Traveling opens up your eyes. The more you see and experience, the more you understand that the world is not black and white. It has so many colors that it’s hard to stop being surprised and fascinated by other cultures. Even though there are thousands of aspects we could focus on when talking about world’s diversity, this post will be about the beauty canon. How beauty is defined around the world?
The more I travel, the more I realise that beauty is something elusive. Sometimes it’s in the smile of pale, redhead girl. Sometimes it’s in the eyes of Padaung woman.
The world is diversified and that’s why it’s perfect. Every single person has something interesting to offer, everyone is beautiful in their own way.
In this post I want to show you the beauty standards around the world. I really hope that after reading this you will be more body-positive. No matter how you look like: you are beautiful and unique. There is no one like you on this Earth!
Western Standards of Beauty
Go to Instagram. Turn on TV. Open up any magazine. Or simply google the phrase beautiful girl. You will see copy-and-paste women: skinny, with shiny hair and white teeth. That’s how the perfect woman in USA, Australia, Europe, and many other countries should look like.
Add to that long hair, curvy hips, red lips, big breasts and you will have a sexy look.
There is no exception- you cannot be considered as pretty if you have some flaws, such as ugly teeth or the muffin top.
The truth is, 99% of women don’t look like the barbie dolls. Just look at these numbers:
So my question is: why do we follow the canon of beauty that is impossible to achieve for most of us? Take a look around- what you see in the TV is nothing like the real world.
Canons of Beauty in Rajasthan, India
Located on the western edge of India, Rajasthan is a barren land with little vegetation, and lots of sand. In such an extreme environment, its women who are symbols of life itself. Hence the canon of beauty for women is also built around that. Bright, beautiful colors and silver jewellery are an essential part of the beauty of the woman, and so are kohl eyes, long hair and a bindi on the forehead.
However, with time definition of beauty is evolving (the influence of Bollywood is huge) and now fairer skin is also added to the list.
Latin American Beauty Standards
Colombia and Venezuela (beauty pageants)
Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder and with 6 billion sets of eyes in the world I guess it stands to reason that we could well have 6 billion differing ideals of beauty right? Yet strangely we don’t and rather it seems that within societies there is a very distinct cultural consensus as to exactly what beauty is.
Let’s talk about Latin America beauty standards.
Venezuela holds the record for the number of Miss World winners and Colombia also generally fares very highly. These countries are very proud of the aesthetics of its women and such contests were to be taken very seriously.
So what of these aesthetics? Well firstly, let me tell you that because of its rich mix of cultures, Latin American women range wildly in terms of skin tone, hair type and features. One can easily see elements of the Spanish conquerors, Indigenous peoples, African Slaves and other European influences in the countries men and women. However, one thing that the beauty Queens tended to have in common was that they were all pretty pale and close to even a Caucasian skin tone. It was also quite common for them to have dyed their hair blond (nobody in South America has naturally light hair) in what was a blatant appropriation of the US and European beauty standard.
What else? Well, plastic surgery is very popular in Latin America with breast and butt enlargements commonplace. Forget any kind of natural or understated look here, rather the consensus seemed to be that if you’re going to do it then you may damn well get your monies worth; in short the enhancements were generally, erm, larger than life and left little to the imagination!
In Brazil, there has been a new celebration of the Afro hairstyle amongst many young Afro-Brazilians. Throughout history, the African community has been largely under-represented in society and the world stage. With Brazil being the last country to abolish slavery, being black in Latin America is not easy for most Afro-Latinos. Especially women, who many talk about growing up hearing that their natural hair is ugly because it is not straight.
Today, with the advent of social media and the power to be able to voice opinions on a global platform, many women have taken it upon themselves to share their own standards of natural beauty within Brazilian Culture.
One expression of this is by wearing an Afro, cornrows, or a headscarf. Many Afro Brazilian women have already started to dismiss the normalized Caucasian standards of beauty, and embrace their own culture and heritage by confidently wearing Afrocentric hairstyles.
Central America Beauty Standards
On the Caribbean island of Jamaica, where we served for two years as Peace Corps Volunteers, we witnessed more appreciation for larger body types. In Jamaica, it’s considered very attractive to be a plus size woman.
This view is commonly shared by women and men. Having extra weight means you are well fed, and hearing “You’re getting fat!” is generally meant to indicate an improvement. Political correctness is mostly absent from Jamaican culture as well, so they will call it how they see it.
Names for large women abound, from “fluffy” to “empress,” all spoken positively. Yes, many well-informed Jamaican women are making an effort to watch what they eat and exercise, however, this is predominantly for health reasons rather than concerns about self image.
As you might imagine, this perspective on body type has been a refreshing and even empowering change for women who visit from the U.S.
Canons of Beauty in Asia
Although each country in Asia has slightly different beauty standard, there are some universal things that most of them have in common. Asian people consider white skin and big eyes to be pretty. Many women wear lenses to have wider pupils. The more “western” they look, the better.
