This blog has been written by my friend, Csaba Toth for this year’s International Women’s Day #IWD celebration. Csaba is an intercultural expert. You can see more of his work at www.ICQConsulting.com
Which of these women do you find the most beautiful?
No stress, you cannot get it wrong, every answer is correct and that is the beauty of it.
The concept of beauty and the roles of women greatly depend on cultural background. What we consider good, normal, attractive or feminine is based on our values and beliefs we are not even aware of. We cannot explain why, we just feel it and we know it. How is that possible?
This is what Romanian photographer, Mihaela Noroc, has decided to explore. She visited 37 countries in two years and took pictures of hundreds of natural women surrounded by their culture.
Her project is called “The Atlas of Beauty”, and it showcases our planet’s diversity through portraits of women.
Global trends make us look and behave the same, but we are all beautiful because we are different. In the end, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the beholder is always somebody else.
Mihaela wanted to capture that feeling of warmth and serenity which is so specific to women and comes to balance all the negativity we see in the media. People should be more aware about other cultures and beauty can teach us to be more tolerant.
This is what cultural intelligence (ICQ) is about. It is the basis of personal development and it opens up a whole new world to us. Our reality is only ours and others’ can be completely different, yet, equally interesting and valuable.
We tend to trust what is familiar and predictable to us, that is exactly what culture is for. It is a set of unwritten rules, habits, values and beliefs shared by its members. That is what we consider normal and right, everything else is suspicious and potentially wrong until we understand the underlying logic and intention.
Stereotypes do exist and sometimes we are affected by several of them at the same time, either by suffering its consequences or punishing others. They are one of many unconscious biases and they affect the way we perceive, evaluate, or interact with people from the groups that our biases “target” such as gender, ethnicity, profession, etc. It is in our nature, we want to belong to a group, it feels safe, comfortable and we need to protect it. How? Often by putting other groups and their members down so we can stand out.
As learning is emotional, when something goes against what we consider normal, we get surprised, suddenly we pay attention. This is what Nike has capitalised on. Their empowering ad has been shared 75k times and watched by over 2 million people, some of which were really angry while others felt it was liberating. The commercial showing Arab women fencing, boxing and spinning on ice-skates has stirred controversy over its attempt to smash stereotypes about women leading home-bound lives in the conservative region.
It begins with a woman nervously peering out of her doorway and adjusting her veil before going for a run in the street, while a female voice narrates in a Saudi dialect: “What will they say about you? Maybe they’ll say you exceeded all expectations.”
Amal Mourad, a 24-year old Emirati athlete said her father at first forbade her from training in a gym where men were present.
“Convincing my father was the toughest part… if you want something bad enough you stick to it, and you can get it done.”
Change is difficult. You must be bold and determined to accomplish your goals and fulfil your potential. These women are fighting for being able to be who they really want to be. Not only do they have to face challenges within their own cultural group, but they have to gain the trust and respect of people outside of it.
Being a woman, fighting for gender equality in our individualistic society is hard enough, imagine that in a collectivist one where the pressure to keep up harmony, comply with strict, interpersonal rules is daunting.
It takes a lot of courage to make a change and remember, when you do that, people around you might not like it and they try to pull you back as you being different makes them feel uncomfortable.
Culture is dynamic even though many people refuse to realise the world is changing, we cannot turn back time. As long as it means improvement, inspiration and fulfilment, just do it, go for it and break down the barriers between people.
Beauty is subjective, but strength is not, so let’s celebrate all the strong and beautiful women today and every day.
Let’s embrace International Women’s Day 2017 slogan and #BeBoldForChange. We all have a role to play in creating a kinder, fairer and more equitable world, don’t you think?
ACTION: I hope you enjoy Csaba’s blog this week. Is it ‘food for thought’ for you? I hope so. I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment below for me. I read them all.