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Beauty and Culture. Anthropology. Values . A standard by which members of culture define what is: desirable or undesirable good or bad beautiful or ugly acceptable or unacceptable Connected to “binary opposites”. Values are regularly contested.

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beauty and culture

Beauty and Culture



A standard by which members of culture define what


  • desirable or undesirable
  • good or bad
  • beautiful or ugly
  • acceptable or unacceptable
    • Connected to “binary opposites”
values are regularly contested
Values are regularly contested

For example, what makes a woman beautiful?

now your turn
Now your turn

Get into groups of three---

  • What make a person beautiful?
  • In your opinion, who or what determines what is beautiful?
  • Now share your definition of beauty with your group. Are there any similarities or differences? Why?
the answer often depends on when the question is asked
The answer often depends on WHEN the question is asked
  • Every period of history held its own standards on what was considered beautiful or unattractive.
  • Conceptions of beauty vary over time and place

Today mainstream America might cite a woman like this as being beautiful

but what about 50 years ago
But what about 50 years ago?
  • Americans might have said that these were the most beautiful women.
beauty is a function of culture
Beauty is a function of culture
  • Culture is defined as:

The total system of ideas, values, behaviours and

attitudes of a society commonly shared by most

members of society

How is beauty defined in our culture? What does this

“ideal” of beauty say about the culture?

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beauty depends on where the question is asked
Beauty depends on WHERE the question is asked
  • Around the world, there is not just one standard of beauty, but many.
  • Certain features of the face or body are emphasized in various parts of the world.

Women from Burma

cultural notions of beauty
Cultural Notions of Beauty

Watch the following video and reflect on the


  • Jot down examples of how standards of beauty varies around the globe and within cultures
  • What do other societies/cultures consider to be beautiful?
  • How does the “ideal of beauty” in other cultures differ from your own cultural standards of beauty

adornments for mouth and tattoos
Adornments for mouth and tattoos

Borneo Woman

Maori Woman with Moko

beauty accents focused on head or face
Beauty accents focused on head or face

Nigerian Woman

Mangbetu Woman

body size reflects cultural values too
Body Size reflects cultural values too
  • Today thinness is commonly accepted in many cultures as synonymous with beauty
  • Thinness is not the standard in every culture
  • Nigerian girls spend months gaining weight in “fattening rooms”
  • In some parts of Africa obesity= abundance, fertility
  • In West, “thin is in”. Most people hold negative view towards body fat=unhealthy
globalization of beauty
Globalization of Beauty

“Westernizing the human body has become a new form of globalization with beauty becoming a homogeneous brand”. (Zed Nelson)

  • Do you agree with this statement? Is there a global appeal of Western standards of beauty? Why?
  • How does the western interpretation of beauty shape the lives of individuals around the globe?
western beauty ideal
Western Beauty Ideal
  • Advertising campaigns have exported globally the “modern Caucasian beauty ideal”
  • Surgical operations in Asia to “Westernize” oriental eyes increased popularity
  • Africa, skin-lightening is widespread
  • South America, women try to achieve Barbie doll ideal (straight blonde hair and thin)
  • Current standard of beauty feeds fashion, cosmetics, diet, entertainment industries etc.
rooted in culture
Rooted in Culture
  • South India women bathed with tumeric which had anti-inflammatory and skin lightening properties
  • China- women used to swallow powdered pearls to become whiter
  • Brazil is the highest consumer of diet pills in the world and 2nd highest in plastic surgery
  • Iran is the nose capital of the world (60,000 nose jobs per year
rooted in culture1
Rooted in Culture
  • Some countries in Asia use Caucasian models to promote Asian products which leads to a universal standard of beauty
  • Industry facilitates demand by suggesting “whiteness” is the ultimate beauty and leads to success
  • Skin lightness affects job prospects, earning potential, desirability, social status etc.

(skin lightening video)


(eye surgery in Asia)


(Ponds Commerical Korea)

  • Why do you think many women adopt this universal western view of beauty? What leads them to want to look whiter, skinnier, smaller nose, western eyes etc?
  • How does this disempower women?
to summarize
To summarize
  • Values are standards set by the members of a society.
  • Values are often highly contested.
  • Values can change significantly over time.
  • Values can differ within one society and around the world.

Social institutions, ideology, values, beliefs, and technology transform a physical body into a social body. Bodies, therefore, provide important clues to the mechanics of society (Sullivan, 2000)