Friday, January 16, 2015

Beauty in the Eyes of the Beholder

     While I admit I am stuck with shock, mostly aimed at the pain I can only imagine those women who have/do bind their feet must feel, I agree there is a great similarity to women who wear heels.  The contortion of the foot's born shape (I do not want to say "natural," a loaded term, but I can understand that "born shape" may also carry its own faults), from foot binding or from wearing a heel is a conformity to a standard of beauty, depending upon which culture one is addressing.
     I know that many of us female students admitted to wearing uncomfortable heels for the aesthetic results they produce--longer, leaner looking legs, height, elevated sense of confidence... When discussing bound feet, I think we were all relatively in wonder how that could be seen as thing of eroticism.  However, perspective is certainly necessary for understanding either heels or bound feet. 
     In both instances, individuals are participating in their cultures' standard of beauty and appeal.  The idea of what is beautiful is culturally constructed; we are not born knowing what beauty is, these things are taught to us through our society.  Certainly, if we grew up in a region where the heel was not known of, we would likely have different opinions on it.  So though we female students agreed we often wear heels for our own pleasure, I think we must also consider that we only find heels pleasing and appealing because we have grown up in a society that has taught us that they are so.  If we had grown up to find flat feet attractive, we might wear only flats.  If we were taught that short, stubby legs were attractive, we would probably scoff at the idea of wearing a heel, which ruins that visual. 
     I think it is important to consider one's temporal, geographical, and spacial location when thinking about ideals of beauty and "acceptable" body modifications.  Not only does this help us reconsider what we are examining, but it also allows us to, with greater success, remove ourselves from creating comparisons between "our" beauty and "their otherness."  It can help us think of foot binding as a cultural practice to heighten a female's personal and public sense of attractiveness--very much like the practice of wearing a heel.
     I struggle still with the concept of cultural relativism and where the line should be drawn between acceptable and unacceptable.  Pain cannot be a good indicator of  this, for what is considered unacceptable pain for one society  may be perfectly reasonable to another.  I believe in universal human rights, but I also am aware that other societies do not hold these sentiments.  Some societies see no violation at all in their practice of violence, such as female mutilation.  (I doubt they would call it "mutilation" themselves, though most Westerns cringe with disgust at what we consider to be an abomination against the female body.)  I personally believe the practice should terminate everywhere, but do not other cultures have their right to practice their own ideas of acceptability?  Do I have the right to condemn their practice?  Am I obligated, to an extend, to give the practice validity?  (I admit, I currently cannot.)
      As this course progresses, I hope to gain a better sense of cultural relativism and where, if at all, we can draw boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not.  I am eager to step out of my own standards and beliefs and attempt to reconsider the ideals I hold as "truths," for if I have learned anything yet at all, it is that absolutes are always more complicated than they first appear.    

1 comment:

  1. I had similar thoughts about eroticism with bound feet (as in, how in the heck can they be erotic?). Especially with the rotting smell. It made me think of this video I watched in health class in middle school that claimed that before hygiene was commonly practiced, the smell of sweat was considered erotic, because it was a sign that the person was old enough to reproduce (when you grow armpit hair, it traps sweat more easily and causes you to stink more).