Cross-Cultural Social Perception (in this case, of beauty)

o-ESTHERHONGORIG-900A student who took PSY 13 with me a year ago sent me a link this week.  It’s to an interesting story on the Huffington Post in which a reporter sent a picture of herself (right) to contacts in 25 different countries, giving them permission to PhotoShop it to fit their country’s cultural standards of beauty.

The results are interesting on a number of levels.  In terms of Chapter 4’s discussion of cultural differences in social perception.  Also when it comes to the more general issues of social norms as well as attraction (a topic we’ll tackle in the second half of the course).  Check out the story and all the images, and let us know what your reactions are.

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13 Responses to Cross-Cultural Social Perception (in this case, of beauty)

  1. I found this article really interesting, and was surprised by the way that most of these countries edited the image. It was fascinating to compare how hair color, eye color, skin color, and even makeup and jewelry have varying significances from culture to culture. While some countries, such as Romania, emphasized natural beauty and did not include jewelry nor much makeup in their edits, other countries, such as Argentina, highlighted the attractiveness of heavier makeup. I would be very interested in discovering the history behind makeup and jewelry for these various countries, and perhaps drawing a link between said history and the current beauty standards. I’ve also noticed a similar variation in the “ideal body type” for women (if there even is such a thing) from culture to culture. For example, America tends to idealize models, most of whom are very skinny and even underweight, while other countries’ beauty standards include heavier-set women. Further, I would be interested in researching the effects that these beauty standards have on developing populations. This might be possible through analysis of statistics regarding eating disorders and plastic surgery.

    • I think it is dangerous to think that the images in the article necessarily reflect the ideals of the entire country. Mainly, when reading the article, it struck me that Morocco put a hijab on the journalist–Morocco really does value this “white” beauty standard and prides itself in being a fairly open country where women are free to do and dress how they please. It is important to keep in mind that the woman sent her image to 40 individuals who decided to impart their personal cultural knowledge and ideaology onto her image, which she does explain in her post. I clicked on her name which led me to her website upon which there was embedded a video produced by Buzzfeed, entitled “Beauty Standards Around the World”.
      Also, many of the images shown adhere to this “white is beautiful” standard, in which her eyes are made lighter, as is her skin. Rather than targeting women (not saying you are, Nora!!) and telling them to wear less makeup or be more confident, we should be telling those who set these beauty standards…aka the media, to portray more women free of alterations, as many brands in the United States are trying to do.

      • Olympe Nalbandian says:

        I agree, Ariel, many United States brands and overall culture here is definitely trying to promote individuality, beauty without makeup for women and not leading them in the direction of certain societal beauty standards. With that said, there still are “standards” here in the United States and certain aspects of a female’s face, hair, body, etc. that certain people of demographics find desirable and ideal. I guess such a thing is unavoidable, as humans can form opinions and are impressionable.

    • tkolbj01 says:

      Agreed, what caught my eye most were the countries that added jewelry and the countries that opted to cover more of her chest (Bengledesh and Morocco). It makes me curious how much of the difference here is cultural beauty norms vs. personal interpretation of what the assignment was (some people changed the background of the picture/dressed her for a night out vs. natural beauty).

      This article also chose a stereotypically “attractive” female model to work with, so I felt like many of the pictures weren’t changed as much as they could/would have been had the model been more extreme in her looks. Piggy backing off of Nora I was also particularly curious about what they would have done to a rounder or far thinner face to see if that would get more dramatic editing.

      • This reminded me of an article that popped up on my Facebook a while back. The article (linked below) is very similar in terms of portraying the perception of beauty across a variety of cultures, however, focuses more on the idea of the “ideal” woman’s body. It is very interesting to see how these ideal body types range from ultra thin, in places like China and Italy, to more curvy, such as in Venezuela. As Nora mentioned, I would also be very interested to know where these idealized body types stem from within the individual cultures and the different effects they have on people of those countries.

        • kalper02 says:

          What an interesting article. I would be fascinated to see the rates of eating disorders in each of the 18 countries to see if there’s any correlation.

