When you want to be body-positive but are a natural pessimist living in Korea

I am not, nor have I ever been a healthy person.

I hate exercise, all of my hobbies are sedentary ones, my favourite food group is beige, I love drinking and until a few years ago I loved smoking too. The phrase ‘clean-eating’ irks me for all the shade it implies and I am extremely suspicious of cleansing and detoxing. I have flirted with these things, and they mainly cause me to write maudlin diary entries and be mean to people I love.

The thinnest I have ever been was the result of a three-month starvation diet, a strange patch in my life where I went a bit mental and stopped wearing makeup or using a hair-dryer, and carried around lucky words on a piece of paper tucked in a locket round my neck.

It took an awful lot of effort to look as strange as I clearly did, and it didn’t last because it was extremely fucking boring, and I was miserable.

I still tussle with my own body-image. I always have done, and I don’t think I’ll ever be truly body-positive. It’s not in my nature to approve of myself; I can look at a glorious fat bird dressed with exquisite style and panache, radiating happiness and confidence, and I can feel a swell of happiness and confidence for her, but it never translates to myself. I don’t have the money to spend on amazing clothes, I don’t have nice thick hair and a radiant complexion, and I don’t own any brightly coloured handbags.

When I came to Korea I was sort of excited that I might lose weight. I kept hearing anecdotes about people who did, people who came to Korea bred on a diet of pizza-cheese and roast dinners, and for whom the weight fell off due to the relatively healthy Korean diet inflicted  offered through school lunches, and having to walk everywhere because of having no car and not understanding how the buses work.

All I can say is, those people must have literally made no effort to learn Korean whatsoever because all you need is a mobile phone and a few basic words that are essentially accented English, and you’re only ever one ‘large-y -cheejuh peejuh’ away from the fast food of your dreams in Korea.

I’d never ordered fried chicken delivery at 1am before I came to Korea. The notion of ‘chicken and beer’ had never even crossed my mind in England, raised as I was to think that McDonalds gives you heartburn, along with a vague suspicion of anything American. The only time we ever really ate McDonalds was at the channel tunnel in the Europark before getting on the train to France, and my mum always seemed quite cross about it.

I was raised on ‘proper’ food, such as sausage and chips, shepherds pie, steak and kidney pie, in fact any kind of pie you can imagine, as long as it was served with some kind of potato side. You know, for the much needed bulk that is so often absent in PIES.

And yet, even though I always ate heartily, something about coming to Korea and having free reign to get drunk and call for a pizza with my friends every Friday was sensational. Where I lived in England it used to be extremely rare that ANY company would want to deliver, because we lived in the middle of nowhere. Imagine then moving to a country where McDonalds has 24 hour home delivery – they call it McDelivery, if it aint broke, etc – and you can see why I might have cultivated a problem.

In the beginning I did lose a bit of weight; because I was lonely and homesick, the food in the supermarket was strange, I didn’t have an oven and I wasn’t a good cook anyway.

Then things changed of course, I met my boyfriend and I wanted to impress him so I learned how to cook a little; and then we would stay in bed all weekend and order food; and he introduced me to the Friday night ritual of chicken and beer which remains my favourite dinner of all time; and eventually, I got an oven. It was a miniature toaster oven with one little rack, and manufacturing a roast dinner with it  would take me all afternoon, but by god it was worth it.

The trouble is, you have excellent access to all the delicious food of your dreams, and yet you are living in a country that is OBSESSED with female physical appearance, where every woman is a foot shorter and several hands slimmer (horse terminology? What? I don’t know) than you, and every time you get on the subway you see an advert for plastic surgery staring you in your imperfect face. What might have been a mild concern that you should do a bit of jogging every now and then because you’re worried about being heart-healthy, turns into an insidious paranoia and preoccupation with size, shape and space that you take up.

I sometimes feel embarrassed on a bus or a train when someone pushes past me. It must be because I’m so much bigger, I think. I stick out far too much. I would admire clothes from shop-windows, but walk sadly by because I knew that if I entered the store there was a good chance I’d be hurried out by the nervous staff, worried that I wanted to try something on and stretch their merchandise beyond recognition.

