A question that probably has no definite answer.
I’m a huge fan of Trisha, the talk show. Just yesterday, there was this African American woman on the show whose definition of beauty was kinda skewed. She hated that she was African-American and preferred to wear blonde wigs as well as blue contacts. When Trisha asked her if she thought black was beautiful, she said that black was only beautiful if you made it but according to her, white was automatically very beautiful. Now i have nothing against any race but i couldn’t help but find her argument childish, mostly because i believe that all colors are beautiful and that terming one color being more beautiful than another, is only furthering a misplaced race stereotype. I felt sorry for her that she hated herself for being of African descent and was literally projecting her self hate to others who were comfortable in their skin.
In my country, i have heard women from different tribes being placed into certain ‘beauty’ categories by people who feel justified in doing so. Quite recently, one of our comedians decided to do a tribal joke, where he claimed that women of a certain tribe were pretty to look at because of their lovely faces but when they stood up, there was apparently nothing to write home about as they were lacking in booty. He further joked that while women of another tribe lacked in lovely faces, they were well endowed with booties that got men drooling as soon as they stood up. Needless to say, i personally found his joke in bad taste.
Several years back, i came to know of foot binding in China while watching a certain Oprah Winfrey Show episode. I couldn’t believe that there was actually such a thing as binding the feet, so that they could fit into really tiny shoes as women with large feet during that period in China, were considered unattractive.
For around 10 centuries, successive generations of Chinese women endured a practice when as children, their feet were systematically broken and shaped in such a way that they resembled hooves.
Every girl who wished to marry had her feet bound.
The procedure entailed binding the girls’ toes underneath the sole, using very long ribbons to wrap the feet all the way to the ankle. ( to avoid the feet growing too large)
In order to facilitate moving around, women with bound feet developed strong muscles in their hips, thighs and buttocks so much that these characteristics were considered physically attractive to the Chinese men of the era.
A practice that was reserved for the upper class in society and that was indeed extremely painful for the little girls of about 4 or 5. All in the name of acquiring that desirability or beauty if you may like.
The Mursi, Chai and Tirma are probably the last groups in Africa amongst whom it is still the norm for women to wear large pottery or wooden discs or ‘plates’ in their lower lips.
It is often claimed that the size of the lip plate is correlated with the size of a woman’s bride wealth.
Excerpts from http://www.mursi.org/introducing-the-mursi
And while these practices may seem thoroughly outrageous and excruciatingly painful to others of different cultures, to these particular peoples, it was/is perfectly OK for them to go to such lengths just to attract the opposite sex in marriage.
Women the world over have always struggled with beauty. They have always held a desire to conform to what society accepts or dictates to be beautiful. If you came from a society where being slim was considered more desirable, then women were willing to go to any length just to achieve that desirability. Likewise if you came from a society which considered a little more booty and big boobs to be sexy, then women would rather go under the plastic surgeon’s knife to get that big round booty and full bust.
Sometimes society is guilty of preaching the unattainable for some such as lighter skin being more prettier than darker skin. Advertising companies will put up billboards with African women, who are flawlessly caramel or latte in skin tone and sometimes avoid the darker skinned women, falling in the dark chocolate to ebony category and that single aspect, will get some darker women fretting because of their skin tone. Bleaching agents have been made available for women willing to go to any length to achieve that lighter skin tone. In my country, quite recently, a certain popular socialite lightened her skin to get a more ‘desirable’ look. Supposed moralists lashed at her for what they considered a bad example to the younger women looking up to public figures as role models, but she casually silenced them by a `my body is my money maker’ statement. Several months later, she was back with fuller boobs never mind that she was initially still well endowed. Nowadays, there are contests in my country such as `Miss Big Bum’ where women flaunt their assets to win the top price of the biggest bum of all.
You might think that all these things are pretty harmless when in the real sense their main aim is to preach a certain standard or definition of beauty that majority of women should have. There is absolutely no real definition of beauty. Beauty as i have come to realize is only a belief. It is this same belief that makes people and cultures to come up with enhancements such as body art and piercings to further that already existing notion of beauty. For women in Arabic and Asian countries such as India, the henna is a form of body art that enhances the sensuality of a woman. For women from other societies, perhaps the henna seems like an unnecessary bother and they would rather have a permanent ink tattoo as body art. The way a teen somewhere would think that having lots of piercings makes her prettier or cooler and another teen somewhere will only prefer two piercings on both ears and be comfortable with that also further proves that beauty is a belief.
Every society, culture and individual has their own definition of beauty. The diversity of it all is what makes each one of us unique. However, what skews this diversity is when certain societies start imposing their beliefs of what is beautiful to others and therefore ruining whatever uniqueness was initially out there. It is the confusion of it all that causes women the world over to have this inherent pressure to conform and equally makes them battle self esteem issues when naturally everyone is uniquely endowed in her own way. There are so many beliefs of what is pretty out there that should we start focusing on all of them as a particular society, we will be thoroughly confused or misguided. Instead what we should be doing is embracing whatever our beliefs of beauty are while respecting the different beliefs of others. The world would be really boring if all women would look the same.