In his brief history of the evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin postulated that humans are like other species; our ultimate goal is reproduction which results in to sexual selection. Sexual selection depends on physical traits. Physical traits that humans tend to choose are “youthfulness, pathogen resistance, symmetry, body ratios, and averageness” (Sarwer, et al 1). The main physical trait that a man has a tendency to look for in his perfect mate is youthfulness. According to a study done by David B Sarwer, Leanne Magee and Vicki Clark, “Men from five populations judged younger looking faces as more attractive than faces that appeared age-appropriate or older” (Sarver, et al 1). This revealed that a woman’s standard of beauty is more likely to be young and innocent. Due to the historical patriarchy of human societies, those characteristics of sexual selection push women to be more beauty-concerned in the purpose of being proposed by better mates, while men are getting social benefits from this psychology. In fact, physical attractiveness could not measure how beautiful one is; different cultures have different types of beauty myths. There are two types of beauty myths that this essay is going to address: Islamic Beauty and Western Beauty. In the Islamic world, women’s beauty is be measured by the Qur’an; however, in the western world, women’s beauty is often measured by how liberal one is. Even though both of these categories of women are live in two opposite myths, actually, their myths are sisters because they were created by men, in term of freedom and social roles.
The Islamic beauty myth creates freedom for Muslim women. To demonstrate the beauty in Islamic world, women should wear a Hijab; their beauty is inside the Hijab. The Qur’an states,
“O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women to draw their outer garments around them (when they go out or are among men). That is better in order that they may be known (to be Muslims) and not annoyed…” (Qur’an 33:59)
According to the Qur’an Hijab is intended to give women freedom from sexual harassment. If Muslim women wear Hijab, no one will bother them, and they will be secure. No matter how the Hijab gives Muslim women freedom from sexual pestering, there are still some gaps in which Islamic women to face those incidents. For instance, in Iran, an Islamic Republic, the government created a law mandating the use of the Hijab. While most of the women obey the law, some men take advantage of it. One of the reasons why sexual harassment occurs in Iran is a result of the Iranian government not allowing Iranian men and women to sit in the same classrooms or even attend the same schools. These gender separations sometimes provoke the growing men to commit sexual crimes or sexual harassment due to their sexual tension. According to the BBC Persian Service, Mohammad Manzarpour reported the news under the title of “Gang Rapes in Iran Cause Fear and Religious Controversy” that gangsters were creating distress and fear for Iranian citizens. On 24 May, 2011, there were two families who had a party and about 14 people were gathered. More than twelve gangs arrived with knives to the party, and the gangs raped those women. In addition, women who came from one of the Iranian university were attacked and raped by gang. After these incidents, the authorities claimed that those women were not wear the Hijab properly. With this claim, Iranian government seems to construct a big fear for its women. Iranian Women will still live in fear of protecting their beauty unless the Iranian government gives both genders the opportunity for responsibility in such cases.
Similarly, Western women also get freedom from their beauty myth. To illustrate the beauty myth of the Western world in which Western women should have the characteristics of liberation, this includes freedom of dress, speech, education, and so on. According to Naomi Wolf of her Beauty Myth, women in the United States advanced their liberation from 1970’s such as “legal and reproductive rights, pursued higher education, entered the trades and the professions, and overturned ancient beliefs of their social role” (Wolf 487). When women get a higher education, become involved in politics, and enter male professions and bare their “midriff,” they are beautiful according to their cultures. Based on my personal experience, a pen pal of mine from Massachusetts wrote to me that to be beautiful in her society, she should be educated, independent, and modern. This shown that western beauty myth allows their women to enjoy their freedom of education, jobs, speech, clothes and so on.
To elaborate how Western and Islamic beauty myths are alike due to both myths were created by men in terms of freedom, let’s answer a question: do Muslim and Western women feel “free” with their freedom? In relations to the freedom of sexual harassment from wearing the Hijab, and the freedom of jobs, clothing, speech, and education from having the characteristics of liberation, those elements alone could not make these two ideals of beauty women feel free. Here is the reason; underneath the idea of both myths, there are different types of men behind the scenes. There were men who created law for Muslim women to wear the Hijab in order to protect them from sexual harassment, and there were men who give Western women freedom to dress, education, etc. For instance, there is one example: both women are wearing clothes respectively to their cultures. Islamic Women are veiling from heads to toes. In contrast, Western women are baring their belly buttons. Without a doubt, both women dress as their bodies are not their own because they dress depending on what their societies expected, especially the expectation of men. Due to living in a male-dominated world, men created these ideals of beauty within their societies, and put these pressures on women. This reveals that they are playing a vital role to against women from advancement and personal development.
