Ever since time immemorial, people all over the world have been asking themselves: What is “beautiful”? And can criteria be defined at all? You can’t argue about beauty, they say, it’s subjective. Because some ideals of beauty are perhaps unusual in other people’s eyes and some are worth striving for.
But is beauty also universal? Have the notions of beauty really changed in the course of history? And where do we stand today in dealing with it?
Our Western ideal of beauty is by no means regarded as desirable in all countries of the world. In some cultures fat women are beautiful, in others they should be well rounded and have a big bottom. The ideal of a very slim body with a flat stomach, large breasts and small buttocks is, however, on the triumphal march worldwide – not least due to a rapid spread by the media.
But beauty ideals are often above all one thing: status symbols. Who is slim and sporty in Europe or the USA, is considered as wealthy and successful. Conversely, fat women are particularly popular in West Africa, where fat is a sign of prosperity – only those who are wealthy can buy enough food. In South America, women should have as small breasts as possible, but a large bottom; Indian women and men want very light skin.
For models, Size Zero applies on the international catwalks, but some fashion designers also let “Curvy Models” and more feminine shapes on the catwalks. In other areas of beauty, the same doesn’t always apply: actress Renée Zellweger, for example, has just made millions at the box office with her full-bodied Bridget Jones figure. Even men are not always in demand for lean models or musclemen.
In general, the ideals have become quite variable and flexible, because many influences now meet a very individual “audience”. Thus applies: beautiful is what pleases.
What used to be the luxuriant breasts and previously also the wasp waist, is now the Thigh Gap, the gap between the thighs of women (a continuous free space between the inner sides of the thighs that occurs when the knees touch when standing upright). Ergo: our ideal of beauty has changed over time – and is constantly changing.
But not only in generations, but also in different cultures and epochs. Each figure epoch has its own role models: from the slender Cleopatra to the full-bodied Marylin Monroe to the clattering dry Kate Moss and the curvaceous fashion icon Kim Kardashian. In principle, all possible body figures are represented.
The beauty ideal of the woman in the change of the time and the continents
The beauty ideal of women has changed drastically over time. Sometimes a slim line was preferred, sometimes a curvy body with a belly. But one thing has always remained the same: the woman should radiate youthfulness and signal that she is fertile.
This was an important aspect on the marriage market in all epochs. And these attributes still belong to the beauty ideal of the woman of our time. However, one thing has been certain for thousands of years: beauty is influenced by time and life situation and is therefore quite subjective.
The Egyptians already had clearly defined ideals of beauty
In ancient Egypt was slim and beautiful. Nefertiti (her bust is world famous) is considered the epitome of a beautiful and slender woman. The old Egyptians would have felt mainly the slim figure in the time of the “New Kingdom” (around 1550 B.C.) attractive. The knowledge portal pharaonen.info also reports that expressive eyes, a symmetrical face and sensual lips were appealing at that time.
The ideals of ancient Greece are reflected over centuries
In ancient Greece, the emphasis was on plump: especially in the period around 500 BC, a plump figure with light skin was the beauty ideal of ancient Greece, according to the portal BuzzFeed. The life situation at that time may have been influenced by the model: since the majority of the people were destitute, lean women were not in demand. A fuller figure, on the other hand, stood for prosperity, which played an even greater role in society at the time than it does today.
This also applies to the post-war period in Germany, the so-called economic miracle. It was similar everywhere in Europe: in the Italian Renaissance, the belly was also preferred. During the Italian Renaissance (around 1500 A.D.), women presented themselves with lavish breasts, broad hips and a round belly.
The lotus feet persecuted Chinese women until the 20th century
In China women were and are dainty and the skin and feet are important. At the time of the Han Dynasty in China (around 200 B.C.), large eyes, a narrow waist and thin, small feet were the main features of attractiveness. This even led so far that the girls’ feet were tied off (so-called lotus or lily feet) in order to inhibit growth. But also the skin had to be light: until today Chinese women do not like to go into the sun, and if they do, then only with a parasol. Pale is chic in Asia.
The changing beauty ideal of the 20th century
In the twentieth century, things went haywire – also with regard to women’s ideals of beauty. In the “Golden 20s”, women of androgynous shapes, flat breasts and narrow waists were the most sought-after.
Thirty years later the ideal of an “hourglass figure” prevailed – a large bust as well as a hip, but with a clearly recognizable waist. Around 1960, however, the attractiveness of those who could not come up with a slim silhouette faded.
In the meantime, the girlish charm has been transformed into a more feminine one: large breasts and a well-formed bottom now compete with the thin figure, which is still considered attractive.
