Recently I have been having fascinating conversations about cultural competency and cultural awareness. I was first introduced to the idea of cultural competency a little while ago and found it to be an interesting and important concept. My understanding of cultural competency is as a way to understand and invite people to share about their culture in order for one to become more “competent” in that culture.
While I know this term was coined in an effort to encourage more cultural appreciation and inclusivity in education, research, and work, the word “competency” did not encapsulate the understanding of culture I was striving for. Just because I have a Bachelor’s degree in East Asian Area Studies, have traveled around the world studying culture, and shadowed patients from different cultures doesn’t mean I’m competent in their culture. I will never be competent in someone else’s culture. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not striving to be culturally aware and respectful. I constantly check my assumptions and try not to place my western viewpoints onto people I meet.
As a conversation partner with the American Language Institute, something as simple as using Line, WhatsApp, WeChat, Or KakaoTalk instead of using text messages makes the students I work with more comfortable texting in English. As a future occupational therapist, I anticipate that I will work with people from very different language and cultural backgrounds. In my fieldwork and volunteer experiences I’ve heard many therapists and doctors say that “the client needs an interpreter because they can’t speak English”. Although it is probably unintentional, this Western viewpoint blames the clients we serve instead of working with them in a culturally sensitive way. Instead, the therapist must take responsibility for meeting the clients where they are by having an interpreter for the therapist instead of for the client. This is how therapists can build an empathic and cultural bridge when serving their clients.
As the proverb goes, “beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.” However, I’ve noticed that throughout American history, “the beholder” has always been the white majority. With past beliefs playing a powerful role in informing modern-day views and practices, America’s deep-rooted struggle with racism has had a detrimental effect on society’s idea of beauty. When I look to models and influencers who are regarded as “beautiful,” very rarely do I see any representation that looks like myself. In this article, I will discuss the origins of white beauty standards and the subsequent effects that they hold on modern-day beauty standards in the modeling industry.
As a field with the sole purpose of generating revenue for large corporations by selling new trends and products to consumers, the modeling industry has to maintain its exclusive and posh appearance through glamorous models in order to appeal to the American audience. The aesthetics and appearances of the models set unrealistic expectations for ordinary women who feel pressured to look a certain way. These models often have Eurocentric facial features and have light skin. The modeling industry is the most prominent example of how corporations have internalized white beauty standards to sell their products.
The modeling industry is known to pull inspiration from and appropriate Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) culture through music and visuals used for shows, hairstyles, and even skin tones. Cultural appropriation is when people from a dominant culture take aspects of the culture of a marginalized group that has been historically devalued, and divorce those aspects from their original meaning. They then use what they took from that culture for entertainment value (such as in fashion). For example, cornrows and dreadlocks have historically been challenging for Black women to wear confidently because of how society has negatively viewed them, but some white celebrities have been seen wearing them. This double standard and example of cultural appropriation show how the modeling industry views BIPOC people as unworthy of respect, despite capitalizing off of their culture.
By utilizing other cultures to their own advantage, one would imagine that the industry would be willing to give proper representation to BIPOC models and their identities. However, the industry still refuses to hire more than a few BIPOC models per show. While the industry views BIPOC culture as something that they can appropriate, they don’t view these models as worthy enough to represent the idea of beauty and glamour that they perpetuate. When questioned about this, many of the shows’ executives claim that BIPOC models don’t fit their creative vision or intended audience. BIPOC models are told by the industry that their features and personas don’t fit what America considers beautiful. The modeling industry’s treatment towards these identities and appearances shows that they only recognize BIPOC culture when it is beneficial and there is money to be made off of it.
In today’s society, many other industries have the same problematic values, such as the film and music industry. They choose to capitalize off of BIPOC culture when it fits their capitalistic agenda. BIPOC cultures are more than just an aesthetic experience. This is a problem that has resulted in BIPOC people experiencing continued hardships. A failure to recognize this shows how the modeling industry is a flawed system that fails to serve as a proper example to women everywhere what the standard of beauty should be.
