Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Expansion or Constriction?

According to The New York Times article, “In the Land of Bold Beauty, a Trusted Mirror Cracks,” six Brazilian women have died of anorexia as of late. The article, penned by Larry Rohter, traces the transformation of the Brazilian beauty ideal from the guitar-shaped frame (heavy on the waist, hips, and butt) epitomized by the original “Girl from Ipanema” to the Euro-American shrunken hourglass. Gisele Bundchen, the busty-yet-lanky Brazilian model and ex-Leonardo DiCaprio squeeze, seems to epitomize the shift.

Now, Brazilian girls, instead of wishing for larger bottoms (what Brazilian men have traditionally deemed attractive) are pining for the stick-thin figures popular in the (industrialized) rest of the world. Late model Ana Carolinia Reston went too far, as did a handful of other Brazilian twenty-somethings. As the article suggests, the shift from guitar to twig, aside from begging the question of why we must compare women’s bodies to inanimate objects, signals a “rebellion against machismo,” with Brazilian women eschewing Brazilian men’s standards of beauty. But does it? Is this really cultural growth, or the shift from one standard of beauty (promoted by the men of one culture) to another?

Mary del Priore, a historian quoted in the article suggests:
“'Men are still resisting and clearly prefer the rounder, fleshier type. But women want to be free and powerful, and one way to reject submission is to adopt these international standards that have nothing to do with Brazilian society.'”
True, these women may be bucking cultural tradition, but it seems that now they’re simply playing by a different set of rules, characterized by an alternative submission that proves lethal at times.


Stella said...

It doesn't exactly seem like any victory to me. Women are once again fighting biology to adhere to a stronger force than the men in their society. I think to a certain extent that goes on in America also, as many men will get more aroused from a shaplier woman than the now standard of the "twig" as a beautiful figure. Who is this force if it's not the men?

As a biologist, I've learned and observed that all animals behave according to the pressures of selection, be it for survival or sexual reproduction. What possible benefit can this have if to look this way you have to forgo your natural gift to even menstrate and subsequently risk your fertility or even your life? How is it that fitting in to an exclusive group, i.e. "the beautiful people of the world" takes number one, as it doesn't even bring happiness, ensurance of a mate (many of us ED can attest to this-we'd rather be alone while we are starving), or increased fitness, all things that can often predict and explain animal behavior. Just a thought. As humans have evolved and tripled their brain size in the past 2 million years, we gained a structure called the pre-frontal cortex. Now we are able to do something that other animals can't do; simulate and anticipate what would happen if... We can picture ourselves performing tasks, and imagine the outcome of our actions. HOWEVER, time and time again, humans are horrible predictors of what makes us happy. Harvard pyscologist, Dan Gilbert, studies this, and has a popular science book called "Stumbling on Happiness: think you know what makes you happy?" Perhaps this is one of the most important things we believe is going to make us happy: being thin or considered beautiful by the culture at large. And because we as a society value beauty over almost all other societal values, doesn't it make sense that we would give up everything to attain this, even the preference of the very group of people we are supposed to be reproducing with? Once again, a thought-evoking post by Dr. Stacey!

ps22 said...

I'm all for playing devil's advocate and having a good intellecutal debate that examines different ideas...but this just seems like a far-fetched explanation to me (especially when written in the fashion-conscious, run-by-entertainment NY Times which is losing literary credibility faster than these women lose weight). I'm with Dr. S's suggestion - that the Brazilians have simply replaced a Brazilian body ideal with another from a different culture. If they were truly fighting against a male-dominated culture, then wouldn't a better solution be to eschew an "ideal body" concept all together?

Anonymous said...

I was SOOOO disturbed to read this. In the back of my mind, in view of the "fashionable" body type in the U.s. and now Europe, I always felt that in Latin America women still looked like women and men appreciated them.

I also don't see this as any kind of victory; Braziliam women are bowing to the pressure we in the U.S. caved in to long ago. I see it as a weak, not strong, trait. A strong woman would celebrate her body, no?

drstaceyny said...

stella--v. interesting point on the sociobiological flaws of e.d.'s. Thanks for providing information abt this topic. I have Dan Gilbert's book on my coffee table. ; )


anon--it would be wonderful if she (we) could.

Aimee said...

I find this interesting because I have a Brazilian boyfriend, who likes a curvy, big butt and big strong legs.

And I've noticed that even though this is meant to be what the guys like, many Brazilian girls I see are tiny all over.

While the guys supposedly like the big behinds, I see few examples of it. Also, while the behind is meant to be big, the rest of the body is meant to be perfect.

Anyone that has lost weight will know you can't tell your body where to lose it. I have lost weight and while my guy loves it he's worried I'll lose too much of my "bunda". I've told him he can't have it both ways.

I want to point out that many of the deaths have been those of models. Brazil has a huge gap between rich and poor. The allure of making money as a model is huge for those who may only get poorly paid work otherwise, and as a result I'm guessing those girls will do anything to keep their modelling jobs. Even dying for it.

There maybe something in escaping the masochism, as brazilian guys tend to be jealous and controlling, but also like others have suggested they are probably just being westernised as American culture floods their market.