By Cheyanne Mandeville
Living in the United States makes it pretty easy to have a distorted idea of what’s beautiful. From the time we’re kids we see advertisements showing us what we should look like. In fact, countries with more access to Western advertising have higher rates of eating disorders. BUT, the good news is standards are changing. Worldwide, we’re creating our OWN standards. I honestly don’t know anyone who still thinks the only way to be beautiful is to be tall, skinny, white, and blonde. The whole Playboy look with bleached hair and fake boobs isn’t really what’s in anymore (no disrespect to Playmates). Two main factors seem to control why that may have changed in the last decade: 1) globalization and 2) social media. Both globalization and social media make the world a much smaller place and gives us access to people and cultures we wouldn’t have been able to learn from before. I’m going to look at beauty standards from around the world, some of which have impacted our own definition of beauty.
I’ll start here in the United States. Our standard of beauty is really becoming a lot more diverse thanks to campaigns like Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ and countless designers normalizing a larger size. Instagram models like Tess Holliday and Megan Kimberling slay in outfits that plus size women might not have worn in the past. Speaking from personal experience I HATED my big butt and hips before Kim Kardashian became famous. Now, I thank my lucky stars I have a big butt and get a lot of attention because of it.
Instagram has made it possible for models like Tess and Megan to catapult to household names. In addition, tons of body positive Instagram pages like @honorcurves and @effyourbeautystandards are making fashion and beauty for all sizes more accessible and acceptable.
Also, “fake baking” isn’t that relevant anymore (that shit should be illegal) and in China, Thailand, and Japan very pale skin is considered the most beautiful. Growing up I tanned all the time, which was so horrible for my skin that now I have to apply sunscreen like it’s my full time job. I wish I would have known then that pale skin is just as beautiful as a tan. Additionally, countries in Europe celebrate very dark skin. It’s no secret that Italians love dark skin, but the English and French consider darker skin very beautiful and unique.
However, most first world countries are becoming increasingly preoccupied with permanently altering their appearance. South Korea, and much of Asia, has become obsessed with plastic surgery. Nose jobs, eye jobs that create a more “open” eye, and jaw-line surgery are among the top three. You can see in the picture that the jaw-line surgery basically creates a “V” shaped face. And it’s not just women; men are a part of the plastic surgery culture as well. According to a report by the Korean Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, the risky and painful double jaw surgery is performed, on average, 5,000 times per year. Another study says one in five Seoul women having gone under the knife.
Even though there has been a rise in plus size models and some change in standards,
the pressure to be thin is still relevant in most Western cultures as ever. I’m a fairly average height and weight. My Body Mass Index (height-to-weight ratio) is 22 and falls within the “normal” range of 18.5 to 24.9, so I sometimes wonder why, if I’m considered healthy, am I always trying to lose weight? If you look at other countries, typically non-Western, a larger frame is considered a high status symbol, but in the United States and other first-world Western countries women (and some men) suffer from poor body image. I know that men suffer with poor body image, but women are subject to more societal pressure, partially just because we’re the target to more advertising.
Americans aren’t the only one’s obsessed with skinny. Great Britain also struggles with poor body image, claiming 1 in 4 women are on a diet and fifty percent of young girls say they struggle with body image.
Trying to come up with a solution, France passed legislation a few years ago that can fine agencies up to $65,000 for having models with a BMI under 18.5 ,without a doctor taking their height, weight, and body shape into account. Not a bad idea considering 30,000 to 40,000 suffer with anorexia – 90% being women. Italy, Spain, and Israel have now passed similar legislation, but based on models I’ve seen in magazines recently, it’s up for debate if the laws are being enforced.
Not every society pressures women into the extremely thin standard. In the country Tonga, located in the South Pacific, the majority of their population is overweight and they are PRAISED for it. I’m so used to constantly being on a diet and obsessing over my weight, but in Tonga the bigger the better. They actually used to send women to “Fat Farms” where they did nothing but eat and sleep. Any extreme measures to fit a society’s standard of beauty are unhealthy, but the fact that they’re trying to gain weight is actually comforting compared to the number of eating disorders we have in Western society.
What I’ve learned is that we just have to be our own kind of beautiful and embrace the things we can’t change. It can be daunting trying to live up to the expectations our society deems fit. It’s comforting to know that as the world becomes a smaller place our standards of beauty can become more diverse.