Societies indirectly inflict a severe amount of pressure on woman to be “beautiful” and to adhere to the apparent standards one must reach in order to be considered appropriate looking. Throughout the ages, among various cultures, society has consistently depicted a particular way in which a woman should look in order to be deemed attractive. However, the harsh realities behind some of these practises and rituals that women follow, in addition to the brutal physical and mental pain endured by woman, generally remains hidden and unspoken of. Considering distinctive cultural traditions depicted and enforced by society in ancient China, Africa and England provides a great insight to the extreme measures that were taken on by women in order to be deemed beautiful. In addition, it sheds light on the extensive beauty regimes carried out today, that may stem from these striking measures from the past. This implies that we may be oblivious to the extent to which women will go to, in order to achieve the same physical depicting status.
Traditions such as the Chinese binding of feet traced back to 700AD, was still practiced until it became illegal in 1911 (Dutkiewicz, 2006). The practice was severe and painful, breaking bones, and giving way to infections and threatening health conditions. However, it continued to progress as it was considered a symbol of class and beauty. Even toddles were subjected to this tradition. Young girls’ feet were bound in wrapping to prevent normal growth, as finding a husband was incredibly difficult if they had been left unbound. Chinese woman were not to be seen bare footed, they were deemed only to be seen wearing their society’s traditional three inch lotus shoes (Dutkiewicz, 2006).
The Kayan tradition of wearing multiple rings of brass around their necks in order to appear to have longer necks is another example of imposed cultural beauty regimes. For thousands of years this form of body modification was associated with the Kayan culture. These rings originated from several traditional and mythological reasons; however they were predominantly worn for beauty. According to studies, the stretching of the neck is actually an illusion and it generally poses no threat to one’s health apart from initial discomfort, however removing the coils after prolonged use may potentially lead to suffocation because the neck muscles would not be strong enough to support the head (Anon., 2009). Girls as young as five began to wear them, and kept adding more rings until reaching a full set of approximately eleven kilos. Nowadays however, the practice is carried out generally with a half set for the purpose of beauty, tourism and keeping in touch with their culture (Anon., 2009). The brass coils are also frequently substituted with loose beads.
It is evident that in Victorian times, women also took unique extreme measures to be appreciated for their beauty. The greatly sought after hour glass figure in Victorian times was achieved through the endurance of wearing a metal corset, continuously tightened to ensure a thin waistline. In the early 20th century, these women dismissed their subsequent squashed rib cages and displaced organs in order to keep their perceived elegant image intact. Studies have suggested that breathing and digestive systems may have resulted from the narrowing of ribs, and impairment of the lungs, in addition to the compression of organs against the spine and into the lower abdomen (Anon., 2013).
Anon., 2009. Women Of The Long Neck Karen Tribe Removing Rings. [Online] Available at: http://www.thaimedicalnews.com/medical-tourism-thailand/long-neck-karen-tribe-thailand-burmese-border-remove-rings/ [Accessed 9 November 2015].
Anon., 2013. THE DAILY NEWS. [Online] Available at: http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/fashion/x-rays-reveal-corsets-put-squeeze-victorian-women-article-1.1353935 [Accessed 9 November 2015].
Dutkiewicz, R., 2006. The Chinese Tradition of Foot Binding. [Online] Available at: https://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/rschwart/hatlas/mhc_widerworld/china/foot_binding.html [Accessed 2015].