To begin with a cliché, beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. What is beautiful to me is different than what is beautiful to my grandmother, and what is beautiful to her is different than what is beautiful to a woman on the other side of the globe. Some cultures appreciate curves, round bellies, large earlobes, long necks, small feet, large hands; the things that are beautiful in each culture typically stem from larger, deeper meaning, and may be gravely important to them, and pointless and arbitrary so someone of a different culture. What a person grows up hearing is beautiful, and seeing what physical attributes are praised learns what is expected, and what is shamed; attributes can stem from religious or spiritual practices, or may simply be viewed as astatically pleasing. Any way a physical attribute comes to being viewed as important, falling short of that standard is detrimental for a persons mental and even sometimes physical wellbeing.
Beginning with foot binding in china; this practice began in the 1200’s by a woman in order to entrance an emperor, and to be seen as sexually appealing. Foot binding later represented many things; it was an expression of ethnic identity, religious piety, obedience, representing a good wife, wealthy, and attractive (Lecture 6.1, 2015). Foot binding is clearly much more than just a physical attribute, it can be used to show a mothers love, religious as well as familial obedience, and symbolizes entry into womanhood (See, PDF 6.1). If a woman is strong, and obedient while going through a foot binding process, she is seen as having the potential to be a pleasant obedient wife, if a woman is crying and weak when going through the process, she is seen as a miserable nagging potential wife. If a woman’s foot binding process is poor and she wobbles when she walks, her value as a wife significantly decreases, yet if she has perfectly shaped feet, she can marry into a very wealthy family (See, PDF 6.1). Much of a woman’s life was dictated by the foot binding process largely from the 1200’s through the 1900’s, without it, much of the spiritual process, as well as familial tradition, pride, and marriage would be lost (Lecture 6.1). Simply stopping this tradition all together was attempted, but failed, because as mentioned without a cultural change, the cessation of the foot binding process was essentially impossible, but with the rise of the communist party, culture changed drastically, and foot binding prevalence changed with it (See, PDF 6.1). The author of the Foot binding piece seemed to observe an interpretive theory, describing the meaning that people ascribe to the process of foot binding.
My first experience in hearing about female genital mutilation was on an episode of CSI Special Victims Unit. FGM was depicted as being a horrible traumatic process, that the young female that was undergoing the process was terrified and completely against the process, which the people that performed the FGM were monsters making people undergo sever pain and often death. I wondered why such a thing was ever created, and today I learned why. There are four different degrees of FGM ranging from a pinpoint prick, to the removal of skin and sewing of the vaginal opening (Newland, 2006). This process is not for nothing, and is typically traditionally not meant to cause pain, or remove pleasurable sensation, but as a religious ritual, and cleansing process, and bonding of mother and baby (Newland, 2006). I learned that the pleasure center of the clitoris is mostly inside the body, not removed in most FGM processes, and that most women who undergo FGM experience sexual pleasure. Many FGM rituals are equivalent, or even less intrusive than the male circumcision widely practiced in the U.S. yet that process is not viewed as damaging and horrifying. FGM cannot just be outlawed because in many cultures, woman who do not undergo this process are called girls not matter their age, essentially never seen as becoming a women, and are forbidden to speak at community gatherings (Newland, 2006). Women would not feel like woman, they would feel embarrassment, shame, and feel disconnected to their religion and family. Lynda Newland also seemed to follow the interpretive theory, explaining what meanings people connect to the FGM process.
Lastly plastic surgery predominately in westernized culture. Interestingly, while foot binding, and female genital mutilation are very closely tied to spiritual, religious practice, plastic surgery is very closely tied to the aesthetic appearance more than anything else. When woman undergo vaginal reconstruction it is largely because they think its ‘ugly’ or ‘flappy’, and feel that their self worth is lowered because of the size, shape, and color of their skin. In the film, The Perfect Vagina, a plastic surgeon says, “You have extra skin on your eyelids, you snip it off, you have skin on your clitoral hood, you snip it off”; its not hugely different then many other cosmetic surgery’s thousands of people undergo (Leach, 2011). In the documentary Leach brings about the ideas of dealing with the negative thoughts connected to the body part, and self-acceptance rather than painful, permanent surgery. Although, if plastic surgery were to be outlawed, I do believe many more people would be struggling with confidence issues and, would not all of a sudden seek out mental help, but may take even more drastic measures. Leach took on a combination of interpretive, and feminist theory in her documentary; it told the story specifically of woman’s body insecurities, as well as the meaning we ascribe to our bodies, as well as the surgeries we undergo to ‘fix; them.
Leach, Heather. 2011. The Perfect Vagina. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMJcGcBc2t8
Newland, Lynda. Female circumcision: Muslim identities and zero tolerance policies in rural West Java.
See, Lisa. Snow Flower and the Fan. Chapter 1.