Tanya is a rising senior studying Business Administration. She is from Southern California and enjoys taking advantage of the SoCal beaches. After teaching Mandarin to kids in underprivileged communities, she realized she had a strong passion for social work. On campus, she is involved with LA Community Impact and is a Marshall Research Assistant. In her free time she enjoys watching film analysis videos, designing graphics, and playing with her dog, Mochi.
Whenever I tell people that I’m from North Dakota, I usually get a ton of questions. “Woah! What do people do for fun there?” or “Where even is that?” are the most typical ones. I was born and raised in Fargo, a town in North Dakota less than 4 hours away from the Canadian border. A few years ago, my family moved to the West Coast. After living here for a while, I’ve noticed there are many differences between the two regions, and so I’ve come to understand why people who aren’t from the Midwest might have so many questions about it. I’ve broken these differences down into 5 categories here in order to highlight what life is like living in the Midwest!
Weather: The most obvious difference between the Midwest and the West Coast is the weather. Most places in the Midwest have four seasons, with winters that are harsh and cold, and summers that are milder and warmer. However, no matter where you live in the Midwest you are pretty much guaranteed to get snow. In Fargo, there’s always snow on the ground throughout the winter months. One year, I remember it snowing as late as May and as early as October. Temperatures also regularly reach sub-zero, and even into the -20s in Fahrenheit sometimes in January. In the summers, temperatures would generally stay in the 80s and low 90s, never really reaching over 100F.
Food: In terms of food, places in the Midwest don’t have quite as much variety as the West Coast, as the population sizes tend to not be quite as large. When I lived in Fargo, there were only 2-3 options for things like sushi or Chinese food. People there tend to eat home cooked meals; casseroles and hot dishes are a Midwestern staple. At potlucks or holiday parties, there are sometimes traditional foods served. Due to North Dakota’s large Norwegian population, lefse, a type of flatbread, is a food I saw at most celebrations. I even helped my friend’s family prepare it one year for their Thanksgiving dinner.
Activities: Many midwestern families have “lake homes” which they visit on the weekends. People enjoy going fishing, having cookouts, or having bonfires. During the winter months, winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding are quite popular. Ice hockey is also a sport that some children play growing up. For some families, Sundays and Wednesdays are considered “church day” and “church night.” Many businesses, particularly local ones, close on Sundays. When I was in school growing up, we would usually not have after school activities on Wednesdays.
People: “Midwest nice” is a common term used to describe midwestern people. People are generally very friendly and neighborly. During the winter, it’s not uncommon to see neighbors shoveling each other’s driveways or helping each out out with various things, and at public places such as the grocery store, people will frequently stop to chat with each other. Since living on the West Coast, I have noticed that people still have a friendly demeanor but aren’t quite as talkative as the people in the Midwest.
Transportation/lifestyle: Cars are the main method of transportation throughout the Midwest, as there are not a lot of established large public transportation systems. Walking and biking aren’t popular options due to the harsh winters. The age to obtain a license varies by State, but it is generally lower than in other regions of the country. In North Dakota, you can obtain a learner’s permit at age 14, and a license at age 15. The age for getting a job is also 14, though there are child labor laws in place to protect those under 16.
Whether or not you ever live in the Midwest, I think it definitely worth visiting at least once, especially during the winter. The weather is pretty much like how it is in the movies: freezing cold, but magical. Just make sure to dress warm and you will get to enjoy experiencing some home cooked Midwestern food and friendly people!
Tara is a freshman majoring in Biomedical Engineering on the pre-med track. She grew up in Fargo, North Dakota and Las Vegas, Nevada. She speaks English, Thai, and elementary level Spanish. Tara is involved in Taekwondo Club at USC. In her free time, she likes to solve Rubik’s cubes, play guitar and ukulele, and play with her dog, Tofu. Tara also loves traveling and learning about different cultures, especially through food! One of her favorite things about living in LA is the large amount of food options available; she is always willing to give great restaurant recommendations.
Academic and Professional English Language Instruction