American beauty standards


Beauty standards change depending on your geographic location

Quick notes

  • What is considered “beautiful” in America isn’t necessarily desirable in other countries

  • Some cultures prefer to keep beauty practices minimal, while others go all out to get a “desired” aesthetic

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. While that may be true, our eyes are trained by the standards of our society, and desired traits in one culture may be completely undesirable in another. The fact is, beauty is always subjective — and standards change depending on where you live.

Though Americans are becoming more accepting of different body sizes and shapes, for decades the beauty ideal for women was the same: Tall and thin, with lots of makeup. As with many cultural norms, people in other countries often find these standards odd. Here are just a few American beauty norms that don’t make sense in other parts of the world:

All about that bass

Today in America, the body-positivity movement focuses on loving yourself no matter what body you were born into. For decades, however, the American ideal was stick-thin bodies (without an ounce of cellulite). Movies, television, and magazines reflected this by only featuring women who were waifish and lean.

In other countries, like Jamaica and Ghana, it is just the opposite. In those cultures, bigger women are seen as figures of ideal beauty. In the African country of Mauritania, for example, being a bit overweight is associated with wealth and fertility and viewed as the female “ideal.”

To tan or not to tan?

Despite the known risks, in America, fair-skinned people frequently tan their skin on purpose. In certain areas of the country (especially those on either coast), it’s almost a faux pas to be caught with pale skin during the summer months.

Photo Courtesy: [Ana_J] via Pixabay
In many Asian countries, however, paler skin is viewed as more beautiful. In particular, Japanese women find it odd that anyone would want tan skin. In their culture, women go to great lengths to not tan: Umbrellas are often carried to avoid the sun, and women on beaches typically wear long sleeves and hats.

Taking piercings to the next level

Today, earrings and nose rings are becoming more commonplace. But although horizons are expanding, intense body modification is still not considered beautiful for American women. Some detractors even refer to the practice as “body mutilation.”

This is not the standard around the world. A woman in America might get disapproving glances for having large ear gauges, but for the Masai tribe in Kenya, a tribal method of using gauges to stretch the earlobes is considered beautiful. In fact, as time goes by, a woman’s status in the tribe is heightened by how large and elongated her earlobes become.

Brace face

In America, there’s a huge stigma attached to having yellow or crooked teeth. That’s why millions of people invest in smile-perfecting treatments, such as braces or whitening procedures, every year. Unfortunately, this American obsession is based entirely on looks, as science has proven that teeth that are a bit yellow are actually stronger and healthier.

Our eyes are trained by the standards of our society, and desired traits in one culture may be completely undesirable in another.

In other parts of the world, the stigma lies in having teeth that are too perfect. While Americans like to joke about British teeth, you’ll find that our friends across the pond have their own thoughts about our pearly whites (mainly, they’d like to know why they’re all so straight and blindingly white).

Thick or thin?

In our Kardashian-obsessed culture, the female ideal is rapidly trending toward women with small waists, big booties, and lush lips.

Go to any other country, though, and they likely just don’t get it. Take South Korea for example: There, thin lips are considered more attractive, and they don’t really understand the big booty craze. There are even reaction videos on YouTube in which Korean people look at images of the Kardashians and appear to be shocked because, well, that’s just not their jam.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:

What men found attractive in women hundreds of years ago is definitely not the same as what they find attractive today.

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