Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Beauty & Insecurity

I've really been enjoying the food for thought about women's bodies & shame over at Women in the Scriptures.  There are also many great comments.  Basically, yes, there are times when we may not be clothed in public, like in a locker room at a pool, but why the insecurity about our bodies in those situations?  Apparently, men don't seem to be all worried about being nude -- especially in a locker room.

I began wondering how beauty is expressed in the rest of the world.  I wish I had more global experience or studied more anthropology about now!

We know that in the US/Westernized countries, there's a general ideal for beauty. I won't go into what it is, but you can figure it out -- just look at the billboards/magazines. We also
 know there's this drive among (some) women to want to look like those images. Why? Is it because it makes her feel good about herself? Is it because it attracts men? Does it provide a feeling of power? Is it a combination of some of the above?

Is this tendency to want to be the most attractive also true in other countries, particularly the non-Westernized ones? Do women still try and be beautiful? Do they do it for themselves? Do they do it to attract a mate?

In other countries, what defines beauty? Are some characteristics the same things as we see here?

In countries where there are arranged marriages, is there still this attractiveness competition between women? In countries where women are covered, is there also a competition for beauty?

In European countries where are the nude/nearly nude beaches, where people seem comfortable with their shape, is there still seeking to be the most beautiful/perfect body the rest of the time?


Tiffany Wacaser said...

Love your questions!

I'm only going to share what I've personally experienced living in New York, Sweden, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

First, the only place I have ever seen ads for plastic surgery is in Utah. I'm sure that there are plenty of women who get plastic surgery in NY, but it seems to focus on a very different segment of the population (very wealthy women--desperate housewives types). Otherwise, the women I knew in NY were really smart, professional, and concerned about taking care of their families and doing well in their careers. They wanted to look good, but weren't insane in that pursuit.

Sweden is definitely relaxed about nudity. But nudity there, especially on the beach or in the locker room is not sexual AT ALL. Really young children don't wear bathing suits and just toddle around naked. I think Swedes have a far healthier view of their bodies. I saw all sorts of bodies and women who didn't act competitive or silly about physical beauty. I'm sure there is some plastic surgery, but it isn't prominent there. Women and men have very egalitarian relationships and the society is set up in a very egalitarian way. In fact, I think men preen more and care more about fashion than women!

Of course, women there do want to attract men. But I just didn't see the extremes that are so prevalant in the U.S. I also think that women had a much healthier respect for their bodies. They generally eat better, exercise more, and take better care of themselves. I didn't hear a lot of self-hatred and loathing for their bodies, that is so common to hear among women in the U.S.

Israel has a variety of Jews in the country--some are really orthodox and go to extremes for modesty. But there are plenty of women who aren't active Jews--they culturally identify rather than religiously. . . Anyhow, when I saw women going to the synogague on Friday nights, they were dressed simply and modestly. I never felt unsafe or ogled when in Israel (except when I went to Palestinian areas where men stared very intensely at me--despite the fact that I was dressed modestly and appropriately.)

In Saudi, standards of modesty are strange. Women dress like Europeans or westerners, which means their clothing underneath those abayas isn't always modest. They aren't allowed to shed their abayas in the presence of men, unless they are related to men. They also cover their hair. Covering their hair and faces is even more important. In these cases, women bear the full responsibility of modesty. If a man has a lustful thought about them, it is the woman's fault that she wasn't properly covered. I personally think the extreme coverings hypersexualize women. Men aren't taught to control themselves or their thoughts.

Women in Saudi Arabia will attend extravagent all-night parties with other women, where they dress up in wild dresses that are pretty immodest in my opinion. I think that Saudi women care a great deal about beauty. Shopping for clothes, makeup, jewelry, accessories, and shoes is their only real allowed public entertainment. There wouldn't be so many beauty stores here if there wasn't a market.

Whether or not that beauty is intended to attract a man is a matter of debate. Since many/most marriages are semi-arranged by the parents, beauty is a secondary consideration.

Emily said...

This is absolutely fascinating to me. Thanks so much for responding! I wish more people would share their world experiences.