The “ideal” feminine body varies by culture. Understanding the reasons as to why a culture holds a certain tradition, or practice towards male or feminine idealizations does not necessarily mean you have to agree with what happens but look at it in a different cultural context other than your own. The way cultures develop ideas as well as ideals for males as well as females bodies helps give you a better perspective on their overall culture and history and how ideals have changed overtime. Learning the origins of a practice or tradition helps to give you a more broad perspective instead of judgment upon another. In various countries practices or traditions such as foot binding in China, Female Genital cutting in Africa, and plastic surgery here in the United States are all viewed by each other and other cultures as more or less dangerous. All these practices have essentially one thing in common and that is the hurt of oneself in order to gain status and acceptance in society, these practices are considered cultural norms within their community.
In china a common practice once upon a time was foot binding. Foot binding was said to be inspired by 10th century court dancer who bound her feet in the shape of a new moon. Foot binding is the continuous wrapping of your feet in order to make them and keep them smaller in size. In cities girls who came from the gentry class have their feet bound as early as the age of 3. In provinces far from ours. girls bind their feet only temporarily, so the look more attractive tot heir future husbands (See). Foot binding practices in China have connections to their expression of their ethnic identity, religious piety, obedience towards parents, signaled being an obedient daughter in law, potential good wife, sexually appealing to men most importantly prospective husbands, and showed a possession of wealth. Only the rich families could afford for their daughters to foot bind because for the poor it inhibited the daughter from being able to work. Progressively laws started to form against the practices of foot binding. In the 1800’s through 1930’s attempts to eradicate foot binding failed because they did not start with change surrounding the culture. Around 10 years later in the 1940’s foot binding was eventually outlawed with the rise of the communist party in China which reshaped all of Chinese society, foot binding disappeared.
In Africa female genital cutting (FGC) also referred to as female genital mutilation or female circumcision is something that is a criticized cultural norm based off of religion. In this ritual , no knife was used just a needle, no bloodletting. The midwife used the needle to scrape the clitoral area. When the baby started to cry she stopped ( Newland 2006). This particular procedure is picking of the clitoris usually done on babies. It is important to note that not all female genital cutting practices are the same. Other procedures include, infibulation, cutting skin around he labia or clitoris, or even removing part of the clitoris. Female genital cutting practices may be used as a rite of passage, and marriageability. In certain countries men find it more attractive that women who have undergone FGC , than women who have not. For example in Kenya. around 40% of women have undergone FGC, and Kenyan men will not marry uncircumcised women. Condemnation and isolation from their community are also problems to women who do not undergo female circumcision. FGC is still legal and because it is religion based if it was outlawed I believe it would cause many problems because it is their religious right to endure these practices.
Here in the United States there are many practices that we undergo that other countries may not full understand and plastic surgery is one of them. Plastic surgery has become the most prominent way to get your dream body with no effort, and all it takes is money! Using plastic surgery you can pretty much alter any body part from head to toe. Yet the difference here in America as opposed to other countries is that it is simply “by choice”, and there is no religion or tradition tied to the practice. Many women are willing to give up their whole life savings in order to under go these body changing procedures. If plastic surgery was outlawed here in America it would cause an uproar. Plastic surgery has become so popular and predominant through media, and celebrities that I do not think it is even feasible. Plastic surgery will keep progressing with time.
In the documentary the “Perfect Vagina” she examines particularly why in Europe women want to alter their vaginas and essentially there is no such thing as a perfect vagina, we let what men views, influence our thoughts on what our lady bits should look like. She also mentioned how these procedures went up to a whopping 300%.
No concept of beauty is the same in every country. All of these practices run the risk of infection as well as death. Most people will do what they can in order to achieve the “ideal” in their country even if it involves pain, and negative health consequences. We all ultimately not only want to be appealing to ourselves but the opposite sex.
See, Lisa. Snow Flower and the Fan. Chapter 1.
Leach, Heather: “The Perfect Vagina” (58min). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMJcGcBc2t8