Beauty Therapy

Beauty Therapy And Culture

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Beauty is not one’s own, but it is rather a reflection of one’s culture. Beauty therapy and culture is a vast field. It shows your background and what is seen as ideal in your society. Different cultures have different perspectives pertaining to which physical attributes are most ideal. What is considered beautiful in South Africa could be utterly dreadful in another continent. Women from all walks of life will go to extreme lengths just to be considered beautiful. They will carry out unbelievable beautifying tasks in order to reach the highest standard of desirable beauty. As a woman myself, I would like to simply define beauty as the desire to be admired by another person. It brings tremendous joy to us women to be complimented on how beautiful we look. According to some cultures the more beautiful you are, the more respected you become. Your social position and authority would be highly boosted.

Certain painful initiation ceremonies carried out in several African countries surely points out the heavy implications that culture has on beauty. One is made to believe that if you have not undergone such procedures that you are not a woman. You won’t be accepted in society, you won’t appear to be appealing to men.  To a greater extent, the seeking of a mate is one of the major factors that drive ladies to take drastic measures. Most times women adorn themselves for the opposite sex and the public eye not entirely for themselves. Therefore, women in most cases are remote controlled, if at any instances that the controllers decide to change their mind then women are forced to follow suit.

Here are distinct examples of different physical attributes that certain societies perceive as most desirable, and hence as the ideal image of the perfect woman.

Global Beauty Standards

  • Teeth

Having perfect teeth is the norm in many highly developed countries as well as in most parts of the world including South Africa. Women are willing to spent thousands just to attain a straight set of pearly whites. Cosmetic dental surgery has become so much popular that it may be considered a sin to have bad teeth in this Twenty First Century.

However, women in the Far East beg to differ on that. A multilayered or double tooth is the latest trend in Japan among younger women today. Having perfect teeth there is so outdated and makes you look older, they say. This new snaggle tooth phenomenon was greatly influenced by a popular girl pop band called TYB48 or tsuke-yaeba48. Their first album was entitled “Mind If I Bite?”This group is reported to have been formed by a dental clinic located in Tokyo. At this clinic middle school and high school students are given a half price discount. The trend is also formally known as tsuke-yaeba named after the prominent girl band.  To achieve this look the molars crowd the canines thus pushing them forward to create a fanged vampire like look. One chooses whether they would like the artificial canines temporarily or permanently glued to their teeth. The total cost may equate to US$400 per tooth.

So what’s the reason behind Japanese women paying a fortune to ruin their teeth? Apparently, Japanese men think women with fanged teeth look a whole lot sexier than those without. To them it is a unique component of beauty especially on women in their teens and twenties. It creates a youthful childlike appearance and to them that is highly attractive.  So if you have naturally multilayered teeth,be confident because Japanese women are dying just to be like you!

  • Pale Skin

Caucasian American women are greatly renowned for their skin tanning. They will spend a considerable time exposed to the sun if possible. A tanned skin is viewed as highly desirable and makes one look much slimmer. However, in the Eastern and Southern parts of the world women will do anything they can to stay away from the sun.

This pale skin obsession is popularly known as skin bleaching.  It is quite common in Asia, South America and in most parts of Africa. Being lighter is seen as more beautiful than being several shades darker. When you are lighter it is said that your chances of being successful are ten times higher than those of a darker women.  This has resulted in dark skinned ladies using all kinds of concoctions some of which are highly harmful to the skin all for the cost of beauty. Inspite of the risks that may be involved,that surely won’t terrify them from trying to elevate their skin tone. Skin bleaching is mainly blamed on the media as it sets the standards of women who are appealing to the public. In most advertisements, television shows and magazines there is a higher percentage of lighter skinned women.

In Africa, Nigeria leads as the highest consumer of skin bleaching products. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) a whopping 77% of Nigerian women would spend their very last cent on a skin lightening product.  Ultimately that also ranks them as the world’s number one users of skin lighting products.  Black is not seen as beautiful at all. Lighter women are at a higher social status. West African men openly declare that a fair skinned woman is the most ideal woman in their society. A suitor would not think twice if asked to choose between a dark skinned lady and a fair skinned one. Some women have gone to the extent of having a full body laser skin lightening plastic surgery. It is said that it’s much faster and will leave you smooth with an even skin tone. However, such a procedure would come highly costly but they would rather choose to be penniless than being dark.

