“Big and Beautiful” as ever

Plus-size model Kim Ji-yang

Kang Ye-won 2020-06-02

If you do a Google search for Kim Yi-yang, you’ll see various photos of her as a plus-size model, articles from 66100[Sizes 66 through 100 are those considered plus-size in Korea], her magazine for plus-size people, and interviews with her about appearance and body image, accompanied by photos.


In the eight years since she began energetically advocating for plus-size fashion in South Korea, it’s not just her style and weight that have changed, but also her personal life, in ways including her wedding last year. But the woman that appears on the search results page appears not to have changed at all.


▲ Kim Ji-yang, creator of 66100, a plus-size fashion magazine.   ©Kim Ji-yang

Modeling, editing, and much more… “I’m a control freak”


For our interview, I met Kim Ji-Yang in the studio from which she runs her online store. Wearing no make-up, she looked a bit tired and pale. When I asked what had changed the most about her between her debut as a plus-size model at age 24 and her current situation as the owner of a plus-size fashion magazine and an online store(https://im66100.com), she said smoothly that she had gained composure.


“I used to get excited when a project went well even a little bit, or sad if it went a little poorly, and that was hard. Now I take it all in stride. When something sad happens, I tend to just think, ‘Okay, things will probably go better next time.’”


Most recently, Ms. Yang became a cohost of the OnStyle channel show Body Actually, where her slogan is “Be confident!”, and says “the reaction has been five time more positive” than she expected. Body Actually is a reality program that boldly shows and discusses women’s health issues in ways ranging from the hosts trying a new form of sex ed by asking people on the street to draw a clitoris, to reporting on using menstrual cups or visiting an OB/GYN because of a yeast infection.


Ms. Yang has the calm tone and attitude that come from confidence, but the initiative she has begun and the reaction of the public and her readers to it is like a small wave that, positive or negative, inexorably returns as a big wave.


After debuting as a plus-size model at Full Figured Fashion Week in Los Angeles, her domestic debut as a model and the editor of 66100 was “a refreshing shock” to Korean people. As the concept of a plus-size model was largely unfamiliar to Koreans, her skill at self-branding as an approachable-but-cool older sister while chipping away at prejudices about plus-sized people played a big part in her success in those early days.


▲ Ms. Yang when she applied to be a plus-size model for American Apparel.   ©Kim Ji-yang

She’s also a workaholic - or in her words, a “control freak” – who has been putting out the magazine every three months (unusually often for an independent magazine) and organizing branding events non-stop. She says, “I’ve never gotten to bed before sunrise in the weeks before we turn the magazine in for printing.”


She has to multitask in order to not just act as the magazine’s editor and the cover model for most of its issues, but also plan and direct photo shoots for the inside, write and edit articles, and oversee printing. Additionally, she plans and runs fun and meaningful events that grow 66100 beyond a magazine into a brand for plus-size issues. Here are some examples:


◆ Film Party: This is an annual party, co-hosted by Dadareum [“everyone’s different”] Network, in which the guests take in a meaningful movie together.


◆ “Big and Beautiful” calendar: Last year, she collaborated with illustrators to create, exhibit, and sell a calendar with a plus-size theme.


◆ Innocent Pleasure: Named to be the opposite of a guilty pleasure, this gourmet club’s goal is to enjoy eating good food.


◆ Do-It-Yourself Makeover: A four-week series of classes for people who have low self-esteem or want to change up their style. Participants go through a process of self-led change that involves finding out what they really like, shopping for clothes that match their style, receiving make-up and style tips, and, finally, doing a profile picture photo shoot.


◆ Symposium for the Photo-phobic: A seminar or workshop for people who dislike having their picture taken. It is so popular that it has been held several times.


Most recently, at “My Appearance? What of It!”, an event put on by the Korean Women’s Environmental Network, Ms. Kim participated in a performance that criticized clothing brands’ limited sizes and unrealistically-proportioned mannequins.


▲ Ms. Yang modeling for 66100.   ©http://im66100.com

The hardest part is “anti-fans”


After producing this wonderful magazine on a quarterly basis for two years and then taking a break, she is now preparing the next issue. The biggest reason for the break was financial. The social enterprise grant that she received in 2015 was not given again in 2016, and modeling in photo shoots for other magazines was not bringing in a steady enough income, so she made the difficult decision to suspend production.


