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Standards of Beauty Around the World

by Out and About Mag.

Different cultures have their definition of beauty. Many cultures have become obsessed with measuring what is physically attractive and the lengths it takes to achieve it. Sometimes, these standards of beauty are influenced by popular culture. Traditional or ancient beliefs or norms influence other cultures. 

Beauty Around the World


The lighter, the better? Koreans have an obsession with lighter skin. Known for having the highest percentage of plastic surgeries in the world, Koreans have turned to skin whitening products and procedures to achieve their ideal porcelain skin colour. Whitening treatments like glutathione injections are popular in Korea. Glutathione injections lighten the skin by impeding the process of pigmentation. That's not the only beauty standard that keeps Koreans returning to the clinic for more. Koreans also obsess about having slim figures, small faces, v-shaped jaws, small lips, straight eyebrows, flawless skin, and larger eyes. Some would argue that this unhealthy obsession with beauty in the country is fueled by Korean TV and celebrities. 


The bigger, the better! Mauritanian girls are encouraged from a young age to gain weight to fulfil their culture's standards of beauty. Mauritanians practise the age-old tradition of leblouh or gavage, which originated centuries ago. Gavage means to fatten up. It is the practice of forcing young girls to eat a diet high in fat. The process begins at five years old when Mauritanian girls are sent to fat camps in the desert to eat almost 16,000 calories a day. During their time at fat camps, these young girls drink camel's milk and restrict their physical activity. The effects of this lifestyle can be extremely unhealthy. Heart failure, kidney failure, diabetes, women's reproductive problems, and joint pain are just some of the health problems that come with this form of obesity.


In New Zealand, chin tattoos are considered a physical manifestation of a Maori woman's true identity. A Ta-moko, or a chin tattoo, is traditionally created with a chisel. Each moko contains ancestral tribal messages specific to the wearer. These messages tell the story of the woman's family and tribal affiliations and their place in these social structures. A moko's message also conveys the wearer's genealogy, knowledge, and social standing. Although this art form declined during the 20th century, it is now making a return. More Maori women are embracing the tradition as an expression of their rich culture.

Beauty Around the World

The Karo tribe from Ethiopia and South Sudan


The Karo tribe from Ethiopia and South Sudan's nomadic Dinka people practise 'scarification'. To achieve scarification, the tribes use a knife to create patterns and symbolic marks on their body. The Dinka mark the faces of teenage boys and girls in the tribe as a rite of passage. Girls are marked with symbolic patterns, while boys are marked with three parallel lines that represent their entry into manhood. Although the procedure can be painful, Dinka teens are not allowed to cry or flinch during their scarification. Doing so would bring shame to their whole family.


Stretched earlobes are a popular beauty trend amongst the Masai women in Kenya. The elongated earlobes are created by using heavy objects such as tusks, stones, and wood to expand their earhole and gradually increase their size. To be considered the most beautiful, Masai women must rock a bald head and elongated ears with colourful earrings, necklaces, and shoes with intricate designs. As the ears stretch, a Masai woman's beauty is heightened by how large and elongated her earlobes have become.


Earlobes aren't the only body part being stretched around the world. The Kayan women in the mountaintops of Myanmar are known to practise the art of stretching their necks with rings. In the pursuit of beauty, girls as young as eight years old will start with five rings and gradually increase the numbers as they grow older. Looks can be deceiving; the neck ring only creates an illusion; their necks aren't as long as the rings. However, as more coils are added, the shoulders are pushed down, and the neck is lengthened. This tradition was originally used to attract men of the tribe, but in recent years it has drawn tourism.


In Iran, a nose job is a status symbol. The more petite the nose is, the better! Oftentimes, women will keep the bandages on their noses even after they've gotten the surgery (or even after their noses have healed) to show others that they come from an affluent family. The Iranian nose job isn't limited to the wealthy. Sales associates, office workers, university students, and even teenagers will spend their savings or go into debt to have this procedure. Some people question why the nose job is held to such a high standard in an Islamic country where women are wearing hijab. It has become an obsession for Iranian women to have classic European features, even if it means going into debt and using their savings.

About the author

Monique Spearman

MONIQUE L. SPEARMAN is a freelance multi-faceted writer, curator and creator. Inspired by the aesthetics of different cultures, Monique wants to show the world: "Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it!"



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