8 Ideals of Beauty from Around the World

Ideals of beauty around the world are constantly changing, but it is important to understand their significance on the culture and people of the places we travel.

Throughout the world, beauty ideals vary tremendously. This is particularly true when it comes to women, who are most often impacted by these ideals in order to attract a mate – and as an extension, their livelihood.

But as times change, men are also becoming more impacted by international ideals of beauty.

In a globalized world, lighter skin and thinness seem to reign supreme for what is considered successful and beautiful, and the negative consequences on traditional cultures include the often dangerous act of skin whitening or extreme weight loss.

Still, some traditions of the past that were both painful and unhealthy, such as foot binding and force-feeding women to make them fat, have slowly died out.

As travelers, it is important for us to both know and honor the different beauty ideals of places we visit, while also expressing ideas of acceptance and love for what each of us look like individually and culturally.

Here are 8 ideals of beauty – both past and present – from around the world, and how they are changing:

1) India: Decorative Dress

Indian women often wear colorful saris, nose rings, and dots or bindis on their foreheads as signs of femininity and sometimes marital status. Photo by mckaysavage.

No matter the caste in India, women adorn their bodies with colorful saris, dupattas, nose rings, bindis and henna, particularly for festivals and celebrations such as weddings.

Traditionally, being a thin woman was not thought of as attractive or healthy in India. But as Aruna Radhakrishna notes in her piece, India Walks a Thin Line to Beauty, western influence has infiltrated to the point that being skinny is becoming the beauty ideal.

2) Mauritania: Fat-Farms

Larger women were traditionally thought of as more beautiful, and many were sent as girls to “fat-farms” to be force-fed. Photo by geezaweezer.

Larger women are considered the ideal by men in the African country of Mauritania, where “fat-farms” still exist, not to slim women down, but to beef them up.

Though the practice is starting to die out, there are still seven and eight year-olds being taken out of school and left at the farms.

There, they are forced to eat dates, couscous, and other fattening foods all day. Traditionally, a large girl or women denoted her higher class and status, therefore defining her beauty.

3) Japan: Gyaru

Wild styles are popular with young women in Japan, especially in the large cities. Photo by
Esther Gibbons.

In Japan, especially the large cities, traditional Japanese dress has given way to often outlandish fashion, hair, makeup, and even skin coloring called Gyaru.

There are many categories that fall under this name, from the moderately to extremely tanned Ganguro, popular in the late 1990s to B-Gyaru, which imitates the fashion of female R&B artists.

4) China: Foot Binding

Though the tradition of feet binding in China has died out, some elderly Chinese women still walk around with tiny feet due to being bound as children.  jadis1958.

Though foot binding is no longer a common tradition in China, the impact of this tradition – which lasted until the 1940s – can be seen on some elderly Chinese women.

Binding the feet involved breaking the toes and pushing them up against the sole of the feet, then tightening and sewing bandages around the entire foot.

This was considered erotic to men, and also limited the mobility of women, both literally and also within politics and the world at large.

5) Brazil: Guitar Shape

Tanned and curvy women are considered beautiful in Brazil, though beauty ideals are changing toward a thinner look similar to what is popular in the United States. Photo by BrazilWomenBeach

Brazilian women have traditionally been thought of as toned, tanned, and curvy. Though not large by any means, the ideal of beauty in Brazil included hips, a smaller chest, and a rounder backside, otherwise known as a “guitar” shape.

As is true in several other countries, though, this beauty ideal has begun to change. At least according to author Mary del Priore, who writes in her book, The History of Private Life in Brazil that “today it’s the rich in Brazil who are thin and the poor who are fat.”

6) Thailand: Skin Whitening

Skin whitening continues to be a popular approach in Thailand, where being whiter is considered more attractive and affluent. Photo by nickgraywfu.

Even as ideas of beauty shift worldwide to incorporate the multifaceted beauty of different skin colors, skin whitening still is revered by some in Asia.

Lighter skin signals more affluence in places ranging from Thailand to India, where skin whitening creams are sold for cheap in open air markets.

