As Far as the East is from the West

What if equality with a man was found in the field of beauty and cosmetics?  Can makeup and botox give women a voice?  I often decry that the modeling industry makes women slaves to beauty.  We idolize appearance.  At least that’s the perception in the West, the one I’ve encountered.  In the Eastern world, like India, it might just be the avenue for a woman’s liberty.  

Watch the documentary “The World Before Her” on Netflix.  

There is a young woman who wants to join the Hindu movement full time.  (Different from the subgroup of women getting involved in pageantry… where a woman can actually attain equality with a man as stated in the introduction of the film.  The Hindu movement is about discovering what it means to be a traditional woman in Hinduism, from what I could gather.)  Her father says he will not allow it.  He says her duty as a traditional woman is to get married, not train other girls about womanhood.  The dad said that in order to be a woman you must become a mother.  Childbearing, he claims, defines womanhood.  A man can not give birth and so to show femininity, a woman is only truly woman upon delivering life.  Understandably so, my blood boiled.  

Call me a Westerner.  Call me a progressive.  Call me a feminist.  Fine.  I think those ideals are outdated and shouldn’t permeate any society, Western or Eastern.  Perhaps the rally for women’s rights is something the West has done right!  (I’m an advocate of gender equality, not superiority of either gender.  I think a matriarchal society would be just as detrimental as a patriarchal one.  I think it needs to be complimentary…men and women equal based on individual strengths and weaknesses.  Weakness…something that another fundamentalist in the film says characterizes women…*I beat my fist on the table*)

Many men there (India) silence women by forcing them into marriages, forbidding divorce (even in cases of severe physical abuse), allowing marital rape, and shutting women in the home not allowing them to leave home without permission.  It is mostly men who protest pageants in India.  Women are property there, as evidenced by their old-world values of women remaining inside the home and quiet.  When a man propagates patriarchy and male supremacy, I become infuriated.  This man said his daughter had to do her duty of marriage and motherhood.  

How does a culture like this accept infertility?  

Watching another documentary, one about gendercide in India and China, I heard that infertility is often met with shame.  A woman who is not able to produce heirs is often beaten.  If she produces a girl she is mutilated, ordered to have abortions, and abused.  Sometimes a man is permitted to divorce his wife if she is unable to produce children, especially if she can not provide a male heir.   I may feel inadequate because American society perpetuates a notion that family means you have children, but I’ve never encountered abuse or outright ridicule because I’ve been unable to produce offspring.  Wow, I should be grateful for some parts of our Western culture.  

I’ve always said that when we have children I don’t want appearance to be a large focus.  Our children need to know their identity as children of God—boys or girls, athletes or nerds, extroverts or introverts- submitted to glorifying him.  However, I don’t think they should hide their beauty.  If they humbly accentuate it (which is possible but I’m not sure how that looks quite yet) they can use beauty to glorify God and find freedom in being content in the way their body looks.  

Being a Pretty Woman has given Indian women voices to their personality.  

I can only hope that our children will find the right expression of beauty that will permit freedom and comfort in their skin but not enslave them to appearance and approval addiction.  I can only pray that our child will have the balance of East and West…a sense of citizenship that is other worldly…

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2 Replies to “As Far as the East is from the West”

  1. Thanks Kelly! I really liked this post. We talk a lot at work about how these issues affect young girls, about how dwelling on beauty and the media’s portrayal of beauty and perfection affect self-esteem and body image, cause eating disorders and self-mutilation, etc. etc. It’s something I’ve been interested in for a long time. And it’s something I think about a lot. I think, like most issues, there’s a balance here between taking care of yourself and taking pride in your appearance and not falling into the traps of physical “perfection”. Like you said, “I only hope that our children will find the right expression of beauty that will permit freedom and comfort in their skin but not enslave them to appearance and approval addiction.”

    I’ve seen many people go way overboard in either direction, either connecting their entire identity to their physical appearance, which can definitely be harmful to self-esteem and self-identity; or completely denying their own bodies as a part of their identity at all. But I think what we know from God is that our bodies aren’t intrinsically problematic– they can’t be if Jesus came and took on a physical form in the flesh. We just have to learn how to respect our bodies and see our own beauty, while also respecting our spirits and minds and seeing the beauty in those as well.

  2. Thanks Jamie! What you said is so true. (Jesus taking on physical flesh and respecting our minds and spirits too.) I also recommend the documentary. It is heart breaking and eye opening. Other documentaries I recommend are It’s a Girl and Stuck. (About gendercide and difficulty in adoption respectively. All of them are intriguing and help to raise awareness of grave situations and injustice.)

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