When Kim begins school at Harrison Prep and has to change for gym class in front of female classmates, her homemade underwear and lack of a bra soon make her a bullying target. The conflicts and arguments she and Ma have over Kim's underwear come to encapsulate Kim's experience of being caught between two cultures: Ma simply doesn't understand why anyone is even looking at Kim's underwear in the first place, as such a thing doesn't happen in Chinese culture, while Kim knows that one's underwear are a marker of fitting in and feels extremely self-conscious that she doesn't. When Ma concedes and purchases Kim a package of American underwear and a training bra, it symbolizes Kim's transition to being more of an American girl than a Chinese one.
Underwear Quotes in Girl in Translation
I stopped walking for a moment and thought about turning back, going back to who I was. If they knew that Ma made even my underwear for me, that we slept under pieces of fabric we'd found in the trash, they would surely throw me out. I was a fraud, pretending to be one of the rich kids. What I didn't know then was that I shouldn't have worried about pulling any of this off; they weren't fooled at all.