Different cultures define feminine beauty in various ways. The Chinese had foot binding in their past culture. There was female circumcision from Muslims in rural West Java. Then, there is cosmetic surgery in Brazil. Each place had their own idea of what is the norm of considering what is feminine beauty. Another person from a different culture might look at some of the societies form of feminine beauty and not agree with it. They might think it is harmful and unethical. However, we can not judge someone else for their beliefs just because it does not align with our own.
Chinese foot binding was done to show that a women was obedient and hard-working to their future-in-laws and husband. The men during that period found foot binding to be an attractive feature on women. This was a external symbol showing that this woman was going to be a good wife. However, not everyone could do it due to foot binding causing restrictions on the work a woman can do. Usually wealthier females were able to practice this. Another reason foot binding was done was to show their ethnic identity. Back in 1279, Mongols had taken over China. The invaders did not practice this form of beauty and it was known to be something that Chinese women only did. (Lecture 6.1 The “Ideal” Feminine Body, slide 6-7)
The United States, along with many other nations, consider female circumcision to be a form of female genital mutilation. However, in rural West Java, it was part of their culture to practice female circumcision. They do not believe this was harmful to the girls or had any negative effects on their sexual pleasure. They just believed that this was a normal practice to go through to be a part of the Muslim community. Not only did girls have to be circumcised, but boys had to as well. Both genders being circumcised showed that they were all equal in Allah’s eyes and worthy of being in his presence. It showed that they were clean and pure. If someone did not perform this ritual, they would not be able to enter the place of prayer, the mosque. Many midwives usually perform this circumcision on girls right away when they are born. However, each midwife does this practice differently. One midwife might use a needle to scratch the clitoral area and another might use a knife to cut off a small piece of the clitoris. One midwife, Ayah Enjum, even said that having circumcision of the clitoral area is not necessary. She said that if you recite a pray to Allah when cutting the baby’s umbilical cord, the child is automatically born a Muslim without having to perform any other acts like circumcision of the clitoris. (Newland 2006)
Another typical form of getting the “ideal” feminine beauty is by cosmetic surgery. The country of Brazil has the second highest number of surgery done, with the United States coming in first. Trying to find out the reason behind this high number of people wanting surgery, we have to first see the culture behind it. Brazil is known to have many beautiful women. The country is considered having people with the perfect body. It is a place known to have erotic features of bodies during their carnivals and festival and there is also a beach culture there, where many people are showing skin. However, they are affected by societies pressure of beauty as well. Research has showed that the number one reason behind why women want to get cosmetic surgery is because they want to feel normal. Normal to them means to have a flatter stomach, perky, breasts, and a nice butt. However, the women say that they go under the knife for their own self-esteem and to feel normal again. (Andrade 2010)
I feel that if some of these practices were outlawed abruptly, the women would eventually stop participating in these practices. As generations would go on, they would slowly stop doing it because the societies values are changing as well. An evidence of this is how foot binding has stopped in the 1900s due to the Chinese government intervening. From my point of view, I think that the authors and filmmakers came out with a different perspective on the cultures that they were researching. After understanding the reason behind the participation in some of these ways of feminine beauty, they started understanding why it was done. It might seem different than what we would do, but that does not always mean that it is wrong. People grow up in different places, and different places have different cultures. This world is diverse in that way. In order to help make famine beauty standards more realistic and good for women, we have to start by looking at the reasons behind it and try to understand why it is done before we try to go change it.
- ANP 206 Lecture 6.1 The “Ideal” Feminine Body, slide 6-7. Retrieved from http://anthropology.msu.edu/anp270-us18/lecture-videos/the-ideal-feminine-body/
- Newland, L. (2006). Female circumcision: Muslim identities and zero tolerance policies in rural West Java. Retrieved from http://anthropology.msu.edu/anp270-us18/files/2015/05/6.2-Newland.pdf
- Andrade, D. (2010). On norms and bodies: findings from field research on cosmetic surgery in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Retrieved from http://anthropology.msu.edu/anp270-us18/files/2015/05/6.4-Doneles-de-Andrade.pdf