Each country has definition of beauty.
Many of the beauty standards in the world can seem unattainable. They can be quite overwhelming for any woman who doesn’t fit in the very specific mold society has deemed “beautiful.”
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and you don’t have to look too far to realize that’s true. Many have done some things in the name of beauty like eyelash extensions, Brazilian waxes and tanning beds, to name a few that probably seem crazy to people in different cultures who define beauty much differently.
In U.S., they may value long, flowy hair, bronzed skin and a face free of wrinkles, but in other parts of the world, pale complexions, visible scars and shaved heads are the enviable traits.
Our preoccupation with beauty is an international obsession, but how we define beauty across the globe couldn’t be more different. In an effort to break down beauty barriers, we’re taking a look at what being “beautiful” means at home–and beyond our borders.
Find out if you would you be considered beautiful in these far-flung destinations.
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In the West, popular consensus–and a quick flip through Vogue–will tell you that the majority still values the aesthetic of a tall, slender-but-busty woman with delicate features. To top off this already-intimidating list–hourglass bodies, and big lips.
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AU NATUREL EN FRANCE
In Paris, you’ll find that the effortless “I woke up like this” look is very common. The youthful, minimal-to-no-makeup appearance is what their society prefers.
Jolie Laide is the motto–loosely translated to describe unconventional beauty. Here, those distinct and quirky physical traits that you work so hard to conceal are exactly what French women find most appealing. A natural beauty that stands apart from the rest–a refreshing take on what it is to be “pretty.”
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RUSSIAN BEAUTY STANDARD
Russian women who are deemed the most beautiful are tall and slim with bright blue or green eyes, high cheekbones, and full, plump lips.
Never caught on a “sweats” day and seemingly oozing with sexuality, Russian women may have coined the phrase “more is more.” Contrary to the French, Russian women see more value in putting added effort (and funds) into their appearance.
Born in Russia, supermodel Irina Shayk has this to say about beauty back home: “…in my country, women spend a lot of time on beauty rituals and take very good care of themselves. Natural beauty is carefully cherished and is brought to perfection by make-up, clothes and the unique combination of little things that are called “personal charm.”
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KOREAN BEAUTY STANDARD
One of the most coveted traits in Korea is their much sought-after porcelain skin. Long admired by women across the globe, the market for Korean skin care and face masks products has surged drastically in recent years in a bid for women of the West to combat aging and achieve that perfect complexion.
For the women of Korea, maintaining that perfect pale complexion is no small feat, the origins of which trace back in history to a time where tanned skin implied a lower social status.
For a skin care regimen that would make any Korean woman proud, check out the line of paraben- and sulfate-free products by AmorePacific.
Furthermore,as a result of Korean culture’s distinct beauty standards, South Korea has the highest rate of cosmetic surgeries per capita in the world. For women to be considered beautiful in Korea, there’s a long list to check off.
The ideal woman has a tapered/v-shaped jaw, double eyelids, big round eyes, a small nose, a small mouth, and very fair skin.
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BRAZIL AND SOUTH AMERICAN STANDARD OF BEAUTY
In Brazil, beauty has a lot to do with what’s going on south of the border. Large breasts and a waif-like figure are less of a concern than a toned and curvy bottom half. Thicker, more muscular legs and hips are the focus here, with particular attention being paid to–you guessed it!– the butt. Here, if exercise and diet won’t cut it, many women are willing to go under the knife for implants designed to perk up those trademark South American assets.
Beyond the physical, Brazilian women are notorious for their free-spiritedness and seemingly effortless sensuality. Despite the work that goes into those enviable beach-bodies, there’s something inherently sexy and confident about these South American stunners.
Take a note from fellow Latina, Columbian-born Sofia Vergara, who says, “Confident people have a way of carrying themselves that makes others more attracted to them.”
Sofia Vergara Image credit: redcarpet-fashionawards.com
THAILAND BEAUTY STANDARD
A dangerous quest for beauty in Thailand
Similarly to Korea, Thailand has high societal pressure to meet Western-influenced beauty standards.
In Thailand, beautiful women must be petite and have strong features like a big nose, big round eyes, and a strong chin. These standards are also influenced by the Indian caste system; the ideal light skin represents both social status and beauty.
The pursuit of perfection in Thailand is no laughing matter, and many women have paid the ultimate price in their quest for beauty. The ideal Thai woman is in almost comical contrast to the natural traits so many local women are born with. Value here is placed on pale skin, a narrow frame and pronounced eyes and nose.
One valuable–and safely attainable–beauty regimen to take away from Thailand is their emphasis on protecting their skin from the sun. While their motivations may have more to do with maintaining a lighter complexion than sparing themselves from harmful rays, there’s no denying the benefits to always seeking out skin care products that boast SPF all year ’round.
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PHILIPPINE BEAUTY STANDARD
In the Philippines, most Filipinos adore the following traits:
- Fair skin – kids are told at a very young age to stay away from the sun because they will get dark and look “ugly.” Hence the rapid incline of bleaching products and whitening supplements.
- Long, straight black hair - which may either be natural or rebonded
- Tall nose – when little kids are young, their parents pinch their noses frequently and chant, “grow, grow little nose” so that the nosebridge may have somewhat of a shot of growing taller. Unfortunately, there’s not much a nose pinch can do since you can’t fight genetics or biology. The most opted surgery is the Nose job. Plenty of celebrities get their nose done to improve their looks.
- Eyes, preferably slanted – the crescent shape eyes or the type of eyes that disappear when you smile is much coveted. That’s what most Filipinos love about Chinitas / tos.
In other words, a very un-Filipino look. Some argue that Filipinos never really got over the colonial mentality. Others say having dark skin is too common here or that it is the equivalent of poverty. (Which is certainly not true!)
There are two types of beauty Filipinos fawn over as evidenced by what is presented by the media: The Caucasian mestiza (Half caucasian with caucasian features) or the Chinita mestiza (Half Chinese with the much adored “chinita” eyes)
Chinita mestiza example:
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The Caucasian mestiza example:
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INDIA’S BEAUTY STANDARD
The ideal woman in India has almond-shaped eyes, a sharp nose, luscious black hair, dark brows and fair skin. Yep, they even have bleaching products in India to achieve a “fair and lovely” skin tone.
India’s perception of beauty shifts as the East looks West
Present-day standards of beauty in India have taken a turn towards Western ideals, now putting pressure on women to lighten their skin and slim down in a bid to hold court with the women of the West.
One of the most enviable traits of the modern-day Indian beauty is their thick, lustrous hair. One of the most commonly used tricks of the trade Indian women use to maintain their trademark locks is none other than coconut oil. Massaged into the scalp, the oil will provide a deep conditioning treatment and condition your hair back to health.
In addition, 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.
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UNITED KINGDOM BEAUTY STANDARD
I guess, we can all agree that eyebrows are a huge focus since Cara Delevingne became a fashion and beauty icon. The obsession with heavy brows is a global phenomenon, but it’s particularly popular in the UK where the bigger the brow, the better. Bold brows indicate innocence and natural beauty.
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NEW ZEALAND STANDARD OF BEAUTY
In some cultures, tattoos are unprofessional — but for Māori women, they are a rite of passage. In New Zealand, facial tattoos are a symbol of beauty for these women.
In their culture, women use the traditional chin tattoo, the moko kauae, as a stamp of their true identity. They view it as a symbol of empowerment and transition into womanhood.
Traditionally done with a chisel (ouch!) tattoo machines now add permanent adornments to the faces of these women–swirly-shaped tattoos called Ta-moko. To find yourself at the top of the heap, you’ve got to go big–the most beautiful women are thought to be those with their chins and lips fully tattooed.
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JAPANESE BEAUTY STANDARD
In 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.
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And one of Japan’s quirkier beauty standards is the obsession with “yaeba,” otherwise known as the double tooth. While most women in the world are focused on having the perfect, straight-toothed smile, Japanese culture finds this crooked look much more attractive.
This quirky beauty standard is something that Japanese women will actually go through dental procedures to attain.
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MAURITANIA STANDARD OF BEAUTY
Even in western culture, a curvy, buxom figure is well appreciated but in Mauritania this ideal is taken to a greater extreme. Mauritania, a north African country twice the size of Texas, has suffered ongoing problems particularly in the form of food shortages and chronic poverty. It is little wonder then, why plumpness would be valued as a symbol of status and prestige. In 2009, Mint Ely, head of the Association of Women Heads of Households stated in an article “In Mauritania, a woman’s size indicates the amount of space she occupies in her husband’s heart”.Women in Mauritania are encouraged to fatten up and parents often force their daughters to gorge on pounded millet, camel’s milk and prunes. They are punished if they resist and if they vomit, they are forced to eat their puke. The practice is said to have originated in pre-colonial times where wealthy white moors expected their wives to sit all day while black servants tended to household duties.
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ETHIOPIAN STANDARD OF BEAUTY
The Mursi tribe in Ethiopia has rather unusual beauty expectations, which include scarification and lip plates. Oftentimes these clay plates will mark rites of passage for women, who start wearing them around 15 years old.
This tribe seriously takes the phrase “beauty is pain” to the next level with these traditional body modifications.
In the Surma tribe of Ethiopia’s Omo valley, men and women adorn themselves with body art in the form of keloid scar designs. The practice also serves as a test of strength and maturity for young women to signal their suitability for motherhood and childbearing. The ceremony involves the use of razor blades and thorns. The skin is pulled using the thorn and then slit with the blade, afterwards agitating the wound and filling it with plant juices, and charcoal to enhance the scars formation. The intricate scar patterns are seen as beautiful and more preferable to that of their natural smooth skin which they consider to be ‘ugly’. During the 10 minute ritual, those who undergo it do their best to maintain a stoic face and not to show pain or fear so as not to bring shame on their families. Tribe members have received ridicule from urban Ethiopians who view them as primitives. Many try to conceal the markings of their tribe to avoid negative stigmas against them when among the modern Ethiopian population.
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SOUTHEAST ASIA BEAUTY STANDARD
In Burma, a long giraffe neck is a thing of beauty. The Kayan women of eastern Burma wear weighted brass coils that compress the muscles around their collarbones pushing them down into their ribs to make their necks appear longer. More and more rings are added over time and a full set can weigh up to 10 kilos. Although the rings can be removed, most women tend not to due to discomfort and skin discoloration. Also because having worn them so long, the rings feel like a part of their body and they’ve expressed feeling vulnerable and naked when not wearing them. Possible reasons as to why this practice originated may have been as protection against tiger bites or to deter slave traders from taking the women as slaves. The women that continue to wear neck rings have cited doing so to preserve and uphold the beauty of their culture and possibly support their local economy by attracting tourism.
IRAN BEAUTY STANDARD
Tehran, the capital of Iran, has the highest rate of rhinoplasty in the world. Both men and women in Iran are pressured by societal standards to have thin, sloped noses. In Iran, it’s actually viewed as a norm to go through this popular cosmetic procedure.
Cosmetic surgery is popular among young women seeking to enhance their physical attractiveness. According to some figures, up to 40,000 cosmetic procedures are done in Iran each year. In particular, nose jobs are a popular procedure and now even the wearing of nose bandages following a surgical procedure has become fashionable. Women proudly wear them as a signal to others that there is a beautiful butterfly developing beneath their gauze-wrapped cocoon. But even with no surgery, many women will fake having had a nose job and voluntarily wear the bandages as a mere hipster-like affectation. For them, the implication of the bandages alone is almost as satisfying as actually having a nose procedure.
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You Still Have To Appreciate Natural Persian Beauty
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INDONESIA BEAUTY STANDARD
In Bali, sharpened teeth are considered a form of both physical and spiritual beauty. From July to August, teeth filing ceremonies take place as a rite of passage for adolescents into adulthood. It is usually done when a boy or girl reaches puberty, specifically when a girl has her first menses and when a boy’s voice starts to change. The day before the ceremony, the young adult is required to remain indoors in isolation so as to protect them from opportunistic evil spirits and such. To file the teeth, a priest carries out the task using a file, hammer and carver all of which have been purified with holy water prior to the procedure. The ceremony is typically held between 4 AM and 6 AM and when it is over, the incumbent is considered to be a mature adult. According to Balinese historical records, the teeth filing ritual has been conducted for over 2000 years.
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NAMIBIA BEAUTY STNDARD
Women in the Himba tribe of Namibia are known for their iconic red skin and hair. This is not a genetic feature but rather a result of their unusual beauty regimen. Twice a day they apply a ruddy, aromatic paste called otjze made from crushed ochre stone, fat and butter all over their skin and hair. They begin doing this as soon as they are old enough to look after themselves hygienically. The origins of the treatment is not certain but it appears to carry benefits as a sun block and insect repellent and also helps to retain moisture in the skin. Because water is scarce, Himba women cleanse themselves with herb-infused smoke which they allow to permeate their skin for minutes at a time. Women’s hair feature intricately styled braids and dreadlocks and they wear jewelry made from shells, copper and woven reed.
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CHINA BEAUTY STANDARD
The ideal of femininity in ancient China would have been a podiatrist’s nightmare. For a long time in China, having tiny feet that could fit into footwear the size of doll shoes was considered a symbol of status and beauty. Women who had the means and money, underwent the painful process of foot binding to shape their tootsies into little deformed flippers. To achieve this look, the toes and arch are broken and bound tightly with silk ribbons. The wrappings were removed periodically for cleaning to prevent infection. Girls were forced to walk long distances to help expedite the process of breaking down their foot bones as the bindings became progressively tighter. After about 2 years, the process was complete resulting in a thoroughly crushed, hoof-like foot that made men go gaga. Feet that were 3 inches long were lauded as “golden lotus”, 4 inchers were “silver lotus” and a 5 inch foot was a clunky “iron lotus”. Foot binding is said to have originated some time in the 10th Century by a dancer named Yao Niang after she charmed the socks of a powerful Chinese emperor. By the 1930s, the fad thankfully fell out of vogue.
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CHINA NEW STANDARD OF BEAUTY
In China, to be beautiful means you have to look a certain way. You may already know that the desired or most ideal look, in South-East Asia, revolves around impossibly white porcelain skin, long black silky hair, a slight frame, big eyes, small mouth, V-Chin and very poised pointed features. A list of ‘requirements’ that has spawned endless tubes of whitening cream, eye popping contact lenses and a rapidly expanding cosmetic surgery market.
So, why does China’s beauty standard seem like a one size fits all? Because society dictates what’s beautiful.
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Wear Your Culture Proudly
Beauty Is Subjective
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