The saying goes that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” but it’s important to note that all of us see the world through the lens of our culture. So, it’s perhaps more accurate to say that beauty lies in cultural context. But culture isn’t static the world over, nor does it remain the same from one generation to the next. In today’s Simply CSOFT, we’ll explore the concept of beauty as defined in different cultures.
The version of beauty that has been idealized in North America since the late 1990’s emphasizes synthetic tans, hair extensions, fake fingernails, massive amounts of makeup, and clothes designed to either hide or emphasize features. Though their society openly acknowledges this style’s illusory nature (and often decries it), it nonetheless pursues it with abandon.
The perception of beauty in East Asia today is undergoing a rather radical change toward what some call “deracialization.” This emerging ideal of beauty emphasizes physical characteristics of those with European ancestry: a creased eyelid, larger lips, an oval face, slim, straight nose, and white skin. Of course, these features are hereditary and so Eastern Asians striving to achieve this look must choose to go under the knife. Common plastic surgeries include blepharoplasty, rhinoplasty, and genioplasty. Anthropologists speculate this trend is born of Western media influences but there are those who insist it is merely a form of self-expression.
While much of the world currently equates a thin body with beauty, some African countries – Mauritania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, to name a few – hold the opposite opinion. In these places, voluptuous bodies are favored. If one is too slight of figure, they are thought to be poor and thus undesirable. So people there – particularly women – consume as much as they can, some even going so far as to supplement their diets with drugs designed to make animals grow more quickly.
Women from different cultures may oppose each other’s view on what they consider beautiful, but all of these standards seem to have one thing in common: they are mostly unattainable. North American beauty is a mélange of over-the-top features, while East Asia looks to today’s most popular stars, most of whom are not of East Asian descent, and in parts of Africa, beauty is an unhealthy image that can lead to diabetes and hypertension. The figures we so often pursue are cultural constructs that end up constricting the real beauty inherent in each of us – the beauty inside.
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