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The Geopolitics of Beauty 5

Beauty is inherently political.

Technological Self-Tracking Devices: Are They So Healthy?

“Craze.”

I have found that this word is used time after time by bloggers, Youtubers, and writers alike when discussing the self-tracking trend that so many people have adopted into their everyday lives during recent years. Countless self-tracking methods and accessories exist in the market, including Fitbit, Jawbone, Apple Watch, and even personal smartphones have built in fitness trackers added to them.  

In addition to nearly every member of my family (both parents and sister), I fell victim to the self-tracking craze that comes with wearing a fitness band. Not only did the bracelet become an informative data method that provided me with the amount of movement I would participate in every day, but it also told me exactly the amount of calories I had burned and consumed based on the diet information that I religiously submitted. I found myself constantly refreshing the application that was conveniently synced to my cellphone. I came to the point where I became anxious about meals for which I was unable to access precise caloric information, for lack of the ability to have an “accurate” day logged. If I did not reach my “step goal,” I was not able to relax or sleep soundly at night. Further, I have found that with the culture of self-tracking comes a type of attitude or reputation of strength. However, this strength stems from the discipline and restrain that comes from over-regulating one’s own physical exertion and food consumption. Also, I have come to determine that self-tracking does not promote a sense of content or happiness with one’s self in the present. By this, I mean that there is largely a theme of “goals” involving weight loss, fewer calories eaten, and more steps taken. There exists an attitude of “Awesome! You lost five pounds. Now shoot for only three more. You can do it!” This provides a contrasting element and false sense of support to an already stressful lifestyle. I remember my fitness bracelet buzzing and alerting me to “Get moving!” or my phone sounding and telling me “Hey, you took even more steps than yesterday! Keep the trend going for the rest of this week.” While this type of coaching may work for some, for me (and I know for others), it feels it draining. I truly felt as though my goals of ideal beauty and perfection through fitness were unattainable in the long run. In “Self-tracking in the Digital Era: Biopower, Patriarchy, and the New Biometric Body Projects,” Rachel Sanders mentions this type of scrutiny that people are often subject to on their own accounts, discussing how these devices “compel [people] to internalize the watchful gaze, or to turn it upon themselves” (46).

While this technological revolution is one with many benefits, and while I absolutely support healthy living (for whatever that means for each individual), I think that the culture of self-tracking is one that sadly encourages obsessive behavior and can potentially lead to eating disorders. The Buzzfeed video that I have attached is one that I came across this week, and while it neither mentions nor shows a self-tracking device in the video, the woman who is portrayed with an eating disorder is seen logging her exact calorie intake and burn on a notepad before going to meet an old friend for dinner. The woman, who is ultimately is struck by the unplanned alcohol and french fries that she is expected to eat with her friend, is never able to truly relax at the dinner because of the various emotions that flood her mind, including guilt and self-disgust. The video offers an intimate look into the life of someone who constantly struggles with the hardships that come along with battling an eating disorder. This is exactly the type of behavior that often ensues in the self-tracking world. She herself tracks and monitors her diet and exercise to a frightening precision – the exact level of precision that fitness accessories provide.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vj-nHs1qTHM

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Can Beauty bring us together?

I have been thinking a lot recently about the homogeneous desire to be ‘beautiful’ or feel ‘attractive’ . In Mimi Nguyen’s article “The Bipower of Beauty”, beauty is used as a justification for war and imperial intervention. North American women started the Kabul Beauty School in Afghanistan as a project to connect women with a common interest and create a sense of community amidst the terrors and wars that their husbands and loved ones are fighting in with the Taliban. Although it could be argued that especially in this context, there are priorities of far greater importance, this beauty salon was a success and pays homage to the fact that there is a universal desire, particularly as a female, to want to feel attractive or desirable. It creates a sense of temporary peace and momentary happiness, before they close the door of the beauty salon behind them and step back into their terror-filled realities.

