A sea of grey can be a deflating sight: but are we happier for it?
During the two years I’ve spent in the Nordic region, I often get questions like: “Have you had any plastic surgery?” and “Do you really do the 10-step-skincare every day?”
Comfort before chic
COMING from South Korea, a country known for high beauty standards, I’ve noticed huge differences between my homeland and Denmark – and also with myself the longer I have stayed here.
I’m not afraid of going to the grocery store without make-up or bra whilst wearing glasses. I now own a few pairs of jeans – and I’ve stopped buying heels and uncomfortably short skirts, and applying perfect but submissive-looking make-up.
Rare colour interludes
Nevertheless, I still think about the consequence of putting on a pink coat in the city of 50 shades of black! And with this in mind, I asked 10 international ladies about their personal experiences and thoughts.
They may not represent their countries – especially those with diverse ethnicities, wide class gaps and substantial land area – but together their comments have further opened my eyes to how international women em-brace black or grey coats and jackets, less make-up and flat shoes with more confidence.
Occupation: Business consultant
Years in CPH: 3
What is the Czech style?
There is still very much emphasis on a feminine style: skin-tight outfits with make-up and nail polish. ‘90-60-90’ is the ideal body size. Many would wear make-up even when going to the grocery store, thinking: “What if you run into someone you know?”
How’s your wardrobe changed since moving here?
There used to be more colours. Now it’s only white, black and olive. I noticed that I don’t put lipstick on as often. Although I was more into a natural look, I still wore lipstick every day, which I only do occasionally here. I think it’s nice that Danes wear a lot less make-up.
Back home when I go out, I’d feel weird if I didn’t wear make-up, or somebody would look at me weirdly. I accept the way I am more than I used to. It could also be because of age. When you are younger you are more insecure – the older you get, the more you accept yourself.
SARAH TONNI & CHIARA DI GIAMBATTISTA
Years in CPH: Less than one
What’s the ideal look in Italy?
Generally thin waist, sizeable breasts, small nose, Mediterranean-warm skin tone and not too tall.
How do people dress compared to Denmark?
More formally – for example, we wear high heels a lot more. But it can differ according to where you are. In the south, women dress sexier, almost aggressively so, while in the north it’s more of a hipster style.
What differences really stand out?
Well, in Italy many people get plastic surgery on their nose to make it smaller, but that can involve a lot of stigma. Danes tend to be more casual, but maybe that’s down to the weather – more boots and jackets. And in Italy, elderly women tend to dye their hair more.
Years in CPH: 1.5
How different is Russian beauty?
Sporty style is not considered beautiful – unlike in Denmark. Being 100 percent natural is not appreciated – even within your family – as a woman should always be ready in case they meet a guy. For the same reason, most women wouldn’t go to work without make-up on. The weather seems to be an important factor here – more waterproofs – while Russian women would still wear a skirt in cold weather.
I’ve noticed that people here don’t wear any make-up at all – but they still look good. And I think it’s because they appreciate good quality make-up – and also clothes. Russian women tend to have closets full of low-quality clothes and cosmetics.
How have you changed?
No dramatic changes, even though I used to live in Moscow where the majority of women look fancy. I always preferred dark clothes without patterns, so when I came to Denmark it was like I had finally found my home! However, I did use to wear heels at work.
Occupation: Business analyst
Years in CPH: 2
What is the ideal look in China?
It’s uni-standard: pale skin, big eyes, high nose and small face. The ideal weight is under 40kg if you are not taller than 160cm. But this is changing since the arrival of the body-positive movement. Now people say you should just be yourself. That being said, the majority believe there’s only one standard of beauty.
Do people comment on appearance much?
I think that’s one of the big differences compared to other parts of East Asia. We don’t really say out loud: “Oh, you didn’t put on make-up today” or “You shouldn’t do that”. People don’t care. In China it’s more self-driven, so they love to do it, but it’s not because of pressure or other people.
What’s the most notable difference here, and how has that influenced you?
There’s actually a specific Chinese term for ‘Scandinavian fashion style’, of which the closest English translation would be ‘sexually indifferent’. But the main difference for me is make-up. My female friends in China share a lot of information about cosmetics, which makes you inevitably learn a lot, but here it seems like people are relatively less peer pressured.
There are many girls who wouldn’t go out without make-up on in China. But for me I’d never cared and I started wearing make-up when I moved to Europe.
However, I don’t care that much about how I look anymore. I was a little self-conscious and critical about myself and my body. Now I’m less self-conscious and dress more liberally because I don’t have to fit in the narrow beauty standard anymore.
How would you compare Thai beauty standards?
