TAGGED UNDER: World Culture and Heritage
“A wonderful woman makes the best of her physical assets but, more importantly, she also radiates a personal quality which is attractive.”
Don’t judge a book by its cover, but a beautiful cover prompts a closer reading. Beauty has become such an important aspect of our life; actually, we are obsessed with beauty. The pressure to look good is more than ever. The Oxford Dictionary defines beauty as “a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight.” But, is the definition of beauty the same everywhere? Absolutely not! The perception of beauty is defined by the geography, culture, and traditions in a region. To see how this perception differs across the globe, we discuss what beauty means in different cultures.
The ideal American beauty is skinny, blonde, has blue eyes, a small nose, and a full mouth. Think you fit the bill? Every society has certain beauty standards, and the Western world lays a lot of importance on weight. Bigger than size 8? Then you are fat! Wow, how easy it is to label people, isn’t it? But this stereotypical mentality has had an extremely adverse effect on young girls. Extreme dieting and disorders like bulimia and anorexia are seen in high school girls. Cases where girls ate tissue paper or consumed too many laxatives, have been seen as well.
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Even Canadians believe that a thin woman is beautiful. They assume her to be fit, healthy, and richer as she can afford good-quality food. Brazilians give a lot of importance to toned bodies. Women are encouraged to work out and get sculpting massages regularly.
East Asian Beauty
Chinese and Japanese people give a lot of importance to the skin. Women are considered beautiful only if they have smooth, flawless, and milky skin. Their skincare regime is extremely rigorous. Spa treatments and massages are not just an occasional treat but an essential part of the beauty ritual. They even shave their faces every day to exfoliate the skin. It’s hard to see Japanese women with curly or wavy hair because straight hair is considered beautiful here. Girls will undergo any chemical treatment to get poker-straight hair.
South Asian Beauty
Asians are obsessed with fair skin. A woman is lovely if she has light or pale skin. Light skin is associated with a high status or caste. Women with dark skin are looked down upon. Lightening creams are all the rage here. Basically, an ideal Asian beauty has big expressive eyes, fair skin, long hair, and a curvy body. In many countries, long hair is considered a sign of beauty. More than fit or toned, women are preferred to be delicate and demure.
Big is beautiful in Africa. Since most countries have a scarcity of food, a fat woman is considered prettier than a skinny one. In fact, thin women are pitied and don’t find husbands easily. Obesity is considered a sign of wealth in most African countries. So much, so that young girls are force-fed oily food and camel milk in countries like Mauritania to prepare them for their wedding. Girls are sent to special camps, where they are fed like cattle. They are even made to eat their puke sometimes. Such inhumane practices in the name of “beauty.”
Some Bizarre Beauty Perceptions
Scars are considered a sign of beauty in Southern Ethiopia. In fact, a girl is considered suitable for marriage only if she has enough scars on her stomach. The skin on the stomach is cut purposely starting from a very young age to ensure she gets lots of scars. Beauty is skin deep here. We all love tattoos but never really associate them with feminine beauty. But in New Zealand, Maori women have to tattoo their lips blue to be considered attractive. They even have tattoos on their chins. You must know how obsessed the Chinese are with small feet. They go to extreme levels to ensure girls have small feet, and practices like foot-binding are prevalent. The bones of the toes are broken and bound using a cloth. Girls as young as 4 years old undergo these cruel procedures.
In some South American and Africa groups, women wear lip plates that stretch their lower lip to extreme sizes. These plates are huge and are made of wood. Girls start using these plates from a very young age as the skin is very flexible then. Once the lip has stretched to the desired size, they remove the plate and wear it occasionally. A slender and graceful neck looks very alluring, but that does not mean you should look like a giraffe. In certain cultures in Africa, women start wearing brass rings around their necks from a very young age. Rings are added as they grow older. These rings push down the collarbone and make the neck look very long and slender. A woman is considered to be ready for marriage after she has a sufficiently long neck. This practice is very harmful, and most women become totally dependent on rings as their necks cannot support their own head.
Just reading about these so-called beauty standards makes us cringe. It’s hard to imagine what the women have to bear to appear “beautiful.” Beauty has always been associated with sexual attraction. All these women who undergo such pain do it to attract a good husband or be eligible for marriage. As Arthur Marwick said, “The beautiful are those who are immediately exciting to almost all of the opposite sex.” All these sky-high expectations of beauty have harmed women. Shouldn’t women be beautiful for themselves? Every girl has the right to look good for herself without caring about society or culture. The modern woman is independent and educated, and she does not need the approval of a man. Women are breaking free from these conventional standards and accepting themselves for who they are. We need more encouragement and appreciation for such endeavors.