Mary Ann Conlin Wears  A Bikini In Seoul

On a Saturday night in Hongdae , English as a Second Language teacher Mary Ann Conlin stripped down to her bikini, placed a blindfold over her eyes, and held two markers in her hands. She stood behind a sign, written in both English and Korean, that asked passersby to draw a heart on her body if they supported self love. Now, this experiment isn’t novel: Jae West was the first woman to make this statement about self acceptance in London, England, and soon after, Amy Pence-Brown stripped down in Boise, Idaho. However, it was the first time it was conducted in South Korea, a country with strict standards of beauty, especially when it comes to weight. Having just moved over to Seoul myself, I couldn’t miss the chance to attend Conlin’s demonstration.

“My wholesale bikinis experience as a full-bodied woman here in Korea has not been a positive one,” Conlin tells me in an interview after the Sept. 19 event. She’s lived in Korea for about four years, working as a teacher at different , or cram schools. “The first work environment that I was a part of, there was a lot of harassment about my weight,” she explains. “I would have my manager tell me, ‘Oh, you gained weight,’ or poke my belly.”

Though Conlin was prepared to experience those kinds of negative responses when embarking on this experiment, she received a generally positive reaction, showing that perhaps Korea’s traditional views and restrictive beauty standards are starting to come into question.

Conlin had been thinking about body positivity for a while, mainly as part of her own journey to find self love but also through her role with Gather The Women South Korea. However, it wasn’t until she saw Pence-Brown’s video on Facebook that she felt a concrete call to action around this issue. At first, Conlin thought this experiment would be a great opportunity to “really change peoples thinking about their body image,” as well as promote Gather The Women. She soon realized, though, that she needed to do this for herself as much as anyone else. “This event was born out of my need for my own healing and then once I heal, then I feel better. And then once I feel better, then more people are attracted into this space. Thats just natural.”

“Im feeling energized because Im standing in my own power, showing my body, not feeling ashamed of it,” Conlin adds. She went into the evening hoping that her energy would be felt by the other women who passed by her that night, Korean or not, and inspire them in the way that Pence-Brown inspired her.

That energy clearly tapped into because within a minute of disrobing, a girl with bright blue hair approached Conlin and drew a heart.  For most of the hour that she was standing there, Conlin was being written on by a stranger. “I rarely had those markers in my hands tonight!” she excitedly tells me. By the end, her body was covered with the hearts she requested as well as supportive comments in both English and Korean.

At no point did Conlin feel unsafe or harassed either, though she did get the sense that some of the younger men who drew on her may have done it as a dare from friends. However, there were no negative comments or inappropriate actions taken directly at her. If there were passersby with negative opinions of Conlin, her body, or her choice to stand there in a bikini, they kept those thoughts to themselves. “Im impressed with people,” she admits. “At least that restraint is a step up from verbal or physical violence, and then the next step is changing peoples minds.”

It seemed that many of the Korean women who signed Conlin’s body on Sept. 19 may have already had their minds changed about body positivity. One Korean woman who gave her name as Sarah tells me the ideal Korean woman is “skinny like a chopstick.” However, she explains that the “ideal” isn’t necessarily right. “Everyone is different, and we need to accept the difference. Korea, we grew up so fast but only the economic part… We need to learn more.”

Yoon, a student at a nearby university, echoes the societal pressure to be thin. “Koreans, we are so sensitive about our bodies and being slim… We see sometimes, but if you have a big body, you try to be slim and diet.” She looked over at Conlin and adds, “But she has such a great body.” I asked Yoon if she or anyone she knew would strip down to a bikini in the middle of a park, and she was quick to say no. The sight of a partially naked woman in such a public place was still a little shocking to her. “Maybe celebrity, like comedian. But not for us.”

Another Korean woman named Soo-jin also felt that Conlin was a bit out of place, but not because of her size. “I think its a meaningful campaign,” she says. “I think it might have been better if she did it with a Korean because she is, for us, still a foreigner. So we can think that she can do whatever she likes to do. That is a very good message, but she can do it because shes not Korean.”

Conlin was aware of the limitations of her role as a foreigner in Korea and admits that the point of this exercise was as much for her own self love as it was for anyone else’s or changing anyone’s minds. “Thats all I could do. I have a free space. I can ask people to come and see what Im doing. You see my body I love myself just the way I am.”

Took Issue With His Shoes

Giants closer Brian Wilson was fined yesterday due to, get this, the color of his shoes. The Marlins took issue on Tuesday with Wilson’s orange shoes and cited them as a distraction. I’ll say it again for you: his shoes were a distraction. What kind of fashionista batting lineup do the Marlins field to take issue with the shoes? Sure, they may be an abhorration on any runway, but this is a pitchers mound.

Wilson was fined $1000 dollars for the wardrobe issue. Sure, it’s not an exceedingly large amount of money, but I think I speak for everyone when I use the phrase: “Say whaaaaat?” I mean, I won’t deny that they’re flashy and bright, they do standout… But if you’re a batter, or another runner, and you’re about to steal a base or hit a ball I guarantee, no matter how bright those shoes are… unless those shoes are covered in twenty LEDs, with 12” speakers (complete with a nice little subwoofer on Wilson’s waist to make it 2.1) bumping some form of gangster rap or Mexican mariachi music… there’s no excuse as a player in that situation to be staring at them when you should be playing.

You’re surrounded by thousands of fans, cameras, new balance 410 womens advertisements and the like. You’ve got that big, bright ball you often stare at in the sky called the sun. You’ve got a ball coming at you around ninety miles an hour. You potentially have a pitcher a split second away from turning and throwing you out while you try and steal a base. But you take issue in the shoes.

I just don’t see it. These guys are professionals and shouldn’t be bothered by something like this. Then again, I think most people know it was complaining just for the sake of complaining. Wilson is taking a sharpie to them to “tone down” the orange. Priceless. Anyway – the Giants won, again, and I have to wonder if the half-orange/half-black shoes are to blame as well. Oh well.