        • Greg Lehrhoff says:

          Just an armchair theory of why these different standards of beauty regarding slimness might arise. Similar to how light skin has historically been associated with aristocracy and beauty, plumpness might have once been a sign of being wealthy. So if you were super skinny, you were likely too poor to eat nutriciously, which caused people to value round figures more highly. But in places where access to calorie-rich food is more widespread, you might be seen as wealthier if you can afford the more expensive, healthier food, so skinniness becomes in vogue for that whole society.

  2. Olympe Nalbandian says:

    This is a very interesting article! My fellow adolescent females of this generation and I are constantly exposed and made aware of the “standards” and idealizations of beauty and it is interesting to see from this article the different perspectives from a wide range of cultures. Some of the images associated with certain countries did not surprise me, in that I was aware of some of the stereotypes and common beauty “goals” from a few of them. When I say stereotypes, I am referring to whether or not females wear heavy makeup or not, their skin tone, the “perfect” proportions of their facial features, etc.
    These different “perfect woman” variations typically reflect deep cultural roots in their respective countries, which can be an intriguing topic to dig deeper into. It is cool when social media, social psychology, beauty and journalism all come together to create articles such as this.

    • I found your idea of the “perfect woman” variations typically reflecting deep cultural roots to ring quite true, and this reminds me of an article I read recently about the differences in European beauty standards throughout time. A lot of what the beauty standards had to do with was wealth– a larger frame used to be viewed more favorably as it signified the wealth needed to eat larger amounts of food, where the thinner or more athletic frames tended to be those of peasants or workers, and were viewed as less “beautiful.” Today, this is nearly swapped. It reminds me how subjective these beauty standards are and how they change throughout time, even within our own lifetimes. I’m also reminded of a conversation I had with a good friend of mine, who is half Indian and half Italian. Her fairer skin makes her “beautiful” in the eyes of her Indian family members, whereas I’m constantly trying to tan and have a darker skin tone, which is always complimented by my white Italian family. The more Western idea of paleness being less favorable is very different from what my friend experiences, and she has noted how deeply that is rooted in the traditional Indian culture she observes. The whole idea of beauty is so subjective, but I wonder if they come from similar underlying ideals. I’ll have to ask her a bit more about it!

  3. Really a fascinating article! For me the most shocking thing was the photoshopped image from the United States. It’s interesting because it is quite different than I would have pictured coming from the stereotypical American standard of beauty. For an article that displays differences in social perception throughout different cultures, I still have my own social perception that is very different than the one that is portrayed for the United States. Ultimately, my point is that while this article displays cultural differences of social perceptions of beauty, I wonder how representative the images are for the masses. I personally would have imagined someone different in a snap judgement about beauty in America.

    • Ki Jung Lee says:

      I agree with your opinion about American photoshopped image. It was slightly different that what I expected and I initially felt that way because US photoshopped the background to be darker. Therefore, the image of woman struck me as more gloomy. The article did not show the photoshopped image from eastern Asia countries like South Korea, Japan, and China. I wanted to see images from those countries as I wished to compare my “knowledge” of their “standard” beauty and the actual outcomes from the article. Among nations shown in the article, I realized how some countries’ images were similar to my expectations and how some were very different. This indicated that I was ignorant toward cultural differences of social perception of beauty and should not make my judgements so quickly without informed about individual’s cultural background. Especially in the United States, lots of people come from various cultural background. Thus, I should be aware of differences in social perceptions and do not judge a person based on generalizations.

  4. Lucy B. Ren says:

    I think this is an extremely interesting article and experiment that this reporter did! I’ve been aware of the cultural difference in standards of beauty, especially between Western ideals and East Asian ideals because they are extremely contrasting. I had originally expected the photoshopped versions showing primarily changes in face shape and structure, different noses and lips, etc. Visiting South Korea last summer, I realized how big of a role plastic surgery plays in their culture and how there are certain facial features that are desired that society as a whole deems as “beautiful”. However, I was fascinated by the addition of jewelry or hair or makeup by some countries and how such superficial and temporary changes are so important. On a person to person level however, I think that we pay less attention to specific features and look more at the big picture when we judge their beauty. I know that personally, who I consider beautiful is not dependent on predesigned specific features. I think that it’s more of a natural, instinctual judgement based on how well various features balance other features. Therefore, it wouldn’t be accurate to say that a society’s standard of beauty is representative of the individuals in that society.

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