Furthermore, even though Muslim and Western women have different social roles, in terms of their social roles’ functions, both beauty myths are the same; the beauty of their social roles is functioning as sexual objects. For example, in the Islamic world, the beauty of women is being able to connect with family. A Muslim woman is the cellular of her family; she needs to devote herself to her family and connect herself to her religion. According to my personal experience, I had encountered with a Muslim friend who followings all the things in the Qur’an, claiming for education and preparing for her social role. Her social role is family; she has a fiancé and in order to prepare for her future role, she used to visit her fiancé family’s house.
Moreover, as a social role’s model, Muslim women need to find a well off husband. Thus, this action is portraying them as a sexual object. In order for Muslim Women to get a decent or affluent husband, she needs to have facial attractiveness. As evidenced by the situation in Iran, there were about 200,000 Iranian women who underwent Rhino plastic or Plastic surgery because the Hijab limits them from being extra attractive. One Muslim woman with the wishes of having a good-looking face who has the same belief as the other women in Iran stated in the article “The Beauty Obsession Feeding Iran’s Voracious Cosmetic Surgery Industry” by a Tehran bureau correspondent that,
“I think what myself and many other young girls see as a motivating factor for improving their appearance is simply landing a better husband who is himself in a better situation, in addition to having a better social life with a greater degree of self-confidences ”(Tehran 12).
Muslim women in Iran are trying to look-good in order to married with rich husband which allow them live in a better condition.
In addition, the beauty of Western women in their social role is also functioning as sexual object. Western women’s role in the society is reversed from Muslim Women because their previous feminists had already changed the ancient belief of their social role. Even though a Western woman’s social role is not family any more, their social role still is functioning as sexual object. As evidenced by women in the U.S., they earn lot of money due to having equal professions as men, and they receive a higher education according to their family status. They seem to be not so worried about their role in family, but what their society is portraying about them seems to be the biggest concern. For instance, while looking at the U.S. media and its society, women have been depicted as sexual object. Western women do make over, do plastic surgery, shave their underarms, legs and vulva, and wear belly button clothes in order to fulfill their social roles. According to Wolf, there were women who would rather lose their weight from “ten to fifteen ponds than achieving any other goal” (Wolf 487).
To sum up, both Muslim and Western women’s role in their society is operating with a sexual purpose. Both of them are trying to Photoshop their physical appearance just to satisfy the need of their societies. Where the function of both women’s social roles did do came from? This function evolved from human sexual selection, which is perpetuated by Patriarchy. Therefore, both women are trapped inside the thoughts of how they perceive their value within their society.
In conclusion, Islamic and Western world have two completely different beauty myths based on cultures and ideals. Men give women freedom for western women to wear midriff, and they also give Muslim women freedom from sexual harassment if they wear a Hijab. Furthermore, even though both women have different roles in their societies, their roles are working as sexual objects. Overall, men have a very powerful psychology to prevent women from advancement base on human sexual selection. Beauty could not be redefined unless the ideas of human sexual selection change.
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Bureau Correspondent, Tehran, comp. “The Beauty Obsession Feeding Iran’s Voracious Cosmetic Surgery Industry.” The Guardian. Tehran Bureau, 1 Mar. 2013. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.
Duits, Landi, and Liesbet Van Zoonem. “Who’s Afraid of Female Agency?: A Rejoinder to Gill.” European Journal of Women’s Study. 1350-5068.14 (2): 161-70. Sage Journal. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.
Manzarpour, Mohammad. “Gang Rapes in Iran Cause Fear and Religious Controversy.”bbc.co.uk. BBC News, 15 June 2011. Web. 18 Nov. 2014.
Sarwer, David B., Leanne Magee, and Vicki Clark. “Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Physical Appearance and Cosmetic Medical Treatments: Physiological and Socio-cultural Influences.” Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology 29–39 2. 22 September 2003 (2003): 1-39. JSTORE. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.
Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used against Women. New York: W. Morrow, 1991. Print.