By Julia Meszaros, Ph.D. Candidate
Florida International University
People often think of globalization as distant, abstract, and divorced from their daily lives. However, contrary to this popular belief global processes are in fact embodied, intimate, and a central component of everyday life. The commercial romance industry, for example, is an important industry that highlights the embodied nature of globalization. This industry caters to American men (as well as men from Canada, Australia, the UK, Germany) that are seeking to find a more "traditional’ and feminine wife. Many of the men I met during my research on romance tours in Colombia, Ukraine, and the Philippines said that American women no longer embody or perform proper femininity. For these men, embodying proper femininity requires maintaining an attractive physique and wardrobe. While men on tour characterized American women as overweight, ugly, and lazy, they imagine women in other countries to be thin, attractive, and well dressed. This image is supported by representations of female bodies that men come across on various international dating websites, which often feature female profiles in sexualized poses and outfits. In fact, the major romance tour provider, or international dating service, A Foreign Affair, has a weight limit of 55 kilograms (approximately 120 pounds) for women in the Philippines who want to create a profile.
The issue of body size was a hot-button issue for many of the men and women I interviewed who were signed up with A Foreign Affair, an international dating service. When most men discussed women from Ukraine, they commented on Ukrainian women’s “supermodel” bodies: tall and thin. Men on tour in the Philippines focused on the fact that most women could be classified as petite. They considered women in countries such as Colombia to be “too curvy” or “too hippy.” One sex tour blogger, Roosh V, commented on women in Colombia, saying that while thinner than the average American woman, they still have not adopted the culture of “working out” and so many are “chubby.” American men’s focus on the ways in which foreign women embody a superior form of femininity demonstrates the fact that global processes, such as romance tourism, are booth deeply intimate and embodied.
American men are not the only people involved in this industry that highlight the importance of physical appearance. Women in Colombia, Ukraine, and the Philippines described the desirability of their potential American suitors in racially embodied terms. In all three countries, women desired men who resembled Brad Pitt: tall, not too old, blonde, and blue eyed. Many women I spoke with imagined Americans in terms of whiteness partly because white men statistically dominate the industry as ‘tourists.’ Yet, some men of African or Hispanic descent do attend tours offered by A Foreign Affair. And the women sometimes exoticized these men; especially Ukrainian women who are not often previously exposed to people of African descent. A few women I interviewed mentioned that bringing home a nonwhite American man to the small rural villages their families live in could be quite problematic. Their families expected American men to be white, but also privileged whiteness as a preferable racial status.
American male tourists and local women in Colombia, Ukraine, and the Philippines expressed notions of desire that are clearly embodied—embodiments that help to reproduce racial, national, and gender hierarchies in the most intimate spaces of people’s lives. While many people consider desire, romance, and sexuality to be personal and private things, neocolonial hierarchies of race influence people’s perceptions of beauty and sexual attractiveness. A number of men on international romance tours did not want to meet women who were “too dark” or of African descent, for example, and men on tour in Ukraine often described wanting the Slavic or Nordic look, code for white, demonstrating the way global hierarchies are embodied by people in different global positions.