Beauty is an aesthetic, a concept, a product, a tradition, and even a sport. It is always subjective, but one sure thing about beauty, is that it changes drastically depending on geographic coordinates.
Each culture has its own unique standard of beauty, making an attractive person in Hollywood likely to appear unattractive in Africa, for instance. Some countries keep beauty practices minimal, while others have a whole lot to say about what makes the “perfect” woman.
All dolled up
In France, you might feel more comfortable going out without makeup. It is a place where natural beauty is revered, rather than cosmetically-enhanced beauty. In the United States we see celebrities layering on the makeup, but that’s the opposite of what a French woman would do. In an interview with Vogue, Paris-based professional makeup artist Violette explains how the French use makeup compared to how other cultures might.
“What we want is to be ourselves,” Violette explains, “Not a better version of ourselves. We feel like it’s better to be used to something than to try to change it. So we think: what style can I have with this face, and with this hair? That mentality is 100 percent French.” If a French woman uses makeup, it is typically only kept to a minimum to highlight her natural features. If you look like you’re trying too hard, or putting a lot of time and effort into your appearance, you’re not a true Parisian beauty.
A small figure
Many countries, like the United States, hold slenderness as the ideal body image, especially for women. However, other countries truly do believe in the phrase “the bigger the better.” In Africa, for example, many men value bigger women more than thin ones. It may be an aesthetic preference, but it is also much more than that. A larger physique reveals certain aspects of her lifestyle that are preferable to African men, like her ability for good child-bearing, her social status, and her health. If a man and woman are married, for example, her size reflects their high quality of life.
Can they afford to eat and live comfortably? According to the South African outlet Times Live, studies “by the Human Sciences Research Council showed that obesity among black women was attributable to the tendency to link wellbeing to weight gain.” This concept is not a new one, either. This train of thought about a woman’s weight being associated with her status is present throughout recorded history.
In Venezuela, beauty is a huge commodity. There is a very high pressure to have a very specific kind of figure: big bust, tiny waist, plump booty. This ideal of the female form is in such high demand that women of this country very often undergo multiple surgeries to fit their country’s standard of beauty. A few years ago, the country’s president, Hugo Chàvez, publicly spoke out against these practices, saying that doctors “convince some women that if they don’t have some big bosoms, they should feel bad.”
Still, these standards permeate retail. Vendors even display mannequins that reflect this particular shape because the more voluptuous form actually ups their sales. One Venezuelan woman in a New York Times video says, “The Venezuelan woman will never be satisfied, because she’s always going to be getting her breasts done again.” If you’re flat-chested, you’re out.
Many of us have seen women with rings stacked high on their elongated necks in issues of National Geographic. This kind of body modification takes place in regions of Thailand and Burma (Myanmar), and it is the trademark of a Padaung tribeswoman. Even though the necks appear to get longer, what actually happens when a woman receives her rings is that the heavy gold coil pushes down on her shoulders and collar bone, making the neck seem longer than it is.
Still, it is not for the end result of seeing the long, bare neck that these women practice this tradition. In fact, having an exposed neck is uncomfortable for a woman of this tribe, despite the initial amazement at finally getting to see what her neck looks like. The long, coil-bearing neck is a mark of belonging, as well as beauty.
A plain face
In the United States, face tattoos can be associated with gang affiliation, or simply considered the mark of an undesirable, social outcast. However, it is the complete opposite for the Maori people of New Zealand, whose cultural history has been literally and figuratively marked by striking facial ink.
Getting one’s face tattooed in this culture is known as Tā Moko. Women who participate in this tradition get chin tattoos, signalling a huge milestone in their lives. According to Broadly, “[The] traditional female chin tattoo is considered a physical manifestation of their true identity. It is believed every Māori woman wears a moko on the inside, close to their heart; when they are ready, the tattoo artist simply brings it out to the surface.” Each chin tattoo is personal and particular to the wearer. It is usually stylized after their ancestral markings, as well as after their own identity. It is a practice that makes Māori women feel whole, beautiful and fully realized.
While many Americans would kill to have the perfect bronze tan, that is not so for many Asian countries. In America, having a tan is a sign of beauty but also of social status because it signals that you have the luxury to be able to afford tanning, or to go on a tropical vacation.
But in places like China and Korea, for example, having a tan is a sign of poor social status. In these cultures, the darker a person’s skin, the lower the social class: it signifies that the person does a lot of outside, manual labor. By contrast, the lighter an Asian person’s skin is, the higher their social class and the greater their beauty. Women will go outside with parasols to keep their skin light, or will even go so far as to consider skin bleaching.