My mother-in-law, who I love dearly, is constantly offering me unsolicited diet tips and advice, but I haven’t got any slimmer, all that’s happened is that I don’t really enjoy eating in her presence. People might be horrified by that and leap to judge her, but she’s a Korean woman in her fifties, this is the culture and pressure under which she was raised herself. Being the youngest of 8 children in a poor family without access to complete education meant that, for her and for many women like her, life was about being pretty and slim so that you could marry well.

My own strange response any time she talks about the future daughters I may have, is to insist blithely that they will be plain and ordinary but hopefully die-hard hilarious. Not because I think it’s true or important to even think about, but because I am already guarding my unborn, possible future daughters against this culture that will set it’s beady eye at their face and body and overlook their heart and humour.

I do worry about the kind of example I will set for my children one day, that my general disappointment with the way I look will rub off on them, and so every few months I dust off my trainers and go running, or cut out wine and just eat chicken breasts for a solid four weeks. But then I feel guilty about all the little chickens who’ve had to die to supplement my lazy, low-carb diet and I console myself by purchasing a baguette and eating the whole thing.

I read body-positive essays and follow plus-size fashion bloggers the same way that other people might follow Cara Delevingne. I’m technically straight size, they link to products I won’t or can’t purchase and some of their looks would never work on me.But I read it for their joy, hoping that I’ll be able to absorb some of their relaxed happiness and stop giving so much of a fuck. And yet every time a ridiculous new health fad comes around, I will roll my eyes, and scoff at it, and then try it anyway before giving up, caught between wanting to take up less space and railing against the idea that the space is finite, when I know that isn’t.

It’s a work in progress.



Because my face is literally the only part of me that I still make an effort with.

face effortEvery year I seem to care less and less about what I am wearing until I have basically found myself in the Nirvana of only ever wearing leggings with baggy jumpers and fluffy socks made of fleece that, if I pick up a good charge on the rug, can enable me to deliver a mild electric shock to the cat. So, I recommend this style of dress for its versatile mix of being both comfortable and amusing. My only worry is that Korean Summer is coming and soon it will be too hot for my preferred attire.

The idea of wearing leggings and jumpers out of the house used to be quite off-brand for me, a person who until recently always dressed as though I was off to a  business meeting, followed by a wake.

I still think black is the best clothing choice you can make and am inherently suspicious of people who wear ‘fun’ clothes and bright colours, even though I have learned the ways of some such people and would even call some of them ‘friends’.

My face is increasingly the only part of myself that I bother to make any effort with, which means I frequently go out for dinner with my husband wearing a full contour, highlight and Winehouse eyeliner package on my face, and some leggings with holes in the bum, paired with  a jumper just long enough to cover the holes, which I like to think adds a daring, fresh element.

I think my ongoing attention to my face is because, unlike the rest of me, it has stayed more or less the same over the years and is the facial equivalent of a small child’s reading book with big letters and a simple, reassuring story. All the features are spaced well-apart and are large enough so as not to make any mistakes.

Also, and probably more importantly,  I haven’t had a job for six months and so haven’t had money to buy yet more black dresses that all look exactly the same. This is something I like about makeup. You can spend silly money on it if you like, but in a pinch, all you really need is anything pinkish to put on your lips and cheeks if you’re feeling a bit meh, and some kind of black thing to draw on your eyelashes if so inclined.

There is something joyful about it, like colouring in, which I hear grown ups are currently paying money to do in ‘adult’ colouring books. Incidentally I find this so silly, because why use a template book when you can go off-road and do your own, fucking weird drawings to horrify pets and children?

The worst posts on blogs are the first ones.

I always wonder why the writer bothers with that awkward, self-aware first post that has to acknowledge the fact that it is the first post; and they are giving blogging a go. Paragraphs begin with ‘So,’ and end strangely with ‘XOXO’ because first-time writers have seen it on Gossip Girl, or perhaps because they know their only readers are likely to be their parents.There is always a shy, testing-the-water subtext; a self-deprecation at having the balls to take up valuable space on the internet despite the fact that the internet is endless and full of much weirder and more pointless shit than you and your mild-mannered film review blog.

Why not just skip it and get to the goods – ‘you join me reader, midway through my annual dildo-testing month.’ (Raise your hand if you had to go back and read ‘annual’ again).

