Where’s the Diversity in Europe?: A Semester at Sea, Part 2
By Calli Zarpas--Two months ago, I started a journey around the world that would take me to Europe, Africa, and South America. Since I believe that there are many definitions of beauty, I decided to search for the “perfect” body in each country in order to compare beauty ideals around the world.
Through this project, I hope to show people how narrow the image of the “perfect” body is, not only in the United States, but in other places around the world. During my travels, I have encountered beauty in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Unfortunately, that diversity is not celebrated the way it should be in many media outlets, especially in Europe.
Germany has the third-highest number of international migrants worldwide, with German citizens of no migrant background making up 80% of the population. Because of this, you may think that German magazines would be more diverse than other magazines, but that is unfortunately not true. While I was in Germany, I looked through two magazines, Jolie and Brigitte.
Brigitte contained 50 models and only one of them was of African descent and one was of Asian descent. All of the other 48 models were white. What surprised me the most about those white women was the fact that 80% of them were light-featured. So not only was this magazine advertising white as beautiful, but a certain type of white: blonde and blue-eyed. Beyond this, there was only one model who was plus-size and she was in an advertisement for diet pills.
Jolie was a similar story, with 83 models, five of them Asian, one of African origin, and three women of Spanish or Latin American origin. Again, nearly 80% of the white models were light-featured. From German census reports, I learned that there are 4.7 million people of African and Middle Eastern descent living in Germany. These are people who are potentially reading these magazines and feeling excluded from this white-centric beauty ideal.
In Spain, I found a Cosmopolitan that contained 112 models, seven of African descent, five of Asian descent, and eight of Latin American or Spanish descent. In this magazine, there was only one model who was plus-size. Interestingly, she was modeling lingerie. This made me feel like being curvy was only socially acceptable if it can be made to look sexy.
One thing I found particularly intriguing in the magazines from these countries was the lack of older models. If there were any older models they were almost all advertising anti-aging creams. Those who weren’t advertising these creams advertised clothing or jewelry; one Italian jeweler advertised “amore infinito,” infinite love, along with a string of pictures of older couples. One thing almost all of these women had in common was their bright blue or green eyes. It was as if advertisers imagined their ideal eyes would draw viewers away from their less-than-ideal age. In fact, even the curvy model I saw modeling lingerie sported a pair of bright blue eyes.
While all magazines had slight diversity regarding race and age, there were hardly any models who weren’t thin. They sported thigh gaps, flat tummies, popping breasts, and prominent cheek bones. Just from walking by people on the street, I can tell you that not even 5% of the people I saw in these countries had bodies like these. I don’t have a flat tummy or a thigh gap and it makes me no better or worse than those who do. However, I do feel self-conscious sometimes when I look at these advertisements and feel less than “perfect.” After analyzing these magazines, I realized that the media has a very narrow view of beauty and that their idea of “perfect” doesn’t seem right.
Why should these advertisers get to decide what beauty is? Sixty-five years ago, the epitome of beauty was Marilyn Monroe, and she had no thigh gap or flat tummy. Marilyn Monroe was an icon, and even she doesn’t fit into the today’s beauty standards. So, maybe on the days when we’re not feeling so beautiful, we should remind ourselves that just because we don’t fit into what the media says is beautiful doesn’t mean we’re less than.