Beauty is oppressively weighed and measured by big marketing in the West; sampling other cultural standards is a surefire way to break out of these idealistic - and, in many cases, unrealistic - expectations. These foreign marks of beauty remind us of the endless variations of the human experience. The result is some much-needed perspective: What would you find beautiful if you were born in Thailand, rural New Zealand or China in the 11th century, and how would this lens colour your existence? To us, some of these standards don't just seem arbitrary; they're often the very opposite of our own, and in some cases downright frightening. Sizes, shapes, accessories and… Broken toes? Here are 12 bizarre and fascinating standards of beauty to behold around the world.
13 Crooked Teeth
In the West, ad after ad tells us we’ll live lonely and sexless lives if our teeth aren’t mathematically rendered and not a shade darker than fresh snow. In Japan, what is known as the yaeba phenomenon—the Japanese word for snaggletooth— is turning that standard upside down. Or rather, lopsided. Japanese men say crooked teeth instantly cute-ifies a woman with youthfulness, in the sense that children’s teeth aren’t finished growing properly. It’s taken such a hold in the country that you can get your own fake set of crooked dentures, totally removable, from select dental salons for $400 USD.
12 Long Necks
Is it a religious thing? Some primitive voodoo superstition? Nope — elongated necks are downright sexy to the Kayan tribes people of Myanmar and Northern Thailand. From youth, many of these women opt to physically stretch their necks over time using brass coils. In fact, it pushes their shoulders down, making the neck seem longer. Every few years, more coils means more progress. A long neck is supposed to exaggerate a woman’s features and attract more attention. And no doubt, if you saw this in a bar it would certainly catch your eye.
11 Face Tattoos
Also known as tā moko, these swirling face tattoos used to be a long-standing tradition for male Maori tribesmen in New Zealand, before Europeans showed up and ruined everything. High-ranking men received moko like a badass Bar Mitzvah to mark their transition out of boyhood. And it doesn’t only look badass: They used to carve the tattoo in with a chisel. Moko has seen a resurgence in the culture since the 1990s, but thankfully they use tattoo machines now.
10 Foot Binding
“Lotus feet”, or foot binding, originated in the upper classes of 10th or 11th century Imperial China. The procedure involved breaking a woman’s toes and tying them up against her feet with tight bandages. This was “beautiful” for several extremely antiquated reasons. Originally, wealthy women bound their feet to flaunt their status. Since it’s hard to use your feet when they’re bound, bound feet showed that you could afford not to work (and congratulations, were now physically incapable). Overtime this grew into a general trait of beauty, not least because it also made it very difficult for women to run away. And no, China doesn’t do this anymore. But since they only stopped in the 1940s, exactly one elderly woman still bears the mark of this practice.
9 Body Scars
Both men and women of Ethiopia’s Karo Tribe value self-made scarring on their bodies for different reasons. Chest scars on men typically represent success in battle, namely killing members of rival tribes. But women scar their chests and torsos out of pure sexiness. The artist chisels into their flesh with a sharp instrument like a knife or a shard of glass, and then rubs a combination of plant juices and dark-pigmented ingredients like charcoal and gunpowder into the open wound. In case you're wondering, yes, that does cause an infection. That’s what makes the tattoo. The result of this long, painful and unadvisable process is a dark and raised artwork on the body, and increased amounts of sexy time.
Voluptuousness and beauty have never been mutually exclusive. All around the world a heavy-set woman imparts a certain sexiness that no amount of media influence could deny. In some places, voluptuousness is more attractive than thinness full stop. And then in some places, namely Mauritania, Africa, rolls of fat and stretch marks have been the beauty ideal. To attain this unhealthy standard of wellness and beauty, young girls are force-fed up to 16,000 calories daily as children by their parents. This has given birth to so-called “fat farms” where women to gather to amass calories around the clock. While the practice is dying out, unfortunately many families value the potential male attention beyond the health problems of being 200 pounds and 5’4’’. Diabetes, hypertension and heart disease persist in the name of beauty.
7 Surgery Bandages
Here’s something you didn’t know: Iran is the nose job capital of the world. It has the highest rate of nose surgeries per capita, about four times that of the United States. It’s so desirable in the country that even the poor save up to get it done. All looks aside, it signals a relationship to European beauty standards and social status. So, naturally, wearing the post-surgical bandage, even if it's just for show, is a fashion statement.
Japan’s “Gyaru” subculture - a term which comes from the slang “gal” in English - has big sway on Japan’s fashion economy. It generally denotes an eccentric street fashion marked by vibrant hair colours, nail decorations, dramatic makeup, jewelry and assorted fake accessories. Emerging in the 1970s as a strange side-effect of Western materialism in Japan, Gyaru has grown as a trendy culture of youthful rebellion — a sort of “glamour punk” — with its own subsets of fashion types like “Ganguro”, deep tan and bleached hair, and “Hime gyaru”, with rose patterns, pearls and crown motifs of the Rococo era.
5 Long Earlobes
In southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, a semi-nomadic group called the Maasai have spent generations developing the ultimate spacer. Like elongated necks, the stretching occurs over time using larger and larger tools like thorns, bundles of twigs, stones and pieces of elephant tusks. To have the most gaping hole possible in your earlobe isn't just a mark of beauty, but a sign of wisdom, age and virtue to the Maasai; to Americans it’s mostly just a sign of whoa man.
4 Multi-colored garb
While Western beauty standards have strongly affected South Asian culture, Indian women of every caste retain their traditional standards of richly coloured dresses, saris, and complementary head scarves, dupattas. Nose piercings, henna tattoos and a bindi on the forehead completes that look of Indian beauty. It's a standard that the rest of the world rarely emulates, but still finds uplifting and beautiful.
2 Stretched Lips
You've seen necks and ears, but lips have to be the most striking thing to stretch in the name of beauty; smooching that just does not seem feasible. Stretched lips come mostly out of Southern Ethiopia, where women of the Mursi tribe insert plates typically made of clay into their upper or lower lip (sometimes both). For lower lips, this often requires extracting the two lower front teeth, sometimes all four. Much like ear stretching, over time women pursue larger and larger “labrets” for more attention. Archaeologists have found labrets were invented as early as 8700 BC.
1 Bleached Skin
In many parts of Asia, whitened skin is revered as the ultimate standard of skin beauty. Thailand perhaps epitomizes this strange obsession, where products promising “the miracle of white skin” clout the air waves. More recently, these products have even begun targeting women’s “intimate areas”, and some events—like the time a multinational corporation pretty much offered a university scholarship only to fair-skinned female students—suggest it borders on prejudice. Very much on the darker side of “beauty”, this skin-whitening in the Asia-Pacific region—a billion dollar industry—has been tied to health problems like kidney damage and permanent (unwanted) skin discolouration. Sources: marieclaire.com, nationalgeographic, vice, theguardian