How do different cultures define beauty?
What are the trends and what rituals do they take on?
We all have a perception of what is beautiful and wherever we travel in the world we always find women (and men) seeking ways of making themselves more attractive, more beautiful, more groomed, more in keeping with the ideal of what ‘beauty’ is all about. If we take a look at different countries, we see different trends in consumer habits and aesthetic treatments, demonstrating a different attitude to beauty globally. Living and working in London, I get to see women from all over the world, and being from multi-racial Malaysia, I love this. The diversity and different concepts of beauty are exciting and interesting.
How do women around the world see beauty?
In CHINA there is an old saying – "there are no ugly women in the world, only lazy women."
Women work hard to achieve what is seen to be beautiful. Here there is an ideal of a pale, white skin – it’s a sign of beauty and many women from China will do anything to keep their skin out of the sun. So too for Korean and Japanese women. Moisturisers and skin creams contain whiteners. Traditionally beauty was seen as much more than just the physical appearance – women were also beautiful inside and out, with a focus on cultivating arts. Nowadays, as westernisation and globalisation occurs, there is also a trend to have more ideal western features, with plastic surgery to create double eyelids and more western noses.
The big focus is on flawless and hair free skin, and men also focus on achieving a perfect skin. Massage too is part of the culture in China and throughout the Far East – an ideal way not only to relax but also to flush out toxins from the body. Traditional Chinese Medicine always looks at the body as a whole and skin problems are treated from the source upwards, so a combination of different therapies is seen in China – an approach that some are also adopting in the west.
In India – from sculptures from ancient India we see what has been deemed as beautiful – small waists, large breasts, small feet and long flowing hair.
Hair is an important focus in India, and is often adorned with jasmine and other flowers to give a sweet smell, representing femininity and fertility. Rich, thick, luxurious hair is a sign of beauty and health and many rituals of beauty in India focus on it. Almond shape eyes, full lips, a straight nose and an hourglass figure are all ideals and we also see adornment with jewellery and painting the hands and feet in elaborate henna patterns, particularly at times of celebration such as weddings. Here too the favouring of whiter paler skin as a sign of beauty is seen.
In the Middle East, where many women cover the body, we see an emphasis on the face – large, dark, khol rimmed eyes are seen as beautiful – many terms of endearment in Arabic focus on the eyes, ‘light of my eyes’. Kohl was originally a way to protect the eyes and it has filtered down into an aesthetic ideal. Bedouin men will also rim their eyes with kohl, both for protective and aesthetic purposes. Eyebrows are also carefully shaped – thick, curved and framing the eyes.
There is a huge trend in cosmetic surgery for the face, particularly the nose. In Iran, having a nose job is a sign of affluence and very much the norm for birthday presents for girls in their late teens. Hands are also a focus, with small, soft, feminine hands as the idea, as is a smooth body with no hair – women in the Middle East spend a great deal of time in hair removal and there are many practices in the home that young girls learn from an early age to remove hair.
European beauty – here we see the pendulum swing in the opposite direction – Europeans crave tanned glowing skin which is seen as a sign of health. Throughout Europe the ideal body shape for a woman changes – Mediterranean women tend to be more curvaceous than their northern counterparts, and we can see from art over history how the ideal female shape has changed – Boticelli’s Venus was curvaceous with luscious hair – today Kate Moss with her ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ mantra is more in Vogue as beautiful.
In Latin America, curves on a small frame are beautiful and women spend a lot of money on plastic surgery and aesthetic procedures to enhance their curves – many procedure types are developed in Latin America. Large breasts, large buttocks, small waists and long hair are all signs of femininity for Latin women. In fact, a focus on beauty and femininity is a number one priority in many countries within South America, and children see their parents spending a great deal of time grooming and taking care of their appearance from a young age.
…and in England…what do we see as beautiful? Tanned skin? Slender? Smooth, line free skin?
What are your ideals of beauty?
It’s fascinating how we see beauty, what are ideals are and our perceptions and as we travel and learn more about different cultures and societies we get an exciting glimpse into the beauty world’s of different peoples. A brand that has come to my attention again is The Body Shop - how they present themselves as a worldwide brand that respect people’s different ideas of beauty and represent it throughout their collections and products. It’s something that we can all perhaps strive towards.
Over to you....What trends or cultures do you emulate or would like to follow? And why?
Until the next blog, enjoy being part of this colourful wonderful world!