Similar to how almost universally, if you take a group of boys/men who do not know each other, and give them a football to play with, chances are within 20 minutes they will have bonded over a mutual joy of the game. The only comparable example I can think of with regards to females, is the Beauty industry and the procedures that come with it. Naturally, there are certain women who dislike or do not have the patience for beauty procedures or getting their make up done, and others with an intense obsession for plastic surgery and push up bras- however there is an overall generic appreciation for the feeling of being attractive and beautiful, to your personal highest standard. It is originated in early childhood and wanting to play dress up in your favorite disney princess dress, because when wearing it, and being able to show it off to your parents, it creates a feeling of being above your own reality and day-to-day self; a feeling of being special for that moment.

change yourself to “find” yourself?

In the piece “Pretty Modern,” Edmund’s makes the reference that an individual’s body is “a work of art” and the surgeon is the “artist,” or “sculptor.” French artist, ORLAN, takes this concept to a more literal scale: she recreates and undergoes plastic surgery procedures as a form of performance art.

In her 1993 piece “Omnipresence,” ORLAN lies on a cot, her face covered in a variety of dashed lines and markings as she waits to undergo surgery. ORLAN’s expression remains rather blank and unamused, even as one surgeon begins the procedure and injects her lips with rather large needles. The process becomes more invasive and gruesome: her face is clamped and tugged at, her eyelids pulled, her cheeks poked at. And after the procedure, ORLAN is left bandaged, bruised, and well, not “beautiful.”

Ironically, these cosmetic procedures that lure women in with the promise of incomparable beauty are incredibly gruesome, invasive, and horrific to watch. ORLAN’s performances act to rawly expose the work that women undergo to transform their bodies into more valued and esteemed sites.

In an interview with ORLAN, years after her cosmetic surgery performance art, she discussed why she chose this as a subject of interest. ORLAN explains that early in her career she was interested in her culture, her identity and ultimately in answering the question “Who am I?”

I find it quite interesting that ORLAN felt a need to change and alter herself just to discover herself. It seems rather counter intuitive. How can someone ever truly know who they are if they continually nip and tuck and pull away at themselves before they have ever even been fully acquainted with themselves? Perhaps, changing one’s body is not the only path to liberation. Maybe, getting to know oneself can act as a more beneficial and less invasive form of self-care.

 

Women will never be able to truly view themselves as individuals or come to find their own personhood if the plastic surgery trends continue rising. In Professor Lee’s article, she discusses how the rise of plastic surgery, especially in Korea has created a sense of uniformity among women. Therefore, the acts of self-discovery and identity become unattainable. Unfortunately, women will keep trying to find themselves by changing themselves.

Why is it that the quest for self-esteem became synonymous with self-modification. Why can’t self-esteem emerge from the body one already possesses and just an altered mindset? Why does it seem that self-esteem can only be achieved through an alteration of the body?

Our bodies are our own personal works of art, so let’s not depend on surgeons, let’s be our own artists.

Week 14: Emulating whiteness and “yellow fever”

This week’s reading discussed at large the issues behind cosmetic surgery in Brazil and South Korea. It was easy to distance as merely a “it’s them, not us” concept and idea — obviously, cosmetic surgery exists here but the problem regarding it is overseas.

This idea is exactly what Professor Lee seeks to critique in “Beauty Between Empires: Global Feminism, Plastic Surgery, and the Trouble with Self-Esteem”: the reason people in other nations look to go under the knife and emerge with a new, better body is a result of western aesthetic imperialism — through increased globalization and the financial hegemony of the United States, the idea of a “beautiful” woman is one that was decided by the western world.

Ironically, the opposite has already been in place as well. It’s interesting to think of how Asian bodies try to conform to looking more Caucasian — wider eyes, thinner noses, lighter skin when the Western world still exoticizes and finds fascination in the Asian subject. “Yellow fever” is a term heard relatively often in Western society, and paints a different image of how Asianness exists in social valuations. The question to pose from this is relatively simple: how is it that Western society can value and fetishize the unique aspects of Asianness while simultaneously pushing an aesthetic of whiteness of them?

