Body Image Around the World

Body Image. It seems like no matter where in the world you’re from, women think about it, are influenced by it, and often have a difficult (if not downright despairing) relationship with it. I’m lucky enough to have friends in many different countries, and this week I asked them to weigh in on this question:

In your country, what messages do you receive from the media in regards to body image? What is the prevailing theme of how a woman “should” look?

“I believe the culture in Hong Kong about body images is that you have to be skinny. Not average type of skinny, but anorexic type of skinny. Also for girls, having big breasts and wearing revealing clothes to show them off is expected. Especially from the modelling trend in Hong Kong, all girls are expected to reveal their breasts to the public.”

- Vivan, Hong Kong

“In my country what people think about body image is that you must tall, skinny, have blue eyes and blonde hair to be beautiful!”

- Candice, Guatemala

turkish soccer ad
Turkish Soccer Ad

“On the commercials, I usually see the subliminal message of "ideal" body which is young, tall, and slim - not fit and healthy, the thinner the better. Also, posing models usually have a cigarette in their fingers, which irritates me the most.”

- Canan, Turkey

“While I never really thought about parameters of what makes a female body beautiful in German eyes, I think the most prominent german idea of beauty in mainstream media is pop singer Helene Fischer. So you could say athletic and slim but clearly feminine. Androgynous or less athletic, fuller figures unfortunately are quite rare (I would venture to say non-existent) in German popular culture.”

- Laura, Germany

german car ad
German Car Advertisement

“So about body image in India. I will speak only from personal experience:

I was a fat kid while growing up so I have always been conscious and insecure about my body image since I have always only heard comments on my body while growing up about how I should lose weight and how I don't look good fat etc. In India, people assume that it’s their right to comment on all personal issues, weight being one of those issues. Constant comments on someone's outer appearance is always given more importance than inner beauty and the fact that people make it their own business to call out a fat person (regardless of whether they are in good shape themselves) made me feel at times to stop and shout that it’s not a crime to be fat!

There's body shaming here and if you're thin then why are you thin, your face has lost all glow etc and if you're fat then why are you fat, you look like a potato (yes I've gotten that)!

People make it their own personal business to comment on your body as and when they feel like. One thing I've learnt is that no matter how amazing you are, people will find a way to talk. So let it be.”

- Srishti, India

“In Brazil, I think we don't see and/or don't really "care" about any other popular cultures. We're always "competing" with each other. The more natural, fit and the most tanned kind of bodies are the top choice for most women I know. At the moment, I'm not trying my best to keep up with them.”

- Lia, Brazil

“Well most people make you feel that the perfect image is a size 10 or 12. They make you feel that being fat is a problem, that being fat is unhealthy. (When in reality a lot of so called “health freaks” or slim people die more than big people.) I'm not saying that being fat does not have its health challenges, but I'm saying that fat can be sexy - being big to me is sexy.”

- Jeanelle, Trinidad & Tobago

gq india ad
GQ India, December 2014

“The past year was a very crucial one for my body! The year I gave birth to my beautiful little boy. I was so skeptical on how it would look like at the end of all, and not to mention the 1001 advices and “mind you’s” from family and friends.

I had often noticed this curious question from everyone on how my body has turned out after the pregnancy even before they went into more detail on the little human I just made!

It was my mama who stressed the importance of Yoga and meditation right from the beginning. Being an Indian,  the yoga scene is quite popular with us – especially the ones after pregnancy to regain your old shape.  But for me it was honestly about building the stamina to cope up with the tiring demands of motherhood! It is an endless job, day and night. And that few minutes of meditation really helped me keep my sanity.”

- Varsha, India

“Growing up in Canada, popular culture always taught me that thin is better. Thin is healthy. It wasn't until recently that the message started to shift. Now, the messages are more around celebrating and loving who you are, at any size. There are, I am sure, still those people promoting the "thin is healthy" message. I am choosing to listen to a more inclusive and open message!”

- Jacquie, Vancouver, Canada

“I think the message has changed a lot over the past couple of years, and is definitely moving in the right direction towards a more 'body positive' image. They've started doing it in subtle ways, like Target, which is quite a big brand corporation in Australia, has done away with stick thin models of days gone by and has introduced models of all different sizes, shapes, heights and maybe most importantly, skin colour. I think the message is slowly shifting towards a 'love the skin you’re in' attitude. Still got a fair way to go, though!”

- Aliki, Australia

aerie model
American Underwear Advertisement

“Although there is still advertising and media based on shaping the minds of women in negative ways, there has recently been a strong movement on accepting yourself and loving your body despite differences. People seem to be more aware of the negative influences of media and are starting to challenge old, destructive beliefs. I've been starting to see positive change among women on how they feel about their own body but also toward their opinions on other women as well.”

- Kiyomi, USA

“I am using mostly social media outlets like Facebook and instagram. I find that a lot of the messages have become more and more positive over the years. People are passing on a "love your body, love yourself" message. When you see a very skinny model I find instead of girls wanting to be that size they are all saying "wow that's way too thin". We are still struggling with body image but I find the messages have been more positive than negative.”

- Melanie, Montreal, Canada

“In [the UK], I feel that body image is closer to the norm, compared to North America. Images are not as airbrushed, and actors/actresses come in more shapes and sizes. Many British TV shows have actors who are fantastic at their jobs, but look very much like an individual you might run into on the street. No plastic surgery or excessive makeup, or at least nothing that is overtly noticeable. I haven't given it much thought, previously, but now that I think about it, children who watch British TV would most likely have a much more realistic idea of what a "normal" body should look like.”

- Anya, United Kingdom

miranda hart
Miranda Hart, a popular British television personality

As the women in North America, Britain and Australia mentioned, I too have noticed that the messages are slowly but surely becoming more inclusive of size, shape, and colour. It’s exciting to witness this evolution, and it’s my hope that the trend continues, and catches on in other countries. While body image is making good strides, perhaps the next issue to tackle is the rampant sexism in advertising I noticed while doing my research for this blog post:

now open ad
American Apparel Advertisement

I'd love to hear you weigh in on body image in advertising in your country! Are things evolving, and if so, how?


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