On Gaining Weight around the World
There’s a phrase that was coined in the late 90s when young 20-somethings from around the world were fleeing to England in droves for a two-year working holiday. It was called, “The Heathrow Injection.” It defined the phenomenon of rapid weight gain experienced by a non-British person upon settling in London, attributed to a busy schedule that encouraged the consumption of fast and convenient food.
Now, it’s a common phenomenon that most expats experience when settling in a foreign country. It’s also something that I have experienced twice in my life!
In 2010 I got a massive “JFK Injection” by gaining a staggering 20kg during a four-month stay in America. I then spent the following three years trying to lose it all. I did a pretty decent job by missing my goal weight by only 3kg. It was a hellish three years in which my self-esteem took a hard knock and has yet to fully recover. It didn’t help that at the time I was slowly creeping into my 30s–a fact that had already made me question my looks and how I felt about my body.
I had a dose of depression but willed myself to put in the hard work that would eventually make me feel good about myself, and I did. I went to the gym four times a week and changed the way I looked at food, as well as my entire diet.
It was called, “The Heathrow Injection.” It defined the phenomenon of rapid weight gain experienced by a non-British person upon settling in London, attributed to a busy schedule that encouraged the consumption of fast and convenient food.
I got rid of a lot of unnecessary sugar (maybe three spoons of sugar in my tea was a bit excessive) and carbs (I have an obsession with pepper steak pies…in fact, at one point I was living on them). By the time I left for Korea in 2013, I was feeling good. Not great…but good.
Four months into my stay in Korea and I had already fallen victim to the “Incheon Injection.”
It was different than my experience in America in that I wasn’t exactly eating everything in sight (and didn’t gain the weight of a small child!). In Korea, I gained weight because the food was so different to what I was used to–the Korean diet lacked protein (compared to the South African diet, which includes a good chunk of meat daily), and it contained a lot of rice.
I wasn’t even really aware that I was gaining weight (I never owned a scale) until I found myself continuously blaming my inefficient washing machine for somehow shrinking my clothes even though I washed them in cold water! It was only after one too many fights with my washing machine (we have since made up) that I decided to buy a scale and step on it for the first time in over six months. The results were heartbreaking.
The thing in Korea is that showing your chest (not even the cleavage part) and your shoulders is a big no-no.
In Korea I live in one of the most conservative cities, which means that most schools are still quite strict on dress code and even in the streets you can be frowned upon by the locals for your “racy foreign attire.” The thing in Korea is that showing your chest (not even the cleavage part) and your shoulders is a big no-no.
However, wearing shorts and skirts that literally just cover the cheeks of your buttocks is acceptable. I’m not too perturbed about the shorts and skirts but in a city that reaches up to 40 degrees Celsius in the summer and has 100% humidity, I was concerned about having to wear a turtleneck with three-quarter sleeves (because what else was acceptable?).
So, a couple of days before summer began, I was faced with a horrible dilemma. What was I going to wear in the next couple of months? I had gained 7kg, was barely fitting into my clothes and the ones I could squeeze over my ever increasing belly were low cut and showed my beautiful shoulders. The solution was pretty simple. Just go shopping, right? Wrong!
I wasn’t even really aware that I was gaining weight (I never owned a scale) until I found myself continuously blaming my inefficient washing machine for somehow shrinking my clothes even though I washed them in cold water!
I had heard the cheapest clothing stores were the ones in the subway stations, so naturally they were my first stop. And I did some research as to the size conversion so I had an idea of what I was looking for, which was a good start.
What I experienced next was not only a bit of a shock, but also a huge blow to my already fragile self-esteem. In one of the first stores I walked into I was immediately confronted by a woman talking to me in Korean and making an X with her arms, which basically meant, “No.” Before I could fully understand what was going on, I was ushered out the store.
So, I moved onto the next store where I was greeted with the same semi hostility. What was going on? It soon dawned on me with a quick glance at the sizes that I was basically being told I wouldn’t fit into anything and needed to leave. I felt like a total idiot and totally embarassed. Was I really that big?
I hastily left the subway and tried some retail stores downtown. I must have looked like a crazy person going through every size of every item (whether I liked it or not) just to see if there was anything that would fit! There was nothing. I know Koreans are naturally slim and have really petite frames but I never thought that at 1.57m and 64kg I would be considered too fat to fit into any of their clothing.
I suddenly felt terribly self-conscious and imagined that all of the Koreans in the store were thinking, “Ha ha ha, look at that foreigner thinking she can shop here! Idiot!”
In one of the first stores I walked into I was immediately confronted by a woman talking to me in Korean and making an X with her arms, which basically meant, “No.”
I know they don’t think like that (well I hope not), and I also know that not every Korean person is skinny, but I couldn’t stop feeling like a whale walking down the main street to the bus stop. I had one last hope of finding anything and that was at my local Homeplus (Korea’s Walmart). It was the only other place where I knew they sold clothing.
I walked in with my head low, not wanting to make any eye contact. The entire experience thus far had been awful and I would have rather gotten sucked into a black hole than be faced with more embarrassing rejection from the clothing! I kept it together and pretended to casually browse through items but in my head I was crying out for something I could at least just try on. I soon stumbled across my size and literally shouted out a “Yes!” — which was met with confused stares by fellow shoppers.
I picked out a couple of items and snuck into the changing room to try them on. I’ve never been a fan of changing rooms. I always feel like they purposefully try to make you look your absolute worse–or I really do look that bad (surely not!). After silencing my mind of all negative thoughts, I carefully tried on my items. To my absolute relief, they actually fit me!
I’m still jealous of the Korean woman in their short shorts and skirts that show off their perfectly sculptured legs!
I later found out that the label of the clothing I chose actually catered to plus-size people, which was the section I was in. Throughout my life, I had never struggled to find clothing (even after my 20kg weight gain), and I had to laugh at the fact that at 30 years old, I was now shopping in the plus-size section of a store! Thanks Korea, you’re great for the self-esteem.
A year later I am happy to report that I have lost all of the weight with a lifestyle of exercise, healthy eating habits and limiting my soju intake to weekends only. I have also found a number of stores with decent sizes, and they’ve opened an H&M in my city, which has all European sizes. My self-esteem is doing well–even though I’m still jealous of the Korean woman in their short shorts and skirts that show off their perfectly sculptured legs!
The Heathrow Injection: Gaining Weight around the World top photo credit: unsplash.com