Harmful Ideals

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It is interesting to compare standards of beauty in different cultures. I discovered an article from BBC news that described the culture of the African country Mauritania. Traditionally, women that are considered attractive are significantly obese. From a young age, girls are encouraged, and sometimes forced, to overeat, often receiving a greater amount of food than males. Although the prevalence of this practice is dwindling, the origins of this attraction stem from obesity being a symbol of wealth. It is interesting how ideals of beauty in many cultures are blown out of proportion, sometimes resulting in the physical harm of an individual striving to fit a social norm. In Mauritania, this is the force-feeding of women from a young age to reach an extreme.

When comparing this to standards of beauty in the US, it is interesting to find connections with the standards in Mauritania. Obesity is a growing problem in the US. Many individuals that suffer from obesity develop serious health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease. Obesity is often linked to poverty, where individuals do not have adequate access to, or understanding of, healthy food choices. Women that are considered healthy in the US are often thin. Sadly, this obsession takes a different direction than in Mauritania, where women here may develop severe eating disorders to reach a different extreme.

On a different note, it is interesting to look at Mauritania's unique social ideal from an alternative, evolutionary viewpoint. Perhaps the fact that many Mauritanian men are attracted to obese women stems from genetic factors. Perhaps fathers that are attracted to this type of women pass on their genes, and therefore their offspring share this preference. In a community that lacks access to food, these women are more likely to survive and produce healthy offspring. It is possible that men who were attracted to thin or unhealthy women had fewer offspring, therefore not passing on this preference.


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Looking from a culturally 'neutral' standpoint, it is very interesting to see why/how these ideals may have become the norm in this society. The idea of female fertility has been a huge factor since the beginning of time, being that larger women are more fertile and their bodies are more 'genetically fit' for childbearing. Sadly in this community these women are being forced to the extreme point of obesity, which is a whole other issue. I defiantly understand how these ideals have been formed in this community, but this is a very extreme case.

I find this quite interesting that a woman's beauty is decided on her rather large body. It's not right to force feed these women, clearly they are getting enough food. The excess food should go to the less fortunate. I know this is an aspect of their culture, but don't they know that obesity can also lead to death if it gets out of hand. I wonder if there is a gene in the women of Mauritania that gets them to think they are more attractive the bigger they are as well. This whole concept just can't be and isn't healthy and I feel that the women of Mauritania could encounter other problems with their health, such as depression if a man didn't find them attractive.

It is amazing how much of an influence culture can have on behavior. While this example seems very strange to us as we have such an emphasis on being thin, perhaps to other cultures it would not be as strange as practices such as anorexia in the US. Other practices such as makeup which can be harmful to skin could also be seen as very strange. Good Article.

I feel like sexual attractiveness is socially constructed versus genetic. What seems to be genetic is the urge to survive and reproduce healthy offspring. It's interesting to see this play out in different areas of the world where different health concerns are most important.

This is so interesting! I wonder what would have happen if the media didn't portray beautiful as being sickly skinny. Would we as a culture still find more voluptuous women more attractive? I can hardly imagine a culture where they force women to eat more just to gain weight since it is just the opposite here. I think people should just eat healthy foods and exercise regularly. Then, however you turned out would be just fine, as long as you were healthy. I know that might never happen, but it would be nice.

This was a very interesting post and I think it is very relevant to today's American culture compared to others. "Social norms" seem to heavily influence people to conform to those norms. For example, in some cultures, being very pale is considered attractive. However, in America, most people consider tan skin to be more attractive. This idea has led to many people going to extremes to "fit in" with the social norms and be tan, such as going tanning even with the known risks.

I believe a large reason why the men in Mauritania find larger, overweight women the most attractive is because it's a third world country. In a way, it seems that the environment may play a significant role in what we find attractive. Because Mauritania is pretty poverty stricken (bringing in a GDP that is .025% of the United States) a larger woman may be more attractive, since it is unusual to find a woman who can afford to be obese. It's a display of wealth (and health to a certain degree) that intoxicates the opposite sex.
The same thing can be applied to what we find attractive in the United States and other developed countries. Since the amount of food we have is astronomical compared to 3rd world countries, it's easy to eat as much as we want. Because hunger isn't much of a problem in society, we find a fit, tan woman to be the most attractive. Again, this is a display of wealth and health; a fit woman has enough time to work out and get a tan while everyone else is working all the time.

Your last statement was quite intriguing as how you said that maybe the Mauritanian men preferred obese women because they were more healthy and able to produce more offspring. That is an interesting way to view their culture. I wonder what is the standard for Mauritanian men?

I always find it extremely intriguing when it comes to the "eye of the beholder". To our society, being obese is considered frowned upon and there are countless efforts to try and reduce our nations obesity ratio. On the contrary, you go over to Africa or some other cultures, and they admire the person who is one hundred pounds over weight. It all comes down to social norms and what you were raised to be attracted to. There truly is someone out there for everyone.

This is definitely something different from the US. We seem to have this image of an "anorexic" as the beauty and Mauritania is quite the opposite. I think that last part you mentioned about healthy offspring is quite interesting though. Maybe that is a reason why they do that. Anyways I feel like no body type can ever be perfect, many girls want to be skinny, and then some girls who are too skinny want to be bigger. This topic could go on for months for girls.

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This page contains a single entry by style014 published on April 8, 2012 9:35 PM.

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