Asian-chested is not an oxymoron

Archive for the tag “modesty”

Where I Fit In

I left Korea several months ago. All the good and the bad are physically behind me now. Behind me also, a culture of hyper-conservative appearance draped over a very complicated attitude towards sexuality. So, boobs? No.

Now I live back in the States! A beautiful place, awash in bikini-clad tourists and strapless dresses and low-cut shirts. Boobs? Yes, very many.

But me? I’ve been trying to find myself in Korea for three years! I found a style for me that was right. Rephrase: I found a style that worked for me who lived in Korea. Transplant me to a part of the States where the weather is always amazing and it’s constantly tourist season, and it works less perfectly.

I’m still trying to find a style that works, but I’m really happy to find that my mindset is still very “I love my body!” I am astonishingly comfortable walking around in my bikini top (yay, Freya!!) at the beach, so really all I have to figure out is what to wear when I finally get a job!

Perspectives: Modesty on the Other Side

I’ve been in Korea for a while now. I love it, I’m making it my home, and I’m looking forward to the rest of my time here, however long it may be.

As I’ve grown up in a version of Chinese culture, the culture shock to me is not as great as it is to some of my fellow foreigners. There are still lots of ideas and habits here that are totally strange to me though.

Korea is a fairly conservative culture, thanks in most part, I think, to Confucian influence. However, if you look at their pop culture icons, or at the younger generation of children and adults, you’ll find tight clothing, sheer clothing, “artfully” ripped clothing, clothing that just has great “sexy” holes”, extremely short bottoms, you name it.

This is one of the most popular singing groups in recent weeks. Their image is sweet and innocent, the adorable "girls next door". Look at how much shoulder they show... and then look at how much leg they show. I don't mean to be judgmental, just surprised that this is perfectly acceptable and fits into their proposed image.

This is one of the most popular singing groups in recent weeks. Their image is sweet and innocent, the adorable “girls next door”. Look at how much shoulder they show… and then look at how much leg they show. I don’t mean to be judgmental; I’m just surprised that this is perfectly acceptable and fits into their proposed image.

However: beware if you are a normal citizen (or alien resident) parading around in the streets in a sleeveless top! Or if, who could imagine, a top that fits your shape instead of draping around it!

korean fashion cardigan fake two piece knit tops k517 Green-3Korean_Fashion_Large_Pentagon_Embellished_Loose_Sweater_with_Scarf

I googled “Korean fashion” and found these two tops to be most representative of what I see out and about these days. Long and drapey with safely concealed shoulders and zero cleavage.

Actually, it’s getting a bit colder, so there’s also this going on:

Yes, a jacket with short shorts or a miniskirt. I'm told this is also popular winter attire in Japan.

Yes, a jacket with short shorts or a miniskirt. I’m told this is also popular cold-weather attire in Japan.

Meanwhile, I’m stomping around with these risque tops that indicate the existence of breasts and shoulder skin (ooooh) and nice comfy jeans.

I'm so, so glad I went on a The Limited craze before coming to Korea. Even now it's almost all I wear to work.

I’m so, so glad I went on a The Limited craze before coming to Korea. Even now it’s almost all I wear to work. I also bought the one button-down that has ever worked for me at that store. Should have bought another…

With the weather cooling down, I throw on a sweater or jacket too, which helps with the shoulder bit of appeasing society… but I still like to have some space around my neck to breathe comfortably. We’ll just have to wait for scarf weather to come around!

Well, Sometimes Things Show When You Wear Them

Thanks to George Takei. I love this guy; he’s witty and adorable and passionate about awesome things. Also, he shares lots of funnies on his Facebook page.

Your strap is showing.

Back before I learned about bra sizing, my straps were constantly falling over, so if I wore T-shirts or other short sleeves, they’d fall right out. One time, my friend commented, “Your bra strap is showing. How sassy!” It was just a fun “hey just so you know” with a “let’s make this less awkward with a joke” comment, but it is memorable. Bypassing bra-fitting issues–so my bra strap is showing. So what?

Not that I mind(ed, then and now) him mentioning it. It’s absolutely appreciated, just as I appreciate “hey your shirt’s ripped in the back”, “your kitchen’s on fire”, “there’s food in your hair”, and “there’s a monkey on top of your head”. But society-wise, culture-wise, (and a nod to the Modesty Panel: modesty-wise) what’s the big deal about a bra strap peeking out, intentional or not?

Just to avoid throwing these questions out to the Internet!wind and leaving them hanging, I’ll contribute an attempt to address it. It’s a big deal in Chinese culture for any type of undergarment to show. (In TV shows and movies depicting historical China, they’ll imply intimacy between characters by showing them waking up in their undergarments, which are pretty much the same things as normal clothes except undyed/white. How scandalous!) My female relatives in Hong Kong would definitely not hesitate to point out a wandering bra strap with “you need to put that away”.

(Funny anecdote unrelated to bras: Remember the VS shirts I raved about once upon a time? My cousin-in-law called it a “deep V”, and I can’t help chuckling every time I think of this shirt being categorized as deep anything.

Well, yes, it’s more revealing on me than on other possible wearers due to my bust, but if I had to define “deep V”, I’d first be thinking about the shape of the letter V which personally has to at least be an acute angle. This shirt? Maybe a hyper-shallow V if you want to call it a V at all. Seriously. The neckline is practically a flat line. [I just very nerdily measured the image against a protractor and it’s 135°. Nowhere near acute!])

(Still laughing.)

Anyway, to conservative members of the Chinese population, and to more “radical” ones (the “deep V” cousin-in-law is considered extremely modern, radical and hip), visible bra straps are an absolute no-go. I’m not sure what it would indicate to them, though. Laziness? Promiscuity? Lack of self-respect, or respect for others? Probably all of the above.


Edit: An interesting thought occurred to me. The people who object to visible bra straps are, logically, very likely to be the same people who object to visible/apparent nipples, for the same reason. How counter-intuitive, that these two oppositely related situations provoke the same social reaction!

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