The Geography of Beauty: Hot or not?

the-geography-of-beauty-hot-or-notIn some countries, I am considered beautiful, and yet in other countries, I am considered a blubbery, white freak show.

The conclusion I have drawn is that beauty is as cultural as anything else.

My friend Tennille who is currently living in India recently wrote about a particularly cringeworthy visit to the beauty salon. She was told by various staff members that she was dirty, had greasy hair and that her pores were visible from outer space. Ouch. This same friend  is considered a goddess in Italy, Hawaii and most other nations where the people have eyes.

When I was 18, I spent a year in Thailand being told quite cheerfully that I was ‘oo-un’ (fat) every time I left the house. The truth is, I was a bit chunky after comfort eating my way through the deep-fried, coconut-creamy wonders of Nakhonsithammarat. I was homesick and when you’re a Rotary Exchange Student, you’re not allowed to indulge in anything remotely escapist (the four D’s – no drinking, no driving, no drugs and no dating). What was I supposed to do?

In Fiji, I got hit on a lot. In Vietnam, people averted their eyes. BlackAfricans like me. White Africans don’t. I am invisible to Americans and kiwis, hideous to Balinese people and Peruvians are completely ambivalent about me and yet enamoured with The Future Husband.

Is there such a thing as universal beauty? Do tribes in Borneo sit around oohing and ahhing over Matt Damon? Would Masai warriors get a bit bashful around Dita Von Teese? Do eskimos wake up wishing they could have red hair and freckles?

Oscar Wilde once said, ‘No object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.’

Where are you hot? Where are you not? Are you a big hit in China and a social pariah in Poland? I want to know!

Image caption: I bought these photos at a market stall in Miraflores in Peru. How gorgeous and proud are these women?







12 comments on “The Geography of Beauty: Hot or not?

  1. I’m just an average Aussie girl, pale white skin, brown hair and green eyes, so I blend in with everyone else in most Western countries. But despite my short 5’3″ stature I was a giant when I lived in Japan, not only was I taller than most women but shopping for clothes was a nightmare because even the Large and Extra-Large items were often too small for my size 12 body.
    Being the lone white person in a crowded Japanese train station is a slightly disconcerting experience, but it’s funny when little kids just stare at you because you stand out like a sore thumb.
    My sister on the other hand looks Italian with dark hair, eyes and olive skin but for some reason she was adored in France!

  2. Being a tall blond, I was pretty much ignored in Fiji (but they couldn’t get enough of a certain Miss Emma!). The most attention I’ve ever had was in Ecuador… the girls there are shorter and darker than me, so I was a bit different.

    At the risk of showing my cheesy pop culture roots, I’d like to point out that Jessica Simpson (yeah yeah, I know) has a show called ‘The Price of Beauty’, in which she goes around the world looking at how different cultures perceive beauty. If you can ignore her dumb comments, it actually looks okay (the ‘fattening hut’ in Uganda is an eye opener). Here’s a preview:

  3. American men love redheads. apparently it’s the #1 preferred hair colour. Such a refreshing change from Aussie guys who make ranga jokes. It’s none of your business if the carpet matches the curtains. I’d like to keep my soft furnishings to myself thanks.

  4. As a pale anglo brunette, I am close to invisible here in Australia, but LOVE China because wherever I went, people would call out, “Piaoliang, piaoliang” (which I later discovered means ‘beautiful’…talk about an ego boost) and I had a queue of people about 10 deep lining up for my picture at the Great Wall…hilarious. Meanwhile, my tanned bombshell of a friend (a real head-turner back here in Sydney) didn’t get a look-in! The one and only time the tables have been turned…

  5. What a great story. I, too, am a pale anglo brunette with blue eyes, but I had blonde hair when we visited Japan in 2003. We stayed in Niseko (for the skiing) before the rest of Australia had discovered it. As they weren’t used to westerners I was a big hit, and a local restaurant owner asked me to pose with him for a photo so they could put my picture up on the wall. I wonder if it’s still there…

  6. I’m a short, northern-European descended male and I lived in Iran for over a year. Something about my eyes (I guess) because most of the people there referred to me as ‘Chinese’. I don’t see anything Oriental about my eyes, and I met quite a few people who clearly had Moghul genes, too. I always chose to consider being called ‘Chinese’ to be a compliment. Hope I wasn’t wrong!

  7. Great article! I definitely feel more attractive in some cultures over others. I wonder if there is such a thing as a universal beauty or at least someone that comes close to it? Could fashion magazine covers shed some light on it?

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