The power of Western culture
October 3, 2002 1:55 PM   Subscribe

The power of Western culture illustrated with the story of Miss World 2001. Agbani Darego of Nigeria is single-handedly responsible for a radical change in the feminine beauty ideal in her native country: voluptuous women are out, thin girls are in. A stunning illustration of the cultural power of the West, and a good example to think about what it means - for the better and for the worse - to those under its spell.
posted by ugly_n_sticky (14 comments total)
I'm curious as to why it's called "Western Culture". I can name quite a few "non-Western" countries where slim is considered beautiful.

The reason why larger women were considered more beautiful is no difficult to understand: Those in poor countries who have money can afford food. Those that don't, can't. It's not a matter of culture.

However, with change, more change is needed. Rather than simply become a thinner culture, there needs to be an emphasis in culture on the dangers of being too skinny, lest there be anorexia across Nigeria.

The upside to this, though, is that Nigeria's poor can now also be seen as beautiful. And I don't think that's bad at all.
posted by Kevs at 2:13 PM on October 3, 2002

Similar line of thought: TV brings eating disorders to Fiji
posted by ao4047 at 3:45 PM on October 3, 2002

This is depressing on so many levels, but a world-wide beauty contest seems destined to cause problems. And the idea of a shift in beauty-independent of the whole fat/thin thing-that takes one set of people and makes them the new pretty and the old good-looking set and makes them the new ugly. Yeesh.
posted by Wood at 4:10 PM on October 3, 2002

The woman quoted in the article was five feet eight and 130 pounds - yowza - give that girl a sandwich.

While "western culture" as described in the article may subscribe to this ideal, I know very few women that would strive for this, or men that find it attractive.

Were will this all lead? No one can get skinnier than say, Calista Flockhart, for lack of a better example - it has to stop somewhere.
posted by birgitte at 5:08 PM on October 3, 2002

true that, that ain't no woman; thats a bag of bones

she needs a sandwich and some pudding ;)
posted by nish01 at 6:25 PM on October 3, 2002

And of course the flash advertisement on that article for me was a thin woman with big breasts.
posted by Hildago at 6:48 PM on October 3, 2002

birgitte: The woman quoted in the article was five feet eight and 130 pounds - yowza - give that girl a sandwich. That's well within normal healthy height/weight ratios. Look around you, there are plenty of women (about 1 in 3 is my guess) with her kind of build, living healthy lives. They're called ectomorphs, and they (we) are your friends and neighbours :).

People are entitled to be attracted to her or not, but your response is personal, not general. Some of us--myself included--will think she's gorgeous. Others won't give a damn either way, not being attracted to any women at all, or not caring much about physical appearance. To some people the fact that she's black will make her more or less attractive than the fact that she's slim. For others, it'll be all about her eyes, or breasts, or something.

This is the problem with the generic beauty ideal. Some people's favorite food is chocolate cake. Some people's is spaghetti bolognaise. Some people like both. In what proportion should the two be mixed in order to make the food most desirable to the majority of people?

Looking only at build, most men have a fairly wide range of the bell curve that they are prepared to find attractive. A person has to be very fat indeed, or very skinny, to not be attractive to anyone normal. Probably so fat, or skinny, that he/she has problems well beyond the problem of an empty love-life.

Anyway, the whole Miss Place contest idea is pretty stupid. I think we've discussed this elsewhere and someone pointed out that the reason why Miss Places have been getting less pretty over the years is because the modelling/acting industry (and its subset, the sex/titillation industry) have been vacuuming up beautiful women at a rapid and increasing rate. So a pretty girl, inclined to trade on her looks while they last (and why shouldn't she, most of us here trade on our brains, which are exactly as well-earnt as beauty, and no-one suggests we should maybe get ourselves a lobotomy and stop showing off) is best off getting into modelling, where she can make more money in less time and with less effort and less meddling in her personal life.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:43 PM on October 3, 2002

The reason why larger women were considered more beautiful is no difficult to understand: Those in poor countries who have money can afford food.

That's part of it, but there's more. Larger women have less problems at childbirth tied into their build. I know at least three petit girls, who are considering having kids, that have been told by their doctors that they will almost certainly have to have a c-section.

Do not underestimate the genetic tendency towards women who can breed. I even have a couple of friends who were stuck in the 'thin, waify, model type' mold as far as their preference of partners went. Now that they're thinking about kids all they're looking at are girls with full hips. Guys who'd have written of girls as 'too fat' a year ago aren't giving thin chicks a second look. They know what they want, and it's not Kate Moss anymore.
posted by jedrek at 11:01 PM on October 3, 2002

jedrek: Or maybe it is.
posted by allaboutgeorge at 1:51 AM on October 4, 2002

This article smells of ignorance to me. I don't know anything more about Nigeria than the author, but the suggestion that one (albeit high-profile) woman can change a whole culture seems suspect. Especially when the author says this girl "changed everything" but then goes on to quote Nigerians who find her unattractive. What the author means is that this girl perhaps changed the opinion of a few younger, urban, fashion conscious individuals. Perhaps.

Also the assumption that there's one African culture with one ideal of beauty just has to be off the mark.


The average African woman is robust, has big hips, a lot of bust," he said. "That's what she offers in terms of beauty. It's in our culture."

Africa is the most genetically diverse continent on earth and therefore surely has the most diverse range of body types. The reality must be more complicated than 'Africans like them big'.
posted by Summer at 5:05 AM on October 4, 2002

It is true I made a generalization based on personal preference. Please don't think I'm ignorant of this.

But where would Metafilter be without generalizations based on personal preference? (A joke.)

Her weight/height ratio is (barely) within guidelines. (I just ran her through a test.) This is still an unhealthy, unobtainable goal for the average woman, who in the US wears a size 12-14.

Ectomorphs aside, I still say she could use a sandwich.
posted by birgitte at 11:14 AM on October 4, 2002

The woman quoted in the article was five feet eight and 130 pounds - yowza - give that girl a sandwich.

I'm 5 foot nine and 130 pounds - better give me two sandwiches.

birgitte, knock it off. You just ran her through a test? Please. The running of women through 'tests' is what you have such a problem with, no?

I'm healthy, I eat like a horse, and I don't care for other people's opinions on my body or presumed attractiveness to men.
posted by different at 3:21 PM on October 4, 2002

aeschenkarnos: right on

Whether the "goal" is being fat or being thin, the problem is with the existence of any "goal", not what it is. Just because some people may starve/stuff themselves to meet a "goal" doesn't mean we should demonize those who are naturally that fat/skinny.

Example: my girlfriend is a size 0 (5'6, 90 pounds). She doesn't diet, or watch her weight, or anything. She'd happily gain weight, but her body won't let her. I, on the other hand, am a vegetarian and try to avoid fatty foods, yet I'm 6' 190 pounds.

So, it still pisses me off when people (like those in this thread) think it's somehow OK to make fun of thin people, which the vast majority of them would jump all over those who would ridicule overweight people. Just because someone is thin doesn't mean they're neurotically obsessed with body image. They may just be thin.
posted by wildcrdj at 7:15 PM on October 4, 2002

I doubt we can ever be successful in getting young girls accept any physical form other than thinness as the ideal form. The whole concept of beauty and even, health, has too long been packaged by the fashion industry and sold to the whole world in the likes of supermodels and endless thin models whose shapes are "inspirations" to clothiers.

Against such a powerful marketing image, it is the more crucial for young girls to be educated on gaining self-confidence from ways other than appearances alone.
posted by taratan at 11:51 PM on October 4, 2002

« Older Want to sue some Terrorists? Put a Public Notice...   |   "The Antipsychiatry Coalition Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments