When I first discovered my friend, Maddie Knapp’s blog, Celebrating Curves, I became inspired to think about international beauty. Throughout my travels, I have learned that each place defines beauty differently. With diverse perspectives on beauty, it is important for us to be comfortable in our own skin and cherish our bodies.
I scanned several articles and social media to learn the most strongly held beliefs about international beauty.
In the article, How Beauty is Defined Throughout the World, it was interesting to see the differences in beauty in various countries, compared to a United States perspective:
- United States: Americans often value long, flowy hair, bronzed skin, a face free of wrinkles and a thin frame.
- Ethiopia: In the Ethiopia’s Karo tribe, beauty is emphasized with body scars. The scars cut onto the stomachs of women at childhood are seen as beautiful adornments meant to attract men who are husband material.
- Kenya: To the Masai tribe of Kenya, long, stretched earlobes and low-maintenance buzz cuts are the ideal. Women are known to shave their heads and use everything from elephant tusks to twigs to pierce and stretch their lobes to become more attractive.
- Burma and Thailand: Long, giraffe-like necks are the ultimate sign of beauty and female elegance to the Kayan tribe. At 5 years old, Kayan women start priming their necks with heavy brass rings. Each year, more coils are added, pushing down their shoulders and creating the effect of a longer neck. If you thought the phrase “beauty is pain” was referring to brow-waxing, keep in mind that the rings in this centuries-old ritual can weigh up the 22 pounds.
- China and Japan: In various parts of Asia, pale, white skin is revered as a sign of affluence and attractiveness. In Japan, women avoid the sun at all costs (hello, parasols), while skin-care products with whitening agents are the norm in places like China and Thailand. Sometimes, it’s hard to find products without bleaching properties.
- New Zealand: Tattooing is a sacred ritual to the Maori people of New Zealand, and not something parents warn their teenagers they’ll one day regret. Traditionally, a chisel was used to carve grooves into the skin (though today, tattoo machines are the norm), creating swirling tattoos called Ta-moko. Women with tattooed lips and chins and full, blue lips are considered the most beautiful.
- Mauritania: While Americans are perpetually dieting and striving to be thin, Western African cultures find women who are overweight to be the most beautiful — the more stretch marks, the better. In the past, it wasn’t completely unheard of for families in Mauritania to send their daughters to “fat farms,” camps that would force-feed girls 16,000 calories a day to help them reach their ideal weight. Fuller figures are still the ideal, and fattening camel’s and cow’s milk are go-tos for plumping up, but thankfully, the government now frowns upon the unpleasant force feeding.
- Iran: Nose jobs seem like a staple in the image-conscious U.S., but Iran is actually the rhinoplasty capital of the world. Both men and women are proud to show off their procedures — a sign of their social status and their path on the route to beauty. So much so that they’ll often wear their bandages much longer than needed, while others will purchase surgical tape to wear, even if they haven’t gone under the knife.
- India: Instead of accessorizing with extravagant jewelry, women in India turn to nose rings, bindis and henna to make themselves more attractive for festivals and celebrations, like weddings. Brides in particular will often wear a dot of red powder on the face known as a kumkum to look more beautiful.
- Japan: Stick straight hair is seen as the norm, and therefore, the most beautiful hair texture. Japanese women with wavier patterns have become pros at getting this look, turning to chemicals and flat irons to keep their hair as sleek as possible. It’s no surprise that thermal reconditioning — using a bond-breaking chemical and meticulous flat-ironing to straighten hair — is referred to as Japanese hair straightening here in the U.S.
I found an eye-opening Business Insider article which demonstrates through photographs how 19 different countries define beauty. According to the article:
“Journalist Esther Honig used the online marketplace Fiverr to send out a photo of herself to graphic designers in more than 20 countries.
Their task: to edit the photo to make Honig look “beautiful” — however the designer defined the term.
The results are telling. Each photo represents the personal and cultural beauty standards of the designer, with the American editor giving Honig bright blue eyes and long hair, and the Israeli designer darkening her eyes and skin.”
With the varying definitions and different approaches to beauty, we are reminded to embrace our natural features. Even if we do not feel beautiful where we live or travel, our features are likely attractive somewhere in the world. Like the fun phrase, “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere,” we should all remember that “we are considered beautiful somewhere.”