Danes seem to appreciate natural beauty and are open to different types, whereas in Thailand the beauty standard is narrow, mostly derived from Korea and Japan, so fair and bright, skin despite the hot weather. People want to be as white as possible: thin lips, high nose, double eye-lids. Young girls wear a lot of make-up since looks are really important. But it feels like nobody ever applies any pressure. The Thai make-up style is more natural, so far less contouring and crazy precise eyebrows like in Denmark.
How thin should an ideal woman be?
Curvy bodies are not considered attractive, but unhealthy thin is not the way to go. Pur-suing the stick figure can lead to anorexia.
Do people comment on appearance easily?
Amongst your family and friends you can get a lot of negative comments like “OMG, you got so tanned, you’re so dark” or “Oh … you got fat”. But nothing harsh from people you don’t know well.
How have you changed?
I used to be thinner in Thailand since I was always on a diet. But here it’s nice to gain weight without caring about it and have people not commenting. I used to have a UV umbrella to make sure I didn’t get tanned. But this summer I spent a lot of time on the beach. I still wasn’t tanning much, but I wasn’t afraid of the sun anymore. It’s a relief and I’m becoming more of myself. Ever since I moved to Denmark, I feel happier, as nobody’s commenting on me negatively.
Is there much pressure on women to look good in your country?
Yes, a lot. At the workplace people make fun of dark-skinned employees. White skin means beautiful, so whitening products and bleaching spas are easy to find.
My company provided a make-up allowance, and I always had to wear a dress and at least three-inch heels.
We dressed quite formal and the rules were strict. Beauty pageants are big, and in order to win, you must look a certain way. Even in kindergarten, there are often fashion shows where queens and kings are voted on. Putting a photo on the resume is de facto mandatory.
What are the most notable differences here?
The first time I went to a ballet, people were wearing jeans and I was wearing a really nice dress and heels. I felt over-dressed. In winter, Danes only wear black, grey or beige, and I’ve noticed I’ve been doing the same.
I don’t wear BB cream anymore – nor a bra. This would be a big deal back home. And I’m enjoying it quite a lot – it’s a liberation! And I’m saving money on getting my nails done (every week back home) and hair (twice a month).
Years in CPH: Less than one
How would you describe Indian beauty?
There are many different beauty standards due to religion, class, region and caste. Being from an upper-middle class family, and as a highly educated working professional, I would say an ideal look is wearing minimum make-up but dressing Indo-western style. So straight, long hair with bright brown eyes, fair skin and a 36-24-36 body size – as seen in Bollywood films.
It’s very common practice in India for people, even someone you hardly know, to comment on your appearance. I was frequently told: “You are not as fair as your sister” when I was growing up. But there have been ad campaigns recently in which dark-skinned women are encouraged to accept their colour.
What are the biggest differences?
Here, being fit and healthy is the essential beauty goal. And they don’t seem to care much about shoes – as long as they’re comfortable and protective. Heels are popular in India regardless of the weather. And also every colour you can think of, although my husband teases me about being monochromatic, telling me: “You’ve finally found your place!”
Occupation: Dance instructor
Years in CPH: 6
How are Brazilian beauty standards different?
I think beauty standards are broader in Brazil, which is unsurprising given the diverse population. We always say anybody can be Brazilian, but having a big bottom and curvy body, whilst being physically fit, is widely appreciated. There’s a lot of pressure, as people like to comment – unlike in Denmark, where you wear the same outfit or something weird.
So the clothing’s very different?
Dark tone clothing is more common here. In Brazil you see more colour – probably because of the warm weather. Tiny bikinis are very popular, but not so much underwear thongs – in Denmark it’s the other way round!
How have you changed?
I’ve got more dark clothes. I have never put on much make-up – even back in Brazil – so I feel more comfortable and confident in Denmark. However, I still can’t leave the house without putting lipstick on. And I still need to put on at least some make-up, even though I know here people don’t really do that or care. So do my other Brazilian friends. If you go out in Brazil, you have to look pretty with high heels, but here I can go out in my sneakers.
Years in CPH: 1
What’s the ideal look in Kenya?
People prefer curvy bodies. Even though it’s an Afri-can country where the majority of people are black, most people prefer lighter skin. However, if somebody gets plastic surgery or their skin bleached, they’d be judged a lot.
How about fashion?
Kenya is more conservative, so you have to cover up more than in Denmark. You hear of cases where a woman has been accused of revealing too much, and strangers take even more of her clothes off just to humiliate her.
How have you changed?
I feel more liberated because nobody comments on it. In Kenya, I’m always mindful of carrying ‘lessos’ – a piece of fabric to cover up. You get a lot of nasty comments otherwise. It’s not only cat-calling from men but also women calling you out.
Nevertheless, while I feel more liberated in Denmark, at the same time I still get lots of looks when I’m walking down the street – especially outside the big cities, like where I’m staying now.