Monday, August 20, 2007

Cultural Beauty

Cultural Standards of Beauty

One of the things that amazed me so much about Cambodia is how much they want to look like anything but what they do. Many times people would tell me how beautiful my skin is. I would tell them that their skin is beautiful too (watch American beauty standards coming into play -- we all want to be tan with small noses) and they'd say, no. They have Cambodian skin. I also got stopped a lot by people telling me how beautiful my 'tall' nose is. (In America I've twice been offered to have my nose job paid for.)

We all want to look different than we are. It's probably 'natural' to want to be someone else. I've always wished I could have long straight dark brown hair and small, even features (suprisingly, I've never wanted to be tall, no matter how convenient it would be for reaching top shelves).

In Cambodia light skin is the ultimate desire. Women wear turtlenecks, long pants, elbow length gloves, hats, scarves covering head and face, and often a sweater over all that -- all in the attempt not to tan. It is impossible to buy lotion in this country that isn't whitening - as you can see from the picture.

In one sense it is true that we all want what we can't have. Since most people Cambodia have dark hair, dark skin, and dark eyes, they want white skin, big eyes and tall noses instead. But in one way America is different -- yes we all perhaps aren't satisfied with the way we are made, but there is more of a license to have different kinds of beauty. With all the fashion and design shows out there, one things that does come across (on What Not to Wear for example) is find out what looks best on you. Highlight your own good features and don't try to copy someone else. Even in a culture that does have some standards of beauty -- the look for beauty isn't as cookie cutter anymore. What we consider beautiful is tall, dark, short, tall, dark, light, red, green, black, blue, thin as a stick, or curvy. What is beautiful is to be comfortable in your own skin. Find something you like about yourself and play it up. I, for example, love my eyes and put makeup on them everyday, whether I wear more than chapstick anywhere else. I know Teri loves her hair.

Who else has a favorite feature?

I just wish that my Cambodian sisters can learn to start appreciating how they were made, and how unique their culture is, as they hurry to throw it out and become western as quickly as possible.

Culture is unique. It's alright to like other cultures, other foods, other looks or ways of living. But don't forget to appreciate who you are, and where you were put on this earth.