“Staring at dots on the ceiling,” photo courtesy of somethingstartedcrazy

Last year, one of my good Korean friends, who I met while studying as an exchange student at the Korea National University of Arts, was tutoring a girl who was applying for art school. My friend taught her drawing techniques and how to prepare her portfolio. Her student dreamed of studying in New York, specifically at Pratt, my alma mater. She asked me if I could edit her student’s essay. I obliged a bit grudgingly, expecting to find a dull essay with awkward wording and hundreds of grammatical mistakes, droning on about how much she loved art. But her essay wasn’t like that at all. Instead, it revealed a side of Korea that I wasn’t aware of.

Out of three paragraphs, here is the second:


I went through a tough time in my teenage years with anorexia and bulimia. Because of this illness, I realized my true interests are in the arts. At that time in Korea, anorexia was not a common sickness that doctors diagnosed. They kept testing me and diagnosed stomach cancer and heart disease, among other illnesses. My whole world seemed to fall apart. My parents were devastated. I couldn’t go to school as other teenagers, so I stayed home doing nothing but spending most of my time sleeping or staring at the ceiling of my room. At one point, I thought I should do something I wanted to do, but couldn’t because I had to spend all of my time getting higher grades in school. I bought a book called “Making Jewelry with Beads” and materials for making jewelry. I didn’t know I could sit and make bracelets and necklaces for hours, considering my health condition at that time. Somehow, I did it. I felt that was what kept me alive. I wanted to see what I could create with my bare hands. These discoveries included: making stuffed animals, joint-moving dolls, silver clay art, drawing and so on. As I spent all of my time on what I really enjoyed, I slowly recovered from the illness. This sickness gave me a positive mind, attitude and a strong will to not easily surrender. I couldn’t make it without art. It became my life. I want to learn more about fine art, and deeply express my feelings, thoughts, and experiences through each medium.


Despite the occasional grammatical error, as I read this essay, I was moved by this girl’s resilience to overcome her sickness in a society that ignored it. I was inspired by her positivity and her passion for art. Although her family, doctors and community failed to recognize her eating disorders as the major problem she was facing, she administered her own form of art therapy to overcome it.

I wonder how Korean doctors recognize eating disorders today? It was less than a decade ago that this girl was improperly diagnosed for her eating disorder, and due to societal and familial pressure, I know many Korean women who are constantly dieting, detoxing and using several types of medication and treatments to lose weight. Several months ago, I wrote a narrative about this, as I noticed my Korean roommate starving herself, but still envying a curvy body. I wonder how many Korean women actually have eating disorders, but Korean society continues to view it as “dieting.”

What are your thoughts?


*Note: The writer of this essay gave me permission to post this section and generate a discussion about it.


-Text by Sarah Shaw @ All rights reserved.