All-Natural Model Defies South Korean Plastic Surgery Obsession

Kim Gee-yang is taking on the beauty industry in a country leading the world in cosmetic surgery. "When I was in LA, I was too skinny to do plus size modeling, but in Korea, I am just a fat woman, yeah," she said.

Jason Strother

SEOUL â€" Kim Gee-yang struts down the runway dressed in a black corset and leather skirt.

She doesn't fit traditional catwalk standards: At 1.66 meter (5ft5) tall and about 70 kilograms (154 lbs), she is average height and, well, curvy compared to many other South Korean women in their 20s.

Gee-yang got her break in modeling after sending her photos to the 2010 Los Angeles Full Figure Fashion Week. "When I was in LA, I was too skinny to do plus-size modeling, but in Korea, I am just a fat woman, yeah," she told me.

And in image-conscious, plastic surgery crazy Korea, there’s also a lot of pressure for women to be skinny. Gee-yang says Korean women like her have a hard time finding clothes that fit them.

Anything above an American size 6 or European size 40 is considered plus-size here.

"I’m kind of an alien in Korea. People who are plus size in Korea, they are not interested in a social life, they don’t go shopping," says Gee-yang. "They don’t want people staring at them."

And everyone constantly reminds them how big they are, she says. “My mother always told me, "you are so fat and you have to lose weight," and when I met my friends they said, "you are fat" or "lose weight."”

Gee-yang says at first her parents didn’t want her to go into modeling, but now they’re proud of what she’s accomplished.

Gee-yang has done runway shows in Miami and the Caribbean in addition to LA. She’s also been a finalist in photo contests for Benetton and American Apparel. But she has yet to find work in fashion magazines or on the runways in her home country.

In the end, Gee-yang started her own magazine featuring plus size models. It’s called 66/100, the maximum sizes respectively for women and men’s clothing sold in Korean retail stores. Gee-yang is an 88.

I went with her to a printing house as copies of her magazine came off the presses. On the cover, Gee-yang is clutching a chunk of boiled pig’s feet with her manicured fingertips. The picture accompanies a feature article titled "Innocent Pleasure."

Gee-yang writes that you shouldn’t feel guilty for eating what you like. She also says you shouldn’t feel ashamed of what you look like â€" 66/100’s motto is "No Matter What, You Are Beautiful." And her magazine has inspired other women here to give modeling a shot.

Twenty-three-year old Lee Hyun-gyeong poses for 66/100’s online clothing shop; she wears a Korean size 99. A year ago, she won the magazine’s makeover contest and now she says modeling changed her life.

"I was afraid to have my picture taken. Compared to other people I looked bigger, I always looked sad in pictures, I thought I was ugly," said Lee.

"Now my friends and family say I seem so much happier and they say they never knew how pretty I am."

Gee-yang has many supporters for her magazine, but there are still plenty of haters. And the harshest remarks appear online. "Those comments, I get really upset cause they hurt other people who support me, or other people who are plus size," she says.

But Gee-yang thinks she’s taken away the power of those online insults by printing them in the latest issue of her magazine. It’s given her the ability to laugh at them.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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