Monday, December 13, 2004
Beauty in the Eye of Its Beholders 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Somehow, this pair of stories struck me - Atlanta, Georgia police officials shut down the city's performances of off-Broadway hit Naked Boys Singing, and China held its first beauty pageant for women who are "man-made beauties", including some that were born male. From Georgia:
ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- Police shut down a bar that was showing a successful musical revue featuring nudity because the business didn't have an adult entertainment license.

The manager of The Armory bar in midtown Atlanta, Doug Youngblood, said police overreacted Saturday night. He said the show had been running since August and is theater -- not adult entertainment. The revue, "Naked Boys Singing," has spent six years off-Broadway in New York and road show versions are playing in several cities. The gay-themed show, billed as celebrating "the splendors of male nudity in comedy, song and dance," features six male actors who are in the buff for much of the performance.

The show received generally good reviews in New York City, where it ranks as the 10th longest-running off-Broadway show. In August, the city's tourist bureau pulled it from a list of discounted offerings for visiting Republican delegates after the Republican National Committee complained it wasn't suitable.
From Beijing:
Liu is one of 19 finalists in China's first beauty pageant for women who have undergone plastic surgery, part of the country's increasingly fevered pursuit of beauty as the economy soars and people spend more money and time on their looks. The government says the country's fast-growing cosmetic surgery industry rakes in $2.4 billion a year as patients rush to go under the knife to widen eyes, narrow faces and fill out lips and breasts, emerging as "renzao meinu" -- manmade beauties.

"Before, I couldn't imagine that it was possible to have places where the old could become young and the ugly could become beautiful," said Liu, who attributes her youthful looks to facelifts and surgery on her eyelids.
The finalists, aged 18 to 62, will vie for the top prize next Saturday after a week of rehearsals. Other individual prizes will also be awarded for best figure, biggest change and best stage demeanor. "This contest shows women's strong pursuit of beauty," said Han Wei, an organizer. "We would like to use it to unveil the mystery of manmade beauty and let society have a complete understanding of every aspect."
The quest for beauty has been part of Chinese culture for centuries. But after the 1949 Communist takeover, and especially during Mao's 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, the norm changed. Women were recruited for all jobs. Clothes became unisex as most donned army uniforms or shapeless blue or gray Mao suits and cotton shoes. In the 1980s, as China engaged the international community, Hong Kong and Japan -- and, later, the United States -- provided inspiration for women's body images.
Liu Xiaojing, a 21-year-old from the northeastern city of Harbin, was a man three years ago but does not feel that undermines her chances in the contest. "Becoming beautiful is everyone's wish," said Liu, who was wearing a strapless turquoise dress. "I am now legally a woman, and this contest is my first formal step toward womanhood."

Liu didn't tell organizers she was a transsexual, and they didn't ask. On Sunday, she revealed in front of reporters that she used to be a man. Han said no decision had been made on whether she still qualified as a contestant. "If they disqualify me, I will use legal means to seek fairness," said Liu, who has also had work done on her eyebrows, nose, chin and facial shape. "This is a turning point in my life."
There's a wealth of cultural subtexts juxtaposed here, a mass of contradictions and countersurging trends: East versus West, NYC versus the Bible belt, natural versus surgically-altered beauty, public display of male bodies and sexuality versus female bodies and sexuality, our increasing capability of erasing the surface signs of age, gender and racial identity versus "baring it all" - and, neoprudishness butting up against neotechnocapitalism and what Sandra Lee Bartky in 1990 called the "fashion-beauty complex." I suspect a dissertation lurks within.