What is the bigger picture behind beauty aesthetics across the world?

Outer Beauty

[1] Across many cultures, we see different perceptions of how men and women should look like. These aesthetics have developed throughout time, due to different cultures and etiquettes within our society.

First of all, a quick apology to these who were expecting an article in the recent weeks. I have had trouble finding an interesting enough article to present to you, especially having written quite a lot now. I propose that, in the future, if there are any articles topic you personally like to read, feel free to pop a message below. In this edition, I will be discussing the evolution of how beauty and its aesthetics are perceived across many cultures around the globe in Africa, Asia and Europe. These will be mainly concerning those of females, but also secondarily, within those of men as well. As usual, comments are welcome below.

One fundamental concept we must consider is the word beauty’s true definition. According to Oxford Dictionary, it defines as a combination of qualities – shape, colour, form, aesthetic senses – especially by sight. [2] Over time, the common notion of beauty has altered, affected by self-perception and obsession, culture and society. The quest of beauty is a statement of material wealth, social status and sexual appeal. [3] This is significant, this alters throughout time, because in the ancient times, beauty was recognised through harmony and symmetry of women. Moreover, in the contemporary ages, beauty is far more superficial, in the sense that being thinner is more attractive in the fashion world. [3] As American physicists and authors Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz pointed out, many celebrities are obsessed with cosmetic beauty, meaning we are obsessed with our appearance and weight. [4] On the flip side, Roizen and Oz both stress that there are other forms of beauty – how you feel about yourself and define your own life, rather than a general public affecting your opinion. [5] To elaborate on this point, it is perhaps right to suggest that, apart from the outer beauty, there has one’s self-perception of beauty comes down to mental health to be confident enough of one’s body. [5] Moreover, beauty can be seen as a more spiritual and internal beauty that can be seen through intelligence and personality, but this has been hindered throughout history as of women’s etiquette.

1) Africa and Asia – Long necks
Likewise to the Ndebele tribe in South Africa, the Kayan people, with a population of 40,000 inhabitants within the Burmese and Thai region, use many long neck-rings as a way to expose their beauty. [6] The origin of this habit is anonymous, but it is believed that it would elongate the bearer’s neck. [6] Furthermore, this being a very particular habit is purposely designed to make the females more identifiable, marry within the same tribe, and thus maintaining a strong tribal identity. [6, 7] By doing so, it is believed that the females would keep these neck rings as a way to prevent them from being stolen, a status symbol as it looks like Mother Dragon She and compete in many beauty competitions for attraction. [6, 7]

2) European Women
Within the European culture, there are two main angles to observe women’s beauty – art history and society. On the one hand, we have the development of women in art history, a nude, symmetrical, harmonious, innocent figure that has been cast through mediums found in sculptures and paintings alike. [8] These were amplified throughout the Greco-Roman ages, the Renaissance, the Baroque and early modern paintings. However, throughout time, the notion of beauty had altered. For example, during the ancient and Renaissance times, women were presented in a purist and organic form, showing their attributes rather vividly. Conversely, with early modern paintings, we see women presented more covered up, but the idea of having a curvy and attractive body remained. [8]

If we shift our attention towards Western society, teenagers and adult women have a fetish of being slim and curvy due to popular culture. In my opinion, this is a two way street – we can either head towards a more traditionalist approach or a more superficial one. As a more traditionalist approach, during Mussolini’s time, women were in a much more fascist state, preparing for wars against African tribal and European enemies. As a result, under the inauguration of the Battle of Births policy, women were left to be seen as a more orthodox and plump figure, as they had to be fertile and motherly so that Italy could successfully build up a strong foundation for Italy’s future as an expansionist and aggressive power. [9, 10] Or we can take the more superficial approach, as women are now more aspired by many celebrities and perceptions of beauty. This is increasing the levels of plastic surgery, to achieve a big-breasted, slim and curvy appearance for attraction for the opposite sex. More importantly, people accept these customs as a type of adopted culture and succumb to their ways, rather than adopting a more internal beauty type of approach, which is a shame.

3) Men

Greco-Roman statue showcasing masculinity
[11] A Greco-Roman sculpture, one to showcase the masculinity, elegance and strength in throwing a discus scene.

