Just like it’s easy to get caught up in the latest gossip at school or work, it’s easy to get caught up in your own culture’s trends and expectations. As I try to be more conscious of other cultures, I learn more about what other people are doing outside of our borders. You only have to travel to a few faraway places or follow a little international pop culture to see that beauty is not perceived in other cultures the same way it is in the US.
In America, perceptions of beauty often rely on the idea of perfection. We put a lot of stock in what’s in Hollywood or fashion magazines. Luckily, many of us have realized that what’s in the media is a finished product. Ever heard that quote “Don’t compare your behind the scenes with someone else’s highlight reel”? Beauty IRL isn’t a Photoshopped spread in the latest publication. What’s more is that those are often artists’ renderings of a certain ideal. Makeup artists, photographers, stylists, and designers all work together to create what ends up on the page. At least in the US, an impressive movement has been taking place to reveal that behind the scenes footage: editors have ditched the retouching of certain editorials, readers have posted their #NoMakeupSelfie in order to show real, natural beauty. But despite all this, America has a 40 billion dollar diet industry; we still have our own standards of beauty. From tanned skin to impossibly symmetrical features, it seems there is always something to look up to.
Not all countries feel the same about beauty as Western cultures do. In fact, cultures around the world have different ideas of what is beautiful. Some cultures in Africa, for example, do not celebrate thinness the way Americans do. (Famously, the country of Mauritania has come to be known as one that idolizes overweight women.) This is most often seen as a sign of wealth and fertility, whereas skinny is not (a flip flop from many Western ideals). In Brazil, women want to appear fit and toned, and things like waxing, sculpting massages, and manicures are everyday treatments, not only reserved for the spa. In both Asia and Africa, skin lightening has risen in popularity. Korea, Thailand, and Japan have all been known to champion skincare products that smooth and brighten, as milky, unblemished skin is the ultimate beauty goal.
No matter the beauty standard of a particular country, there is usually a common thread: youthfulness and femininity. There’s this pressure to look younger and appear closer to society’s version of feminine. No matter the skin tone, being free of “imperfections” is celebrated. Relying too closely on what society places on a pedestal can be detrimental, whether it’s weight, skin, eye shape… You name it. It can keep you from being true to yourself.
Studying different cultures and their attitudes toward something as subjective as beauty allows us to widen our awareness of what’s going on within our own subcultures. It reminds us that as crazy as this world is – how wrapped up we all get in beauty, body image, and ideas of perfection – we are ALL individuals. We all have our own perceptions of the world around us. With regards to beauty, I always say to do what makes you happy, what makes you feel confident. Don’t do it because it’s a trend or societal expectation; live with intention and open mindedness. All that said, it truly is fascinating to learn about other cultures, and that’s one reason I am excited to do so much traveling this year. We all have to get out of our own heads sometimes!
Now, I have two questions for you – 1) What’s the beauty standard in your culture? 2) What’s YOUR idea of beauty? It’s always interesting to see how these two connect and differ. Leave me a comment with your opinion below.