So while doing some research for a blog on what it means to beautiful I stumbled upon stories about cultural variations on the ideal body type. I found this really interesting and thought I would get your input.. here is an excerpt from the blog:
For example, in many African countries, being fat is considered desirable and beautiful as it is a sign of wealth and power. In an recent article I read about the obesity problem in Africa, many African men and women were asked their opinion, and the overwhelming consensus was that being large was not a problem, it was a blessing. According to one man, the larger a man’s wife and children appear, the more wealth he exudes to others. Another man pointed out that with a large percentage of the population infected with HIV/AIDS, losing weight or being thin is an indicator of illness. Both men and women feel more comfortable dating a fat person because they are seen as clean. This emphasis on fatness is so pervasive that many women go to what is called a “fat house” before they are to be married to become larger since larger women are more desirable. (Note: fat houses have recently been outlawed in many areas because the practice went hand-in-hand with genital mutilation). In the United States, however, being thin is a sign of wealth and power because thin people posses the money and free time to get fit and the will power and strength to resist tempting high-calorie foods.
So where does our focus on weight loss and fitness come from? Do you pursue fitness because of the medical research behind the benefits of fitness? Is it cultural pressure? Do you think you would view your body differently if you lived in another country/culture?
I've seen these articles before as well, but the problem is that in our country, it is seen differently. Those other countries see the overweight as healthy, powerful, wealthy because they can afford to eat those extravagant meals, etc etc. From what I understand, that mindset has stayed in those countries and as your article states, the thin is equal to sickness and the poor.
The media here however, has changed our views and only uses the sickly thin models or those that are considered beautiful in other ways. Here, you are not considered beautiful or a supermodel type unless you are a size 0 or smaller or have amazing boobs or derrière (I have neither, hah!).
I do try to stay fit and healthy for personal reasons, but it is hard to NOT think about what our culture has placed in our minds as beautiful. If it was the opposite, I'd be the model and the current Victoria's Secret models would be considered icky.
I'm interested to hear what others have to say on this topic as well.
Mini Goal: 140lbs Main Goal: 135lbs Ultimate Goal: 130lbs
That was a very interesting blog/article. It’s nice to know that beauty really is in the eye of beholder...the standards that have been set by the American media are not set in stone and don’t go for everyone.
It’s also interesting to see how weight has been perceived throughout history. I just wish I could have lived in the days when women with dimples and rolls were the ultimate sex symbols!
Yes it's really interesting to see just how much things vary with culture. My anthropology class was mentioned this briefly too and the idea that in the U.S. the view on fat and thinness having to do with puritanical roots is also pretty interesting. The idea that being fat is a result of being lazy and whatnot is pretty interesting - also living in a capitalistic society there is this emphasis on ambition, so that sort of reinforces the opposition to laziness (even if "laziness" is really a very weak explanation of obesity, it's still engrained).
It's quite interesting because it there is such an extremely narrow view of beauty as portrayed in the mainstream.. I would love to see more women at a variety of weights portrayed as beautiful, I mean, I rarely see a 130-lb woman of my height being glamorized - and the women that are a bit bigger than what is conventionally shown always have such opposition, it's ridiculous!
I think that understanding how fluid culture is and with it, the abstract notions such as beauty is what can help break how engrained it is in our society. Personally, I know these things, but that cultural pressure is still there to lose weight - it definitely influences how people treat me and even if sometimes I do imagine things, I've seen it.. I wouldn't say that's my motivating factor, but it's definitely a contributor to some part of my view on my own weight. This isn't to say I think its correct or justified or that people should conform to every societal demand even if its variable or unfounded, but because medical research supports me losing weight and building muscle to keep myself healthy, I give it leeway. I don't agree with the implications or the execution, but that's why I think we should have more of an emphasis on being healthy and not necessarily the conventional "beautiful" or rail-thin.
I think if I lived in a society where the stigma attached to being overweight was not the same as here, my self-esteem issues might of been different. But its all dependent on so many factors really. My family has a history of diabetes and high blood pressure, so losing weight now and getting healthy NOW is a very important matter to me, which is good because it allows me to work on my self esteem issues and separate my self-worth from my weight, as weight becomes more of a health concern - the beauty part being recognizably superficial.
Sorry this is kinda long!
Last edited by Starrynight : 03-22-2010 at 06:26 PM.
A New York Times article from 1999 'Study Finds TV Alters Fiji Girls' View of Body'
"You've gained weight'' is a traditional compliment in Fiji, anthropologists say.
In accordance with traditional culture in the South Pacific nation, dinner guests are expected to eat as much as possible. A robust, nicely rounded body is the norm for men and women. ''Skinny legs'' is a major insult. And ''going thin,'' the Fijian term for losing a noticeable amount of weight, is considered a worrisome condition.
