Alexandra Fiedler is a second-year student at Florida International University who is majoring in Psychology and minoring in Spanish. After moving to Miami from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Alexandra is fascinated by the cultural, historical, and geographical differences between the place she grew up and the places she is experiencing for the first time. Alexandra passionately strives to learn and help others, while expanding her knowledge about the exciting cultural phenomena not just here in Miami, but also abroad in exciting, new places like España!
Beauty is an ambiguous, ever-changing concept that cannot be accurately quantified without creating some sort of standard to which things can be relatively compared. We perceive a person, place, or object to hold a subjective amount of beauty value relative to what the current societal ‘objective’ definition of beauty is. Beauty is especially difficult to quantify as what may be seen as desirable in one part of the world during a specific time will certainly not be viewed the same way in other cultures throughout different historical periods. Even once the time element has been eliminated, the various cultures spanning the globe currently all have their own personally relevant standards of beauty. An easily observable example of this phenomenon is how European cultures traditionally view thinner, more petite bodies as the highest standard for body shape, while many African cultures perceive larger, more curvy and full bodies as the ideal body. What each culture sets as their standard is influenced by a multitude of factors including societal attitudes towards women, family structure, class differences, and socioeconomic statuses (Marcos). For example, if a society has inconsistent nourishment, a body with more meat on it is viewed particularly positively due to its implications for that individual’s ability to safely produce children (Marcos). Similarly, in 16th century Parisian culture, pale skin was considered ideal, as it was a clear communicator that someone did not have to work outdoors with typically manual labor (Romm). Mainly women strived for pale skin as a symbol of class and status, indicating that they were able to remain indoors–as was typical for high society at the time. Deeply tanned skin was indicative of country women, who had no other option but to be working outdoors.
Spanish Beauty Standards
Similar to many European countries, Spanish beauty standards are high, and difficult to achieve, let alone maintain, due to their often unrealistic standard. Hair is important in Spain; long, thick brunette hair is highly desirable. Women are considered attractive when they have a slim figure with light complexions (Kasbee). Dressing well is another must when it comes to beauty in Spain. While in other countries it may be perfectly normal to go out in sweatpants, Spanish culture typically expects that people are well dressed in classic and chic looking clothes. Dark colors, especially black are common in Spain, as neutral tones are implemented to create effortlessly stylish looks. Natural and subtle makeup looks are the go-to in Spain, being that naturally clear, beautiful, glowing skin is one of the most desirable and sought after qualities. Spanish women take great care of their skin, they use makeup to accentuate their natural beauty while not doing so much that it is clear they are wearing makeup. According to data collected in Spain, women there strive to create a well-groomed, yet studied look through minimal makeup usage. In fact, 72% of Spanish women say they use little makeup and they prefer a more natural look. Powders, concealers, and foundations are the most popular products used, in conjunction to create a healthy, glowing, and youthful look (Valencia).
Even the men in Spain take great effort with their self-care, evident by the quick growth in men’s beauty and hygiene products. As a whole, Spain views beauty as something more natural, high quality skincare is preferred over heavy makeup (Sydel). Hair that has been groomed and styled well is also an important factor when determining what fits the standard. These standards have been evolving and developing throughout the ages in Spain, similar to how standards change across the globe over time.
What humans have determined to be “beautiful” has been constantly evolving since the Romans first conquered Germania two millennia ago, when blond hair was cut off of slaves and captured populations to make wigs for Roman women (Marcos). As Romanticism flourished in Europe, the standard morphed from celebrating full figured to expecting a delicate, petite physique that was nearly unattainable for women to keep up with without taking dangerously drastic measures.
Women would wear decadent black clothing that people marveled at from other parts of the world. Historically, Spanish beauty has been highlighted through the highest parts of society, as the wealthy could afford to keep up with the most luxurious materials and trends at different times. With growing industrialization, Spain’s standards for fashion and beauty were able to expand its global reach, meaning its influence grew as other parts of the world were striving to achieve the ultimate European definition of beauty (Miller).
Historically, Spain’s Golden Age of fashion occurred in the 14th century, and clothing was used more as a means of expressing wealth and status rather than the fashionable purpose it mainly serves today. Back then, the wealthiest members of society could wear extremely lavish and quality clothing, imported from places like Burgundy and Italy (Miller). The iconic formal dress (gala negra) with its black and white design was accompanied with lavish gold chains and precious jewelry. Fashion was a means for Spain to show off how wealthy and powerful the country was.
