Imagine that. As of today, December 12th, this site has been online for 12 years.
In Web terms, that is an eternity. The site's history reaches all the way back to the primeval days of GeoCities and Netscape, CompuServe and AOL Homestead. It remains proud of its Web 1.0 identity in an age when Web 2.0 is standardizing and commercializing the Internet, formatting it into cookie-cutter templates and turning it into an officious, corporatist environment.
Before Twitter, Facebook, or Myspace, before Tumblrs and "blogs" (a poorer neologism than which has seldom been devised), there was the fan site and the personal Web page. We are pleased to remain a link to those long-forgotten days when creating Internet sites meant coding by hand, with no templates, no forms, and no Flash, merely HTML and a bit of imagination.* * *
We use these annual posts to offer diverse reflections on sundry matters, particularly ones that involve a comprehensive view of cultural aesthetics and the beauty ideal. We commented on the most urgent topic of 2010 a few weeks ago, discussing the fact that the plus-size industry is increasingly being co-opted by straight-size fashion, thus diminishing its subversive power and turning it into an entity that is very nearly as harmful to women's body image as minus-size fashion used to be, since a significant portion of today's plus-size models are nearly as underweight as the straight-size models were two decades ago.* * *
Today, however, we will examine a different phenomenon: the tendency of many non-Western cultures to claim that the promotion of the modern androgynous standard is a form of Occidental cultural imperialism, against which these cultures contrast their own indigenous traditions of fuller-figured femininity.
Such arguments do not trouble us in and of themselves. Whatever talking points are useful in promoting the appreciation of plus-size beauty are fine with us.
However, the claim that the androgynous standard is a "Western" ideal of beauty is colossally false, as we will now discuss.
First, though, let us consider three random news stories illustrating how various Eastern cultures contrast their own traditional understandings of womanly beauty with the emaciated form that they have imported from America.
One recent piece from the Hindustan Times notes how a number of Indian actresses have put on weight for various film roles. It features the following comment:
Vidya Balan, too, put on 5kgs for her role of a village belle in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Ishqiya, which released earlier this year. “Krishna (her character) is a typical Indian woman with a voluptuous figure. She requires curves to look good in a sari,” Vidya had said.
Notice that a "voluptuous" female figure is regarded as "typical[ly] Indian."
A different recent article
from Fox News
announces that "Latinas love their curves":
At least that’s what a study released this week is saying about plus-size Hispanic women they surveyed.
“We are seeing Hispanic and African American women are more likely to consider their weight normal when they are [supposedly] overweight,” said one of the study’s authors, Abbey B. Berenson, a professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
Though the study didn’t ask why they felt that way, she speculated it could have been because of cultural reasons.
“It’s what is acceptable in individual surroundings,” said Berenson, who co-wrote the study with UTMB assistant professor Mahbubur Rahman.
The article notes how one Hispanic actress has created a performance troupe
to protest Hollywood standards that wouldn’t allow actresses their size (over size 6) to star in ideal leading roles.
"I like having large breasts and a body that looks like a woman's body with curves and f** where it's supposed to be," Lopez said. "I think a lot of fashions are homo-erotic in that they glorify the body of a young boy and a woman with no curves so she looks like a pre-pubescent boy."
Ms. Lopez is brave to offer such a politically incorrect (if indisputable) observation about the nature of the warped aesthetic that her industry mandates. Nevertheless, mark how the article frames the lingering Hispanic preference for a fuller-figured ideal of womanly beauty as an indigenous cultural trope that is distinctive of this ethnic community, in contrast to the artificially narrow standard that characterizes the American media.
Finally, one article
from a Kenyan source draws the clearest possible distinction between what it considers to be a Western standard of appearance for women and a natural African love of full-figured beauty:
What is it that many men see in big women? There are anecdotes galore that many men, especially Africans, like curvier women because this feature is an affirmation of femininity.
From street and pub interviews, it emerges that many local men have fantasies about very big and beautiful women.
"I simply like women with curves because that is what makes them women," says Steve, a shoe shiner in his mid 30s. He adds that curvier women posses child bearing qualities, which to him is very womanly.
Rwega just loves the rounded visual image of big women, their baby-like looks and the feel of f** on them.
The article even references the colonial experience, and frames the love of well-fed womanliness as something that is distinctive of native culture:
* * *
"It is an unwritten African rule to associate well-rounded women with happy and stress free relationships," he says.
Otima’s sentiments are supported by Bismarck Rwega, a 50-something-year old teacher. He sees the preference of large women by many men as a re-awaking from years of cultural imperialism propagated by the Western entertainment industry that sees thin women as the epitome of beauty.
The picture that these stories paint is of various indigenous communities being culturally invaded by the West via its androgynous, modern aesthetic. They characterize an appreciation for plus-size beauty as a nobly tribal or nationalist impulse, and present native cultures as being locked in combat with this aesthetic form of foreign imperialism.
We agree with these contentions. Indeed, we applaud such sentiments and hope that they proliferate in these disparate cultures, leading to a greater worldwide shunning of the invasive, unwanted, pro-anorexia push from the American media.