Years ago, I watched a documentary titled Seeking Asian Female. This documentary, narrated by filmmaker Debbie Lum, told the story of a older white man named Steven living in California and how he met a Chinese woman named Sandy online, soon getting engaged and moving in together. Throughout the film, we see them go through a number of relationship troubles, all with Lum translating in between them, the most prominent of which involves Sandy finding images of Steven’s (also Chinese) ex.

Though this movie ends with a relatively uplifting note, noting that there may exist true love between 60 year old Steven and 30 year old Sandy and accusations of yellow fever might not matter, the consistent fetishization still leaves a sour note in that it finishes with the idea that Sandy’s humanness has trumped Steven’s vision of only loving women for how Chinese they look. Sandy then “westernizes,” learns English proficiently on her own, and settles down happily with Steven. It’s this ending that erases the fetishization of Asianness that had existed the whole movie.

The relevance of this film, besides being an interesting watch if you have an hour and a half to spare, is that it is a perfect showing of how Asianness is desired and fetishized as something to be had. To contrast, cosmetic surgery to emulate whiteness then exists to reaffirm a sense of innate worthiness in Asian women. The desirability of an Asian look, especially in women, is something that necessitates remaining passive: simply as an object to be seen or a wife to do chores, as opposed to having any sort of independent autonomy. Such agency is reserved for the Western world, where the value distribution among such ideas of beauty is one that travels more than skin deep. Asian women can remain as is and be valued passively as objects, but a Caucasian look gives them value as people, leaving us with an interesting look as to how transnational identities play a role in such popularized beauty structures.

http://nyu.kanopystreaming.com/video/seeking-asian-female

Misconceptions about Korean Plastic Surgeries

Korea has always been a country known for plastic surgery. Ever since I was little, Korean dramas have been popular among many households in Asia. However, one comment that I always hear repeatedly from my aunt, who is a big fan of all the Korean dramas, about the actresses in the shows is that “ oh, she is pretty, but she’s got plastic surgery.”Therefore, I grew up with the impression that ALL Korean women who are pretty must have had plastic surgery done themselves. Some examples of the popular plastic surgery in Asia are such as double eyelids surgery, chin extension surgery, nose job, fillings or even the bleaching of the skins to make themselves to appear to be “whiter.” It is not hard to see that Asian women are trying to perform surgeries on themselves to make themselves look as far away from the stereotypical Asian looks as possible. Some people believe that this has something to do with the Eurocentric standard of beauty and some even relate this to racial problems, however, I disagree with this saying. While the Western culture influences the Asian beauty standard, it is unfair to say that the Asian women are trying to look more like white people. People are striving for a certain look because of that match the aesthetic of a certain culture; I know many girls who are Asians and have had plastic surgeries done on their faces, but none of them undergo the surgeries thinking that they want to obtain Caucasian face features.
As Professor Lee said in the article, the Miss Korea gif went viral on the internet due to people’s shocking reaction over how identical all the contestants while the truth is the photos of the contestants have been photoshopped. In one of the documentaries done by CBS called “Behind the plastic surgery boom in South Korea,” the show send the host to interview the patients for plastic surgery in Korea. However, as the host stepped into the plastic surgery clinic, he made a comment about how the two ladies at the front desk look identical since he thought they both have plastic surgery performed on their faces. However, it is very obvious that not only do the two ladies look nothing alike; it is even more apparent that the woman on the left has nature and average looking face while the woman on the right has a visible sign of plastic surgery on her face. People had put this stereotypical impression on Korean women just like I had when I was growing up. A lot of times the only see an individual who has had plastic surgery done is their faces and neglected their personality and other characteristics about the person. I believe that at the end of the day, regardless of what people think or said, I think everyone has the right to strive for a better look. If getting plastic surgeries do make people feel happier, then I think no one has the right to tell others what is the right thing to do.

