Culture, in my opinion, is the defining factor of beauty and what it is. Beauty, as defined by google, is “a combination of qualities… that pleases the aesthetic senses.” But what qualities are considered beautiful and what are not is completely up to each culture. Yes, there are instances where multiple cultures converge in their thinking and define one standard as beautiful, such as symmetry of the face and body, which is attributed to evolutionary roots (Enquist and Arak, 1994). However true this may be, it is still obvious that different cultures consider different qualities to be beautiful while other cultures may consider that very same quality to be repulsive or unnatural. Take Chinese foot-binding, for example. In a autobiography by Lisa See of her own foot-binding, she compares bound feet to “golden lilies” which is considered beautiful (See, 2005). However, in the United States foot-binding is basically next to torture and is highly regarded as not humane. In the case of genitalia mutilation, many people are appalled at the practices of African women. However, it is becoming a common practice for women in the United Kingdom to undergo labiaplasty, which reduces the size of the labia or completely removes it as is true in most cases (video, 2334).
These practices do have a function, however odd they may seem to different cultures. For example, getting plastic surgery to shape your labia he way you desire serves the purpose of building self esteem and making one more ‘beautiful’ in their own mind. In a documentary about labiaplasty, one woman describes labias that are not tight and hidden as a sign of childbearing and promiscuity (Video,1234). Genetial cutting in African nations serves the purpose to show the community that women are capable of bearing children and able to handle the pains as well as functioning as a right of passage into womanhood (lecture video). Lastly, foot-binding in China also showed that a woman was capable of handling the pain of childbirth and was disciplined enough to go through months of pain and inability to walk in order to achieve a goal of beauty- which is very valued in this culture (See, 2005). All these cultures have somethings in common though: these practices are generally connected to beauty and womanhood. They symbolize the transition to womanhood and woman who are not cut could be consider not as beautiful as women who are.
If these practices were outlawed, they would still persist. For example, in Africa, when westerners came and made efforts to tell women that genital cutting was bad and torture. They claimed women who had been cut would not have the same pleasures as women who were not cut. The result was women who had been cut and had been comfortable in their sexuality and bodies rushing to get surgery to get labias re-added and women who had previously been happy with their sexual experiences claiming they no longer found pleasure in it, attributing it to their genital cutting. Lastly, the Fuambai Ahmadu compared western women attempting to ‘educate’ African women on gential cutting a “white woman’s burden” (Ahmadu, 2007). Furthermore, once western missionaries came to China, they attempted to irradicate foot-binding but their results were futile because it was so deeply ingrained in the culture (See, 2005). Therefore, it is important to note that coming into a culture that is not yours and simply expecting to irradiate a practice that you deem harmful may not work and may actually be harmful to the individuals you are trying to help.
Theoretical perspectives are ways in which an author conveys their position or ideals and make them more credible in order to convince you to believe the way they do. In the case of Heather Leach, she made a video which is easier for people to access than an article because of barriers in education and abilities to read. Furthermore, she obtained testimonies from people on many sides of the issue and even went as far as to try some of the techniques they were employing. This makes her seem credible because she has experienced the events and she has testimonies from women who are actually experiencing the event in real time (Leach,234). In an article by Lisa See, she told a story of her perspective of foot-binding. This makes her more credible because it shows that she actually experienced the event and so this makes her more credible than someone who would be experiencing the event second hand and maybe not even at all (See, 2005) . The same is true with Fuambai Ahmadu, she actually experienced genital cutting and thus this makes her more credible. Furthermore, she makes her chapter sound like a normal conversation rather than an academic article. It seems more like a blog post, making it easier to read and empathize with which makes it more likely that you will agree with her if you empathize with her (Ahmadu, 2007). Lastly, in a paper by Lynda Newland, she uses examples from history and demonstrates an understanding of the culture by talking about cultural norms and what is important to them to show that she is not just an outsider on her high horse but that she actually understands the culture, thus making her a more reliable source of information about the culture and the individuals. This makes her more credible and it makes it easier for someone to agree with her if they think she is credible (Newland, 2006).
Ahmadu, Fuambain. “Challenging Myths of Sexual Dysfunction in Circumcised Women.” Anthropology MSU, 2007, anthropology.msu.edu/anp270-us18/files/2015/05/6.3-Ahmadu.pdf.
Enquist, Magnus, and Anthony Arak. “Symmetry, Beauty and Evolution.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 10 Nov. 1994, www.nature.com/articles/372169a0.
Leach, Heather, director. The Perfect Vagina. Vimeo, 9 Aug. 2011, vimeo.com/groups/145051/videos/4704237.
Newland, Lynda. “Female Circumcision: Muslim Identities and Zero Tolerance Policies in Rural West Java.” Elsevier, Elsevier, 11 July 2006, anthropology.msu.edu/anp270-us18/files/2015/05/6.2-Newland.pdf.
See, Lisa. Snow Flower and the Fan. 2005, anthropology.msu.edu/anp270-us18/files/2015/05/6.1-See.pdf.
Serena Williams Extra Credit
The factors that contributed to doctor’s not listening to Serena Williams include her gender and her race. The intersection between her being a black woman further aggravated the issue. This shows that our society does not value or consider the opinions of individuals who have those qualities and especially the individuals with specific intersections in their qualities: such as minority women. One intersection that may have saved Williams is that she is famous/upper class. Society views these individuals as more credible and is willing to listen to them more than lower class individuals. Furthermore, black women from lower classes are unfairly stereotyped as “loud and dramatic” which may impact if a health provider takes into consideration their concerns. Had she been a lower white class woman she may have been listened too but lower class black women are the most at risk group to not have their concerns taken seriously because of physician biases-whether it be conscious or not. Studies have found that people will make snap decisions when deciding what race a specific facial type is so it is likely they do the same with social status and race (Freeman, 2011). The author suggests that physicians should take a step back and actively work on avoiding making decisions bases on bias and taking every individuals concerns seriously; especially if they were experienced patients with a health issue like Williams was.
Freeman, Jonathan B., et al. “Looking the Part: Social Status Cues Shape Race Perception.” PLOS Medicine, Public Library of Science, 2011, journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0025107.