The Geography of Beauty: Beauty standards across the globe
As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This adage still rings true even with globalization and the continued westernization of beauty standards. Even with the biological assumption that symmetrical faces are intrinsically more beautiful, an enlightening recent experiment by freelance journalist Esther Honig showed the ever-varying cultural differences of the definition of beauty.
In her experiment Before and After, Esther sent her unaltered photo to 40 Photoshop enthusiasts around the world with the request to make her beautiful. The difference in every culture’s definition of beauty surprised Honig.
At PV, we celebrate all kinds of beauty and even the not-so beautiful. We don't aim to generalize beauty standards, but we got intrigued about what people online are saying about their culture’s definitions of beauty. Do feel free to give your thoughts in the comments and check out the links for more resources!
Particularly in East Asia which includes countries like China, Japan, and Korea, the prevailing definition of beauty is still dark glossy hair, pale skin, big eyes, double lids, small v-shaped face, and a slender build.
Pale skin is still revered as a sign of affluence and attractiveness. This is evident in the various whitening beauty products that are widely available in Asia. In China, because of the intense desire of Chinese woman to get whiter skin, most go through skin bleaching treatments that promise to give them skin as pale as rice. Although fair skin is the standard, there are also subtle differences in Korean and Japanese skincare and standards of fairness.
In the Philippines, as much as we want to champion our proud morena complexions, the popularity of whitening products still shows hints of our Spanish colonial longing, associating whiter skin with being “mestizo” or having mixed ancestry.
“Hattoshin” is a term used in Japan to describe a perfect body. One of the factors to get hattoshin is to have a smaller face, which should be 1/8 of your total height. Japanese women have been known to get plastic surgery for jaw line and cheek bone reduction, making them look like they have smaller heads and bigger eyes.
The creased eyelid is also a desirable feature throughout Asia, but has made waves particularly in Korea, with the plastic surgery procedure called blehparoplasty. In this procedure, surgeons reshape the eye by folding the upper skin lid, giving the patient the much sought-after double eyelid.
Straight hair is still highly desired by Asian women. This has given rise to the popularity of hair treatments such as thermal reconditioning, which uses bond-breaking chemicals to straighten hair. Hair irons are also widely used to get sleek hair.
On the other hand, golden hair, pale skin, a strong jaw, a narrow nose, and wider lips are the features of choice in countries throughout Western Europe, including Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, the United Kingdom, and Spain.
In France, women have been known to exude what the locals call je ne sais quoi, or “a pleasant quality that is hard to describe.” They have been taught early on that beauty is more about style, and place great emphasis on natural beauty. French women focus more on skincare than cosmetics and most aspire for a super healthy, luminous, and clear complexion. This is why French gals always have always been in pursuit of that “just thrown on” style, making them the muses for effortless beauty.
There’s a misconception that most women in Germany are blond, blue-eyed, and heavily built. But there are also brown-haired and dark blonde German girls out there. Think Diane Kruger! Just like the French, for Germans, having what they call Ausstrahlung – a glow or radiance – is highly valued. Natural beauty is still the best for Germans, so surgeries and overdone makeup are not very popular according to beauty blogger Venusian Glow.
There are a few differences in the standards of beauty between Western and Eastern Europe. Among these are the preference for tanned skin and more buxom figures in Eastern European countries such as Belarus, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, and the Ukraine.
One might think the global standard of beauty can be found in South America. After all, they have won six out of 10 Miss Universe titles in the last decade. Have you seen the following features in these title holders? Golden skintones, a strong brow, full lips, a curvy though slim body, and Germanic features?
Although Latinas are anatomically diverse, and their definition of beauty largely depends on the area they come from, the standard Hispanic features include a voluptuous body, olive skin, and dark hair. The waif may be celebrated in most countries, but South Americans take pride in their guitar-shaped bodies. Even old Spanish songs talk about the como una botella de Coca-Cola, or the body shaped like a Coca-Cola bottle.
In the predominantly Islamic Middle East where women are often expected to cover themselves for modesty, most communities focus on the women’s eyes as the focal point of beauty.
As most women in the Middle East are curvier than their western counterparts, a healthy body with “meat and bones” has always been considered the most attractive body type. This is also partly because heavier-set bodies are indicators of affluence in some Arab cultures. The same goes for having lighter eyes and fairer skin.
Curiously, in Iran, nose-jobs are the ultimate status symbol. Most men and women wear the bandages from their nose jobs as a status symbol, and will occasionally wear them longer than they’re supposed to.
Not to generalize, but most online content still points to arched brows, tanned skin, high cheekbones, narrow nose bridge, an oval shaped face, full lips, and voluminous wavy hair as the beauty standards for North America. However, the American standard for beauty has been constantly evolving. In Allure’s 20th Anniversary Beauty Survey, 64% of all the respondents think women of mixed race represent the epitome of beauty. This is a far cry from the 1991 version of the survey, when most Allure respondents chose blonde, blue-eyed Christie Brinkley as the ideal beauty. CNN says that the all-American look today is much more hybrid.
How would you define "beautiful"? There are no right or wrong answers. Do let us know in the comments section!