It’s worth to mention something pretty unusual here that may be pretty surprising to some of you. Men sometimes have (very!) long nails in Asia. It means they are rich enough to not work physically.
One of the things that impressed me the most when I visited Siem Reap, in Cambodia, was that women were completely covered even in the most horrible, humid heat. I understood the need to get fully covered in religious places such as the Temples of Angkor Wat, and did the same. But what was the point of suffering tremendously, wearing a sweater, sweatpants or pants, socks, a hat, a mask over the face and at times even gloves, in over 40 degrees Celsius?
I eventually asked a friendly lady, who explained to me that women in Cambodia, and in Asia in general, cover themselves like that because they want to avoid being exposed to the sun, and thus getting darker. They usually use the cosmetics to whiten their skin as well. The irony of it all is that women in Western countries are obsessed with showing a healthy glow – so much that they expose themselves to the risk of skin cancer by staying too much in the sun, not using enough sun block, or exaggerating on the spray tan or sun beds.
My two cents? A good balance is the key: getting a regular dose of Vitamin D from the sun is key to healthy living, as well as using sun block to minimize the risk of skin cancer. And ultimately, it is important to accept ourselves just the way we are, as long as we are healthy and strong.
Myanmar (long neck and thanaka)
Burma has one of the most unique beauty canon in the world. Have you heard of the Long Neck Tribe? The Kayan Padaung women are wearing the brass coils on their necks. There are many theories why they are doing this. Some people say that it’s because they want to protect their tenderest body parts from the attack of wild animals (like tigers).
The Padaung women believe that they are descendants of Mother Dragon and that’s why they are supposed to have long necks. That is the only thing that makes them beautiful.
They are starting to wear the coils when they are about 5 years old. Most of them take the coils off once a year, to clean them and to add another one.
The idea is simple: the longer your neck is, the more beautiful you are. You can visit the Kayan tribe not only in Myanmar but also in Thailand.
The other fascinating thing about Burmese women is their make up. They are not using mascaras and eye shadows.
The only make-up they are wearing is thanaka– a yellowish paste made from ground bark. They usually have it on their cheeks but sometimes also on other parts of their bodies.
South Korea (big eyes)
Like every country, South Korea has its own set of specific beauty standards. A certain look that every woman or man in Korea is trying to achieve and many are willing to undergo plastic surgery to reach this goal. Statistics say that 1 in 3 young woman undergo some kind of plastic surgery. Korean beauty standards for women include wide big eyes, a thin nose, white and flawless skin, a slim figure, v-shaped jaw line, a small head and long legs. These Korean beauty ideals are often determined and driven by the Kpop idols who have very specific appearances and facial features.
One of the most common plastic surgeries for Korean woman is actually the double eyelid surgery. Most Koreans don’t naturally have a double eyelids like western people do. Quite often this surgery is given as a gift from parents to their daughters when getting accepted in one of the top universities of the country.
Canons of Beauty in Africa
Namibia Beauty Standard
Hallmarks of beauty in traditional Himba culture in northern Namibia and southern Angola include the removal of several bottom front teeth; elaborate but impractical hairstyles that can only survive a night’s rest if the person sleeps on an elevated wooden neck rest; and in women, the spreading of silky red clay all over their bodies and hair.
Not only are these considered attractive among members of their tribe, they are the most easily and quickly recognizable banners of their long-held cultural continuity, which the Himba place great importance upon.
My favorite experience in this region is simply grocery shopping… any aisle is a glorious hodge-podge of cultures and perceptions of beauty — people of all tribes who have shed tradition and dress in plain Western clothes like me; Herero women in bright, colorful dresses and enormous hats in the shape of bull horns; and the traditional Himba, whose women are barefoot and bare-chested, wearing only a stiff cowhide skirt and layers upon layers of jewelry.
Canon of beauty in Mozambique
Traditional African beauty is defined by a curvacious figure. While in countries like the United States we are worried about our calories and staying thing, it is actually seen as a sign of unhappiness in most of Africa. In Mozambique, women would eat with absolutely no restrictions. This actually makes them more desirable to men as they are seen as more wealthy and healthy.
So in African culture, the bigger and healthier – the better. Men specifically seek out women that are not skin and bones as they are believed to bring more prosperity! When women (or men for that matter) appear too thin it is thought that they may have AIDS or some other ailing disease. In some of the more developed African nations women can be seeing buying appetite stimulants to increase their breast, butt, and leg size and it’s often a compliment to be called “fat” by men in Africa.
Ethiopia Canon of Beauty
Mursi people has one of the most unique beauty standards around the world. They put the plate in their lips to be more attractive.
Even though it may look quite weird to us, young Mursi girls can’t wait to finally pierce their lower lip. Why do they do that? It’s believed that they were used to prevent capture by slave traders. Over a time, it became a canon of beauty for this tribe.
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Do you know any other beauty standards around the world? Who’s the most beautiful woman you have ever seen? Share your thoughts in comments!
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