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Isolation. It’s not something you think you’d feel when you live in a country of 126 million people. I knew being an ex-pat in Japan would not come without its trials, but the one thing I really didn’t count on was how isolating it was to have a body shape outside of the ‘norm.’

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It’s no secret that, in general, Japanese women are on the smaller side. Japanese people are active, work hard and eat a balanced and healthy diet, especially at a young age. And when they don’t? Well, their friends will be sure to tell them since it’s socially acceptable to tell someone if they’ve gained weight. Magazines in Japan also promote very strict standards, shaming women of around 50kg in before pictures, and praising their now 40kg body.

I’ve always been tall, and I’ve always had all the curves. As a teenager I liked it. I looked like a woman amongst a sea of girls and stood out in the crowd. It used to be fashionable to have large breasts and a tiny waist, but by the time I grew into them they were out of style and I was left feeling awkward and uncomfortable in my own skin.

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Despite this, I had told myself that Japan would be different. There was no way I could even compare myself to the woman on the train next to me because our genetic makeup was completely different. Our bodies had adapted to handle different climates and there was nothing wrong with that. For the most part I kept this way of thinking up, managing to go a full six months feeling pretty good about myself.

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By then winter had settled over Japan and my summer clothes were obsolete; it was time to go shopping for some warmer clothes. I was so excited, Japan was the hub of fashion after all and I couldn’t wait to try on some of the styles I had seen around the city. It was then that I began to notice an F marked on clothes, and after a quick google search realised that it meant Free. Free Size. All of the clothes were in one size. Surely not everyone in Japan was the same size? I took a look around me and realised that in fact, they generally were.

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I left the shop feeling changed. I suddenly saw my height difference marked out as an invisible marker that only I could see above the heads of everyone I walked past, my body measurements written all over my clothes. I began to notice the stares. Unlike many countries, foreigners are still somewhat of a novelty in Japan and it’s not uncommon to get stared at wherever you go, especially when you’re 5 ft 7 and blonde. I grew shy in my own skin. I began to curl in on myself like burning paper, all of my energy fizzling into air around me for others to suck in.

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It’s taken me a long time to even set foot in another Japanese store. It’s taken me even longer to slowly get back to a place where I can look in the mirror and not see a disfigured human, large and bumpy. Thankfully, after some hunting I’ve managed to find a new shops where I can buy some cute jumpers and T-shirts. In fact, one of my favourite black jumpers is from a well known brand in Japan and I always feel great when wearing it.

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When we move abroad we take so many things into consideration, but end up forgetting about things like mental health and how another country will make us feel about ourselves as people. If you too find yourself in this situation, where you feel trapped in your own body, alone in a sea of people who look completely different from you, just remember this: You are you. There is no other you and there never will be. You are beautiful just as you are and you only need to change if it’s something you truly want to do for yourself. It may take some searching, but there will be places where you can find clothing to suit your shape and style. So talk to a fellow ex-pat friend, vent and laugh it off.

Remind yourself that in the scheme of things it doesn’t matter if you’re different, because at the end of the day, we are all human.

Photography: Naomi Jenkins
Post-processing: Rae Tashman

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Naomi

Hey, lovelies! I’m Naomi, an aspiring novelist and blogger currently trying to adult in Japan as an English Teacher. Originally from the beautifully rainy country of Wales, where I grew up speaking in Welsh and falling in love with nature, folklore and the art of storytelling. I spend most of my time writing and working on my blog, where I talk about mental health, feminism and lifestyle. An avid tea drinker, I spend a lot of my time hunting for Vegetarian-friendly cafes and good tea; nothing is worse than a disappointing cup of tea. I have been reading Love From Berlin for a long time now, and I am so overwhelmingly honoured to be a part of the wonderful community that Rae has created in this small corner of the internet.

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  • Really great read!

    I had a different live-abroad experience, where I moved to Paris for a term. I also had some style/body/fashion crises, different of course, but in the same vein. Paris was great – but I definitely 1) Was not as inherently stylish and into ‘all black everything’ as Parisians seemed to be and 2) Gained a lot of weight because CROISSANTS BAGUETTES AND CHEESE! Which was fine, but then I felt even less stylish and had to shop and ended up buying all black everything…. I’m actually still trying to work out of my safety zone of neutrals, 3 years later, ha! But I remember thinking about my appearance a lot after realizing I wasn’t as sleek or chic as most of my Parisian counterparts.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  • Lovely read! Kind of like turning the inside out, reading this sitting in Europe…. it must be such an amazing time though to experience Japan. I find that being the one sticking out (excuse me for saying so, but being the weird kiddo) makes you grow particularly strong. Oh, and yeah – this might sound borning – but some pretty stunning snapchots here.
    xx finja | http://www.effcaa.com

  • I’m Taiwanese, and not skinny, which I never hear the end about from my relatives, ever since late middle school! And yet, whenever I go back to visit them, they stuff me with food :P Not against the stuffing myself with delicious Taiwanese food part though ;) -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey’s

  • i live in indonesia and local brands here also tend to sell clothing items in free size. in here, they’re labelled “all size” and even though they fit me, it sucks for those who don’t fit. i’ve never been to japan but i know how they promote ideal body shape or weight as figures below 50 kg. it gets really insane, sometimes since most japanese models weigh like 40-45kg. i may fit the smaller size now but i remember how back then, i wasn’t comfortable with my own figure because i was chubby and i couldn’t fit a free size clothing. not sure if it’s an asian thing or what but in here, it’s the same; those who are chubby get lesser selections and are sometimes stuck with purchasing items from foreign brands like marks & spencer instead. it gets annoying how the world seems to perceive that asians girls should be this… stick-thin walking flamingo who only wears clothes below size L.

  • I was thinking about the one size thing today and how ridiculous it is to have in the UK because no one is the same size, but I guess in Japan a lot of people are of similar size. I have ordered from Japanese websites before and, despite (by British standards) being pretty small at 5 foot 2 and quite skinny, I would always rip the tights as they were just a bit small for my legs which was strange to me because everyone always comments on my skinny legs. Free size really is small in Japan.
    Though I don’t understand the promoting bodies under 50kg I know in the west some form of tone and muscle is deemed attractive in women which it isn’t in Japan but in the Uk you can’t give blood because you’re considered too light under 50kg, very different standards.

    The Quirky Queer

  • It’s so interesting how our environment reflects on us. When I was living in Europe I used to feel so large and awkward. I hated my body. Everyone was wearing a size 4 and I was wearing a size 10. After moving to Canada I finally managed to grow into my own skin and realize a size 10 is not the end of the world.
    Dora
    http://www.adropofindigo.com

  • Elena

    This is such a great post! I’ve never thought about this issue at all, and what makes me even sadder is that sometimes you even feel like that in Europe. These one size shops are stupid, at least in Europe because everybody knows that there are far more sizes in our world than just one!
    love, elena

    https://outnaboutweb.wordpress.com

  • I love love love this post! When I was living in the USA I felt so unbelievably skinny. I’m from Italy, and the average girl here wears a size 4, just as I do, and i’m 5′ 8”. People would ask me if I ate enough all the time, which made me feel very uncomfortable. However, it was really good for me: I had never understood how narrow minded I was regarding body image; in fact, when I first got to the USA I hardcore judged mostly everybody by their body, because being skinny is such a huge deal in my country. So yeah, I understand how you feel, and I’m glad you’re getting out of this phase. I always say that our brain is the best at tricking us and making us feel really bad about ourselves!

    Agnese | Agnese’s Coiffeuse