The Geography of Beauty: Hot or not?
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?