As with men, they have a less prominent role in beauty, as their etiquette was always believed to be to do with intelligence, the arts, science, diplomats and military officers. However, if we take our attention back to the Greco-Roman times, many important men were deliberately enlarged and carved to be stronger, an almost Herculean figure. This was key, as this showed men able to quell threats of mythical creatures like lions and Minotaurs, as a way to show their brute strength and elegance. As of now, men are more appreciated to be tall and of a well-built stature. They do not have as much of an obsession or even necessity of participating in beauty as women, but cultures and society alters the way they look.

One very apt example would be men from Japan and Korea, who have a habit of being more feminine. Unlike their predecessors who dedicated their lives as samurai warriors and hard-working employees, a new brand of men nicknamed ojo-men or lady-like men, prefer to be herbivore and feminine. [12] With bad faith in the Japanese economy and some men plunging in unemployment, the men resort to a more personal approach and self-achievement, in an Enlightenment sort of way. [12] This is significant, as this is seen as unattractive by the women who want a more masochist and responsible type of partner. However, indeed, with the lack of sexual attraction, this has lowered the expectations and roles for both men and women in the Japanese society. Consequently, they live in a much more comfortable environment both inside and outside of the office domain. [12]

In effect, I have presented to you a few examples of beauty across the world, namely in Africa, Asia and Europe – both in the female and male domains. Depending in which historical age we are focusing on, the level of perception concerning women’s beauty alters through art and society. This is key, as women can be presented as harmonious, elegant and curvy figures, as a purist appreciation to their bodies like men. However, in modern times, as with society, beauty is more superficial, tending towards sexual attraction with a big-breasted and slim body. Certainly, these perceptions of beauty can be changed in the circumstances where women have different etiquettes and cultures, for example as having long-necks or motherly roles.

As for men, they have always been a more dominant figure in research, military and diplomacy, men always had a secondary role in beauty compared to women. It has to be noted that men’s bodies were also presented as a nude, masculine, brute and Herculean figure. These all show the true and ideal soldier and diplomat that the great civilisations found in the Greco-Roman cultures. Indeed, as time progressed to many important battles, men were recorded to be potent and imposing figures for their own countries. Men, like women, have their superficial outlooks to attract sexual attention as well with big pectorals and abdominal muscles. Interestingly enough, these masculine roles have changed as the ojo-men or lady-men in Japan have shown what unemployment, herbivore and a more laid-back approach can do to this type of popular culture and etiquette between men and women. As an ending note, and perhaps most fundamental yet, we must be careful as what we define by the noun beauty – whether we mean 1) a more internal, meaningful or a more external, superficial approach I have been trying to emphasise throughout this aticle. I really hope you enjoyed your read again, and I will return soon enough with another edition of Speaking Seb! Till then! 🙂

[1] http://www.salongeek.com/attachments/news/32308d1365455105-aesthetic-beauty-babtac-responds-review-into-cosmetic-interventions-botox.jpg
[2] http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/beauty
[3] http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/sci_cult/courses/beauty/web5/mjain.html
[4] Roizen and Oz, YOU: Being Beautiful: The Owner’s Manual to Inner and Outer Beauty, (2008, Free Press, New York), Page 1, http://books.google.com.hk/books?id=r4SK0njE15sC&printsec=frontcover&dq=superficial+beauty&hl=en&sa=X&ei=R1khUrXLBM2yiQec6YDYCQ&ved=0CDkQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=superficial%20beauty&f=false, date of access: 31/8/2013
[5] Roizen and Oz, YOU: Being Beautiful: The Owner’s Manual to Inner and Outer Beauty, (2008, Free Press, New York), Pages 2-4, http://books.google.com.hk/books?id=r4SK0njE15sC&printsec=frontcover&dq=superficial+beauty&hl=en&sa=X&ei=R1khUrXLBM2yiQec6YDYCQ&ved=0CDkQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=superficial%20beauty&f=false, date of access: 31/8/2013
[6] http://news.softpedia.com/news/The-Giraffe-Women-of-the-Neck-Rings-37412.shtml
[7] http://www.huaypukeng.com/info_rings.htm
[8] http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/european/European-Ideal-Beauty-of-the-Human-Body-in-Art.html
[9] http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/life_in_fascist_italy.htm
[10] http://books.google.com.hk/books?id=lK9fEvB7ruAC&printsec=frontcover&dq=mussolini+and+women&hl=en&sa=X&ei=zlUgUrzULoKRkwXXqoDYAg&ved=0CC4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=fertile&f=false
[11] http://www.romancoins.info/116-1633_IMG.JPG
[12] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/dec/27/japan-grass-eaters-salaryman-macho