Lost Luggage Spurs Body Image Anxiety

This is a cross-post that will be featured on WeAretheRealDeal.com tomorrow — but here’s a sneak peek! 🙂

If you happen to follow me on Facebook or Twitter (or know me in real life), you probably have heard ad nauseum about my recent trip to Korea.


In my defense, I was super-excited and couldn’t WAIT for the moment to arrive!! And when it did, it was spectacular and everything I hoped it’d be and more.

Anyway … we got back Sunday and I did a thorough blog post (with links to photos) on my personal blog with respect to how I handled it from a disordered eating recovery perspective.

But one thing I saved was a story I wanted to share here at WeAretheRealDeal.

You see, after flying from Chicago to Seoul, we took a bus to my brother’s city (Gunsan). All was fine and dandy until we got to the bus station. We spotted my (6’2) brother right away and had a wonderful reunion — but then my husband started collecting our bags from under the bus.

He pulled his blue duffel bag, and started rifling through the bus for mine. At this point, everyone was gone from the station except for us. “Um … Melissa, where’s your bag?”

We’d put it under the bus; this was a fact. But also fact: there was one lone red-and-black duffel bag left under the bus … and it wasn’t mine.

Immediately, panic set in. I didn’t know where my bag was, but knew this was NOT it.

And my first thought was, “Oh my God, my clothes!!”

No, this wasn’t about being vain and worrying about what I’d wear (though that did cross my mind, too; I had all my favorite jeans and boots inside) so much as “oh-my-God-I’m-in-Korea-and-can’t-possibly-fit-into-clothes-here!!”

Without being in the country more than four hours, I knew that my body structure would not be cut out for most Korean clothes.

Not to generalize here, but the women in Korea tend to be very, very petite and very, very slim. Please know I’m not criticizing myself here when I say this, but though I’m probably “average” here, I’m big compared to them. It’s just a fact, and I accept it. Even at my thinnest, I’d have been “big” compared to them.

So I tried to keep my calm, but inside I was panicking, thinking of all my favorite outfits and the prospective cost of getting all new clothes in Korea — but more importantly, realizing that the chances I’d be able to wear anything was slim to none.

(While I haven’t felt thin for about four years now, for the most part, most days I feel just average … so the thought of being unable to fit into clothes there was really unsettling. In retrospect, I don’t necessarily think it was the recovering disordered voice in me speaking so much as the overall female voice).

Back at my brother’s apartment, we opened up the bag and found inside an American soldier’s uniform and some contact information, which was a blessing. Fortunately, the soldier was stationed in the city on the American base there in Gunsan — which was a double blessing because my brother’s Korean is good … but something like this would have been hard to explain in a foreign tongue.

So we left him a message on his cell and found him on Facebook and messaged him there, too, but there was nothing more we could do til he contacted us back. Since we had his bag, we felt confident he had mine and had just grabbed it in the dark, unknowingly.

Fortunately, I’d packed my curling iron in my carry-on (c’mon, I’ve got priorities ;)) so I was able to fix my hair a little before venturing out to our welcome-to-Korea dinner with my brother (and half a dozen of his closest friends I’d never met — who turned out to be awesome …) … but I have to say, even after the hair-fix, I was pretty bummed to be in the same clothes I’d traveled in for over 24 hours at that point!

About an hour into dinner the American soldier — who found my brother’s cell phone number on my luggage tag — kindly contacted my brother. It turns out when he went to get ready for bed and saw flared Joe’s jeans and Ann Taylor Loft cardigans instead of his PJs, he knew he had taken the wrong bag.

They made the exchange and both the soldier and I were thrilled to have our stuff back. I’ll be honest; I breathed a sigh of relief when we got back to the apartment and I saw my duffel bag sitting there, filled with my belongings.

The clothes are certainly replaceable, but I had genuine fear at the thought of possibly needing to buy all new clothes in a country where I likely wouldn’t fit into anything.

In addition, the incident evoked uncomfortable memories … you see, I was at my heaviest when I lived in Argentina during college, and I remember the sheer frustration of not being able to buy anything there … I’d walk in Zara or one of the million boutiques on Calle Santa Fe and Calle Florida (two big shopping districts) and eye the clothes and wish to wear them … but nothing would fit back then. It was very disheartening at the time, and I had honest visions of repeating that in Korea.

What’s most interesting to me is that the rest of my time in Korea, I didn’t once find myself comparing myself to the women there; we were playing on totally different fields and there was just no use comparing myself to them. I’m built completely, entirely differently and that’s OK.

But for those fleeting three hours when my bag’s location remained in limbo, I was definitely feeling lots of body image anxiety, and it was not a nice feeling.

How about you? Have you ever lost your bag while traveling and needed to buy all new clothes? Have you ever experienced body image anxiety when abroad?


9 thoughts on “Lost Luggage Spurs Body Image Anxiety

  1. OMG I would’ve had a total panic attack! Thank god it all worked out but I’d have been right there with you, none of the clothes there would fit me either! I’d end up wearing boy clothes all week and stressing about replacing my favorite jeans!

  2. Phew, thankfully it was fairly easy to locate your bag!
    I haven’t been overseas in years but have body anxiety every time I go to NYC. You see so many super tiny women. I know there are a lot of “model and actress wanabees” there but it just seems like the average younger woman is incredibly thin. I had a few friend who lived there for a while and said the pressure to be thin there was worse than any other place they had lived. Last time we were there even my husband remarked about how small the women were and he is not the type to realy notice things like that.

      1. It really is noticeable and for my DH to notice that really says something. i find myself wondering where do they buy their clothes? The kids department? LOL

  3. I am ashamed to admit this, but honesty reigns here, does it not, so I will say that I actually plan to lose some weight before I take a trip to Korea, my ancestral Motherland. Because of my disordered eating past (and present somewhat), I am convinced that I will still be considered not thin enough by Korean standards, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some Korean commented on my size if and when I visit. I’m 5’2″ and about 98 pounds; something in my head says I would be at my ideal weight if I’m closer to 90 pounds instead. I have been ridiculed in my past for some physical traits I cannot change unless I undergo cosmetic surgery (and I do not want to go there), so the weight issue still pokes its head in my life because I have the ability to change my weight… The thought of visiting Korea brings forth more anxiety than excitement by the very fact that Koreans are a highly judgmental and conformist people. As a Korean American, I guess I’m fortunate enough that others don’t make a deal out of my weight and thus I’m a bit removed from body/weight issues except those I self-impose, but I’m keenly aware of the Korean (or Asian) ideals of beauty, and thinness is supremely important. I plan to visit both Korea and Japan within the same trip; it’s really interesting and alarming that I’d be more concerned about my body and weight in Korea than I would be about them in Japan…

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