 

week 14: pretty modern

In reading Pretty Modern: Beauty, Sex and Plastic Surgery in Brazil, I was immediately reminded of Amanda Bynes’ breakdown circa 2014. Initially, I was worried about her well-being, having self-diagnosed her with Edmond’s ‘dysmorfobia’ – or the fear of appearing disfigured and transference of that fear to different parts of the body. Bynes would boast multiple surgeries, rocking post-op nose gauze and neck braces as fashion statements, conveying her personal validation from being repeatedly cut open, rearranged and augmented. As a sophomore, I saw Amanda Bynes as an example of beauty activism emphasizing choice as the one absolute: you can look however you want to, because criticizing other women for engaging in beauty practices that you personally wouldn’t entertain is anti-feminist. After this reading, I have an entirely different perspective: considering Edmond’s research on aesthetic-related forms of mental illness, and how in some cases cosmetic surgery can be helpful when combined with psychotherapy, while in other cases these aesthetic-related mental illness can reveal themselves in the desire for multiple plastic surgeries. This consideration can blur the lines of what kind of plastic surgery is justified/when it is justified, and can easily be co-opted by the neoliberal “self-esteem” and promotion of self-help to manipulate people into feeding their coin to skeevy corporations under the false notion of becoming more “authentic,” or that they are solving a psychological issue. ***WHICH OF COURSE IS A REAL CONCERN DYSPHORIA/DYSMORPHIA EXISTS BUT I’M JUST EXPLORING ALL ANGLES HERE
The phrase “no one lives in a vacuum” is a running phrase in this class, and I think it is important to consider it with this reading in relation to the outside factors affecting how and what is modified in cosmetic surgeries. Let’s look at Amanda Bynes again, she had her breasts and butt augmented, several nose jobs with the goal of a “pinched” nose in mind, and the whole botox-lip filler combo. It’s impossible to know exactly what is going through her head, however undeniably, there are outside forces and standards of beauty affecting what she chooses to modify on her body. And, whatever Bynes is doing to her body is under the misnomer that each surgery will improve how she feels; or her self-esteem. To add onto these outside factors, the California Task Force to promote self-esteem’s existence proves the neoliberal agenda-created term of “self-esteem,” and the corporate manipulation behind selling this notion of “self-esteem,” as investing in becoming your best self. So, putting this all together, maybe Bynes has dysmorfobia, maybe she doesn’t, but every time she goes under the knife it is not of her own personal choice. To some degree her choices on what is beautiful and even the decision to self-improve by spending hundred of thousands of dollars to look “beautiful” are made for her.

(more semi-smut about Amanda’s obsession with plastic surgery)
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2825029/Amanda-Bynes-wants-start-working-bar-pay-plastic-surgery-normal-life.html

Vanity or Necessity?

This week’s readings explored self-work through plastic surgery and explored how the world of cosmetic surgery plays into the wider social and political factors that govern our society. A really interesting idea for me was the question raised in the Self Esteem reading of whether or not cosmetic surgery violated the Hippocratic oath, asking if the risks involved in the surgeries and procedures actually provided healing.

I feel like the answer to that question can vary so much depending on the reasons behind it. For babies born with a cleft palette, to not have the reconstructive surgery to fix a slight anomaly in their upper lip means years of torment and ridicule for being born against the standard definition of an acceptable look. The idea of a procedure like that makes the risks seem worth it. In other cases like that of Justin Jedlicka, the “Human Ken Doll,” does turning yourself into a human doll really make him feel better about himself? Whose to say? The beauty of the industry is that you can reconstruct yourself into the most idealized version of “you” possible. Is this vanity? Or just conforming to the notion that when you look good (by your own standards) you feel better about yourself? I feel like the world has gradually made a little silicone pump or botox injection so acceptable because we are a society that recognizes physical appearance as an outward manifestation of who you are on the inside.

