Sight of Grace
Brazil 1980 | Ethiopia 1984 | Mali 1985 | Korem 1984 | Brazil 1983
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Culture Clash  

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Culture Clash

What is happiness to you?  What would you need in order to have the perfect life?  Imagine it.  In the United States the standard of living appears to be based on material objects.  Fancy cars, big houses, designer clothing, fame, and anything related to money structure the foundation of happiness in our growing culture.  In poor countries, however, people are deprived of such basic human rights as food.  All humans depend on food for survival and millions of people die each year due to malnutrition or starvation.  I find disturbing irony in the way our society pressures people to starve themselves to become fashionably thin when people all over the world die due to the lack of food.

First, take a look at the way people typically live in Mali.  Agriculture is the major source of income for the people of Mali.  This does not mean they can enjoy the privilege of consuming their own food.  Instead the majority of these goods are exported to wealthier countries, like the United States.  The powerful nations buy produce from third world countries and profit greatly from the transaction.  The people of Mali depend on the great Niger River in order to supply water crops.  The unpredictable river and source of life often floods, ruining homes and damaging crops.  Drought is another hardship in Mali encounters.  Lakes often dry up, killing the precious fish that the people depend on for essential nourishment.  Most men are out of work and travel around the country in search for a way to earn income.  Numerous family members who fall victim t the unstoppable droughts must be left behind.  The majority of Malians are nomadic due to the flooding, drought, and sandstorms, all characteristics of the desert.  Relief agencies weigh children and calculate the size of food ration that can be given.  The portions of food seem like just enough to stay alive.  A staple diet found in Mali consists of millet, sorghum, rice, and maize.  Obviously the starving cannot afford to be picky about what they gather, if anything at all.  They are just happy to be alive.  From looking at Salgado's photographs individuals in this part of the world are strikingly similar to skeletons.  They have no choice except to slowly starve and stare death in the face as they and their loved ones waste away.

In our society, opportunities flourish, and hardly anyone lives without the fundamental human needs for survival.  Food is plentiful, but something is tragically wrong with the way we perceive weight.  The media sends out the the risky message that individuals, especially women, need to be "fashionably" skinny in order to be normal.  This perception of normal, however, is far from it.  Models and celebrities who we idolize are praised for their waif-like appearance.  Over the past couple of decades the media has become obsessed with thinness, and eating disorders have increased as a result.  Today, a skinny woman is a symbol of success, power, and beauty.  We are exposed to emaciated figures on televisions, movies, magazines, and advertisements.  People are subliminally taught from youth that they must meet the unobtainable goal of perfection in order to be socially acceptable.  As a product of my society, the older I get the more pressure I feel to maintain a perfect figure.  People my age grow more and more dissatisfied with their body images. Most women and a growing number of men are obsessively concerned with their bodies.  It seems that no one will ever be satisfied with this insignificant issue.  Athletes are pushed to lose weight and stay trim in order to succeed.  Dancers, gymnasts, figure skaters, and all genres of athletics have severe consequences as a result of the immense pressure for thinness.  Women suffer from irreversible medical problems later in life from their anorexia or bulimia.  Several of my close friends developed eating disorders and are now paying the consequences.  A new fad that is ever present in the media is dieting.  The Hollywood diet, for instance, offers a drink that will guarantee a weight loss of ten pounds in two days!  A huge lucrative market profits greatly from selling us these ridiculous and dangerous diets.  companies rake in the cash at the expense of the buyers' health.  Millions of people refuse to eat daily due to the pressure foe conformity despite the cost.

The irony between these two situations is haunting.  While children in Africa have nothing to eat, teenagers in the United States starve themselves.  Now is the time to ask ourselves, at what point will we reach true satisfaction?  When people have nothing they learn to appreciate the little things, but in a society full of material objects it seems that no one is satisfied.  Something is definitely wrong with this picture.

Works Cited:

"Mali (Country)."  Encarta Encyclopedia.  (1993-2001) : 31 May  2001 <>