Due to the toxic dangers of skin bleaching that may result in skin cancer.  Certain African countries have banned the selling of such products. These countries include Ghana, Zimbabwe and Ivory Coast. However that may be, business seems to be thriving illegally in streets and black-markets.  To put a stop to skin bleaching will surely not be that easy.  Particularly, when the media greatly distorts the minds of women forcing them to succumb to the fact that being lighter is the ticket to a better life.

· Exotic Eyes

It is said that the eyes are the mirrors to the soul. Middle Eastern women live by this fact.  Since most Arab countries adhere to a strict dress code, therefore women will seldom get the opportunity to show some skin. So what’s left for them to showcase is the face in some instances only the eyes. Middle Eastern women are well known for their flawless eye make-up. Since it is the only way in which one may appear to be attractive. It is customary for every woman to possess black kohl eyeliner which enhances the eyes making them more alluring and exotic. It is said that a woman’s eyes are compared to the eyes of a certain deer which lives in the desert.

Whilst Middle Eastern women are experts at eye makeup, South Korean women have taken their eye beauty to a whole new level. Currently South Korea is the reigning plastic surgery capital of the world overtaking Brazil. Double eyelid surgery has taken South Korean women by storm. Eyelid surgery entails around cutting the outer end of eyes creating an epicanthic fold resulting in much rounder and wider eyes. Thereby achieving a classic westernised look. It is reported that a double eyelid surgery scientifically known as blepharoplasty has become so regular that it is the same as going to the dentist.  According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, one in every five South Korean women has undergone some sort of cosmetic reconstructive surgery.

Over the past few decades Korean women have associated beauty with professional and economic success. Most women admit social and family pressure as their main source for going under the knife. As means to fit into a society which embraces fuller wider eyes, it leaves them with no choice but to jump on the bandwagon.  Some women say after the surgery it would be much easier for them to apply eye-make up because of the newly developed crease. In the job market attractiveness is a competitive advantage and job applicants will go as far as photo shopping their resume images to land the job. So for those who aren’t Asian the double eyelids you possess are much more precious that you could ever think.

· Body Art

When it comes to decorating the body, the Indians are master experts’ with their highly skilled decorative body art called henna or mehendi. In the olden days, henna was used as a remedy for blood circulation related diseases as well as for soothing pain. It was also said to possess homeostatic properties. Due to the hot climates of South Asia henna was made into a paste and placed under soles of feet and palms of hands therefore cooling the body and regulating body temperature. However, it was realised that once the henna dried off it formed patterns.  That’s when some creative person came up with an idea and discovered how to use it for adornment. So that’s how this art form was created.

So what is this henna? Henna is a plant which contains a red-orange pigment called lawsone, whereby when it is combined with proteins it forms a dye that stains the skin. In today era it is more commonly used for beautifying purposes especially during wedding ceremonies. It would be totally strange for an Indian bride not to be decorated with henna on her big day. Therefore, the bride’s family ensures that they get the best henna artist on the market. Engraving initials of the groom on the bride’s hands has also become a popular trend. The original basis of this tradition was that the bride would get more love and affection from her in laws according to the duration that the colour would last. So if the Henna faded slowly over a long period it meant you would get more love. That resulted in brides opting for the best quality there is so that it does not come off easily.

Quite similar to the art of henna is the tamoko of the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. Ta moko is the unique permanent body and facial markings or tattoos performed on both men and women. The procedure unlike the Indian’s henna is much more painful. The instruments that would be used are small chisel-shaped pieces of bone, shell or a sharks tooth. However, quite recently needles were introduced as they are much faster but most Maori people prefer the hand tools in order to keep in line with traditional ways.  The instrument is dipped in a specific type of pigment and then penetrated into the flesh creating deep incisions into the skin. This process will then leave permanent grooves onto the skin. After the operation one would be forbidden from looking in the mirror, partaking in sexual activities as well as touching your own food. It was believed that by doing any of these things that the markings would fade.

