Recent Draft: The influence of culture on body image and appearance

The influence of culture on body image and appearance

            There are many communities living in different parts of the world. Every community is endowed with its own cultural values, beliefs, customs, rituals and moral codes distinct from other tribes. Culture is simply defined as the peoples’ way of life. Culture is tremendously crucial in the survival and development of any given community because it is within the facet of culture that societal values, moral codes and belief are inculcated on children. Children through the process of socialization learn how to use certain tools, equipments and technologies associated with their community. This move is imperative as it enables members of the community cope and adapt effectively in the environment. Cultural values determine how people interact, relate and behave in different situations thus maintaining order and status quo. Laws and rules that govern the whole community are grounded on cultural aspects and every member is obliged to obey. Members who travel against cultural norms are sanctioned according to cultural mores principles. Sanctions imposed on law violators differ from one community to other and are imposed based on the offence committed and its magnitude. In some communities, sanctions imposed on law breakers are severe and may involve excommunicating the person from the community, labelling the person as an outcast as well as killing the offender.

            Broadily speaking, culture shapes the way people think, react to situations, behave and interact with each other in certain events. This is a clear indication that people behave different because of disparity in cultural values, norms, moral codes and beliefs.

            Studies have shown that different communities express their cultural values differently. However, despite the cultural differences, most communities express their culture through food, dressing code, decorating their bodies, dances, songs and rituals performance to name but a few. Anthropologists have affirmed that a relationship exists between culture and how members of the community perceive body beauty and image among men and women (Spradley, et al., 78). In most communities, women beauty and attractiveness is valued, and it is expressed through body image. For instance, slim and slender women are perceived more attractive in westernized cultures whereas fat women are more attractive in African cultures. On the other hand, men body image accounts for their handsomeness and it is expressed in many ways. However, many communities, tall, strong and masculine men are more attractive than slim, whereas other communities perceive slim men attractive.

            Today, many communities have abandoned their culture and traditions and assumed westernized culture. This fact is attributed to the emergence of the industrial revolution coupled with globalization that has led to cultural diffusion in the world. People have adapted to sedentary way of life which is, more inclined to western culture. However, one tribe that still holds high esteem on its culture and traditions is the Nacirema.

            Nacirema is one of the tribes found in the northern part of America in regions such as Canadian Cree, Mexico and Arawak. The tribe has rich cultural values and heritage which, are  practiced until today. However, despite the rich cultural values and heritage in Nacirema community, not much is known about their origin and expression of body image, attractiveness and beauty. Professor Linton; an anthropologist is regarded the first person to interact with Nacirema people and document their culture, two decades ago. Since then, not much focus has been relayed on the Nacirema culture with the aim of understanding their way of life in detail.

            Naricema culture has evolved from the primitive and natural habitat to a highly developed market economy. Members of the community engage in different economic activities such as trading, farming and hunting, to name but a few. However, in his study, Linton established that rituals practices were a significant cultural aspect that consumed a considerable amount of peoples’ time. All the activities performed during rituals ceremonies revolved around the human body, its appearance and healthy condition (Murdock, 200). According to Nacirema ethos, the human body is a concern to all members of the community who devote much of their time in protecting and beautifying it through rituals.

            According to Nacirema culture, people hold the view that the human body is ugly in nature and vulnerable to diseases and rituals are the only way to maintain body functions. Every family has as a shrine where body rituals are performed. The ritual is sacred, and it is performed by medicine men. The shrine is a sacred place where every member of the family is required to show respect by bowing before the shrine chest.

            Nacirema culture is expressed through Mouth-Rite where people believe that the condition has supernatural powers to affect relationships and interactions. Mouth rites enables people interact with others, be liked and loved by their spouses and maintain teeth. During the mouth-rite, a “holy-mouth-man”, gouges a small opening in the client’s mouth and places supernatural materials. The aim of this act is to prevent teeth decay and attract friends.

            According to Nacirema culture, concepts of body image and perception in women and men are differently expressed. Men decorates their faces using sharp objects. In this case, the men inflict decorative cuts that when they heal, they enhance men’s beauty. On the other, women enhance their body image and beauty by baking their hands and heads in oven fires. Women crucial rites are performed four times a year.

            Body execration and bathing activities are ritualized in Nacirema culture. These activities are performed in secrecy in the family shrine and only predisposed in latipso ceremonies. They are perceived as sacred rituals geared towards protecting human body from diseases.

