The idealized image of beauty found within each culture mankind has created since the dawn of its history has been a unique product of contextual factors. Some of these idealized conceptualizations offer little challenge to the observer attempting to understand the impulses underlying human behavior. For example, the essay writer recent preference within many modern cultures for thin women, not withstanding, until very recently, the opposite was generally true. The widely accepted explanation for this opines that a woman who carried more weight, in previous generations, earned favor based on the theory that she must be from a wealthy family and class to be provided the luxury of excess food and enough idle time to become overweight. Other body and image related concerns are less easily traced to the likely root cause with anything resembling decisiveness. The matters involved become further confounding in the contemplation of the potential impact idealized body images with a culture might have on those the image concerns. And then there remains the fact that never before has a society existed which assaulted a developing female with reinforcements of her culture’s standards of beauty so relentlessly, magnifying the potential effect of that glorified version of a real woman to an extreme degree. This document argues that the unavoidable depictions of an unrealistic standard of feminine beauty that are ceaselessly projected at the senses of women and girls promotes the development of physical and psychological illness in the female gender.
Cultural studies of civilizations both past and present offer examples of damaging effects resulting from cultural practices of control on the women of a society. “The body can be a site for the expression of power in a culture.” (Sullivan 542) In her article, Sullivan discusses this concept in relation to the cultural practice of female circumcision, where the submission of a female to the demand that she allows herself to be mutilated indicates her position of subservience to a patriarchal society. The premise here holds that by accepting permanent damage to one’s own body due to the internalization of a culturally imposed understanding of femininity, one demonstrates the presence of a power within society which dominates the women and girls of the culture. As the article clearly demonstrates, the damage to the body through these practices takes many forms other than genital mutilation. Given this fact, a reader might consider the widespread occurrence of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa in modern society. Some readers may rebel at the comparison of eating disorders to the ritualized genital mutilation, but such a response reflects either ignorance or short-sighted evaluation of effects.
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Anorexia and bulimia are both eating disorders, and the habit demonstrated by some involving the disregard of such health concerns fails to recognize the impacts of these behaviors on the human body. Anorexia involves particularly serious side effects, including brain damage from chronic malnutrition, which can also lead to general organ failure. Chronic dehydration due to anorexia leads to damage in to the heart, liver, and kidneys. In fact, it is not at all surprising to medical practitioners when a person with anorexia eventually experiences heart failure. The effects are the result of what amounts to a daily decision by that woman to once again accept the damage to herself, to sacrifice for the sake of an idealized concept of femininity she was never intended to actually achieve. If a the decision of a young girl to submit to this only once, no matter how horrific that one event might be, rationality demands that one evaluates the choice to allow their body to be slowly murdered for the same underlying need as that which motivates acceptance of female circumcision be evaluated within the same modality of the female gender in submission to the male dominated society.
Due to the vastly divergent lives experienced by women and girls within societies that actively practice female circumcision and Westernized cultures like those found within Canada and the United States. They conditioning required for submission to a clitorectomy follows the expectations of those onlookers when they examine the culturally enforced conditions a woman endures from birth. Canadian and American women are free to dress as they please, behave in whatever manner they choose, and generally self-direct their own lives. Given such a circumstance, to equate women of each culture defies reason. Or it would do so except for the existence of a handicap that a woman in the alternate culture would largely be able to avoid. No such luck exists in the two major North American powers. The process of conditioning behavior or thoughts requires sustained repetition of a stimuli on the target individual. That requirement is met and surpassed every day by the countless image reinforcement seen by women and girls every day without exception. For example, assume that a woman in her freshman year of college must drive four miles to school each morning. On this morning commute she passes 8 billboards, 2 of which involve female models in some capacity. On campus, she stops at a café for espresso and watches the tv on the counter while waiting for her order, at which point she is surprised to see a beer commercial, thinking it is awfully early for such while on her way to class.
In the above example, the young woman has already been given 3 reinforcers within her general surroundings, possibly more if she has magazines on her coffee table or watched television while preparing to leave. This subtle, barely noticed reinforcement causes enough damage alone, but is then worsened through the positive response women receive from peers and the opposite sex if they happen to lose weight or otherwise adjust their appearance to align with the image that daily accosts their senses whether they like it or not.
In the article, “Pressures to Conform”, author Celia Milne provides further proof of the damage caused to women from the ideals they feel required to seek for themselves. To elect to undergo plastic surgery for such an aim reflects even more the underlying impulse to be the idealized version of feminine beauty within one’s culture. Such procedures involve risk from complications during the surgery, the potential for dissatisfaction with results, plus the pain involved in recovery. The complication from surgery alone involve a real risk, however small, that the person on the table might not survive it. This risk seems negligible in the face of beauty. Then, according to the author, the same woman likely will leave the hospital or office from her procedure and light a cigarette. This due to the increasing rate of smoking among Canadian women even though the risks involved with this habit have not been a matter of secrecy for decades (Milne, Celia 223).
The example women discussed in both author’s work and those imagined by this author may not have referenced any specific woman in the discussion, but make no mistake, each woman does exist. Many examples of each lives and manages the physical and psychological damage created by the cultural notion forced upon them of what it means to be beautiful. The results of these foreign conceptualizations are women disfigured, sick, cut open, slowly dying or already dead with a single word of protest, all because they want to be pretty.
Milne, Celia. “Pressures to Conform.” (2007).
Sullivan, Deborah A. “Social Bodies: Tightening the Bonds of Beauty.” (2007).
- Thesis: Depictions of an unrealistic standard of feminine beauty that are ceaselessly projected at the senses of women and girls promotes the development of physical and psychological illness in the female gender.
- Relentless reinforcement of the image of beauty
- “The body can be a site for the expression of power in a culture.” (Sullivan 542) In her article, Sullivan discusses this concept in relation to the cultural practice of female circumcision, where the submission of a female to the demand that she allows herself to be mutilated indicates her position of subservience to a patriarchal society.
- Underlying premise of acceptance of damage to the self to match the ideal
- Anorexia and bulimia
- Anorexia involves particularly serious side effects, including brain damage from chronic malnutrition, which can also lead to general organ failure.
- Chronic dehydration due to anorexia leads to damage in to the heart, liver, and kidneys.
- eventually experiences heart failure.
- sacrifice for the sake of an idealized concept of femininity she was never intended to actually achieve
- must be evaluated like female circumcision
- Conditioning through repetition of stimuli
- Example of woman in college
- a woman in her freshman year of college must drive four miles to school each morning.
- On this morning commute she passes 8 billboards, 2 of which involve female models
- Women receiving plastic surgery
- Increase in smoking even knowing risks