I’ve existed on both sides of the debate for Natural v. Enhanced and have come to the conclusion that at the end of the day it’s your life and your body. You’re the one who wakes up in the morning and sees yourself, and quite frankly if there isn’t something you like, then change it. That doesn’t necessarily mean go for cheek implants and 15 units of botox off the top, but do what you can so that you can live your best life for yourself.

We’ve become so afraid of a little sag in our chest, or a wrinkle around the eyes because of our society’s obsession with staying young forever. The procedures that work to slow or even reverse the effects of the passage of time can only do so much. Regardless, the obsession is there, and technology is only getting better. I’m genuinely curious to find out just how far we will take this trend.

West is Best: BuzzFeed, Plastic Surgery, and the Korean Body as Performative

Koreans See Themselves With Plastic Surgery

Koreans Get Photoshopped With Double Eyelids And It Was So Weird

This Is What 6 Faces Look Like After Being Photoshopped By South Korean Plastic Surgeons

19 Grotesque Portraits Taken Directly After Plastic Surgery

31 Crazy Before And After Photos Of Korean Plastic Surgery

Over the past several years, the South Korean plastic surgery industry has become a sensationalized spectacle in mainstream American media as evidenced by some of the headlines published by BuzzFeed, which I’ve included above. Much of the conversation around plastic surgery and Korean women’s decisions to undergo cosmetic procedures has been centered around claims of an oppressive uniformity that is striving for whiteness. In articles such as the ones listed above, Korean women are often articulated as “victims” of internalized self-hatred and racism which implicitly heralds the US as a superior nation that is the source of desire and envy. However, this logic ignores and obscures the institutional players that have structured the development and success of the Korean plastic surgery industry. Dominant discourses around plastic surgery often lack a historicized and nuanced understanding of the political and economic forces at play such as the ways in which Japanese colonialism and US imperialism have shaped the practices, ideas, and ideals of South Korean beauty. Instead, mainstream media has suggested that Korean women’s desire for lighter skin, bigger eyes, and thinner, higher, and pointier noses indicates an envious yearning for “Western” and “American” physical traits. However, as Sharon Heijin Lee argues, this discourse “takes white Western women’s experiences as the telos of modernity” by situating white liberal American women as enlightened, liberated, and empowered.

The rhetoric surrounding the seemingly incomprehensible extremes that Korean women subjugate themselves to in their quest for perfection is one that posits the Korean body as a site of not only looking, but also active consumption. Articles such as BuzzFeed’s, “31 Crazy Before And After Photos Of Korean Plastic Surgery” and Gawker’s “Plastic Surgery Blamed for Making All Miss Korea Contestants Look Alike” attempt to construct the psyche of the Korean woman as irrational, illogical, and unstable by suggesting that deep-seeded insecurities have left young Korean women vulnerable and impressionable to the beauty demands of Korean society. Even the language used to describe the pageant in the Gawker article relies on trivializing and denigrating the pageant participants as “clones” in a “parade” that evoke a “Twilight Zone” quality. Through mainstream discourse and representation, the Korean body has been stripped, scrutinized, distorted, and dissected — both visually and rhetorically.

Furthermore, in “Koreans See Themselves With Plastic Surgery” and “Koreans Get Photoshopped With Double Eyelids And It Was So Weird”, Korean bodies take on a performative role as a result of a fetishized interest in the alteration of such bodies. Participants in the aforementioned videos function as visual reminders of natural beauty whose self-esteem has persevered, which simultaneously serves to implicitly chastise those who have gone under the knife. BuzzFeed’s penchant for virality situates Korean bodies as hyper-visible which reinforces the hegemonic white gaze and reifies the moral judgements made by such gaze.

