Society Series Post: Normal? What’s that?

This post was written for the society series, a collaboration between Kat and I.  Please check out Kat’s latest society series post for a really interesting and thought-provoking topic.  I also just read a really wonderful post by Kelsey, who was awesome enough to participate in the series.  The point is to get conversations going, so comment away!  If you’d like to do a society series post, let us know.  For more information on what the heck it is, read here.

When I read that a former Ms. Argentina had died from complications suffered during a seemingly routine gluteoplasty (i.e. butt implants), I was shocked.  She was a mother to 7 year-old twins and a stunningly beautiful woman who had beaten out hundreds of other woman in a country that takes their beauty pageants very seriously, to become Ms. Argentina.

It is not unusual for Argetinian beauty queens to have plastic surgery prior to competing for the title of Ms. Argentina, or even Miss Universe.  Surely, I thought to myself, if she thinks that she isn’t close to perfection already, then there truly is no hope for the rest of us.

Mostly, I wondered why this beautiful young woman, who, in her thirties, continued to model, and then opened her own agency, would want to alter her body in such a way.  Perhaps it was cultural pressure, perhaps the Argentinian proclivity for cosmetic “enhancement” is to blame, perhaps it was her own struggle with her body image.  While we can never know, I can’t help but speculate.  Was her children’s loss of their mother worth a rounder backside?  What would possess a woman of such dazzling physical qualities to undergo elective surgery of this sort?

Argentina, as well as much of Latin America has high rates of plastic surgery. One out of every 30 Argentinians has gone under the knife, and Argentina is one of the least expensive places for cosmetic surgery, making medical tourism a large industry.  One could argue that this obsession with beauty and perfection is a cultural norm.  Go to the  Island of Tonga, however, and  big is considered beautiful.  The bigger you are, the more desireable, revered and worshipped.  Being obese is seen as a sign of high social status and wealth.  In Samoa and Polynesian culture, in general, the same norm exists- big is beautiful.  It’s a sign of prosperity, as historically speaking, Polynesian kings were very obese.  I will say, though, that these cultural norms are in no way exclusive to size.  In Africa, tribal markings with tattoos and in some instances, scarification, have served many purposes and served as another cultural norm.

I want to talk about this idea of “normalcy.”  What, exactly, is normalcy?  I will spare you the statistics explanation.  While normalcy is a somewhat relative idea,  technically speaking, it is nothing more than the greatest average number.  Anything failing to deviate far from this average, is defined as normal.  Something like 70% of Americans are overweight.  This has become a norm.  I am certainly not condoning this.  I am merely illustrating a point.

With this definition in mind, I wonder how, exactly, thin and anorexic models have become the aspirational norm for Western society, an influence that has far reaching affects.  Western beauty standards are seen by many global societies as ideal.  Asian women have blepharoplasty surgery to create eyelids and a more Caucasian look.  A big deal is made when BMI minimums are imposed on models, but designers continue to insist that their clothes just won’t hang right on anyone bigger than a twizzler.  Fashion magazines continue to employ primarily stick thin models and expect applause and accolades when they use a (plus) size 8 model once in a blue moon.

This illusion that it is normal for a woman to look malnourished or defy normal body proportions is in direct juxtaposition to reality for most women.   Many are led to buy into a false norm.  Whether or not we know what is “normal” or what the average woman looks like, we still continue to buy the fashions, struggle with our bodies, compare ourselves to each other and what we see on TV, in the magazines, etc.  I think that many women have lost sight of what we should or can be because of what we are aspiring to.

What if we threw out this model?  Why do we have to aspire to any “norm?”  Why do we aspire to look like anyone?  If we know that it is unhealthy to aspire to either extremist end of the skinny/fat spectrum, when will we acknowledge that just taking care of our bodies and letting them be what they were born to be is what we should be doing?  Is this even possible?

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About annenglish

I often think my the right side of my brain dominates- I live to create things. Color is one of the things that brings me great joy and in everything that I do, it is a theme that takes on great aesthetic importance. I am a jewelry designer, metal artist and writer (wanna-be.) During the day I work in an office, and while I like it, I spend my days dreaming about the next thing I want to make. As a result, I am the post-it queen- design ideas are always strewn about my desk, waiting for me to gather them up and take them home at the end of the day. Oh, yeah. I'm also a tremendous slob, which is unfortunate because I love to cook and washing dirty dishes is my least favorite chore to tackle. I'm a healthy food enthusiast and amateur chef. Cooking is a tremendous creative outlet for me- experimentation is my hallmark...whether it's surprising color combinations or flavor combinations.
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2 Responses to Society Series Post: Normal? What’s that?

  1. What a story! The fact that someone would aspire to look a certain way stems from insecurity… that’s my opinion.

    We should all strive to be healthy, but getting butt implants… really?!! Was that necessary for a 30 year old mother?

    I’m truly baffled by that.

  2. Kat says:

    It truly is sick, and in my opinion (which says that beauty pageants are outdated and archaic), they shouldn’t even allow physically-altered individuals to compete! It’s like stock car racing (which I don’t follow either, BAD Southerner!)…if it’s souped up under the hood, it’s disqualified (right?).

    In talking about models and sizes and stuff, we all know how much buzz Glamour magazine created using those “plus-sized” models, but I’d actually like to see market research on it, and Dove ads, and any marketing materials that use models who deviate outside “the norm.” We bitch and moan all the time about seeing stick figures on the runways and covers of our magazines, but when we actually get what we want, are we satisfied or disgusted? And it’s true, that whole “size 8 is plus-size,” so if they actually dared use someone who is a size 14 or up (like most of us wee commoners), do we sigh with relief or grimace? Do we want to see people like us, or do we want to see this idealistic Barbie-doll-like character that will make us buy the magazine and grasp at straws trying to look like her? Then the cycle (and my argument) starts all over again…

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