Ultimately, the pursuit of perfection has always been related to the question of what the opposite sex considers most attractive. And this is also controlled by the environment or the media.
Thanks to modern aesthetic surgery (although one already knew how to help beauty in old times) every woman and every man can approach his very personal ideal. And so the number of cosmetic surgeries is increasing worldwide.
But every culture and every continent prefers different cosmetic surgical procedures. Everywhere in the world, the trend seems unbroken to increasingly opt for surgical correction of aesthetic blemishes.
The worldwide ideal of beauty does not exist
Cosmetic surgery is gaining in importance worldwide: in Asia as well as in America or Europe, cosmetic surgery is in an upward trend. However, there are differences: in Europe and the USA they want to look younger, keyword: anti-aging. In contrast, many corrections in Asia are based on ethnic reasons.
Dr. Fatemi, medical director of the S-thetic Clinic Unna and Düsseldorf, who is a guest at international congresses and supports the worldwide transfer of knowledge, knows that the motives for cosmetic surgery differ.
During a stay abroad with doctor colleagues in Lebanon, he stated: “Young Lebanese prefer liposuction. With older people, facelifts and eyelid corrections are at the top of the list in order to maintain a youthful and fresh appearance, explains the experienced surgeon in an interview”.
East Asia has a particularly high density of interventions
In Asian countries, he observed other trends that may seem strange in Germany: Chinese women have their lower legs surgically extended by up to ten centimetres in order to increase their marriage and career opportunities with longer legs. Even eyelid corrections according to Western standards are increasingly in demand among Asians. They want to get closer to the European look propagated in the media as the ideal of beauty.
Korean women, on the other hand, are helping to achieve luxuriant hairiness in the intimate zone by having hair transplanted from the head to the pubic area. This stands for more fertility in this country.
In Japan, on the other hand, the European style is being eyed: Japanese love eyelid wrinkles and often have the excess skin above the eye surgically removed. Eyelid plastic surgery is the number one cosmetic procedure in Japan.
In Brazil, it can often be more conspicuous
Brazil, as the country with the most body-conscious population in the world, is experiencing a particularly interesting trend reversal: Brazilian women preferred to have their breasts reduced until the end of the 1990s. This trend corresponded to the ethnically strongly mixed society. For example, large breasts were considered a characteristic of the black woman, while smaller breasts were associated with the rich and predominantly white upper class.
Since Brazilian media have been transporting the European ideal of beauty into the living room, the backside has changed into an object of desire: Brazilians like bulging popos. The “Brazilian Butt Lift,” in which the bottom is padded with one’s own fat or silicone implants, is one of the most frequently performed cosmetic surgeries in Brazil.
In Hawaii and on the Fijis, the opposite is true: the full figure is out, American slim figures (model of the US soap stars who have now found their way into their TV programs) are now preferred.
Iran as the centre of nose operations
The boom in cosmetic surgery is not stopping even in religious Iran. Nowhere else in the world can Iranians have their noses operated on or have other facial procedures performed. Also in Germany or other countries nose corrections are meanwhile quite common. But instead of having his nose straightened quietly and secretly like here, surgery in Iran is an absolute status symbol. According to this, the dressing you wear after the operation is celebrated as the coolest it piece ever. Everyone can and should see how much money they have spent due to the new nose.
Beauty ideal: mediocrity
Thus, beauty is not only proverbial, but also actually in the eye of the beholder, or in the region in which one currently is. While one nation stands on lush curves of women, the female silhouettes in other nations cannot be boyish enough.
But apart from the personal taste, there are some ideals of beauty that fundamentally distinguish the nations from each other. But it must fit – in the origin, in the job, in the respective society.
One of the most astounding features of attractiveness for the layman, however, is “mediocrity”. If several faces are superimposed photographically or by computer technique (through so-called “morphing”), the resulting average face is more attractive than the majority of the individual faces from which it emerged. This is the result of numerous studies.
The similarity between the person making the judgement and the person being judged has an influence on the assessment of attractiveness. However, there is no “average” female body or male body that is considered beautiful over all times and societies.
But it is by no means the lean body that makes sense for evolution. Rather the opposite is necessary to get through life well and for a long time. Also the size does not play such a role, neither for the woman nor for the man. But there is one sentence that is considered absolutely certain by attractiveness researchers.
The sentence reads: “Attractiveness is definitely not in the eye of the beholder”. At least not of the one. Rather, it is in oneself and within, in one’s own self-perception. And then there are many other factors. Thus each has completely own and individual possibilities of feeling beautiful and of increasing its attractiveness.