In “Size 6: The Western Woman’s Harem”, Fatema Mernissi, a middle aged Moroccan woman, ventures into an American department store, only to find a stuck up saleswoman who seems to be degrading her because of her size. The woman tells Mernissi that the high end department stores only carry up to a size 6, and that that is the norm in America. Mernissi explains to us that in her hometown of Morocco, the men drool over her “generous hips”; while in America, men seem to like women who look like “adolescent girls”. Mernissi elaborates on this idea and goes into detail about how the people in this country allow others to create this standard and have the power to make a person keep a close eye on his or her own physical appearance simply for the satisfaction of others.
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The title of this article alone gives us an idea of the extremity of the situation Mernissi is facing. The fact that she is comparing our society’s expectations of women’s bodies to an environment such as a harem is enough evidence in itself that she believes these expectations are crude and uncivil. Going deeper into Mernissi’s article, she states “being frozen into the passive position of an object whose very existence depends on the eyes of its beholder turns the educated modern Western women into a harem slave”. Mernissi puts the blame not only on the men in our society, but on the women being affected by it as well. People in our society are so shocked by the ways of the Middle East, but women here are demeaning themselves by trying to be something they’re not to aesthetically please others, and sacrificing their own happiness to lose weight or dress a certain way.
Unfortunately, a story such as the one Mernissi tells us is not uncommon in the United States. Being born and raised into an American society, we tend to become accustomed to the way we do things as a whole. The majority of us learn the same set of laws, rules, taboos and standards that we have somehow meshed into our minds and lives every day. Magazines, television and the media especially influence our state of mind in a way that seems to have made us acquire this mindset that thin is beautiful. Sometimes it may not even matter if the person has a pretty face or an amazing personality. If they are overweight, some may not even pay them any attention. Even I have caught myself saying things such as “he would be more attractive if he were to lose some weight” or even criticizing myself on things that I could change in my physical appearance. As shallow as it may sound, we are all guilty of this in one way or another, usually without even realizing it. Thoughts such as these all become natural to us, and we tend to forget that standards may be drastically different in another part of the world. What is “normal” to us may be the opposite to someone else, as we discovered in Mernissi’s article.
This problem of high expectations in appearance in the United States is one that can easily be solved, but we as a society subconciously choose not to solve it. Mernissi says, “Chinese men did not force women to bandage their feet to keep them from developing normally – all they did was to define the beauty ideal.” She implies that if you support these unfair beauty standards by participating in them yourself, you are part of the problem. The simplicity in this is overwhelming but yet for some reason we continue to let these expectations control our lives and our lifestyles. Keeping this in mind, we can learn to overcome this set idea of “beauty” and focus more on making ourselves happy. Happiness is not obtained by pleasing others, but by simply loving yourself for who you are.
Mernissi’s article is one that may open our eyes and make us realize how different we all are. Living in this country, we are stuck in this state of mind of trying to meet all of the standards that our society somehow has set to be “beautiful”. Beauty is not something that is set by certain standards; it is something that we can find in anyone regardless of their differences, such as weight for example. At the end of her article, Mernissi begins talking about women and eating disorder, and she says “To deprive me of food is definitely the best way to paralyze my thinking capabilities…” No human being should have to put up with watching what he or she eats to that extent. No human being should have to be deprived of food because they want to be “beautiful” period. If we keep putting our own happiness at risk to try and meet these unrealistic standards, instead of just loving ourselves for who we are, then not only are we supporting injustice, but also helping to create a shallow minded society. I believe that we can learn a lot from Mernissi and her interpretation on beauty in this country. We need to keep in mind that standards of beauty are different wherever we go, and we must not judge someone based on our interpretation on what we think is beautiful. Everyone is beautiful in their own way, regardless of weight, height, size, or nationality.