Jezebel’s “I Can’t Stop Looking at These South Korean Women Who’ve Had Plastic Surgery as mentioned in Lee’s piece, bears similarities to an article titled, “19 Grotesque Portraits Taken Directly After Plastic Surgery”, published by BuzzFeed which “reveals the agony that many Koreans undergo to attain beauty” as indicated by the author, Gabriel H. Sanchez. Both Stewart and Sanchez invoke a sensationalized narrative that carries a tone of not only disbelief, but also condemnation. The photographs included in Sanchez’s article portray the reality of post-surgery bodies without the glitz and glamor of Korean plastic surgery makeover shows such as “Let Me In”. However, the voyeuristic gaze which we, as viewers, are deploying through the practice of looking is structured around a power imbalance that privileges the viewer. The very nature of the “Miss Korea gif” and before-and-after photosets are online media productions designed to elicit a visceral response — one of mixed shock, disgust, and discomfort. Therefore, Korean women and plastic surgery practices offer the white Western audience not only a spectacle that is highly entertaining and addictive, but also serves as a case in point that reaffirms and reassures the US of its role as a global beacon of democracy and inequality, which follows an imperial logic of “West is Best”.

Beauty Between Empires: Global Feminism, Plastic Surgery, and the Trouble with Self-Esteem

In her discourse, Sharon Lee discusses how social media has created new visual economies that have resulted in a new interest in Korean pop culture as well as increased focus on Korean bodies and plastic surgery. Lee begins by introducing the popularized song Gangnam Style by Psy, which has shown to be pivotal in further introducing k-pop to the western world. K-pop is notorious for being concentrated on the visual whether it be bright colors or the prevalence of “flawless” pop stars. In fact, Koreans consume plastic surgery at the highest rates per capita globally. Through the increased American interest in Korean culture that Psy has paved the way for, came a viral gif that compressed images of Miss Korea beauty contestants’ faces morphing one into the next. The message of this gif was that all of them look the same, in other words, an emergence of extreme racialized uniformity. This gif was eventually found to be photoshopped, therefore, more indicative of American women’s obsession with Korean plastic surgery and Korean bodies than the epidemic of mass plastic surgery taking place. Jezebel, a blog curated towards women and the promotion of global feminism, found this gif especially intriguing and despicable. Jezebel’s article characterized Korean plastic surgery to be rooted in a desire to appear more western and white. In “Plastic Surgery Means Many Beauty Queens but Only One Kind of Face,” Dodai Steward claims that the uniformity seen in Korean beauty contestants is no different than the uniformity seen in American pop culture icons such as Britney Spears and Taylor Swift. Blogger Carlotta79 disagrees. She comments : “…each [American] woman is still very individual with distinctive features when you compare them. I can’t say the same of the sampling of Korean women shown here.” (Lee 8) Here, one can see white personhood in action, categorizing non-white persons as the “other,” hence, undercutting their sense of individuality.

Korean plastic surgery was kick-started after the Korean War. In an effort to solidify public relations between Koreans and Americans, the double eyelid surgery was made available to the masses when US military doctors would perform the cosmetic surgery along with the free operations on Korean War victims. Korean feminists state that “lookism” is the prevailing reasons that plastic surgery is so heavily consumed. It is considered normal for many Korean women to undergo surgery to stand out in pictures on job and university applications. As the role of a woman in a society has moved beyond child bearing and raising and into the spheres of career and social networks, women’s bodies have been commoditized even more into objects. Now the body is scene as a tool to raise one’s social and financial status and improve one’s lifestyle. In the age of neoliberalism, the solution presented to confront the plastic surgery epidemic is self-love. However, self-love conflates with the idea of self-care, which includes plastic surgery. Self-love asserts that loving your body is “the individual agency necessary to eschew cosmetic surgery…when paradoxically, plastic surgery as a field has historically used the acquisition of self-esteem to justify its existence as a medical science.” (Lee 22)