But these creams can be permanently disfiguring, as one Thai singer found out after using one in hopes of improving her career.

7) New Zealand: Maori Tribe Face Tattoo

Though the tradition of a tribal face tattoo was dormant for many years, it has recently become popular once again amongst the Maori tribe of New Zealand. Photo by

Both men and women of the Maori tribe have long imprinted their face with swirling tattoos called Ta moko. Most high-ranking people in New Zealand’s indigenous tribe received moko before the Europeans arrived in the country, and it was considered an important milestone between childhood and adulthood.

Since the early 1990s, moko has had a revival in the culture, though now most often, a tattoo machine is used instead of the traditional chisel, which carved grooves in the face.

8) Burma: Padaung/Kayan “Long Necks”

Most Kayan women wear rings around their necks, which is considered a sign of beauty in their culture. It is also now being used as a tourist attraction. Photo by Mister Jo.

Women of the Kayan tribe, many of which are now refugees from Burma (now Myanmar) living in Thailand, often wear brass coils around their necks to give the illusion they are lengthened.

Starting at a young age, the coils are wrapped around the neck, and more are added over the years, which in actuality pushes down the women’s shoulders, producing the effect that their neck is longer.

These neck rings are both used as a way to attract men and now as a controversial attraction for tourists.

What do you think about these ideals of beauty around the world? Which ones did we miss?

If you liked this, you might also like: 11 School Lunches from Around the World

Main image by otisarchives3.

17 thoughts on “8 Ideals of Beauty from Around the World”

  1. Great article. I find that the more I travel, my personal ideals of attractiveness have changed and expanded and are much different than they were before I started.

  2. Wow, what an article! Interesting seeing how perceptions can vary so much across the world

    I agree specially with the guitar shape – although unlike Brazil, in most of Latin America curvier “guitar-shaped” women are considered the most attractive. In fact, where I’m from (Puerto Rico), I’m often considered too skinny by many guys my age, even though I’m slim, albeit in a healthy-weight range, and guitar-shaped! Moreover, when I moved to USA for the first time in 2005, I was shocked to see that women wanted to shrink their butts–in Puerto Rico, having a nice JLo butt is seen as a GREAT thing!

  3. This is just such an interesting post and it really truelly shows how subjective beauty and fashion is and that it can also be narrow minded trying to fit into the beauty ideal of one’s own country, I mean you never know in which country you might move to next ;-) and it would be exhausting if not impossible to try to adapt to everyones beauty ideal. We should really appreciate ourselves exactly as we are and not try to become someone else ;-)

  4. Great post! Never knew there’s such a thing as fat farms! Also, I think you missed to include the lip plates in Africa.

    In the Philippines, it is sickening how ads, billboards and all others dictate that white is right and thin is ideal. Half of my life, I tried to become what I’m not. I’m so grateful that I’ve finally learned to accept myself as I am. I hope other women would learn to accept themselves, too. It’s such a liberating feeling!

  5. Well written. Nice to read about Indian culture in this article. Thank you for sharing other cultural beauties of our world. Looking forward for more similar articles.

  6. In the Persian Gulf country of Oman, round, light skinned women are considered very beautiful. Oman is quite far behind the Western world in many respects, and I think their standard of beauty reflects, in part, our long-lost belief that fat equals wealth and is, therefore, desirable.

  7. That’s a great article and it couldn’t be more true.

    The white skin one is also true not only in thailand but also in other Asian countries like Vietnam for example. I have seen a lot of whitening lotion in Vietnam.

  8. Wow, how interesting. I remember my slim and gorgeous friend coming back from a trip to Samoa, complaining that the women there said she would never find a husband if she didn’t put on weight!

  9. I found this article to be interesting and a bit disturbing. Not only the movement away from cultural traditions toward the ‘idea’ that what is considered to be beautiful in the USA is in fact what beauty is, but also how women are disfigured, and at times disabled by the quest for beauty. Also, as you mention, their financial well being. The flip side of the coin for me was how alluring and sensual some of these beauty ‘standards’ are when I look at them with my Life is Art eye.

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