Definitions of feminine beauty vary across time and cultures; and while every culture has its own standards of beauty, it also has its own ways of achieving those standards. Humans are very ethnocentric creatures, we believe that our traditions and behaviors are elite and morally right and we tend to discredit the practices of other, foreign cultures because they differ from ours. In “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” by Horace Miner Western beauty practices are examined and ridiculed by the reader because the reader believes they are learning about The “Nacirema” when in fact, they are truly reading about their own culture’s body rituals. It can be hard for us to look at our own traditions with a judgmental eye because they seem so normal to us. But when we step back and attempt to understand other cultures definitions of feminine beauty and beauty rituals impartially, we will see that all cultures have the same goal but just different ways of achieving it.
Foot-binding has been a traditional practice in China since the tenth century. The process of foot-binding is extremely painful and complicated; the woman’s feet are submerged in hot water then her toes are broken and bound into the desired shape, and the arches of her feet are strained (Foreman 2015). After the procedures were done many women suffered from serious infections and re-breaking of the bones in their feet. Women with bound feet were seen as more beautiful and elegant than women with normal feet so despite the pain that women had to endure to obtain them, almost 50 percent of Chinese women had bound feet in the 19th century (Louisa 2007). Not only did they make women more desirable to the opposite sex but they were also a sign of upward mobility. If a woman had bound feet then she was considered much more marriageable, so many families forced their female relatives to undergo foot binding in order to move up a social class or be seen as elite. Eventually foot-binding was outlawed by the Republic of China in 1912 and anyone who continued practicing the ritual were fined by “feet inspectors”, and by the mid 20th century foot-binding was no longer practiced. I believe that this tradition lasted as long as it did because it was not just a symbol of beauty or elite social standing, it was a tradition that had become imbedded in Chinese culture, and preserving that culture was very important to the Chinese people. If it had not been abruptly outlawed and paired with punishments to any person who continued the practice, I believe that foot-bindings would still be practiced today.
Criticized as being anti-feminist and morally wrong, female genital cutting has recently become a heavily publicized and controversial topic among Western media sources.In West Java, female genital cutting, also known as female circumcision, is frequently practiced and is seen as a harmless, religious tradition among the people. For many people of Muslim faith, performing circumcisions on females is a way for female children to become a true, “moral” member of the Muslim community. Islamic people not only practice circumcision on females, but they also circumcise males and they do this in order to religiously symbolize that “both men and women are considered equal before Allah” (Newline 2006). If the government were to outlaw the practice of female circumcision because of its own ethnocentricity’s, then a massive part of Muslim culture would be gone and the Islamic population would suffer emotionally and spiritually. Culture is an extremely important part of an individual’s or group’s existence and when you lose your culture, then you essentially lose yourself.
Although plastic surgery is not considered a societal or religious tradition, it is a big part of Western culture. Because of the unattainable feminine beauty standards Western society sets, many women feel the need to undergo plastic surgery, whether it be on their faces or on their vaginas. Plastic surgery has become such a normal practice that 14.6 million cosmetic plastic surgery procedures were performed in the United States in 2012 (ASPS). Plastic surgery is an easy, yet expensive way to achieve the Western definition of feminine beauty and women feel that the closer they get to reaching this standard, the more comfortable and socially accepted they will become.
Miner, Horace. “Body Ritual Among The Nacirema.” Body Ritual Among The Nacirema. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Aug. 2015.
Lim, Louisa. “Painful Memories of China’s Footbinding Survivors.” Morning Edition. National Public Radio, 19 Mar. 2007. Web. 12 Aug. 2015.
Foreman, Amanda. “Why Footbinding Persisted in China for a Millennium.” History, Travel, Arts, Science, People, Places | Smithsonian. Smithsonian Magazine, Feb. 2015. Web. 14 Aug. 2015.
Newland, Lynda. “Female Circumcision: Muslim Identities and Zero Tolerance Policies in Rural West Java.” Elsevier. Women’s Studies International Forum, 11 July 2006. Web. 14 Aug. 2015.
“14.6 Million Cosmetic Plastic Surgery Procedures Performed in 2012.” 14.6 Million Cosmetic Plastic Surgery Procedures Performed in 2012. American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), 19 Feb. 2013. Web. 14 Aug. 2015.