I personally have always been critical about American beauty standards, due to the fact that I grew up with brothers and boy cousins. When my mom taught me how to shave my legs and wear makeup I was annoyed that I had to do all of that just so I would look like other girls and boys would like me, and I had to eat right so I wouldn’t get fat because society says fat girls aren’t pretty. However, after learning about Female Genital Cutting and Foot binding, I realize the things I had to do were not the worst. It seems insane to me that people bind their feet and mutilate their vaginas as beauty standards, but then I realized that it is relative. They probably think I am insane for getting my eyebrows and legs waxed, for going on a new diet every month to “lose that extra 10 pounds,” or for smothering my face with makeup every morning.
The works that we read about beauty standards explained how all these things were extremely normal and even desired by these girls on the opposite side of the world, and it struck a chord with me how these things are viewed in their societies. Female Genital Cutting and Foot binding are seen as erotic, practical for the man because it makes the woman less likely to cheat, and a standard that most men seek for finding their future wives. Men in the United States generally go for the girl that seems like she naturally has no body hair, can eat a ton of junk food but will not gain a pound, and has the elusive “natural makeup” look. So generally, if a girl is not thin and does not wear makeup, she probably will not date much. Comparing this to FGC and foot binding seems like a stretch but it is the exact same patriarchal idea that women who do not have “the” thing are not what a man wants. I found it interesting in the lecture when it was discussed that college educated men in Africa are more likely to be ok with marrying an “uncut” woman, but will want their daughters to be cut so that she can find a husband. This seems ridiculous to me because it is as if they are saying that being educated helped him see that FGC is not necessary and he would be “ok” marrying a girl without it, but he would like to continue the patriarchal idea that women must be cut in order to find a husband. It is like an American man playing with the idea that a girl might still be attractive if she had some body hair, if she was slightly overweight, or if she wore no makeup. Sure, they can play with the idea in their heads, but society has ingrained the standard in their brains that they need a woman to fulfill all their standards.
Another thing to think about is that fact that missionaries and people who think they are doing good travel over to places like Africa and China to try and stop FGC and Foot binding (even though foot binding has actually ended since the communistic reign), without realizing that it is an actual standard that women must uphold to be members of society in order to have a say. Women who are uncut are called Girls because they never reached that important stage in a girl’s life where she become a woman and is cut. Foot binding is an esteemed honor that women have if their family is rich enough that they can afford to lose the labor of their daughter, just so a husband will find her more erotic or faithful. We as United States citizens would never see FGC as normal or a cultural standard we would want to uphold, but it is a huge part of the culture for the people that do do it. If someone from Africa came to the United States to stop all of the terrible expectations we place on young girls to have the perfect body by starving themselves, wearing a ton of makeup, and being hairless below the eyebrows, people would freak out. Girls like makeup and it makes them feel empowered. People like diets and feeling good about their weight. Sometimes people may feel good about not having hair on their bodies. Regardless, it is not anyone’s place to come in without any regard for the other culture’s standards and tell them what they can and cannot do. We can think whatever we want about FGC and foot binding, but it is a part of their culture that will not change unless men decide that it is wrong and the culture changes. The same goes for our society: until the patriarchy decides that women can all look different and have different bodies and hair, women will still be doing whatever they can to look the way they are “supposed to.”