Blog Post Week 6

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.

Reference:

  1. 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/
  2. 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
  3. 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

3 thoughts on “Blog Post Week 6

  1. I agree with your opinion about the physiques of different ethnic groups are different, and the standards of beauty and ugliness criticized by various ethnic groups are also different. We cannot judge contemporary female beauty based on individual aesthetics.
    You mentioned usually wealthier females were able to practice this. However, almost all the Chinese women have to do this during the Qing Dynasty. The foot-binding originated from the upper-level court dancers of the 10th century China’s Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms. It was later popular among the elites of the Song Dynasty and eventually spread to all social classes of the Qing Dynasty. ‘It has been estimated that by the 19th century, 40–50% of all Chinese women may have had bound feet, and up to almost 100% among upper class Chinese women.[1] The prevalence and practice of foot binding however varied in different parts of the country.’(Wikipedia)
    I think that the beauty of a woman comes from the constant shaping of the self. It is impossible to evaluate a woman from the outside. Beauty and charm can never be equal. Unfortunately, we often misunderstand the limitations of beauty.

    Outside resource:
    Foot binding, Wikipedia
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foot_binding#Health_issues

  2. Hi!
    I definitely agree with you when you mention that in order to help make feminine beauty standards more realistic and better for women to endure, we have to start by looking at the reasons behind why these standards exist and why the reasons why these practices are done. With the exception of the Chinese foot-binding, because we see that men really value the feet for beauty (See 2006), I really believe that most women think that men (or other women) are attracted to perfect breasts, skinny stomachs, and a nice butt, but I don’t think many men actually care about any of that. I think a lot of it has to do with how we view celebrities, and because they seem beautiful with all of this work done, women want to live up to those standards and looks. I’m kind of wondering if women place these standards on themselves after seeing that men in society think that people with these ‘perfect’ features are beautiful. For example, I know I’m a little insecure about my stomach. Every time I mention it, my guy friends don’t understand why, because they really don’t see a problem with it. Girls who I see as having the ‘perfect’ stomach, they would often comment that they’re too skinny. I’m not sure where these standards come from, but I do think it’s important to understand where so they can be stopped. I don’t necessarily think that if these practices were outlawed, that all women who practice will just stop practicing them. In the Newland article, they mention that when a government campaign was launched in 2003 for a zero-tolerance for the female genital cutting practice, it resulted in a medicalization of the practice when led to more invasive procedures than the ones they were originally preforming. We see that they often just took a tiny piece off of the clitoris, like a grain of rice, whereas if they got it done medically, they would take off much more (Newland 2006). I think it would be difficult for these people to stop this practice, because it’s not just societal views, it’s also rooted in their religion. They would have to change the way their God views this, as it’s said it’s viewed as men and women being equal. I would be worried that if it was completely outlawed, medicalized or not, that women would feel lesser or unequal to the men in their society as a result. I think this could lead to greater problems than this practice. Also, they could lose their sense of religion, since you have to be circumcised in order to enter a mosque. I definitely think women would stop practicing in these ‘beauty’ standards if it wasn’t a part of their religion, and mainly societal, like the plastic surgery and feet binding.

    Sources:

    Newland, Lynda. “Female Circumcision: Muslim Identities and Zero Tolerance Policies in Rural West Java.” ELSEVIER, 2006, anthropology.msu.edu/anp270-us18/files/2015/05/6.2-Newland.pdf.

    See, Lisa. “Snow Flower and The Fan.” Footbinding, anthropology.msu.edu/anp270-us18/files/2015/05/6.1-See.pdf.

  3. I like that you made the point that just because we don’t agree with something or that we don’t practice it doesn’t make it wrong. I think this week’s materials were pretty eye-opening. I don’t necessarily agree that outlawing a practice would eventually eradicate it. I do see where you’re coming from by comparing it to Chinese foot binding, but, I think that was a more rare occurrence because I feel that most practices that become outlawed just result in “underground” operations of the practice. I’ve been studying FGM/C in numerous classes over the past year and also for this class as well and there are many countries in Africa that have outlawed FGM/C, yet the practice continues in many of these countries and just become secretive and underreported. (See article about Kenya below). This can result in a lot more risk when performing the practice which, in turn, results in more infections and death. What are your thoughts on outlawing FGM/C? In cultures that practice infibulation, many girls die from it every year. I wonder if there’s a way to protect these girls while still acknowledging and preserving the cultural importance it holds.

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