What Is the Connection between Culture and Body Image?
The connection between culture and body image is based on the effect that different cultures in the world have on the perception of the members of various communities concerning the ideal version of beauty, something that may affect their perception of body image. That is to say that there is no one universally ideal definition of an ideal image of beauty since preferences are dictated by the various world cultures, even if such ideals may not be the same definition of beauty for another culture. Even though the various cultures vary in their descriptions of the ideal body image, such cultures also have peculiar ways in which they affect the way their members feel about their own bodies. This may not be unconnected to the level of tolerance or lack of the same in cultures for people who may look less than the accepted ideal.
An example of the differences in perception stemming from culture and body image can be seen in the case of the ideal body weight, a subject that varies greatly depending on the point of view of the culture under consideration. For example, this link between culture and body image can be seen in the perception of a slender physique as the ideal body shape in some cultures, especially for women, while the men are expected to be buff and very manly. Another culture might consider a female with a more womanly figure or with a little bit of weight to be the ideal body shape. Indeed, in some cultures, some married women take pride in their fuller figures as this is usually considered to be a sign of affluence. The same woman would probably have a different opinion of her body if she were in a culture that considers any type of extra weight to be not only unhealthy, but unattractive, a perception that is further promoted by the media with incessant depictions of their own versions of the ideal body image.
Another consideration in the issue of culture and body image is the manner in which the culture shapes the way in which people who may differ from the perceived ideal image feel about themselves. For instance, people who live in a more tolerant culture would probably not feel any pressure to conform to an accepted ideal body image. This will be the opposite in those cultures where the members are less tolerant since constant bullying and teasing of different looking members could result in very low self-esteem.
I have to own up to my own fascination with Asian women, but I didn't realize that within the Asian culture, different countries have different ideas about physical attractiveness. I once dated a woman from Korea who I thought was the most beautiful creature I'd ever met. She told me that in her home country, she would not be considered especially beautiful. She was a little heavier than the average Korean woman, for one thing, and her bone structure was closer to Chinese.
She said that every country in that region was different when it came to an ideal female image. Some cultures preferred fine features and pale skin, while others put more emphasis on body size or athleticism. She said Westerners are exactly the same way, though. What Italians would consider to be an ideal body shape isn't the same as what Brazilians find attractive.
I'd say some cultures encouraged a certain body type based on factors outside of anyone's control. A thin person with a high metabolism wouldn't survive very long in a typical Inuit winter, so Inuit women tend to have a heavier body type. Fair-skinned people wouldn't survive very long during an African summer, so darker skinned women became the preferred image in that region. What we outsiders might see as negative qualities, those who are raised in those cultures will see as positive qualities.
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