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Thin Isn’t Everything: Unique Standards of Beauty Around the World

Learn about different concepts of beauty around the world, and a few tips to help yourself feel more confident about your own appearance.


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From Mona Lisa in the 15th Century to Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s—that’s over 500 years—Western artists depicted beautiful women as strong and curvy with soft, pale skin. Fat and pale was considered beautiful in the West because it was a sign of having enough food to eat and enough money to stay out of hard labor in the sun. So how long has thin been in?

The shift is often attributed to British model Twiggy who came on the scene in the tumultuous 1960s with her boyish body that launched us, feet first, into a culture that prized the coat-rack supermodel frame.

Now, thin models and actors are everywhere—on the movie screens, on billboards on the highway, and on commercials representing who we are as a culture and who we want to be.  But despite how it may feel from our constant media stream, thin isn’t the only symbol of beauty in the world.

On the border between Burma and Thailand, female members of the Kayan tribe wear brass rings around their necks from the age of five. The heavy rings push their shoulders down over time yielding the coveted appearance of long, elegant necks. 

Writer Le Ly Hayslip talks about her mother’s enviable looks in her memoir When Heaven and Earth Changed Places. Her stained teeth and long Buddha-like earlobes inspired jealousy among the women in the Vietnamese village.

In Mauritiana, a country on the Atlantic Coast in West Africa, heavy women with stretch marks are considered beautiful because they signal wealth and prosperity in a land of drought.

The Brazilian “girl from Ipanema” immortalized in the bossa nova song written in 1962 had a “guitar-shaped body” or “um corpo de violão,” in Portuguese, that was described as in the song as “more than a poem, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.”  In the English version she was “tall and tan and young and lovely.”

For centuries, Maori men and women in New Zealand have adorned themselves with sacred swirling face tattoos called moko. One specific form of moko is the pattern women wear on their lips and chins, shown here.

From long Buddha ears to plump tattooed lips, beauty proves to be a changeable concept.  Here are six ways to keep feeling good even on the worst winter days:

1. Throw Away the Magazine Ads and Aim for Health
Workout to feel better, not look better.

2. Red Lipstick Days
Stop at the mirror by the door and take a minute to put on one final touch—a scarf, red lipstick, a bright hat, a little cologne, anything that makes you feel better.

3. Dress for Yourself
Trends are ever changing. Some of them are ritual, some sexual, and some are subject to waves of popular cultural.  Decide what makes you feel beautiful and put it on.

4. Do Things You Are Good At
Set yourself up for success—why not?

5. Guilty Pleasures
Treat yourself to something that you like that doesn’t involve how you look—
Law & Order, romantic comedies, ice cream, a movie.

6. Surround Yourself with Beauty
Make your world visually appealing to you.  Surround yourself with pictures, fabrics and people that make you feel good.

Filed under: Arts and Culture, Health and Wellbeing,

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