’m very jealous of her finding a store where she can actually try on bras in person! I have yet to find one of those here.

    We don’t have nearly much of the collective thinking, though. Most Brazilian women are really interested in proper bra fitting and they acknowledge different breast sizes readily. I’d say the male perviness issue isn’t as strong here either since most males tend to make a bigger deal out of butts/hips than breasts (not that they’re completely ignored but I almost never catch guys staring at my breasts here, which is much more common in the states/Europe).

    I’d love to find a similar documentary here, I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled.

  4. As a great fan of the South Korean culture, mainly their music, I think there’s a lot more diversity in bra sizes than they take credit for. Many female idols are known for their busts, Jessica from SNSD and more prominently solo artist Gina Choi. From the idols that I have come across I think there are a lot more B+ cups. Many of them look 26-28 C-DD, but size is relevant to the band and means that they aren’t large by our Western standards. I simply don’t believe that the majority of them are A cups, but squeeze into bras such as 34-38A-B. and lets be honest, how many Asian woman have under busts that large?

    While I find this article very well done in covering the segment, I personally think they should have had a part that described what a proper band and cup size could do and how it could minimize the pain and damage the weight is doing to her back. She probably still benefitted more from the reduction socially, but I think physically she would have been fine without it.

    • Thank you for reading! There is absolutely diversity in bust size of Korean women but I can’t say anything definitive about their bra availability. The only idol I know of to really discuss her bust seriously is Gina Choi, and (I think she’s great but) she’s far from an ambassador for body image. You’re right about these celebrities probably not having underbusts that large. It’s impossible to speak for Asian women as a general population (because to be truthful, we’re as diverse as any other giant sample size of people) but South Korean idols are mostly very slender; this would actually mean that the same breast on them would have a higher cup letter than on someone less slender, as cup letter is a difference measurement.

      There are a lot of resources for learning about the physical benefits of the right bra. I wouldn’t be able to say what it would have done for the woman in this program, especially with possible medical complications. I’ve written lightly about my personal experiences, but I think I will hold off on blogging an authoritative declaration until I’ve spent a little more time with this. But thank you for the suggestion! I’ll keep it in mind for future posts and update this post with links to new information.

  5. amanda on said:

    I actually find it revolting, discussing and totally ignorant for anyone to say “Asian women tend to be A cups.” I’ve travelled extensively throughout the world, primarily in Asia, and there is just as much body diversity there as America and European countries. It’s just as common to come across a woman with a large bustline for her frame as it is in the United States. It is also just as common to come across a woman with a small bustline for her frame as it is in the United States.

    However, I did notice that there is a huge stigma against acknowledging “bigger breasts” in Asia. It’s almost like an inherent body shame.
    This inherent body shame subconsciously dictates women to choose the wrong bra size in a too big band with either an A or B cup because it would be too stigmatized for a woman to be wearing a bra size with a letter of C, D, E, F etc.

    This inherent body shame only creates a pervasive stereotype as seen in these videos. For some reason, it’s culturally acceptable to say “Asian women tend to be A cups” when it should actually be dismissed.
    That’s like saying “Asian women tend to wear 34A, 34B and 36A,” which essentially means nothing considering over 80% of women are wearing the wrong bra size.

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