            Most of the cultural and rituals practices in Nacirema community are influenced by, native esthetical constructs while others are influenced by perversions obsessions on natural body structure and its functions. The latter has considerable influence than the former as many people are concerned on how they look before others (Bernard, 80). Body image determines how attractive, beautiful and loved one is by other people in the community.  For instance, members of the community undergoes through mouth rite where a holy –mouth- man gouges a cleavage in the teeth and places supernatural materials.  The motive behind this ritual is protecting one from diseases but more importantly, make the person likeable by others.  Therefore, those who have undergone via the ritual interact freely with others than those not subjected to it. Within Nacirema cultural practices, there are certain rituals performed to enhance women’s beauty. These rituals are performed on women with large breast and what them small, women with small breast and prefer large breast. Therefore, the level of interaction between one member of the society with others revolves around the concept of body image and its functions.

Discussion of research findings

            We live in a modern world characterised with sudden dynamism in lifestyle, advancement in science and technology, sedentary way of life and high level integration among the people. All these factors acting either singly or in unison have an impact on the peoples’ dressing code and body image perception. As a result of technological advancement and economic development, the peoples’ way of life has tremendously changed leading to adoption of westernized culture (Willis, 56). People living in urban areas, capital cities and towns in the world have adapted to western culture which is, different from culture practiced in rural areas. The adopted culture determines how people dress; perceive their body image and appearance.

            Body image, appearance and dressing code are some of the pertinent issues that influence peoples’ life. Every day, people worry about how they look in terms of dressing, appearance and body image, in relation to how they are perceived by others. These aspects are expressed differently across all cultures and between men and women.

            From the study, how women and men perceive the concepts of body image and appearance are different, and they are expressed differently. Eighty percent of the female participants affirmed that they preferred a relatively slender body shape than a fat one. This aspect is evident in the statement such as; “I prefer losing a few pounds to be slim”. Seventy-five of response from female subjects indicated that they expressed their body image and appearance through hair style, use of make ups and other luxurious ornaments such as a wrist watch and earnings. It was established that confidence in a woman depended heavily on body image and appearance than in men. Women with attractive body image and appear attractive are confident than women who doubt their self image. This is because, during the socialization process girls are taught how to maintain their body shape and appearance so that to remain attractive to men (Mancoff &Lindsay, 89). Therefore, confidence and self esteem of a woman lies on body image and appearance.

            From the study, more than fifty percent of women prefer changing certain parties of their bodies than men. These body parts include; changing hair style, eye colour, hips, breasts and facial features. This dissatisfaction was expressed via  statements such as do not what birth mark on face, Want small curved hip and more curved and toned” to name but a few. This is an affirmation that women value body features to express their confidence and self esteem.

            Research findings indicated that men were more comfortable with their current body shape, and they did not prefer changing any part of their bodies. In many cultures man, attractiveness is not highly praised than a woman’s beauty and a result of this most men do not value the concept of beauty so much. However, 75% of men prefer a muscular body shape than slim one. This is because masculine body shape in a man indicates an aspect of power, authority and strength (Boskovic, 45). Men dress decently but they do not have many make up as in women. They prefer being simple but presentable. On the other hand, women body image and appearance is associated with their dressing code. Women dress in conspicuous dresses so that they can be identified, praised and liked by others. Therefore, cultural aspects influence how men and women perceive their body image, appearance and dressing code.


            Culture is an imperative component in any community. Culture determines how people interact, relate and behave in a different situation.  Culture is defined as peoples’ total way of life. Nacirema community of Northern American has rich cultural practices and values attached to body image and functions. Men use sharp objects to decorate their bodies, whereas women bake their hands and faces on fire. The community also observe mouth-rite that aim at preventing teeth decay and encourage likeness among the members. Body image, appearance and dressing, are expressed differently in men and women. Women prefer changing parties of their body to enhance their beauty but men do not. Women prefer slim body shape than fat one. On the other hand, men prefer masculine body which, represents power, authority and strength. Men dress in decent clothes, but they prefer remaining simple than women. Therefore, culture influences how both sets of people perceive their body image, appearance and dressing code.

Works cited

 Mancoff, Debra N., and Lindsay J. Bosch. Icons of beauty: art, culture, and the image of women. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Greenwood Press, 2010. Print.

Murdock, George. Social Structure. New York. The Macmillan Company, 1949

Spradley, et al. Conformity and conflict: readings in cultural anthropology. 13th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2009. Print. 

Willis, Laurie. The culture of beauty. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2011. Print

Bernard, H.R. “Research methods in anthropology”: Qualitative and quantitative approaches (3rded).WalnutCreek,CA,Altamira,2002

 Boskovic, A. Other people’s anthropologies: Ethnographic practice on the margins. Oxford, England: Berghah, 2009.



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