The perception of beauty across cultures | A TEDx talk

Event: TEDxNainiWomen
Theme: Womanhood – from Emotion to Transformation
Topic: The Perception of Beauty across Cultures

When I was 3, I used to drag the heavy chair from the dining room of our house with much effort, to place it in front of the sink. The mirror above the sink was too high for me to reach. So I climbed on this chair, switched on the light and stared at myself in the mirror for hours. I thought I was the most beautiful creature in the whole universe and that there was nothing, no one more magnificent than I was… 

beauty perception

But as I grew up that sense of my self shattered. With puberty, I grew ugly, a face full of pimples, short and fat. And people all around me pointed out my own ugliness to me; oh you can find those bullies everywhere! For many years unto adulthood, I believed I was ugly, hence unlovable. In the end, our minds equate everything to love. As if life was an attest to the fact, I always ended up hanging out with friends who were prettier than me, taller than me, thinner than me and all the boys’ attention were on them. I too yearned to be beautiful like them. If only I were an inch taller, if only I were an inch thinner, if only my face were not so round, if only I were a shade fairer, if only… 

10391486_301357495611_3362081_nI was one of those girls who wanted to be perceived as beautiful by society, but I believed I was not beautiful by any societal standards. So I focused on academics and excelled. At a very young age, still in my teens, I won a full scholarship to study abroad and left India. Since then I have not just traveled but lived in different continents across the world on various student exchange programs for several years to perceive life through my own eyes. I was quite surprised with what I encountered.

girl-1741920_1920When I was in Singapore, the small, petite women with their Chinese features, demure nature and fair complexion were considered ‘beauty’ in that society. Whereas when I lived in Africa, the big African women with their voluptuous figures & features were considered beautiful. In fact, the fatter a woman is the more beautiful she is, as her fat contributes to her curves! When I ate the African food consisting of yam, cassava, plantain, garri, yucca, basically a lot of starch, I had put on quite a bit of tummy, but the men there told me it was another curve in my body hence beautiful. Women there are celebrated for their rounded assets, no matter what shape or size they come in. While some cultures worship voluptuous curvaceous women, others like straight, thin, athletic figures. By whose standards would you go by?

Paintings of African women by Augustin Kassi

The African sun had scorched my skin quite a bit and I had become very dark there. Upon my return to India, I was attending Diwali in a beautiful saree when one man, of about my dad’s age, came up to me and said, “you look good but if only you had your dad’s fair color, you’d look much more beautiful.” I never forgot that ungracious comment from the man! Educated, civilized, cultured, respectable people in society who you expect to have broad mindsets speak like this! Young and naïve that I was then, I gulped it down and did not have the courage to retaliate. But today I do, hence I am here sharing this story with you.

So back to my story… when I was in Europe and the Americas, everybody loved my wheatish complexion. In fact the darker I got, the more beautiful I felt. Although Latin women are considered very beautiful, I was especially exotic there for my darker skin tone, hence beautiful according to both men and women. Then when I was in South America, I got the shock of my life! As a kid, I used to watch beauty pageants, Miss Universe contests and had the impression that South American women were very beautiful. Venezuela is the country where women are touted to be among the most beautiful worldwide. But what did I find in that country? In fact, I would have never known this had I not been shown… in their culture, a woman’s beauty is so blown up that every second girl, at as young as 15, 16, 17… years of age go under the knife, get silicone implants to augment their assets, liposuction to lose flab, cosmetic surgery to correct features and so on. In fact, there is a tradition that when a girl turns fifteen, called ‘quinceañera’ in Spanish, her parents are supposed to give her a big gift and most times that is a boob job! At the age of 15!! Can you imagine?

Sometimes when I went clothes shopping, I was surprised to see these larger-than-life sized mannequins, with exaggerated assets that were set as the beauty parameters for women in that society. Just google “Mannequins in Venezuela” and see what you get. Here is a screenshot of the first few images that popped up on google search. It seems as if footballs are glued to the chest of every mannequin in this country.

mannequins in venezuela

And here are some news extracts about plastic surgery in Venezuela on New York Post, BBC News and The Guardian newspapers.