Humans have always been trying to enhance their natural beauty. The effort serves a clear, yet admittedly crude purpose–reproduction. Similar to the behaviors and rituals seen in other animal species, humans set themselves up to either choose or be chosen as a mate. Yet if one is not satisfied with simply reducing humans to biology, there is another reason as to why people work so hard to be perceived as beautiful: social acceptance. Humans have always been drawn to beautiful things; we even lose track of time just observing something beautiful (Perry). Throughout history, people have been influenced by the highest, most esteemed members of their society at the time. Back in Victorian times, individuals would mimic their pinnacle of beauty: Queen Elizabeth with her heavily powdered face and very tall wigs. Even when applied to society today, the comparison can be drawn to a family like the Kardshians. While they may not have the political or economical powers that other historical figures possessed, they have hundreds of millions of people watching almost every move through multiple different social media platforms. Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner start new fashion trends yearly, with American women copying their hairstyles, nail designs, fashion trends, and even attempting to recreate their infamous curvy body types, whether it be through exercise and waist training or through more drastic measures like cosmetic procedures, such as lip fillers and liposuctions. But as these cultural figureheads are well regarded and praised by vast amounts of people, it is perfectly sensible that ordinary people would attempt to recreate their styles and looks. If they want to be viewed in the same light as one of these cultural icons, people have to conform to what their society is praising as beautiful at the time.
Often viewed as a place of excess, the United States has a way of taking something inspired by a certain place or culture, and evolving it into a more extreme version that fits more applicably into their society. As previously mentioned, Spanish women are renowned for their impeccable skin care, skilled makeup usage, and refreshing beauty routines. The women in the United States have certainly adopted many of these practices from Spanish and European influence and have since added their own culture’s influence as well to create current standards and preferences for our particular society. Americans typically fake tan more than Spanish women, as in Spain, women prefer to either tan naturally by going outside or they simply maintain a lighter complexion. In the States, women will artificially generate the perfect glowing skin tone, regardless of whether they could naturally achieve the same results. Plastic surgery rates in the United States are much higher than those in Spain, and Americans are known for their excessive implementation of plastic surgery for correcting or removing imperfections (Sydel). In Spain, the most common plastic surgery operations are breast augmentations and liposuction (Kasbee). These procedures are intended to enhance one’s appearance without necessarily creating something artificial for the sake of changing one’s appearance entirely. Liposuction is also done to maintain the current beauty standard in Spain. Similarly, breast augmentations, liposuctions, and rhinoplasties are some of the most popular surgical procedures for women to get in America, all of which are done in significantly higher quantities than they are in Spain. While Spanish women may want to get a small amount of plastic surgery done to enhance a natural appearance, it is much more widely accepted to drastically change one’s natural features in order to get a desired look in America. Even in regards to the far less invasive non-surgical procedure, such as Botox and dermal fillers, are much more popular in the United States when compared to the rates of procedures completed by Spanish people (Sydel).
Another fascinating difference between Spanish and American attitudes to beauty related manners is the countries’ respective approaches towards treating and managing skin concerns. As discussed, clear and beautiful skin is important in Spanish culture and the same can be said about the United States today. However, while in Spain they take a much more holistic approach to fix skin concerns, Americans are much more likely to turn to prescription medications to amend whatever problems they are having. In Spain, it would be quite customary for a doctor to suggest lifestyle changes to achieve results. Suggestions such as eating healthier, drinking more water, sleeping more, and smoking less are generally accepted as the first method of defense against pesky skin concerns, such as acne (Sydel). Americans have mastered identifying a problem they would like to see corrected and immediately attempting to find a medicinal solution. It requires less effort on the individual to take a pill than to make some arguably very large and difficult lifestyle choices without even being guaranteed of their success.
Harm of Beauty Standards
Although Spain has brought much to America in terms of what we deem as beautiful, such as slim figures and light complexions, people’s attempts to meet these unrealistically high standards have caused many individuals great harms. Eating disorders are highly prevalent in the United States, as younger people strive to look exactly like the world’s most successful models. It is not realistic to assume that everyone will be able to stay really thin, have naturally perfect skin, beautiful hair, and be able to keep up extensive beauty routines. Beauty can be such a powerful thing, but it often gets twisted into something that people despise as they are expected to something that is simply not possible or reasonable.