To what extent is “beauty” determined by biological functions, and to what extent is it determined by sociological functions?
There are a number of peer-reviewed studies that point to biological factors – such as face and body symmetry, waist-to-hip ratios, and physical characteristics associated with youth and fertility – as part of the “cultural universals” of beauty.
But these characteristics alone don’t tell the whole story of beauty. The images on this page are from an article titled, “What the Ideal Woman Looks Like in 11 Countries Around the World.” These women may all have symmetrical faces or the other characteristics mentioned above, but these photos clearly demonstrate that the definition “beauty” varies from culture to culture. When meanings or definitions change over time, or vary from place to place, there’s a high likelihood that we’re dealing with a socially constructed concept. It’s also worth noting that discussions of beauty are often gendered; we’re much more likely to describe women and girls as beautiful than men and boys. Also, the beauty standards that we apply to one gender are often very different than the standards for other genders; the social construction of beauty prescribes different expectations for people based on their gender. (This is also true for different races, social classes, religions, and many other consequential categories of difference.)
For this paper, you will need to use your sociological imagination and other critical thinking skills to evaluate women’s beauty standards in America and Mauritania (NW Africa) and analyze the cultural similarities and differences between the two nations.
Your paper should:
- Describe the physical beauty norms for American women, including activities and behaviors undertaken in pursuit of the physical ideal
- Describe the physical beauty norms for Mauritanian women, including activities and behaviors undertaken in pursuit of the physical ideal
- Identify aspects of American and Mauritanian societies that contribute to the social construction of beauty in each country, including type of society, culture, values, social construction of reality, and socialization
- Compare and contrast these cultural aspects: In what ways is the social construction of beauty for American women similar to the social constructions for Mauritanian women; in what ways are they different?
Your paper must:
- Be guided by the prompts below; you may incorporate additional, relevant information inspired by the prompts, but you should not ignore or exclude the information from the prompts
- Conform to the following formatting standards:
- Be typed, double-spaced, with one-inch margins and 12 point font size
- Be at least 2 pages long, but no longer than 7 pages (ideally 4-6 pages)
- Be free of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors
- Cite information from at least three (3) assigned chapters of the textbook (i.e., Chapters 1, 3, 4, 5) using in-text citations that specify the chapter and section number where that information can be found. Please do NOT use page numbers as they are not consistent across all formats of the textbook.
- For example: There are a number of peer-reviewed studies that point to biological factors as part of the “cultural universals” of beauty, or the traits associated with beauty that appear to be shared by all societies around the world (Chapter 3.1).
- If your paper only cites Chapter 3.1, 3.2, and 3.3 (for example), you have NOT fulfilled the requirement to cite information from three chapters; this would be three citations from the same chapter. I encourage you cite multiple sections of the same chapter, but your paper must ultimately include information from at least three distinct chapters of the textbook
- Use in-text citations for any information from the video using the name of the news organization / television show (VICE).
- You should refrain from incorporating outside sources in this paper. Your analysis should be based on the information from the video, the assigned chapters of the textbook, the lesson notes, and discussion forum assignments. If you would like to incorporate outside sources, please contact the Professorto discuss.
- Because your paper will rely on in-text citations from assigned materials, you will NOT need to include a Works Cited or Bibliography page. If you prefer to include this information, please note that it will NOT be counted toward your total page length.
- Use direct quotes sparingly!!! Putting information into your own words demonstrates a deeper level of learning than using direct quotes, and it often improves the organization and “flow” of your writing (i.e., direct quotes can sound disjointed and choppy).
- AVOID THIS: There are a number of peer-reviewed studies that point to biological factors as part of the “cultural universals” of beauty, or “patterns or traits that are globally common to all societies” (Chapter 3.1).
- You should save direct quotes for when the exact wording is crucial to the claim you are making, or if the source is a prominent figure (e.g., According to the executive director of the World Food Programme, David Beasley, “We are looking at widespread famines of biblical proportions” (Harvey 2020Links to an external site.).)
- Even when you put information into your own words, you should still cite it. Citations are used to give credit to other people who provided the information or inspiration for you to write something. Ask yourself, “Could I have written that sentence without looking at this source?” – if the answer is NO, then you must include citation information near the text that is the result of others’ information or inspiration.
This paper should be completed in stages, in the following order: answer Question Set 1, watch the video below, answer Question Set 2, use answers to write a paper that fulfills the Objectives above. Your paper must answer all of the questions below.
Question Set 1 (before video):
- Describe what a “beautiful woman” in the United States is supposed to look like. (I recognize there are many aspects of beauty that are not physical, but I want you to identify physical traits and features that are commonly understood to be “beautiful” in American culture.)
- How do you “know” what is considered beautiful? Where / when did you learn how to tell if a woman in beautiful?
- Think of at least 3 activities or behaviors that might be taken by a woman in the United States in order to attain that type of beauty.
- Now jot down some thoughts about what YOU consider to be a “beautiful woman”.
- In what ways is your personal definition of beauty SIMILAR to the cultural ideal you listed in Question 1? In what ways is your personal preference DIFFERENT? (Answers need not be detailed or graphic; disclose at your own comfort level and in a professional manner.)
- If your personal preferences are VERY different from what you wrote in Question 1, why do you think your preferences are different from the norm?
Question Set 2 (after video):
- We have an obesity epidemic in the US, but why is it so shocking to hear there is an obesity epidemic in Mauritania?
- Describe what a “beautiful” woman in Mauritania is supposed to look like.
- What is the name for the process used by Mauritanian women to achieve that type of beauty? Describe it.
- What aspects of society influence the social construction of beauty in America and Mauritania? Consider the features of each society, including their culture, values, social construction of reality, and socialization practices
- In what ways are the social constructions of beauty different between America and Mauritania? In what ways are they similar?
Women’s Beauty Standards in Mauritania
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TMKyUdEEMo&feature=youtu.be&t=580Links to an external site.
WARNING: 2 brief scenes with vomit, 1 brief scene with mild child abuse