New York Post: “It’s a culture of ‘I want to be more beautiful than you.’ That’s why even people who live in the slums get implants,” surgeon Daniel Slobodianik said, “…I’m not saying they’re not safe, but I’ve removed more than a few ruptured Chinese implants. I just don’t feel comfortable with them.” Read more15 Sep 2014

BBC News: In Venezuela – as in much of Latin America – there is little, if any, stigma to having plastic surgery. What could be seen as vanity in some societies, is admired as good personal presentation in Venezuela. Weekends are for spending at the beach and showing off your physical attributes, be they natural or man-made. The plastic surgery sector has built on this cultural cornerstone to become big business. Read more15 Jan 2012

The Guardian: Fuelled by an oil-rich culture of consumerism and instant gratification, cosmetic surgey has become routine for wealthier Venezuelans and commonplace even among poorer women who spend cash they can’t really afford on breast implants, tummy tucks, nose jobs and buttock lifts. Read more12 Nov 2013

In a vain country like that without much intellectual importance given to women, from a very young age they fall prey to these cosmetic procedures and the plastic surgery industry makes billions harvesting on their low self-esteem. In fact, the business is so monstrous that even women with low incomes prioritize surgeries over daily expenses. If cheap implants are used there is a good chance of them rupturing easily, bursting on airplanes at low altitudes or during medical procedures like mammograms, besides posing numerous health hazards including cancer, bacterial infections, chronic pains, disfigurement etc. not to mention the necessity to change them every ten years or so, which inevitably entails huge investments on maintaining that look. Women who can’t afford these replacements may be carrying inside them old implants prone to leakage thus endangering their lives. Read here about more perils of such procedures. In such cultures, it must be very difficult for a woman to feel empowered in her natural assets, although girls there are naturally very beautiful with their inherited features and figures. I was a teacher there and once I asked a 13-year-old very pretty girl about her opinion on plastic surgery. “I think it’s really good because it improves our self-esteem”. That was her answer! So then I got it. A woman’s whole self-confidence revolves around how good she looks and how well she is accepted for her beauty. And yet she is never satisfied with the way she looks; if one part of her body is corrected, she starts finding faults with another. What kind of self-esteem was she talking about? Obviously when your entire sense of self comes from the way you look, you are bound to have self-image issues because you will not look the same all your life or you will constantly compare yourself with others, criticizing your own body. Sadly where the world has come to today, people have started loving plastic. Worse still, people’s self-esteem is derived out of plastic!

So then after living in all these countries I wondered, if I were to go by societal standards, what my parameters of beauty would be. When I got really tanned due to the African sun, people in India said I was too dark, not to mention a whole industry trying to sell fairness products to women containing harmful chemicals playing with the melanin content of our skin. When I got fat in Africa, people there said I was curvy hence pretty, whereas in my country that would be fat. When I lived in Latin America, Europe and the USA, I was attractive especially for my skin color. I felt more accepted in other countries than in my own!

You see, culture is always based on certain belief systems held true by a large section of humanity. Every culture is locked into beliefs which may or may not be true outside of that culture. In Indian society, for example, there is a lot of shame around a woman’s body, whereas in Latin societies women don’t feel the need to hide their bodies in fear of provoking men. Even the maid comes in sexy outfits, perfectly groomed in high heels, tank top, make-up and all. So, if there’s something about your body that you don’t think is beautiful, you just need to peek outside of the society you are in and you will begin to perceive a new reality. Really, I am not kidding ya!

Beliefs are powerful and create our reality. We don’t even think twice before acting out on them. It’s automatic. We judge others based on what we believe to be true. And our individual beliefs are mostly perpetuated by the culture we are raised in. But cultures vary from city to city, country to country, continent to continent. And when our culture does not serve us, when our culture cannot love us, it becomes cruel to us. Imagine those 13, 14, 15 year-old girls going under the knife and their parents allowing that. What mayhem! When entire cultures are based on such disempowering beliefs, how life must be for those girls. Such beliefs are so deeply ingrained in society that we cannot perceive anything beyond them. The mind operates through belief systems thereby creating our physical realities. We are all powerful vessels of creation. And beliefs can be functional or dysfunctional. Dysfunctional ones could ruin lives, but functional ones can lift people to higher planes of life, make them shine with a brighter light, burn with a hotter fire, and if those empowering beliefs cannot be fueled, then the person withers, a life blighted by the starvation of the soul.

woman-3083391_1920If you want to shift your external reality, you will have to reprogram your limiting beliefs. Societies can wreak havoc by bringing down the self-esteem of a girl to the extent that she endangers her life to meet its crooked standards of beauty. But there is no global standard of beauty. We adopt our perceptions of beauty based on what we see, what we are made to believe, what we are told, which may not be true everywhere. We are born into cultures that cannot accept us the way we are, so right from a young age we feel the need to modify ourselves to be loved, accepted, approved, and validated. How many people feel comfortable in their own skin? When our culture cannot accept us the way we are, it poses psychological problems. Weight gain for example, is a way to stay safe, to protect oneself from hurt. The subconscious mind, where strange logic exists, believes the excess flab is a form of protection from incoming pain and boundary violation. This is why most weight loss efforts or other methods to impact change in our physical bodies don’t work or even backfire; because they come from a place of self-hate, not self-love. There is one thing that sabotages our efforts and that is our own internal resistance. For instance, there was this girl I knew who was quite chubby. She once told her dad that she needed to lose weight and he replied saying, “yes you are better off shedding that excess weight”. And that’s it, her weight loss efforts were sabotaged because deep inside she felt unacceptable by her own father, unlovable for the way she was. So this is how resistance is created. It is very subtle but it inhibits our progress. The fastest way to remove resistance is radical self-acceptance. Find the one part of your body that you think is the most unattractive or ugly. Now give your unconditional love to that part of you. I mean, truly love.

