SEOUL — A sign encouraging commuters to take the stairs instead of the escalator in a train station in South Korea has gone viral online, stoking discussions on political correctness and the prevalence of fatphobia in the country.
Despite its introduction years ago, the controversial sign became a hot topic again after a South Korea-based digital content creator “dailydoseofkorean”, also known as Alo, shared a video of it on his Instagram and TikTok accounts recently.
In the video, captioned “Korea is so mean”, stickers of two stickmen can be seen on the floor of Sangbong station in the capital city of Seoul.
One of the stickers portrays a chubbier man with an arrow pointing towards the escalator, while the other depicts a more slender man with an arrow pointing to the staircase.
@dailydoseofkorean 🥲Imagine seeing that every day… #lifeinkorea #koreanthings #koreanculture ♬ bunyi asal – haa
Echoing similar sentiments, another comment read: “You can encourage using the stairs without shaming fat people.”
On the flip side, many online users denied that the sign was “mean”, arguing that it was simply an “honest” reminder to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“Fellas, is it mean to want your citizens to be healthier?” questioned one Reddit user.
Another user wrote: “I’m somewhat overweight myself but this would genuinely help me. It reminds me that I’m overweight and need to take the stairs instead of just following my lazy instincts and take the escalator. It would be stupid to be angry at the truth.”
Another Redditor remarked: “It’s a clever, if somewhat callous, reminder that physical activity is important to maintaining a healthy weight. It’s also completely ineffective, judging by the steady stream of people getting on the escalator.”
The video also prompted some online users to share their not-so-positive experiences of shopping in South Korea during their trips there.
A TikTok user wrote: “I remember shopping in Korea and 95 per cent of the stores only carried size 2, 4, and 6 (EU sizes 32 to 36).”
An Instagram user lamented: “Korean ‘fat’ ain’t even fat either. I’m an extra large in Korean size but I’m an American small.”
FATPHOBIA IN SOUTH KOREA
This is not the first time the floor stickers have sparked controversy.
Dubbed “stairs to lose weight” in South Korea, media reports indicate that the signs have been spotted in subway stations from as early as 2013.
At the time, the signs also drew harsh criticism from some Korean netizens who called their society “strange” and questioned if it was a “sin” to gain weight.
Fatphobia, or the cultural bias against individuals who are seen as overweight or obese, is a prevalent issue in South Korea. The country is known for its strict beauty standards, which often prioritise a slender and petite body type.
K-pop idols and actors, who are considered role models, are often under tremendous pressure to maintain a slim physique.
Media outlets in South Korea have also reported on instances of job seekers who feel they have faced discrimination due to their physical appearance, including being overweight.
While fatphobia remains prevalent, there has been a growing movement in the country to challenge these beauty standards and promote body positivity.