body image

Body Image: The Four Countries That Shatter Western Ideals of Beauty


Worries about body image plague many women and men throughout the world. In fact, the Western ideals of body image have become so precise that many ask for the exact same plastic surgery procedures. As of March 2019, the Fashion Times claims that American plastic surgery patients focus on the same common procedures based upon Hollywood ideals. The majority of patients crave Angelina Jolie’s lips and cheekbones, Beyoncé’s facial structure, Kim Kardashian’s eyes, and jawline, Brad Pitt’s nose, and Natalie Portman’s nose.”

Do these men and women really seek to resemble these Hollywood actors, or do they wish to emulate the lifestyle and treatment that seems to come with the standard Hollywood appearance? Either way, American culture remains unforgiving, and film distribution throughout the world presents the American view of beauty to other cultures. However, some other countries are still not fooled.

Many nations have centuries-old ideas that continue to define beauty in 2019. Although the methods that some cultures use to achieve their beauty ideals are extreme, the following list offers you a snapshot of how different types of beauty present themselves throughout the world. This can feel liberating for those who do not resemble Angelia Jolie when they pout!

1. Japan

Historically, sun-kissed skin signified that you worked outside and therefore were less affluent. However, Western culture began to embrace tanned skin after the early 1900s, when travel was suddenly more in vogue. Tanned skin now shows affluence instead of pale skin, through those able to afford spray-tans and those who still take health-risks in tanning beds. However, while Western culture has devised countless beauty routines for tanned-skin, Japanese women and men have come up with a plethora of products to avoid this.

The majority of Japanese citizens are well-aware of the potential health-risks of Ultra Violet rays, with many women using umbrellas in the sunshine to protect their skin (just as Americans and Western Europeans used white lace umbrellas as fashionable beauty items around 100 years ago).

Many Japanese women also use concealers that are much lighter than their actual skin tone, while those in the West cover their skin with bronzer. This raises the question: why do men and women around the world wish to look different from their natural body image if no one can agree on what is beautiful?

2. Mauritania

In Western culture, brides are known for wanting to be as thin as possible on the day of their wedding. The majority of the time, all these brides are exposed to are body image of ultra-slender brides on magazine covers, forcing the reader to internalize the idea that skinny is beautiful. Yet, what if one day the thin were pitied for their small size? That day has come in another part of the world—Mauritania.

Mauritanians consider bigger bodies more beautiful and believe the larger you are, the more wealth you represent. Their beliefs and traditions may be considered horrifying to some, but it is their way of expressing their idea of beauty.

At the age of four, mothers and fathers start overfeeding their daughters in the hope that one day they will become corpulent. For the next several years, it is the girl’s main duty to gain weight so her size will eventually catch the eye of a potential mate. Once the young woman’s elders believe she is at a decent weight, they attach an ankle weight light enough for walking around but too heavy for any major physical activity. For a country facing a food deficit, Mauritania will do whatever it takes to make their female population feel beautiful.

3. Russia

Russia offers an interesting notion of body image. Russian Reporter magazine recently conducted a study on which celebrities the country found most attractive. However, when analyzing the data, magazine correspondents found it almost impossible to pinpoint body similarities among the chosen celebrities.

During the Renaissance, beauty was depicted through the celebrated curves of women. To men, this was a sign of health and fertility, and this connection still exists in Russia. However, the celebrities chosen differed so greatly in body type that Russian beauty seemingly defies both the historical notions of beauty as well as the present Western ideals of beauty.

The voluptuous women in the study were shown as equally attractive to celebrity Russian athletes like gymnast Alina Kabaeva. The study concludes that people made choices based on their occupation, general success, and eye contact. Those who appear sincerely interested in and engaged in conversation through eye contact were seen as more attractive.

4. Ethiopia

Men and women in Western culture typically hide their scars. Although scars are a permanent representation of a memory and make one unique, they are covered by strategically placed clothing and makeup. There is even an option for laser scar removal, a process that can cost upwards of $3,000. However, in southern Ethiopia, members of the Karo tribe decorate their skin with intricate scar patterns.

Ethiopian tribes have the opposite mindset of those apart of Western culture, embracing the beauty of scars instead of hiding them. At a young age, tribe members begin to take place in a process known as scarification—cutting the skin to create works of art that are dedicated to showing their personal stories.

Does this remind you of common Western practice? These markings are incredibly similar to the modern-day tattoo. Karo tribe members express everything from their journeys to their passions and family histories through the scars on their skin. It is not until the women of the tribe are fully decorated that they consider themselves ready for marriage.

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