unknown-913575_1920How did I overcome my internal resistance? I went back to the mirror. There was some truth that I knew at age 3, that I had forgotten over time. I needed to recapture that essence. I stared at myself for hours until I fell in love with my own reflection again. And then something strange happened. My outside reality began to shift as well. Suddenly the excess weight came off, I began to feel more comfortable in my own skin and the attention started pouring in. So much that most of it was unwanted anyways. The mirror exercise is great to shift our own perceptions about ourselves. Just stand in front of a mirror and say to yourself, “I am enough”. And that is enough really to shift your reality instantly. If you have the courage to release the dysfunctional beliefs from your consciousness that you’ve been holding about yourself, you will begin to experience miracles. As you purge, cleanse your system off all these limiting thought patterns, your external reality will transmute. You will become beautiful, you will walk with more confidence and people will notice.


So, how to create a new belief? Well, you need to find evidence in its favor. As you begin to look for proof of what you believe or want to believe about you, it will start showing up in your reality. The coincidences will increase and things will begin to shift in your external reality. People will show up who mirror the same beliefs as you do and you will find more acceptance for who you are. This is true for any aspect of your life that you wish to change; create a new belief around it that is in your favor. When more and more people begin to cultivate such empowering beliefs about themselves, our collective societies will reflect that as well. Because, our external realities are just a reflection of our internal vibrations.

You see, when I thought I was short, I went to Singapore where small girls are considered beautiful. I thought I was fat then I went to Africa where fat is celebrated. I thought I was dark, but in Africa they called me “oyinbo“, which means white girl! Then in the Europe and Americas, people worshipped my dark complexion. Once, an American man called me a midget. You know, Americans are very tall so he was making fun of me. I responded to him, saying: small is beautiful. And then he fell in love with me! That is the power of self-knowledge; knowing you are beautiful and acting from that space. Years ago, when I had a complex around my height I could not have said such a thing and meant it. It can only come from a place of inherent knowing and believing in your own beauty.

woman-3075706_1920There are over 7 billion people in this world, with no two bodies or faces or features alike. While some are short, others are tall, some are fat, others are thin, some are curvy, others are straight… people come in all shapes and sizes creating variety! And variety is the spice of life. But then instead of accepting our uniqueness, we try to mold ourselves to fit in, to be approved by others, when we were born to stand out, when no two snowflakes are alike.

What did that three-year-old girl know anything about beauty or its crooked standards in the world we live in? What I perceived back then must have been the spark of divinity within me that was so beautiful it took my own breath away!

Beauty does not lie in the eye of the beholder. It lies in you. You have to place it there to see it reflected by the beholder. Truth is beauty, beauty is truth! It is the real you that everyone falls in love with anyways. Do you believe this? Then it is true!


namasteImagine you are born into a culture with no belief systems. You can choose to believe whatever you want about yourself. You have a blank slate with you and you can write anything on it. Now the most important question is, what are you going to write? Whatever you write, make sure it is something damn good because that is the story you are going to live out during your time here on earth, and the history of the world will be impacted because of it.

Namaste: the divine in me honors the divine in you! 

Newspaper coverage of the TEDxNainiWomen event at UCER Allahabad in Hindustan Times, Dainik Jagran, Amar Ujala, Hindustan, United Bharat on 2 December 2018, Prayagraj, India and Bengal Scouts Bulletin, February 2019. And here are some links to online coverage; read in Dainik Jagran, Hindustan, Amar Ujala.

Here are the event posters:  

Some stills from the TEDx event at UCER, Allahabad on 1 Deccember 2018 and my speech on the topic: The Perception of Beauty across Cultures.  


For more info, please visit or check out the event listing on the TED website,

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at

Follow the event on facebook.

For more events and speaking gigs, subscribe to my channel, magicNine TV:

1 December 2019, Saturday, Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India, by United College of Engineering & Research (UCER). 



Author: boi

Hi, I am a storyteller; I tell real stories about real people to fictitious characters!

111 thoughts

  1. I loved reading about your perspective of women’s beauty across diverse cultures of the world. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us.


