I took this photo in a village in East Bali, and was captured by the beauty of these women. Their smiles, their colorful fabrics, and their obvious closeness. As I’ve traveled through Asia this year, I’ve been struck with the beauty of the women around me. I’ve started to examine the idea of beauty I’ve grown up with in America.
In America, more specifically Florida where I’m from, the standard of attractiveness is thin, but not too thin, and tan, but not too tan. It’s like someone made a set of rules that the whole American culture agreed to, and said this is what beauty is. Who, I don’t know. Maybe it was Hollywood. But leaving the Western mindset and values, I’ve seen another side of beauty.
In Asia, the whiter you are the more beautiful. Having dark skin in a signal of manual work in the fields. Even those who do work outside, cover themselves from head to toe, so not to get darker. They even sell skin whitening cream in most cosmetic sections. I’ve been complimented on my pale-ness several times. Not something I thought I’d ever be proud of.
In America, we are not known for modesty. The hemlines get shorter while the neckline drops lower. But in many of the countries of Asia, the women are well covered. It’s not an oppressive mandate, but a level of respect. In some places, showing more of my thigh was more scandalous than wearing a low cut top! It’s been interesting to observe what’s appropriate for females, and what’s beautiful.
Recently I ran across another girl who has been discovering beauty around the world. Esther Honig sent a plain photo of herself to Photoshop experts around the world and said, “Make me beautiful”. The cultural variations of beauty are astounding.
So as I travel through Asia and see such diverse expressions of beauty, and celebrate with Esther Honig as she discovers beauty around the world as well, I’m still left asking, what is beauty?
If we look to the media to set our standards, we will always be disappointed. We will always be lied to.
We’ve all probably seen by now the Photoshop reports on magazines & ad companies that manipulate models to make them unattainably beautiful. American singer Colbie Caillat recently released a video that comes against these beauty myths as well.
This is what I’ve learned. True beauty will never be physically attainable. Trends change. Cultures change. Fashion changes. True beauty is your character, your integrity, and your heart. The most beautiful women are kind, loving, full of joy & strength. They are our friends, mothers, sisters, and co-workers. They are cancer survivors and marathon runners. They are stay-at-home moms and CEO’s. They are diverse and unique. Beauty can’t be summed up by a dress size or a chest size [thankfully]. Let’s quit striving for the ever-changing unattainable, but strive for the inner beauty that never goes out of style.