No More ‘Full Moon Faces’: The Anthropology Of Appearance And Social Change Among Young Women In Matrilineal Bhutan

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Shivani Kaul

No More ‘Full Moon Faces’: The Anthropology Of Appearance And Social Change Among Young Women In Matrilineal Bhutan

Tuesday, May 8, 2018 - 18:45

Anthropologists have recently explored changes in ideal body size among young American women, confirming what psychologists suggest is an influential 'thinness schema' of female beauty internalized through images of women in film, TV and print media. But is the causal relationship between mass media representations and female beauty exaggerated as these images circulate far away from their culture of origin? In 1999, the Kingdom of Bhutan became one of the last countries in the world to broadcast television. Information and communication technology (ICT) use has jumped since then: 58% of all households owned a TV and 92% a mobile telephone in 2013. How has the recent explosion in global mass media flows affected young Bhutanese women's beauty ideals? What is the impact of these images on their notions of self, on their material bodies? Is the 'thinness schema' spreading? If so, how does it interact with existing cultural models of female beauty, labor and status in a still-largely agrarian society? What are the political and ethical implications of these new 'beauty regimes' in the land of Gross National Happiness? In this paper I address these questions through ethnographic and survey data on the socialization of beauty ideals, body image and self-concept among undergraduate women in Bhutan. Though my initial findings suggest that thin body ideation is high, rising, and correlated specifically to media socialization, I explore its relationship to wider structural transformations in class and gender in Bhutanese society as well as deeper unconscious dynamics of discipline and morality.

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