But all that may be changing, now that Heather Locklear has arrived.
Just a few years after the introduction of television to a province of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu, eating disorders -- once virtually unheard of there -- are on the rise among girls, according to a study presented yesterday at the American Psychiatric Association meetings in Washington. Young girls dream of looking not like their mothers and aunts, but like the slender stars of ''Melrose Place'' and ''Beverly Hills 90210.''
or more recently
"At size 4, Fashion Week model Coco Rocha, 21, is latest of many women considered fat by industry
BY Amy Diluna, DAILY NEWS FASHION EDITOR
Coco Rocha is the latest victim of fashion's irresponsible, unattainable demand that young women - some barely into their teens - be emaciated. The 21-year-old top model, an outspoken advocate for industry reform, told The New York Times that demand for her services has waned, thanks to an occasional hamburger habit.
She's a size 4 - and she's gorgeous.
Compare these women with the models getting all the bookings - stick figures with jutting collarbones, thighs the size of their ankles and not a whisper of a womanly curve.
Two years ago, at the first of these useless events, she admitted that when she was at her thinnest - just 108 pounds (she's 5-feet-10) - someone told her to lose weight.
So she did, and made herself ill with diuretic pills taken on an empty stomach. She vowed never to do it again - and made a plea then to the people present at the dog-and-pony show to make a change.
It was a cry for help.
And no one has listened."
America has a whacked out media when it comes to reinforcing beauty ideals...
A lot of the designers in the fashion industry have a vision of female beauty that is not standard (studies have shown men prefer curvier women), yet they have helped define the cultural standard in idealizing woman skinniness.
They seem to have a certain cultural power to enforce the idea that anything beyond a size 2 or 4 is overweight. The tabloids then love to pick on women who put on weight and perhaps develop actual curves. It seems at times as if there is a fear against the power of a shapely woman figure. Is it a possible subconscious 'patriarchy' at work?
Luckily in the past several years there has been some push back against the extreme skinny ideal/ projections; such as Spain banning size 0 models from the run way, to more size acceptance efforts in the form of marketing such as the Dove Real Women campaign.
^ I think there's definitely a patriarchal element going on! Anorexia and bulimia are almost exclusively western, culture-bound syndromes, that's insane. The fashion industry has too much power over how our bodies are viewed.. This elimination of curves and healthy fat, the same elimination that shuts of a woman's menstruation cycle and causes psychological impairments in how we view our bodies is crazy. Then this movement towards androgyny in women models.. I don't know, are we supposed to strive to look like men? My BF is a feminist and we were talking about these ads we keep seeing about getting rid of your period save for like twice a year or something.. (I can understand health issues regarding needing to take birth control or whatnot, but why cure something that isn't something to be cured, especially when this can bring about maaany unnecessary health risks?). It's just absurd, especially with all the health issues that arise with drugs like that, menstruation is a very symbolic representation of womanhood, and even if it isn't something that defines a woman - there seems to be this focus to get rid of it! Like, to be "equal" women need to get rid of their curves, put on a tough face, have her body resemble a man's (even if she will always represent a lack of phallus), and get rid of menstruation. It's just really strange!
Starrynight...It's interesting to think about the idealization of thinness as women trying to become more masculine to compete in a patriarchal society. There does seem to be somewhat of a double standard when it comes to what makes a women beautiful or attractive in the eyes of society at large. On one hand she is told be delicate, graceful, passive, nurturing, and youthful. On the other hand she is told to be strong, self-determining, opinionated, and in control. With these mixed messages perhaps trying to shape ones physical self can either be seen as rebellion against the system or conformity in the face of defeat.
absurdeyes...It's funny you point that Fiji study since I have a section in my blog about that exact same research. It makes you wonder why a simple image someone sees on a television can alter his or her opinion of beauty when it's up against everything that person hears from the culture she lives in and the family around her. What triggers the brain to crave thinness just from television exposure when everything and everyone else in your life says any size is beautiful.
One more comment to make. Someone once pointed out to me how different my perspective might be if current runway models were called "undersized models" and current plus-sized models were just "models." How we label something can really change one's perspective.
Why is "supersized" food acceptable while "supersized" people are disdained?
I will never be a size 0. I don't want to be/ I don't like anyone telling me I should be or want to be. I also want to be able to move around without feeling like I have a large bag of dog food fastened front and back that I have to carry everywhere I go. I want to make sure now that I have quit smoking to improve my health, that the weight I gained while quitting isn't an unhelathy replacement for the smokes.
People come in lots of different sizes and shapes and most of them have a lot to offer. I think common sense should overrule media pressure and societal demands.
Interesting, I am british but have lived in South Korea for 6 years now. The women here are VERY thin, size 4/45kgs is standard, so is eating one meal a day (maximum 2 meals)... interestingly enough anorexia is not recognised here (I presume because almost everyone thinks eating more than two meals a day is pure gluttony!).
