From face tattoos to long necks, see how the standards of beauty change from one country to the next.
By Erica Smith
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and you don’t have to look too far to realize that’s true. We’ve all done some things in the name of beauty (eyelash extensions, Brazilian waxes and using tanning beds, to name a few) that probably seem crazy to people in different cultures who define beauty much differently.
Here in the U.S., we may value long, flowy hair, bronzed skin and a face free of wrinkles, but in other parts of the world, pale complexions, visible scars and shaved heads are enviable traits. Here, we explore ten very different qualities that are considered beautiful around the globe. Find out if you would you be considered beautiful in these far-flung destinations.
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Ethiopia: Body Scars
While we’re concerned with erasing scars, Ethiopia’s Karo tribe is creating them. In the tribe’s eyes, beauty is literally skin deep: The scars cut onto the stomachs of women at childhood are seen as beautiful adornments meant to attract men who are husband material.
Kenya: Long Earlobes and Shaved Heads
To the Masai tribe of Kenya, long, stretched earlobes and low-maintenance buzz cuts are the ideal. Women are known to shave their heads and use everything from elephant tusks to twigs to pierce and stretch their lobes to become more attractive.
Burma and Thailand: Long Necks
Long, giraffe-like necks are the ultimate sign of beauty and female elegance to the Kayan tribe. At 5 years old, Kayan women start priming their necks with heavy brass rings. Each year, more coils are added, pushing down their shoulders and creating the effect of a longer neck. If you thought the phrase “beauty is pain” was referring to brow-waxing, keep in mind that the rings in this centuries-old ritual can weigh up the 22 pounds.
China, Thailand and Japan: Pale Skin
In various parts of Asia, pale, white skin is revered as a sign of affluence and attractiveness. In Japan, women avoid the sun at all costs (hello, parasols), while skin-care products with whitening agents are the norm in places like China and Thailand. Sometimes, it’s hard to find products without bleaching properties.
New Zealand: Face Tattoos
Tattooing is a sacred ritual to the Maori people of New Zealand, and not something parents warn their teenagers they’ll one day regret. Traditionally, a chisel was used to carve grooves into the skin (though today, tattoo machines are the norm), creating swirling tattoos called Ta-moko. Women with tattooed lips and chins and full, blue lips are considered the most beautiful.
Mauritania: Full Figures
While Americans are perpetually dieting and striving to be thin, Western African cultures find women who are overweight to be the most beautiful — the more stretch marks, the better.
In the past, it wasn’t completely unheard of for families in Mauritania to send their daughters to “fat farms,” camps that would force-feed girls 16,000 calories a day to help them reach their ideal weight. Fuller figures are still the ideal, and fattening camel’s and cow’s milk are go-tos for plumping up, but thankfully, the government now frowns upon the unpleasant force feeding.
Iran: Surgical Bandages
Nose jobs seem like a staple in the image-conscious U.S., but Iran is actually the rhinoplasty capital of the world. Both men and women are proud to show off their procedures — a sign of their social status and their path on the route to beauty. So much so that they’ll often wear their bandages much longer than needed, while others will purchase surgical tape to wear, even if they haven’t gone under the knife.
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India: Decorated Skin
Instead of accessorizing with extravagant jewelry, women in India turn to nose rings, bindis and henna to make themselves more attractive for festivals and celebrations, like weddings. Brides in particular will often wear a dot of red powder on the face known as a kumkum to look more beautiful.
Japan: Stick Straight Hair
In Japan, stick straight hair is seen as the norm, and therefore, the most beautiful hair texture. Japanese women with wavier patterns have become pros at getting this look, turning to chemicals and flat irons to keep their hair as sleek as possible. It’s no surprise that thermal reconditioning — using a bond-breaking chemical and meticulous flat-ironing to straighten hair — is referred to as Japanese hair straightening here in the U.S.
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