11.04.2010

I'm a new English teacher, and now I'm getting comments that my breasts are making my male coworkers uncomfortable. How do I handle this, when I'm a US size 10 womens and have a D cup?

This one is going to jump the line right quick, because I feel like it's a really important thing for new female teachers to hear right up front.

I'm also a D cup, although I've been self-conscious about the damn things since they started coming in and have always kind of gone out of my way to find garments that disguise them as well as I can manage. I can honestly say that I have never had any coworker make any comment along those lines. So one of two things is going on here: either you're being picked on because your body, which you have no control over whatsoever, is being sexualized by your male coworkers, which is unacceptable and entirely their problem, or some of that plus you haven't adjusted to Korea's ideas of modesty, which are shockingly different from the West's when it comes to the top half of the female body.

Base line standard in Korea: If you are showing even the tiniest centimeter of a crack of cleavage, you are not dressed appropriately for work. Shoulders are also largely taboo, although we have noticed this changing a bit this past summer. Even too much exposed skin on the chest above the cleavage mark can be considered risque.

It's a pain in the ass for girls with larger chests, because it's really difficult to find garments that won't show any cleavage, no matter what position you are in. I've also had to take to having an army of undershirts on hand, in order to be sure that not even the shadow of a bra can be seen, because I work at an all boys' middle school, and if you stand just right framed in the window on a sunny morning.... well. I also now squat beside student desks when helping them with an assignment, rather than bending over.

I'm not going to sit here and argue the merits of these standards, because... well just because I'm not. But I'll let you know that that's what they are. There are even certain t shirts I've had to give up on, because of the super inappropriate reactions of men when I wear them out and about in the neighborhood. Is it weird that it seems there are no limits on the length (or lack there of) of skirts that are considered appropriate in the workplace? Yes. But it's just one of those things.

On the other hand, if you are taking measures to make sure that nothing about your clothing can be considered inappropriate by Korean standards, then, were it me, I would consider having a very honest conversation with a female coworker (I assume it was a woman who approached you about this subject) about how you are a Western woman, and your body is just different, and there is nothing that you can do about that, and how it makes you feel uncomfortable to feel that your male coworkers are viewing your body in that way and commenting on it. Their comfort does not come before yours, especially when it's not you who is making an issue of it. What does she expect you to do? Have a dangerous and traumatic surgery because your male coworkers can't control their own reactions to your body? Unacceptable. Don't allow them to put something off on you which is not your responsibility. No woman deserves to be made to feel ashamed of her body, no matter what it looks like, because of other people's poor abilities to monitor their own perceptions. Good luck.

Ask me anything

9 comments:

Kel said...

I agree with all of this. I'm also a D cup and have never had any issues like that, for the record. And yes - undershirts. Always.

aprilantipodal said...

Sometimes I think they should send a document in plain English along with the E-2 visas explaining this before we leave home. It's not only hugely embarrassing to realize that your wardrobe is causing traffic accidents and distracting coworkers - it's damned inconvenient to have to buy an entirely new wardrobe in Korea if you are generously endowed. A neckline that is acceptable on a Korean A-cup often ends up exposing cleavage on me, button-down shirts aren't cut for curvy figures, and a lot of styles of acceptably modest shirts look ridiculous on bigger girls. The internet is your friend, but it's still going to take weeks for stuff to arrive, and that's assuming you have the money to fork out before your first paycheck. Luckily for me, my coworkers either didn't walk into walls staring at my breasts or were tactful enough to refrain from comment until my wardrobe caught up with Korean mores.

She should have some luck with places like Uniqlo or Zara, two of my standbys. Uniqlo has a lot of standard t-shirts that are high enough to cover cleavage and opaque enough to wear alone, or layer with a jacket when it gets colder. Zara is pricey, but they do carry American sizes in things sometimes (I found size 12 jeans there last year and wore them to death). There may be better options in Seoul or Busan; I'm in Gwangju and my local choices are limited.

thegrandnarrative.com said...

You may enjoy this article that came to mind the instant I saw your post title!^^

http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist/2010/04/21/with-great-cleavage-comes-great-responsibility/

Gomushin Girl said...

Ugh, my boobs.
There are barely any shirts in my homeland that can contain the glory of my cleavage. There are crew neck tshirts out there that are "inappropriate" on me. Scarves, rather than undershirts, have saved me and kept my inadvertently plunging necklines in wardrobe rotation. Damn undershirts always seem to migrate southward by the end of the day, but scarves are easy.
But seriously - you can't change your breasts. You can tell your male coworkers (politely, through a gossip chain originating with a female teacher with whom you are comfortable) that they are giving you the heebie jeebies and also a bad impression of Korean men. The second may not be true, but I've found it to be a magic phrase that causes all kinds of adjustments. It's not any more unfair, at any rate, then your male co-workers saying your breasts make them uncomfortable.

Marilyn said...

Gomushin Girl - have you tried pinning your undershirt to another layer using a safety pin? It's not great for thin shirts but it's really worked well for me with sweaters.

I have nothing else to add, except that I'm another D-cup, and we should start a club. =)

saharial said...

this confirms i need to reduce from a G cup to a D-cup before evn thinking of stepping off a plane onto Korean soil!
I have no clothing that hides cleavage at all :/

Gomushin Girl said...

Pinning my undershirt means taking out the pins that hold my button-up blouses from gaping, and I'm too lazy for that. Plus, I suspect it would just drag my entire sweater south instead of keeping the undershirt up.
I will give a thumbs up to the "second skin" line they sell at Kosney, however. They still migrate south, but are wonderfully stretch and can accomodate me and my two breast friends.
And don't let the distress being gifted in the bustline keep you away from Korea. I experienced just as much annoyance from people judging my appearance, making inappropriate comments, and occasionally taking an uninvited poke at home as I do here.

aprilantipodal said...

One of the best pieces of advice I've heard about being in Korea was from a longtime Gwangju expat, Mike Simning, on work apparel in Korea:
"Always dress like you going to the funeral of a distant relative."

Ebriel said...

Undershirts. Padded bras so nipples don't show on cold afternoons. All sorts of sartorial adjustments made. Sigh.

Welcome to Asia.