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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cleavage, Women's Thighs and Global Location

The first time I ever noted the frenzy over women's chest areas was in Swaziland.  The international media was fascinated by the Reed Dance, 'Women parade around like THAT?' they seemed to scream as they happily snapped away. But at my school in the middle of Manzini, Swazi school girls practiced for traditonal dance competitions dressed in what was normal for traditonal dances: bare chests and all. 

Having read all the rants and raves about women and cleavages in Eurocentric literature and media,  I looked sideways at teachers during those traditional dance practices, hoping to see signs of, at the very least, embarrassment...but there was none whatsoever.  The teachers seemed to only be occupied with whether the girls were following the beats.  This puzzled me for years until another puzzle came along...African men's frenzy over thighs. 

Whereever thighs were flashed around as I grew up, drama happened. Short skirts hollered at here, short-shorts criticized there, street vendors throwing sarongs at women whose skirts/dresses were too short, name-calling over there...and the mysterious men who lectured my mother about my dress which was just 2 cm above my knees when I was 16!

I searched high and low in Eurocentric literature to find out if the was a similar frenzy about women's thighs. Apart from stories about the revolution of the mini-skirt in the mid-twentieth century, nothing whatsoever.  I suppose after the victorian era-esque bell dresses, the mini-skirt wasn't too much a revolution because less than a century later we now have shorts of the same length as mini-skirts and shorter and yet there is no crowd of cameramen descending on women's Fifa matches to gasp: 'They play football in THAT?'

Anyway, to get to my point, it's only last year that a random discussion with my wise neighbour revealed that apparently what men notice about women depends on where they are globally.  Take the breast-feeding campaigns, would it surprise you to know that I first saw a blouse with flaps for breast-feeding on a European woman?  Growing up it was no big deal for women to breast-feed in public. I don't know about now but back then there was nothing out of the ordinary about it. Yes, the chest area, within society is safely tucked away but there is no frenzy about it.

Certainly I've never heard of anyone within my circle of friends going on and on about bra size or dreaming of a visit to a cosmetic surgeon about it, well, only one but she wanted it because the weight was putting pressure on back.  And yet, years ago, a kindly old man on the street went out of his way to advise me on why I should cover up my legs, 'It's the backs of your knees child, honour the backs of your knees.  Don't show them off too much or they'll become a common sight.'  Sounds like what some would say about a cleavage elsewhere.

So women all around, beauty comes from within. What is attractive on a woman varies from place to place (and maybe from generation to generation) so please don't obsess about this or that. Be healthy emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically and let the beauty from within radiate! Think of old China and the bandaged feet, think of Hebrews and hair, think of Romans and plump women, think of modern media and twiggy women...we can't afford to fit into all these images of feminine beauty, there are just too many images!

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