A natural nose
Many people with flush bank accounts in the US get work done to their faces. Nose jobs, botox — anything to get that much closer to perfection or youth. But plastic surgery means something a little bit different in Iran. For many Iranian women, getting a nose job isn’t just something you do if you have a lot of money or a bad nose, it’s something virtually any woman of any class wants.
According to Vice, Iran has the highest rate of nose surgery per capita in the world. So why is everyone running to the surgeon? Not only is it a status symbol, it’s a way of trying to find a good mate. “The bandage signals that you come from a family who cares and provides for you,” Vice reported, “Even if you don’t need a nose job, having a family that can afford to give you one is preferable to having the genetics for a petite nose.” Iranian women will often continue to wear a bandage over their nose long after they’ve gotten their surgery to indicate to others — especially men — that they have had the coveted procedure done. If you’ve got the nose you were born with, you’re getting picked last for a “happily ever after.”
In many countries, if you have a scar (or several scars) people gape and ask what happened to you. But in Ethiopia, scars are a way of articulating beauty for women, as well as physical prowess for men. “In Ethiopia’s Karo tribe,” according to National Geographic, “Men scar their chests to represent killing enemies from other tribes. Women with scarred torsos and chests are considered particularly sensual and attractive.”
So when you look in the mirror and you see stretch marks, think about how in another part of the world you would be looked upon as beautiful for them. While we go to great pains to minimize and hide our scars, other cultures willingly undergo scarification and celebrate it.
In South Korea, the biggest plastic surgery trend is the double eyelid surgery. This is a procedure many caucasian or African Americans may not have heard about before, but for many South Korean women, it’s normalized. It’s not unusual for South Korean parents to offer their children double eyelid surgery as a gift. So what is it, and why is it so desirable?
Many Asians have what is commonly referred to as a monolid — literally meaning “one eyelid.” It’s that crease on the upper lid that they’re after. Many South Korean women think that the double eyelid is more attractive. While a double eyelid is common in Western women, many cosmetic surgeons argue that South Korean women don’t get the surgery to Westernize themselves or reject their heritage, but rather to emphasize their facial features and emulate their favorite K-Pop stars.
As The Atlantic reported, it’s widely known that the majority of South Korea’s pop stars and celebrities opt for this kind of surgery and, as in most cultures, people like to emulate what they see famous, successful people doing. So while the double eyelid surgery is normalized within groups of family and friends, it is made even more desirable by the country’s entertainment culture.
Full eyebrows have been trending in the U.S. on and off since the 1940s, with thin eyebrows coming back in style here and there over the past century. But luscious brows are a beauty staple within the Mexican culture.
As part of their video series, 100 Years of Beauty, Cut.com shared a video of beauty trends by the decade in Mexico. For the better part of a century, the epitome of Mexican beauty has involved dark curls, red lipstick, and bold eyebrows.
Dramatic, shapely brows are a defining facial feature that is specific to Mexican cultural history. While women today don’t go as far as donning brows like those of famous artist Frida Kahlo, Mexican women still prefer dark and striking brows as opposed to thin ones. So if you’re trying to get those eyebrows #OnFleek, you should probably draw your inspiration from Mexican beauty standards
In Thailand, a person’s beauty is determined not just by their physical appearance, but by their character. What kind of virtues they have and what values they uphold affect people’s perception of just how beautiful they really are. According to an article published in the journal, Ethics In Science And Environmental Politics, qualities like charm, good nature, a devotion to one’s duties, and modesty are all positive characteristics that make a woman beautiful. If a woman lacks these qualities, she will be seen as ugly or undesirable, no matter how physically appealing she may be.
Because Thai beauty is evaluated in such a way, there is an emphasis on how well one gets along in their society. The positive intermingling of physical beauty and internal beauty lands a person in good social standing, which also improves their chances of entering into a beneficial marriage.
So on the one hand, it could be said that the Thai pay close attention to internal beauty, while on the other, it could be said that it’s simply for the sake of social acceptance. Either way, if you aren’t an agreeable person, you’re less likely to be accepted in Thai culture. This view of beauty is essentially the polar opposite of the American notion of beauty where, for example, physically attractive celebrities can maintain their place at the top of society, regardless of their personal values.
Beauty takes all forms
The curious thing about beauty standards is that they only serve to point out how there really is no such thing as a standard for beauty. Beauty is not uniform throughout the world: not even in one given room. Societies construct concepts and rules about what makes a woman beautiful, but that’s all it is — a construction. Everyone is beautiful to someone, and hopefully, more importantly, beautiful to themselves.