The people who had worked on the magazine with her are now employed elsewhere, while Ms. Yang has moved her operations to an office in the inexpensive Dongmyo area and is focusing on running the online store. In recognition of the fact that most plus-size clothing is available exclusively online, she also operates a studio where customers can try on clothes, have their sizing measurements taken, and receive styling and posture correction services.


I asked her if there is any one thing she would like to focus on if money weren’t an issue.


“Would I be happy just modeling, or just editing the magazine? I don’t think so. These jobs are all intricately connected. For example, I can’t do modeling work without thinking about the message [of the photos], I can’t be the editor without talking about fashion items, and I can’t be the president without talking about the magazine’s contents.”


She really does seem to be a “control freak” who needs to directly manage every part of the process.


Of course, running the online store alone also requires difficult multitasking. First, she goes to Dongdaemun every morning to buy the clothing that has been ordered. Then, there’s shipping, answering customer inquiries, serving visiting customers – and when a new line of clothing comes in, even photographing and modeling.


But what is harder than playing several different roles is dealing with “anti-fans”. She says that the most difficult stress to bear is being asked whether she doesn’t do things like modeling and publishing the “self-promoting” magazine to satisfy her own selfish interests. She also says that it took time for her to acknowledge that the work that she likes to do and the work that she does to make a living may be different.


Meeting customers who come in to try on clothes helps – maybe even more than it helps them.


“People cry when they come in [to my store] to buy clothes. They’ve had a lot of hurtful and unfair experiences.”


Even though they’re customers who’ve come in to spend money, they’ve often been subjected to insulting remarks like “we don’t have anything that would fit you”, “you want to buy this for yourself?”, and (when asked if an item can be tried on) “don’t stretch it out”.


But verbal abuse is even worse when it comes from family, friends, or acquaintances, instead of these strangers.


“‘When are you going to lose weight?’ ‘That’s why you don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend…’ When a person hears these kinds of remarks every day, they start to feel like everyone believes that if a person’s appearance doesn’t meet society’s criteria, it’s okay to treat them inhumanely. So they feel relieved to meet someone who says that that kind of thing is wrong.”


She says that feeling like, ‘I sell clothing, but it has a greater meaning to these people,’ has been healing to her as well.


▲ A photo published in the fashion magazine Vogue.   ©Vogue Korea

Violent gazes are also a serious problem


At her lecture at the eco-conference “My Appearance? What of It!”, put on by the Korean Women’s Environmental Network on June 3rd of last year, Ms. Yang spoke about violent gazes:


“When they’re speaking, people’s facial expressions say, ‘Goodness, how much does she weigh?’ or, ‘I’m still okay, I’m smaller than her.’ It’s difficult to fight against violent gazes. It is only when they turn into verbal abuse that we are allowed to object to them. But I think we need to be more sensitive to violent gazes.”


Another widespread problem that fat people face is being treated as if they don’t take good care of themselves. This harmful social prejudice has been internalized – though to different degrees - by everyone, including fat people themselves.


When Ms. Yang found herself gaining weight, she would look in the mirror and think, ‘Am I just lazy?’ or, ‘Do I not love myself?’ But she realized that the problem was not her appearance, but that way of thinking.


We need more plus-size role models


The next issue of 66100 will have “I feel good” as its theme. It used to be difficult to find interview subject willing to openly share their stories, but when Ms. Yang participated in the feminist festival FeMeet in May of this year, she found people practically lining up to speak to her.


"Before, people thought they had a problem and so had to lose weight, and no one had high self-esteem. Now, there are a lot of people who say, 'I'm trying to love myself, though my self-esteem is not high yet.'"


But she still hears people using a double standard, saying things like, “Wow, that plus-size model looks great. But I don’t like it when people I know are fat.”


Ms. Yang says that many positive incidents and role models are needed for open-mindedness about plus-size people to spread to society as a whole. For example, it’s likely that attitudes will change as more role models like highly successful plus-size models and entertainers (“Lee Guk-ju is a good example”) appear - but nothing will happen if people stand by and wait, assuming that someone else will step forward. That’s why Ms. Yang works “constantly” without resting.


“My motives are the same as they were before, but I think that, before, I wasn’t sure who I was helping. Now I think I’m starting to see.”


*About the Author: Kang Ye-won lives in Seoul. She used to work as a reporter for a foreign news agency and the editor of PLATOON, a magazine about underground art culture.


Published Oct. 11, 2017

Translated by Marilyn Hook


*Original article: http://ildaro.com/8021

기사입력 : 2020-06-02

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