To the Maori people, a ta moko is literally a visual language. No two tattoos are alike; each marking has a meaning linking to the genealogy, social rank and prestige of the wearer. It’s like having your name written on your face in immaculate handwriting. On the other hand, for women it also serves aesthetic purposes. Maori women only have their lips outlined and their chins patterned in solid blue pigment. It is believed that a woman’s beauty would be enhanced thereby creating an illusion that draws attention to the eyes as well as to the rest of the facial features. By not having a facial marking as a Maori woman one would be equated to walking around bare because you would not be complete. Concluding to the fact that a regular woman will not be valued as a lady until she gets her own ta moko then she will accepted.

· Elongated Necks

Padaung women located in Myanmar believe that beauty lies in a long neck whereby one would be regarded as being graceful as a swan. From a very young age, girls have brass coils attached to their necks. Before the initial coil is fitted, a priest would massage the neck and a miniature cushion is placed underneath to prevent chafing. The coils would then be added annually until the entire set is complete which can weigh up to about 10kg!  Having brass coils around your neck is surely not that easy. A Padaung woman has to be very cautious of how she walks and sits, the most comfortable position would be sitting straight legged.  At most times they have to drink using straws. The brass coils are seldom taken off, a woman may remove them in order to wash her neck which might occur after every three years.

In the past it was believed that once the brass coils were taken off the neck would break resulting in death. This however was proven not to be true. The wearing of brass coils does not mean that the neck is being stretched or elongated. It is impossible to stretch a neck because it consists of a spinal cord any tempering with that specific body part will result in immediate paralysis or even death. Rather it is an optical illusion, our eyes are deceiving us. Nothing at all happens to the neck but the changes occur at the collarbone and the chin. With the addition of more coils the chin is pushed upwards and the collarbone downwards they will be performing antagonistic reflexes. Realistically, the removal of brass coils would result in muscles being weakened but definitely not immediate death. At a younger age it is said wearing brass coils is painful but once the woman gets older they basically report back saying that they feel nothing at all.

Since the Padaung people have no written language and history, it is not quite certain about how this tradition came to be. Some say that brass coils were used for protection against tiger attacks. Another theory states that a long neck resembles a dragon which is an important figure in Padaung folklore. Whatever the true reason may be, Padaung men proclaim that elongated necks make the women look more sexually appealing. Basically, it is a symbol of wealth, social position and definitely beauty. On an international basis, a Padaung woman was declared as the record holder of the world’s longest neck by the Guinness Book of Records. The neck was measured up to an unbelievable length of 40cm!

Our very own Ndebele women of South Africa are also quite prominent for wearing neck rings called idzila. In contrast to the Padaung women, copper or brass coils are only worn by married Ndebele women.  Ndebele wives wear these coils on their necks, legs and arms. These coils are much fewer than those worn by Padaung women. The coils are a symbol of unification and it’s a way of showing faithfulness to the husband. The husbands are the ones who provide the coils to the wives once their matrimonial home has been built. The richer the husband the more coils that the wife would get to wear. These coils are only allowed to be removed after the death of the husband. They are believed to possess strong ritual powers. Other adornments worn by married Ndebele women are also neck hoops made of grass called isigolwani. These can also be worn by newly wed women whose matrimonial homes have not yet been built. Girls who have undergone initiation and are of marriageable age are also given the privilege to wear them.  Although this practice is gradually diminishing among the Ndebele people but those who still do it are definitely proud.

It is by no doubt that being a woman requires the outermost courage. A woman’s mind from a tender age is impregnated with all sorts of beliefs. We are made to see beauty as the answer to all our troubles, the more beautiful girls are made to believe that there are limitless opportunities out there for them. A woman’s beauty should not be rated but rather it should be appreciated. At the end of the day, beauty is not a matter of money, race, cosmetics or social status. It is more about being yourself.

I would like to take a note from an Academy winning actress Meryl Streep. In the year 1976 at just 27 years old she auditioned for a role in the film King Kong. The film producer who was Italian was flabbergasted as soon as he saw her. He muttered in Italian; “Why did you bring me this ugly thing?”  She was shattered and heartbroken.  In spite of all that, she took a deep breath and said, “I’m sorry you think that I’m too ugly for your film but you’re just one opinion in a sea of thousands and I’m off to find a kinder tide.” She persevered and today she has 18 Academy Awards!

That ultimately concludes that beauty does not entirely guarantee success, vice versa being told that you are too ugly does not mean that you won’t excel in life. Success is all about defying the odds. Looks will depreciate with age but your success will be valued forever. Ladies, the true key to unlocking the beauty in you is by having self-confidence.

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