I used to do the same thing every  time I started a new diary as a kid, which was as often as I read any novel with a child diarist as the central character. I would crack the spine of a new WH Smith notepad and introduce myself, presumably to nobody but the wide-rule lines.

‘My name is Hannah Louise Murphy, I am (x) years old and I live in England,’ I would write.

‘I have straight, silky brown hair, large brown eyes eyes and am slim-to-chubby.’ Personal descriptions were very important and also often fabricated.

Looking back, I think that need for constant reintroduction was also an opportunity for reinvention – this time, I might actually go somewhere with this, I might record something other than what I ate for lunch at school and one day in a hundred years people will read THIS diary, not the many that have gone before, dissect my wise observations and declare me the modern Anne Frank, albeit with much, much less of the persecution. But still some.

This is not my first blog. I have had two others. The first was basically an ill-thought out extension of MYSPACE and I am so ashamed of it I won’t even tell you what it was called, but the colour scheme was black chrome and it had an ironic French title that, when I eventually checked with an actual French person, turned out to be ungrammatical nonsense.

My second blog was somewhat more successful – I started it when I first moved to Korea, thinking I’d keep it up for a year as something to do while I taught English and also to reassure my mum that I had not died alone in a rice field. People used to read it, some commented on how funny it was. I congratulated myself on being an extremely talented travel writer. I kept it going for about a year, then I stopped. Why, you ask? When I was such a talented travel writer? Well, here’s the thing. I didn’t travel. Ever. Yes I was living in Korea, but almost all of my free time and money was spent sitting in bars in my little Korean town, drinking with my new English teacher buddies, laughing at South African swear-words and just being grateful that I had friends.

I also became aware of a tone I had cultivated, a tone of Me vs Them; the Them being all Koreans and the Me being an increasingly pompous-sounding outsider holding Korean culture up to the light and shouting ‘HERE! LOOK! THEY DO THIS! AND THIS! ISN’T THIS SILLY? AREN’T THEY WRONG??’ This is endemic in blogs started by foreigners living in Korea. It ranges from a playful, gentle joshing of the culture to full-on acid bath. The former is OK, we’re all people after all and we’re bound to find some cultural differences that amuse and perplex us if we step out of our front door. But the latter is not OK, especially if you have chosen to live in the place, surrounded by the people you’re tearing down. And anyway. I had a lovely Korean boyfriend (now my lovely Korean husband, since you asked) and so I no longer felt that it was Me Vs Them. If I were the sort of person who makes graphs, I think you would see a strong correlation between my rise in personal happiness and the decline of my second, ill-fated blog. (DISCLAIMER: There will be NO use of graphs in this blog.)

So what’s the deal. I’ve made a first blog post about how much I hate first blog posts, and yet here I am blogsplaining in the manner I have professed to hate.

Basically, I have been farting about since the age of 6 telling people I want to be a writer without ever really doing anything about it. I mean, I’m almost finished with my Creative Writing MA and of course I write, I have always written. I write short stories, and long stories, and flash fiction, I used to write poetry until I quietly told myself to stop, I once wrote half a play and honestly it’s either VERY bad or a masterpiece but I just can’t get the ending, I frequently write book and film reviews on various retail sites because I feel like other reviewers just don’t do their subjects justice, and if writing letters to BBC Points Of View was still a thing (RIP Sir Terry Wogan) no doubt I would compose letters to them.

BUT it only occurred to me very recently when I was job hunting, that the kinds of jobs I look for and am qualified for no longer float my boat. And if I love writing, I should try to get some writing work, because life is short and terrible, so at least try to enjoy a modicum of it, right? Enlightened, I  trawled the internet for the kind of sites and online magazines that welcome contributions from inexperienced freelance writers. I have even had responses. The general consensus is ‘we quite like you, but we need to see more examples of what you write. Why don’t you have a blog? Everyone has a blog. If you say you’re a writer and you don’t have a blog, then frankly you look like a serial killer.’

Point well-made.

So, here’s my awkward first post, on a blog that will cover a number of things, as and when I feel like writing about them. These could include anything really but mainly film, books, TV, food, beauty, style and just general blather about things I think and like, or don’t like. I hope it proves that most difficult of things, that I am not a serial killer.

For now,