But let us consider, for a moment, if it is fair to label the modern, cadaverous standard a specifically "Western" ideal of beauty.
In truth, it is nothing of the sort.
After all, it certainly does not represent the traditional Irish understanding of beauty. The Celts have always loved "big, soft girls" (to quote a line from the film Circle of Friends). Nor is it a Germanic preference--for the historic German vision of womanly beauty was one of Wagnerian dimensions. It is emphatically not a Slavonic ideal, given that in the various Slavic tongues, the phrase for describing female weight gain translates as "improvement," so when a beautiful girl gains weight, the Slavs literally say of her that "She has improved."
Neither is it an ideal from Southern Europe, which is historically as much a part of the West as are the Nordic countries. The very phrase "Classical beauty," embodied by statues such as the Venus de Medici, originated in Greek culture, and represents a womanly form that is far more generous than anything that the modern media accepts. The Romans adopted this voluptuous Greek aesthetic as definitive, and spread it around their Imperial world. Even to this day, Elena Mirò uses the phrase "Mediterranean Beauty" as its own in-house term for full-figured femininity.
Thus, the androgynous standard is clearly not a product of the Old World. It is conclusively not European in origin.
But when one refers to the "West," one means the New World as well as the Old. Perhaps the unfeminine, emaciated standard is therefore categorically American?
No, it is not even that.
In the 19th century, Lillian Russell was specifically heralded as "the American Beauty" (not just "an" American Beauty, but "the" American Beauty). Horticulturists cultivated the American Beauty Rose and named it after her. Lillian represented the summit of American aesthetics, the final flowering of traditional American culture, before the nascent "mass media" metastasized across the cultural landscape.
The traditional culture of the United States was, in many ways, an outgrowth of WASP civilization, but in a heartier, more robust form. The full-figured English beauties of the novels of Charlotte Bronte would acquire their swelling curves though their sinful yet genteel over-indulgence in cakes and pastries; but Lillian would wolf down fourteen-course steak dinners, tearing open her corset to allow herself to gorge as much as she wanted, all the while knowing that her superlative beauty meant that she would be a goddess regardless of her weight gain; indeed, that she would become even more beautiful the softer and fuller she became.
Therefore, if the androgynous, modern standard is not a product of traditional European culture, nor is it a characteristic of historical American culture, then it is not in fact a product of the West at all, and it cannot be classified as a "Western ideal of beauty." Traditional, authentic "Western ideals of beauty" were identical in fullness and dimensions (indeed, in all but skin colour) to Indian and African ideals of female beauty. All of these historical cultures idealized the plus-size womanly form.
But if the modern, unfeminine, starvation standard that is explicitly designed to rob women of their secondary sex characteristics is not a Western innovation, then what is it?
It is something alien.
By this, of course, we do not mean "extraterrestrial." We mean that it is something foreign, and not indigenous to the West.
Whereas the West is historically considered a colonizing culture, it has itself been colonized by this alien aesthetic from an outside, foreign source, as surely as this alien standard is colonizing the Eastern cultures noted above.
The anorexic standard is just as hostile to traditional Teutonic and Slavonic and Celtic ideals of beauty as it is hostile to African and Indian ideals of beauty. It is as anti-WASP as it is anti-Indian, as anti-white as it is anti-black.
And today, just as these Eastern cultures are setting themselves in opposition to the modern media's imposition of this emaciated standard of appearance as a foreign intrusion, so should each of us of European heritage, each of us who is the product of a Western culture, set ourselves against it as well, as an unwanted, alien, colonizing force.
If the renewed appreciation of the curvier female form can reawaken an African or Indian consciousness, so too can a renewed appreciation of the curvier female form reawaken a Germanic or Anglo-Saxon or Greek consciousness.
In essence, the traditional love of soft, feminine beauty is something nationalistic and ethnic and essential, versus the modern media's preference for the toned, underfed look, which is alien and rootless, something monolithically internationalist and soullessly cosmopolitan. The androgynous standard is a parasite, a foreign invader that is corrupting our culture.
The battle of androgynous emaciation against plus-size beauty is not a conflict pitting West again East, but heritage against modernity, traditional values versus media values, ethnic identity versus internationalist rootlessness.
We should slough it off, then, like an infection, like a plague bacillus, after which the culture will regain its health--as will all women who currently suffer from malformed body image. Such a disease analogy is entirely apt, given that the promotion of artificial skinniness leads directly to illnesses both physical and mental (i.e., eating disorders, which harm the body and the mind).
It is time for a worldwide rejection of this New World Order of ugliness, this One World Government of guilt-aesthetics, governed from New York or Los Angeles. It is time for every ethnicity and culture to rediscover its essential, historic preference for unapologetically luscious womanliness and to champion it, even in the face of the modern media onslaught.
It is time for heritage to triumph over homogeneity, nature to best artifice, and for the timeless ideal to be restored. After 12 years, we look forward to this cultural renewal more than ever.
Lillian Russell, who, with her flaxen hair, peaches-and-cream complexion, and full figure, embodies the true "Western ideal of beauty" (so similar in proportion to other traditional ideals of beauty), in contrast to the alien standard that the mass media is imposing around the world.
- The Judgment of Paris