Much alike international political, technological and economical interdependence, the process of globalisation has equally contributed to and shaped cultural ideals of what is considered beautiful. Traditionally, international standards of beauty were considered heterogeneous, differing in relation to where in the world an individual lived. Historical development, cultural paradigms and interactions with religion shaped the independent nation’s standards. However, due to the intensity and speed at which changes in worldwide relations have occurred, globalisation has caused a homogeneous adoption of beauty standards, influenced by the Western World and American culture. Western standards have become globalised whilst ethnic and cultural benchmarks retreated, a fluid change of values through the dissemination of aspirations.
Prior to Western ideals being exported ‘beauty had always been a craft which was very local in its products and traditions. There was no global standard of what it meant to be beautiful. Societies has always varied considerably, both over time and between geographies, in how they sought to enhance they attractiveness through the use of cosmetic aid, hairstyles and clothing’ (http://www.ea.sinica.edu.tw/eu_file/132393925714.pdf, 891).
Traditional cultural ideals of beauty, include:
- Brazilian societies celebrated women who were toned, tanned and curvy with a large waist and voluptuous assets. Brazilian figures are now transitioning to a thinner and more elongated standard.
- Middle Eastern women (who chose to use cosmetics) accentuated their eyes with dark smokey colours. Middle Eastern Women continue with these traditions, however there is an unprecedented amount of glorification revolving around green and blue eyes. Thus, whilst Western ideals are accepted, they work in hybridity with traditional ideals.
- Within Asian cultures, soft white or creamy skin and hands were a representation of class, to be accompanied by dark thick hair. Desire for creamy skin continues, however Asian blepharoplasty (double eyelid surgery) has become a social norm to ensure ‘Westernised” features.
Heterogeneity is represented within a social experiment, where a woman sent an unedited image of herself worldwide and requested “make me beautiful.”
Prolific media flows from the Western World to a mostly passive audience, has altered the different and celebrated image of beauty. Such sources include campaign advertising, film, the dissemination of tv shows and celebrity culture. The creation of the Miss Universe Contest in 1952 saw the trend of looking Western begin, noted by Van Esterick as being the “Miss Universe Standard of Beauty” where pale petite features and wide eyes were favoured. As Appardurai notes in Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, ‘ most often the homogenization argument subspeciates into either an argument about Americanization or an argument about commoditization, and often the two arguments are very closely linked.’ The Victoria’s Secret brand for example, spans 1,064 stores internationally with 185 countries broadcast the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Although the lingerie empire has begun attempting to integrate cultural diversity, the features of ethnic models continue to adhere to a hybrid American beauty standard through Western measurements and features.
Elena Rossini’s The Illusionist documents that ‘just as English has become the lingua franca of the world, so the white, blondified, small-nosed, pert-breasted, long-legged body is coming to stand in for the great variety of human bodies…we’re losing bodies as fast as we’re losing languages.’
Within a world where we are internationally sold the aspiration of looking like the idealised American girl, one has to question –
Who dictates “what is beautiful?”