Blog 6 – Pain is Beauty – Claire Walker

Female beauty is not a constant concept all over the world, what is beautiful in America is viewed as ugly in other parts of the world. Beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder. Even with in a specific country, like America, beauty standards are not the same for everyone. Culture is the main thing that defines a woman’s beauty. In certain parts of Africa and in Greek culture, a fatter woman is more attractive than a skinny woman, but in America woman will actually take part in risky procedures to be as skinny as possible.

Certain practices like foot binding, female circumcision, and plastic surgery are very controversial practices that happen all in the name of female beauty. Many articles and documentaries made about these practices use the feminist perspective to analyze and study how these practices effect and reflect culture and women. These practices function in different ways within their given communities, but all of them seem to be connected to marriage and eligibility. In parts of China, foot binding was a way for women to marry into wealthy families. It was a sign of how obedient of a wife the girl could become. Having tiny and deformed feet was a way that these women could be viewed as beautiful and the perfect wife, in America it is viewed as ugly and a form of torture. In China girls with unbound feet were viewed as poor laborers and could never marry to a wealthy or successful man and therefore never move up economically. As negatively as Americans view this practice, it is very similar to all the plastic surgery that happens in our country. Women in America are willing to go under the knife and completely change their bodies in painful and dangerous ways just to find a better man. Having a beautiful nose or skinny waist improves a woman’s chances of finding a more handsome and wealthy husband/boyfriend. As outraged, as Americans seem to be about foot binding in China’s history, they are allowing young American girls to do a similar thing.

Female genital cutting is a similar concept but has more of a religious connotation. African and Muslim women go through female circumcision and cutting in order to be seen as religiously clean for their husbands. Once again, this is a practice that the western world is outraged about, but in Heather Leach’s documentary Westerners are going through similar dangerous and painful processes. In the case of female circumcision it is a religious practice but one that is about being eligible for marriage. Muslim and African men have shown that they would not marry a woman who is uncircumcised or not a virgin. Western women are doing something very similar; they are having vaginal surgeries to have a more desirable vagina. Western women are doing this so they are more likely to have a partner. The practices do not really seem that different when you truly think about it, westerners have simply taken out the idea of religion. Lynda Newland’s article actually showed that, often, female circumcision is much less painful and dangerous than many of the “vaginal rejuvenation” practices in the west.

All of these practices are tied directly to marriage or dating, they are practices to make women more desirable to men.

Foot binding has already been outlawed in China but female genital cutting and plastic surgery are still legal in a lot of the world. If female circumcision was all of a sudden outlawed it would cause a lot of political and social unrest. It is a religious practice that is very important to many cultures. Women who were taught that they must be circumcised in order to enter the mosque would feel unclean and ashamed of their “unclean” bodies. Muslim women already have a lot of restrictions on when and where they can worship, this would simply make worshiping even harder for them. Muslim ideas about worship would have to change to allow uncircumcised women into the mosque. It would also create tension between the generations; younger women would look down on the older circumcised women and vice versa. Banning plastic surgery (outside of medical reasons such as burns) would have a much less drastic effect, but would still cause a lot of insecurity and social unrest. The western world has the idea that a woman can do whatever they want to their body and taking that away that liberty could cause a lot of problems. If these practices are going to be banned it needs to be done slowly, like putting a frog in water, people will need time to get use to the laws.

One thought on “Blog 6 – Pain is Beauty – Claire Walker

  1. Claire, I agree that if these practices were all of the sudden banned, it would cause a lot of problems. The “ideal” image that people aspire to be takes into consideration the quality of ones life. Reaching this “ideal” image is important to people and taking away the ability to achieve such would cause some uneasiness.

    It is easier to understand other cultures “ideal female image” after taking into consideration what we (and by we I mean most female Americans) aspire to be in the United States. This “ideal” image is relative to culture and is hard to change because people are always trying to “morph” to that regardless of the pain that is to be endured or the health issues related to that.

    It is interesting that this “ideal” image is universal to all cultures and countries but all perceptions of “ideal” are different. It is crazy that most are willing to fit in with what society expects them to be.


Leave a Reply