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Walking downstairs in heels is easier if you have a boyfriend for balance
As a rule, Korean American women of my acquaintance have shorter stints in Korea than Korean American men. Not only are we bad at being Korean in Korea, we’re also bad at being women in Korea. Every day is a series of reminders that you’re doing it wrong. Maybe you speak Korean like a gangster or a grandma instead of a bubbly TV host. Maybe you wear gyopo makeup or no makeup at all. Or maybe your tank top is scandalous (I didn’t know spaghetti strap tanks hadn’t made it to Seoul in 1995) or your skirt is unfashionable (look, micro-minis are for teenagers with legs impervious to cold). Maybe you’re over 30 and unmarried.
A Korean American friend had to practically write a treatise on why she wanted to buy Ugg boots (2 years out of style) during the dead of a Seoul winter. And once her Korean shopping partner stopped trying to foist stiletto boots on her, they still had to convince the saleswoman that it was morally acceptable to sell untrendy boots.
I’m not troubled by doing femininity wrong in America. There’s more variety for one (indie vs. glam, San Francisco pigtails vs. Los Angeles coif). And visible effort like plastic surgery or a 1-hour morning makeup regimen is still not normal (I think?). But I figure the main reason I’m untroubled by my intermittent obedience to accepted norms of American womanhood is that I have absolutely no desire to resemble any actress on any magazine cover. Being Asian has given me inborn immunity via marginalization.*
But I take it personally in Korea.
Someone in Korea once drunkenly asked me “why don’t you make friends with the pretty girls?” Offense was taken by many. In retrospect, the underlying problem was that I took personal offense every time I saw a college girl running up the hill to class in her stiletto boots. Or a 15-person girl band that apparently had shared the same plastic surgeon, resulting in everyone having identically shaped noses. What seemed far away and irrelevant in America suddenly became very very personal in Korea.
* For the record, I picked my bridesmaid dress because it was worn by an Asian model and seemed “most like me.”