Categorized | Global View

Universal Standards

[tape]Models are notoriously glamorous. With their pursed lips, sleek hair, glowing skin and of course, ultra-chic clothes, they glide across the runway with gazelle-like movements. They are tall, thin and gorgeous. But according to who? For the old saying still holds true today: beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Recently, however, it appears the beholder’s view is becoming less diverse. Countries are beginning to shirk from their traditional standards of beauty and a global standard of beauty is taking its place. In particular, it seems the United States\’ fixation on beauty, thinness and physical attractiveness is being exported to other parts of the world.
Countries in the Far East are succumbing to Western influences, turning to plastic surgery to change their appearances, with China and South Korea as frontrunners. South Korea now has the world’s highest per capita plastic surgeons, with 1,200 practicing. Traditional Chinese beauties have oval faces, long, thick eyelashes, willow leaf-shaped eyebrows, long, straight black hair, slim legs and smooth skin. Now the most popular cosmetic surgeries in China are dedicated to Westernizing their look – double-eyelid, nose lengthening and liposuction are among the top requested surgeries.
East Asian languages junior Sara Weaver said Western beauty standards are beginning to seep into Asian cultures, but notes they have not completely taken over. “In America, everyone wants to be tan,” she said. “But I know in Japan there are a ton of whitening products and having pale, smooth skin is more desirable, and being tan really isn’t that cool.”
“It’s usually been that what happens in America happens in other regions like in South Korea and Japan – we have influence there,” mathematics senior Andrew Hoard said.
Ester Park, nutrition consultant for MSU’s new health promotion program Health4U, said the shift is due in part to the prevalence of Western media. “I don’t think it’s so much our preoccupation [with looks], but our media and our movies and all those things that are being projected across the world,” she said. [park]
“We know from studies done in Fiji in the \’90s [on] dieting and culture [that] there was no dieting at the time, it was seen as an affront to their culture. Then 10 years later they went back after they had cable installed, after they had access to our media channels and there was dieting and they were seeing eating disorders,” Park said.
However not all cultures have yielded to Western influence. “In Muslim cultures, in some, not all, but some of them just don’t accept Western concepts,” Hoard said. Another country sticking to its traditional beauty standards is India. Indian culture traditionally values softness and voluptuousness. The archetype of a beautiful Indian woman is epitomized by Aishwarya Rai, the reigning queen of Bollywood (Indian cinema) and former Miss World, who was dubbed most beautiful woman in the world by CBS in 2005. With her chocolate eyes, round cheeks and full lips, Rai would be considered beautiful on any continent, but it is her wide hips and ample breasts which make her the embodiment of traditional Indian beauty, because such features are thought to be indicative of a fertile woman, ideal for child-bearing. Indian families tend to be larger, so such a trait is customarily valued. Such value would go unappreciated in American or European fashion industries; however, since Rai’s curvy physique would apparently be too large to sell clothing.
Just last month, Tyra Banks went on a healthy weight crusade, appearing on several talk shows, defending herself and other fuller figured women after she was criticized for being too heavy at 5’10 and 161 lbs, well within the normal weight range for a woman her height. Though one could question whether or not Banks is an appropriate spokesperson for positive body image, considering her show – America’s Next Top Model – consistently features waif-like contestants characteristic of the majority of women in the fashion industry.
[scale]Within both the fashion industry and America, it seems the most valued physical attribute is thinness. “Just that skinny model type,” economics senior Heidi Parker said. “I think in other cultures, it’s more regular people [who are considered beautiful] than sickly thin models and I do think the media has something to do with it,” she said.
Park agreed. “Mainstream young America that watches MTV, they are going to see one image, the media portrays one image and that is thin, white and that is not what most of the women watching look like.”
The fashion industry, used to criticism for its favoritism of ultra-thin women, has been under heavier scrutiny lately in the wake of the deaths of several models, all of which were weight-related. Brazil, known for its booming fashion industry, has been churning out models for several decades now. Rather than body conscious as in North America or Europe, Brazilian beauties were known for having a slightly fuller figure. With the typical Brazilian diet consisting largely of carbohydrates such as rice, beans and bread, and lower in protein and meats, bodies with shapely butts and hips were both more common and more desirable.
Now, however, it appears Brazilians are also beginning to feel the pressure of the West and are experiencing a shift in their view of body image. Brazil has recently become the world’s largest consumer of diet pills and in the last five months, with six Brazilian models dying due to weight related complications.
The first model, 21-year-old Ana Carolina Reston, was just 88 pounds at the time of her November death, which sparked international controversy. Spain is now looking to prevent such tragedies. In September 2006, during Madrid’s Fashion Week, organizers initiated the world’s first ban of skinny models by refusing to allow girls they deemed too thin to walk the runway. The fashion show used body mass index, based on height and weight to measure models. Girls under 16 and those with a BMI lower than 18 percent were turned away from the catwalk. The decision came amid protests that young girls were trying to emulate models’ rail-thin looks. “I think they should make the requirement higher,” Park said. “Less than 18.5 percent BMI is a sign of an eating disorder. Bronx assemblyman Jose Riverva proposed a bill in late January pushing for similar requirements to be set for models and child performers in New York, however the bill has yet to be sponsored.” [heidi]
Parker isn’t so sure this is the right course of action. “It depends,” she said. “I don’t think they should penalize anyone for being too thin, but if it’s to get people to a healthier, more normal weight, then yeah, I think they should.”
The regional government in Madrid, which sponsored Fashion Week and imposed the ban, said they were doing so to project an image of healthy beauty, though they were quick to say they were not blaming the fashion industry for eating disorders or negative body images. Park agreed the blame should not be deferred solely to the media. “Yes, our American media gets infiltrated into other counties. I think that our culture, through movies and advertising does influence other countries, but it doesn’t cause eating disorders,” she said.
“Body image is more closely correlated with self esteem, if you feel good about yourself,\” Park said. \”If you don’t have self esteem, it doesn’t matter what the cultural standard is and if it applies to you, you won’t feel good about yourself.\”

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