The theme that stood the most to me in this article was the idea of “lookism” and how its hierarchy seems nearly impossible to escape. In Dodai Stewart’s article “I Can’t Stop Looking at These Korean Women Who’ve Had Plastic Surgery”, she asks “If you have limited ability to see beauty in someone who is not bigeyed and small-faced and straight-nosed, do you also have a limited ability to understand, empathize, sympathize and relate to that person, as well? Do you become intolerant of those who don’t meet your lookist standards?” This quote has already engrained itself in me. I had never looked at beauty in the light of empathy before. However, this quote shifts the blame for the domination of lookism onto young Korean women. This frames Korean women as conformist dupes by using the pronouns “you” and “your.” Studies have proven that humans are addicted to beauty in the same way that an alcoholic is addicted to alcohol. Therefore, beauty is actually counterproductive as it is a distraction from more constructive and humane components of life and well-being. The power of lookism is what drives women to discipline and carefully monitor their relationships to their body. Being un-beautiful is a synonym to being lazy and incapable. People deemed unattractive are discriminated against in the workplace and in terms of relationships. Therefore the pressure to get plastic surgery is rooted in the pressure to find an attractive and successful spouse and a sustainable and well-paying job. It is not until society decides to collectively fight the oppression of lookism that the appeal to plastic surgery will lessen, and this is unlikely to occur since humans are proven to be addicted to beauty.

Western Help: the Start to the Solution?

“Afghanistan needs to look within to build an economic future after foreign aid runs out. It needs to judiciously harness its natural resources, modernize its economy beyond traditional goods, and alleviate the bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption that has hobbled its private sector.” – Saving Private Enterprise in Afghanistan, Masuda Sultan

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/02/opinion/saving-private-enterprise-in-afghanistan.html

Mimi Thi Nguyen highlights the “white man’s burden” responsibility taken by Western individuals as they attempt to influence the beauty industry and beauty standards of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. As nonprofits and NGOs attempt to teach Afghani women how to become estheticians, these Western organizations indicate that Afghani beauty standards are “uncivilized,” and that the West is responsible to aid them in becoming “civilized.” However, Nguyen fails to provide a valid solution that would help empower these women. Why can’t these lessons in beauty practices help serve to embolden these oppressed women?

The article above by Masuda Sultan discusses the necessity for Afghanistan to look within to foster economic success. Through use of its natural resources and a change in its bureaucracy, Afghanistan can strengthen its economy. Sultan starts off with how last December, Vogue Arabia included images of “lithe models posed in colorful, high-end gowns and accessories made by craftsmen from Afghanistan.” Sultan also mentions that international donors mostly fund Afghanistan’s budget. She does not indicate how much of that funding goes towards teaching women about beauty and fashion. However, given that such nonprofits and NGOs exist, a portion of those funds must be used for causes related to beauty and women’s empowerment such as Beauty without Borders.

Afghani fashion has made its way to the level of Vogue couture. Perhaps the international donors, nonprofits, and NGOs in Afghanistan were instrumental in helping Afghani fashion get to this level. While it’s not necessarily the responsibility of the West to fix all problems within Afghanistan (especially problems related to beauty), the aid provided to help empower women is a helpful start for a crumbling country. While Nguyen effectively acknowledges the problems of neoliberal-styled nonprofit work that perpetuates Euro-centric beauty standards, it’s important to note that this is a war-torn country that has been left with nothing. These women don’t have access to learn about beauty or have the correct supplies to practice beauty. Thus, is it wrong to give help and empower these women in through this method?

This method shouldn’t be the permanent solution—however, it is a start. As Sultan points out, foreign aid serves to help Afghanistan function today, but ultimately Afghanistan has to look within itself to economically thrive. The same applies to beauty: foreign help can serve to teach women about beauty, but ultimately they have to look within their own culture to determine their beauty standards. The West can help them get there.

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