Western Beauty Ideals A Cultural Term Paper

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Christy Turlington explains to Elle magazine... "Advertising is so manipulative," she says. "There's not one picture in magazines today that's not airbrushed."… "It's funny," Turlington continues. "When women see pictures of models in fashion magazines and say, 'I can never look like that,' what they don't realize is that no one can look that good without the help of a computer." (Hilary 13)

That's right, the beautiful Turlington, a woman that can be said as fitting the standard ideal of American beauty, admits that it is unachievable even for her. Why? Because even she admits that she has been touched up. In a similar exercise, we can only imagine the remarkable steadfastness this act must have taken, but it shows that there is a realization that this American image is unattainable (Domar 23).

The Trouble with Persisting Ideas

Even if the mechanism behind the spread and adoption of ideas is understood, there are still knowledge gaps as to why such ideas are being adopted. Yes, modernity and mindset does contribute a lot to explain why ideas are easily adopted, but it it's the retention that becomes the mystery given the context of extreme differences in culture. Remember the Bedouin aspiration for blonde hair? This cannot be completely explained just by the need for community.

The answer to this question might be partly explained by thinking about it in terms of encoding/decoding theory, a concept that was began with Justin Wren-Lewis in 1983. Though vectors could present ideas for a particular audience, there are interactions between the content and the audience that create meaning out of the transaction (5). In this case, aside from having an open mind and a more modern culture of thinking, the idea of beauty has prescribed by new media also creates meaning for the actual individual who is reading it in whatever fashion that makes it more significant. For the Bedouin women mentioned, it is just the idea of 'escape' that becomes significant to them, the 'blonde and skinny woman' as a symbol of freedom from their dire circumstances (Huss and Cwikel 12). In this case, context then becomes the primary driving factor into the adoption of ideas, whether it's about beauty or about something else entirely. This is not to say that whole communities would follow the same pattern, but in any case the notion of context is not entirely excluded from such an explanation. For example, given the same geographical locations, there is a higher probability of also having the same cultural characteristics.

A Notion for Transformation

If context drives adoption, and modernity facilitates the spread of ideas, it may be a complex task to unravel the threads that lead to the changes seen today. It is certainly a puzzling matter to see culturally different people to aspire for something that is way out of their local tradition, i.e. A Kuwaiti woman wanting to be 'blonde', but it may also be a troubling thought to just rely on tradition and work towards what was before. In short, should cultures that are in the midst of growing modernity be wary of change? Should foreign ideals be shunned, and tradition be the rule?

Of course, this idea would be more troubling given today's world. Dixon had already seen through this problem for the constant struggle is in knowing when and how cultures should change as a consequence of new ideas (8). In this case, the first thing that should be kept in mind is to realize that changes do happen and that there will always be an overwhelming complexity when it comes to exploring the consequences of modernity. Technology is in no danger of slowing down, and the acceleration of knowledge seems to infinite -- it is better then to just accept that this is the case and wouldn't change any time soon. This is a world of constant change, so to speak.

If this is the case, if the world will continuously change at the same rate, it is then better to arm individuals to become introspective of ideas and to become reflective of the general courses of action that are open to them. The main goal for today's cultures is to allow the opportunities to make meaning out of their experiences, and to fully realize how something should go. Changes are not necessarily bad per se for it is only the consequences of misconception that would drive maladaptiveness.

How could this initiative begin? One should first capitalize on the already existing imagined communities that spread and reinforce the current standards of beauty by allowing them the opportunity to discuss the matter in a manner that will be more conducive for the growth of ideas. Instead of just becoming consumers of what's trendy, the idea of pluralizing beauty might be an innovative way of changing the cultural mindset about aesthetics. To 'pluralize' means to create a widespread acceptance that there is no single standard for beauty and that there will always be other ways to interpret the notion of being beautiful.

In short, modernity and open-mindedness could capitalize to drive culture into an entirely new direction, one which allows the acceptance of difference in whatever form it may be found. Since there is a newfound realization that the world is a mixture of different cultural beliefs, then it makes sense also to translate this thinking into the perception of beauty.

Works Cited

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. New York: Verso Publishing, 1991. Print.

Chernin, Karen. Hungry Self: Women, Eating, & Identity. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008

Dixon, Violet. "Understanding the Implications of a Global Village." Reason and Respect 4.1 (2008). 1-5. Web. 15 May 2011.

Domar, Allan. (Prof) Harvard Medical School. Parade magazine, October 11, 2003.

Huss, Emphrat and Julie Cwikel. "Embodied drawings as expressions of distress among impoverished single Bedouin mothers." Archive of Women's Mental Health. 11.2 (2008). Web. 16 May 2011.

Martens, Pim, Axel Dreher, and Noel Gaston. "Globalization, the global village and the civil society." Futures 42 (2010). 574-582. Web. 16 May 2011.

Mitchell, Timothy. Questions of Modernity. University of Minnesota Press, 2000. Print.

Mcguigan, Jim. "The cultural public sphere." European Journal of Cultural…[continue]

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