Acculturation in "Chicken Hips"

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Every culture has their idea of beauty. In North America, our idea of beauty for a woman is that she must be thin, with long lean legs and arms, medium build, flat stomach and a thin face. When Catherine arrived in Gambia, she found out quickly that their idea of a beautiful woman is the polar opposite. To them, a thin person reminds them of poverty, drought and starvation. Catherine’s acculturation process begins the first time she puts on African clothing in preparation for a baptism ceremony. The women looked at her with disgust, telling her that she was too thin, something that you rarely hear someone say in North America. This is be the initial shocking moment that begins the transformation of her beliefs about beauty. With this new information fresh in her brain, and a very fully stomach of rice it was time for the celebration of the baptism, where Catherine was able to witness their ability to celebrate their ‘roundness’ in the way they danced. She begins to notice that “one needed to be round and wide to make this dance beautiful.” Slowly, her mindset began to change, and with the help of her new friends in Gambia, her body began to change as well. She felt more comfortable and empowered in her new figure. She even notes that she would emphasize the swing of her hips as she walked. As her body changed, so too did her perception of beauty. She started seeing the European tourists at the beach as her new friends saw her when she first arrived; skeletal beings, devoid of substance or shape. The sense of panic, shame and guilt towards food was gone. She had transformed herself into a Gambian woman, just in time to come home, and experience a culture shock yet again when people close to her suggested that she slimmed down a bit, or that she had let herself go. Only weeks after she was thought to be beautiful in one culture, she is ridiculed by another, and once again begins the process of acculturation in order to fit back into the mold of what...
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