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5527 - (Body) Images of the Future: Exploring the Aspirational Horizons of Quichua Women in Amazonian Ecuador

This paper explores the relationship between indigenous women’s aspirations and issues of body image and indigeneity in Sacha Loma* (*pseudonym; SL), a small Quichua community in Ecuador’s Amazon. SL is a place in transition, a rural community home to both an internationally acclaimed eco-lodge and Cole*, an innovative boarding school. Still Quichua language and culture flourish.

For young Quichua women here, new forms of self-presentation, like those on TV (only recently available), compete with the forms of identity construction older Quichua women use to (re)make themselves and others—producing crops, food, and children. More and more, young women in SL are pursuing degrees or urban jobs that remove them from the farms that had played a key role in defining their identities. Some jobs, along with the media, glorify certain female bodies, bodies that are slender, white, and seldom native. I ask: how do Quichua women interpret these images, and how might emerging body image concerns compete with or complement their goals?

Using aspirational narratives of young and old Quichua women and quantitative body esteem surveys, I find that how Quichua women discuss their futures is often closely linked with issues of productivity and (slim) body images. Young women in SL are excited about what their futures hold—staying single and childless, becoming college students or tour guides, or, for many, mothers and farmers.

In this mix of cosmopolitanism and indigeneity an intergenerational shift has arisen between young Quichua women, some of whom prefer the possibilities, lifestyles, and fashions of cities, and their mothers and grandmothers, who remain tied to their farms and the sturdy bodies needed to work them. Young women, especially Cole graduates, are developing a fluency that allows them to move more easily between forest life and city life.

This research adds new richness to understandings of responses to modernity among indigenous persons, specifically youths.

Keywords: aspirations, body image, modernity, Quichua, Indigenous youth

Author: Shenton, Jamie (Vanderbilt University, Ud States of Am / USA)

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