I've noticed that my own perception of what is 'thin' has changed. When I first came here I thought Korean women looked starved, I was constantly gasping at how thin their arms and legs were. Recently though, I was watching an American TV show and caught myself looking at a 'normal' (probably US size 8/10) woman and thinking how chubby she looked! I had to stop myself and give myself a reality check.. that is NOT fat, chubby or whatever other adjective popped into my head.. and size 4 is NOT normal (for me anyway!). It's hard living here, I've noticed all my girlfriends have issues with their appearances and weight that I think they wouldn't have back home. I NEVER feel sexy, or pretty.. I NEVER have 'thin' days anymore.. I constantly feel like an elephant.. it's sad.
I'm actually looking forward to leaving Korea so that I can have a more balanced perspective of my own body and other people's too!
Maybe the US's idea of what is 'thin' is actually ok.. compared to that of Korea anyway!
The view of beauty changes not just with place but with time ...
When my mother was young (born in 1913) she was teased for (what we would have considered) her gorgeous slim legs and called "spindly shanks" in derision. In the early and mid-part of the 20th century (not so long ago!) roundness was celebrated.
I remember my Dad talking about how heavy men were considered wealthy back then, I guess because they could afford to eat and not do physical labor.
Sophia Loren was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world when she was younger (probably still is for her age). Here is a photo of her back then on a movie set (she has since lost weight) and as you can see today she would be considered fat which I think is crazy.
Needtochange... I never knew that about South Korea. Do you have any idea of where that cultural norm stems from? I also think never feeling "sexy" or "beautiful" enough like you said has a lot more to do with self confidence in general. Note the study I mention below:
A study has found that obese women cannot erase their negative self-image even after losing weight. The 365mc Obesity Clinic announced on the 3rd that it recently conducted a survey on the weight satisfaction of 87 women who lost weight and 72 women who could not, finding that the women who lost weight were still likely to consider themselves fat.
It's almost like you may lose weight but it's really hard to lose that image of oneself as fat. We tend to equate fat with a bunch of negative qualities that are still "visible" post weight loss, one of those being low self-esteem. If a person hates everything about herself before losing weight, and attributes that dislike to her obesity, she is probably still not going to like herself post weight loss.
CJZee... I guess it wasn't any different when you mother was young in that people were still being criticized for their weight, it was just super skinny was out and fuller figured women were in. Wouldn't it be nice to live in a world where the size of your body wasn't a hot topic, and as long as a person was eating healthy and getting a moderate amount of exercise, however their body looked was beautiful and how is was supposed to be.
Fashion models are basically thought of as "walking coat hangers" for the designers.
How that translated into desirable figures is beyond me.
I do see a little hope in the celebration of women athletes, though. My daughters grew up in the age of Mia Hamm and the women's soccer stars and seem to want to emulate them more than the fashion models.
"Just a few years after the introduction of television to a province of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu, eating disorders -- once virtually unheard of there -- are on the rise among girls, according to a study presented yesterday at the American Psychiatric Association meetings in Washington."
It seems like it's media that triggers widespread eating disorders and body image problems. There seems to be something about being so widely connected beyond your own local residence that drastically changes norms.
Started 4/14/08 LINK TO PROGRESS PICS 1/1/2009
"It is impossible to live pleasurably without living wisely, well, and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely, well, and justly without living pleasurably" Epicurus
Definitely, the media has a HUGE effect here in Korea as everywhere else in the world. The women in the media are soooo thin and fit that bracket of 'perfection' (here anyway). South Korea is quickly becoming the plastic surgery capital of the world too.. I heard that almost 90% of Korean women have had some plastic surgery! The most common surgery is 'double-eyelid' surgery, but boob jobs and even calf reductions are becoming more and more popular with normal women.
I'm not sure if feeling 'sexy' or 'pretty' has more to do with lack of self-confidence in general or if I've also been tainted by these images that are everywhere. I know that I've never been so insecure in myself. It's hard to fit in to a society that I will always look so different from, no matter how much weight I lose.
Anyway, it is very interesting about Fiji.. the media definitely has a LOT to do with the idea of beauty.
Whether it's thickness in africa or thinness in the us it's all about the same thing, reinforcing that a woman's worth is based on their body.
I'm not pointing to anyone specifically in this thread, but I've heard those fat positives cultures brought up in a feminist perspective and that is just ridiculous. I don't see any difference between telling someone they need to skip meals or force feed themselves to look attractive.
Of course there is always the bizarre double standard with fat that it's ok to be fat in certain places.Even back when "fuller" figures were more in style they strictly meant fuller in the bust, butt, and hips. Lord help you if you ahd small boobs and a paunchy stomach.