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Chinese Cinderella - Cultural Standards of Beauty

A look at various standards of beauty around the world, from foot binding to lip stretching.
by

Mary O'Brien

on 10 September 2013

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Transcript of Chinese Cinderella - Cultural Standards of Beauty

A look at various
cultural standards of beauty

Chinese Cinderella
If you were to ask people from ten different parts of the world to explain what being "beautiful" or "attractive" is, you would probably get ten different answers.

In every culture, both men and women want to be considered attractive to others. And according to the Social Issues Research Center, being attractive gives people advantages, like being given jobs and being declared innocent in court more often than others. Why do you think this might be?

So what kinds of things have made people "beautiful" around the world? Let's take a look and see!
What is Beautiful?
Foot binding is a Chinese cultural tradition that started in the Song Dynasty in 950 AD. It involved breaking and binding young girls' toes back under the soles of their feet, until their feet were only three inches long. This was called a "golden lotus", and made a girl very desirable as a bride. It was a status symbol for families to have girls with bound feet because it meant they were not working in a field and raising crops.

Foot binding was extremely painful, and most girls and women couldn't walk very far or stand for long periods of time. It kept them dependent on their male relatives and husbands to provide for them.

The process was made illegal in 1912, but some families still bound their daughters' feet in secret.
Foot Binding
Look at how small the feet of these three girls are, how painful do you think it would be to support your whole body on only 3 inches of curled up bones?
In Burma and Thailand, women wear coils around their necks in order to create the appearance of an elongated/stretched neck. The process is started on little girls, and the number of coils women wear increases over time. The coils are heavy, and eventually push women's shoulders/collarbones down, which makes their necks look longer. Their necks can be stretched to over a foot long! The coils are a sign of wealth, and more coils means that a woman comes from a rich family.

Women used to stretch their necks because it made them qualify as beautiful wives, but now in countries like Burma, girls do it as a way to make money from tourists who pay to take their pictures.
Neck Stretching
Can you imagine how heavy those coils are?

Would you wear these coils if that was your only way to make a living?
The use of lip plates has been a staple in various cultures since the Aztecs and the Mayans. And even today, several tribes around the world still participate in the tradition where young girls have their bottom lips cut and have small plugs inserted into the hole. They can then increase the size of the plug as much as they want, creating an enormous bottom lip. These plates can be up to 6 inches across. This process typically starts when a girl is in her early teens, so around your age!

The wearing of lip plates is seen as a way to honor cultural traditions, and the women who do it are considered idea wives. Women who wear lip plates are also believed to be lucky. However, the practice isn't nearly as common as it was hundreds of years ago.

Is this any different from men and women getting lip rings anywhere else in the world? Why or why not?
Lip Plates
The use of corsets can actually be traced back thousands of years, but a huge boost in popularity occurred during the Victorian era. Women across Europe and America who wanted to be considered beautiful and fashionable tied themselves into corsets, pieces of cloth with bone/metal structures and laces. The process of "corset training"was actually used on both boys and girls, but boys typically stopped when they began wearing long pants at around 8 years old. Girls were put through "tightlacing", where their corsets were gradually tightened until their waistlines shrank. Some women shrank their waists to a terrifying 20 inches around! Women would continue to wear corsets their entire lives because an hourglass waistline was considered beautiful. World War I and II created a need for steel, so patriotic women gave up their metal corsets and they declined in popularity.

Corsets have come in and out of style many times, but do you think they are a safe idea?
Corsets
You might have watched this Prezi and participated in our conversations, but I bet some of you are sitting there thinking "Well, WE don't do anything that weird," but actually Americans are just as guilty of obsessing about beauty in strange ways. Apart from idolizing models who are often unhealthily thin, we are also a culture that has a lot of plastic surgery done to stay thin and young-looking at any cost. Even the shows and commercials we see on TV and online tell us to worry about looking a certain way to be considered "beautiful" or "attractive".

Recently, companies like Dove have started campaigns for "real" beauty by showing un-retouched photos of models. Are the pretty women they choose for commercials really that different than models they might have used before?

In middle school and high school especially, kids just like you are under a lot of pressure to conform to other peoples' ideas of what is "cool". How many of you have ever felt like you needed to wear certain clothes or have a specific body type in order to feel good about yourselves? How does that make you feel?
What About Here and Now?
Why do you think the popularity of cultural practices like lip stretching might be declining?
These drawings were done by a German doctor in the 1880's to show how women's organs could be hurt from being squished by corsets popular at the time. Do you think he was exaggerating?
Here's an example of Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty". What do you think of the way they showed the model getting Photoshopped?
Women aren't the only ones who get plastic surgery, just look at how much work Michael Jackson had done!
Joan Rivers is famous for making fun of herself for how much surgery she's had. But is it OK to make surgery something to joke about?
So what do I want you take away from this? I want you to be critical of what others' tell you is "beauty", and to remember that every culture will have a different idea of what that means. As we read Chinese Cinderella, remember that just because someone thinks differently than you, it doesn't mean that one way of thinking better or worse-you are just DIFFERENT!
A Warning...
Some things in this presentation might seem very strange to you because they come from different cultures.
I expect all of you to be respectful of the cultures that we are learning about. This includes being quiet unless asked a question, being polite and using your GPS for success.
Full transcript