Cultural Imperialism and Body Image in Georgia

by Emilie Egger

Travels throughout other parts of the world have enlightened me to the fact that America’s body neuroses are spreading with our culture and economic exploitation.

After college, I spent several months teaching English in Georgia. Georgia is a country on the border of Asia and Europe, whose culture reflects influences from both; centuries of invasions and occupations have added layers to its history. Georgia is a poor country; the average monthly salary is about $250 US. Western culture rushed in with a bang with the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s with new television channels, radio stations, books, magazines, and increasingly, the Internet.

With the influence of television channels like MTV, VH1, and even the Disney Channel, Georgians have begun to aspire to various ‘American’ ideals. For men, there are the cars, the wealth, the swagger that comes with the assertion of one’s power. For women, the focus is on the body and its adornments. Women spend their scant salaries on the clothes and accessories they see on American television. The money spent on these items like designer clothes and purses (even more expensive in Georgia due to high tariffs) is money taken away from life’s essential items, including quite often, food budgets.

Indeed, the issue of food and body weight are huge in Georgia. There is first the question of what kind of food is socially acceptable in this evolving culture. Traditional Georgian food is eschewed for American food–even fast-food chains, a luxury in Georgia. But the most outstanding issue regarding food is making sure not to eat too much. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the ideal of rail-thin women’s bodies has become paramount. Hearing women talk about not eating all day was a part of my daily routine. Meanwhile, the same inundation of billboards and commercials seen in the developed world are slowing taking over Georgian-language advertising. Additionally, women long for plastic surgery to ‘correct’ their features which are no longer popular, notably ethnic features that mark them as Georgian.

Living in this place, I saw clearly the negative effects of my nation’s imposition of cultural imperialism in another country in such a short amount of time. Cultural imperialism is the expression of one nation’s dominance in areas of culture and is especially dangerous swhen that culture exists within a country that does not have the infrastructure to support spending habits like many Americans have. Instead, as western, American culture is forced on countries like Georgia with increased globalization, there is no real option but compliance, making poor people even poorer and halting the investment in their own country and culture.

I’ve included two videos that portray these contrasting sides of Georgian culture. One is an ad promoting Georgia as a sleek travel destination, the other a video of a traditional Georgian dance. Notice the difference in the bodies of the women portrayed in each of the videos and what exactly is used in the ad to attract wealthy travelers.

The reality is much different than what is portrayed in either of those videos, of course. Most Georgians continue to live in poverty. Still, even though the second video evokes a nostalgic ideal that cannot be replaced in today’s world, it can prompt discussion about what we’re exporting along with our culture.

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