  2. French may have been talking in jest, but her point is a serious one. Do standards of beauty change over time? Or are some features universally accepted, across the centuries and across cultures, as being universally appealing?


  3. Thanks for another informative website. The place else may I am getting that type of info written in such an ideal means? I have a venture that I am simply now running on, and I have been at the glance out for such information.


  4. Hey! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this website? I’m getting sick and tired of WordPress because I’ve had problems with hackers and I’m looking at options for another platform. I would be awesome if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.


  5. I do agree with all of the ideas you’ve presented in your post. They’re very convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are too short for starters. Could you please extend them a bit from next time? Thanks for the post.


  6. I have been exploring for a little bit for any high-quality articles or blog posts on this kind of area . Exploring in Yahoo I eventually stumbled upon this web site. Reading this info So i’m happy to convey that I have an incredibly excellent uncanny feeling I found out exactly what I needed. I such a lot surely will make certain to don’t overlook this website and give it a look regularly.


  7. I’ll right away grab your rss feed as I can’t find your email subscription hyperlink or e-newsletter service. Do you’ve any? Please allow me recognize so that I could subscribe. Thanks.


  8. Like!! I blog frequently and I really thank you for your content. The article has truly peaked my interest.


  9. I am not sure where you are getting your information, but great topic. I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more. Thanks for fantastic info I was looking for this info for my mission.


  10. I believe other website proprietors should take this internet site as an example , very clean and superb user genial style.


  11. I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you make this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you? Plz reply as I’m looking to construct my own blog and would like to know where u got this from. thank you


  12. Good Afternoon everyone , we are in the process of taking on some new reviewers who would be interested in reviewing our product line. If you would like to come onboard please contact me on


  13. Thanks for the tips shared in your blog. Something else I would like to convey is that weight-loss is not information about going on a dietary fad and trying to lose as much weight that you can in a couple of days. The most effective way to lose weight naturally is by having it bit by bit and using some basic tips which can provide help to make the most through your attempt to drop some weight. You may understand and already be following these tips, however reinforcing awareness never damages.


  14. Howdy would you mind letting me know which web host you’re utilizing? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 different browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot quicker then most. Can you recommend a good hosting provider at a reasonable price? Thanks a lot, I appreciate it!


  15. Hello! This is kind of off topic but I need some help from an established blog. Is it tough to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty quick. I’m thinking about creating my own but I’m not sure where to begin. Do you have any tips or suggestions? Cheers


  16. That is really interesting, You are a very professional blogger. I’ve joined your feed and stay up for seeking more of your magnificent post. Additionally, I have shared your site in my social networks!


  17. You unquestionably put a new twirl on a subject that’s been written about for years. Remarkable stuff, just magnificent! I enjoy reading a post that will make people think, thanks and we want more! Added to FeedBurner too. If you have a chance check out my site. It’s a work in progress, but I think that someday it will have nearly as good of substance as yours. kelly kosky


  18. When I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four emails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service? Thanks!


  19. Hello! I just would like to give a huge thumbs up for the great info you have here on this post. I will be coming back to your blog for more soon.


  20. I can tell that you might be trying to avoid bad feeling with your topic, but please understand that the unpopular lines of thinking often promote healthy debate when argued with respect..and this is your site after all, let your “take” set the tone here!


  21. I’m impressed, I have to admit. Rarely do I encounter a blog that’s both equally educative and entertaining, and without a doubt, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The problem is an issue that not enough people are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy that I found this in my search for something concerning this.


  22. I am curious to find out what blog platform you are working with? I’m experiencing some small security problems with my latest blog and I’d like to find something more secure. Do you have any recommendations?


  23. That which I found exceptional with regards to your post is it allowed so that I really could easily organize my mind and work the exercises you suggested here into my own busy time frame. I researched but couldn’t get hold of such a top quality post of this magnitude somewhere else. Read my detailed review at my blog site here


  24. Wonderful blog! Do you have any recommendations for aspiring writers? I’m planning to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you advise starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many choices out there that I’m totally confused .. Any ideas? Many thanks!


  25. I know of the fact that currently, more and more people are attracted to your blog. But it doesn’t end just there. You also have a very impressive writing style. Thanks for the good ideas I acquired from your site.


  26. I will really impressed together using your publishing talents and even also with the design on your blog. Is the fact that this a paid for issue matter or did you modify it your home? Both approach stay up this nice quality writing, it is


  27. Hello there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my myspace group? There’s a lot of folks that I think would really enjoy your content. Please let me know. Many thanks


  28. I enjoy this way you produce and share your own specific niche market! Some what interesting and different! Keep it coming!


  29. A really excellent article. I actually are thankful for your website article. I have found a new lot of solutions right after visiting your post.


  30. Incredible post, you could have denoted out several excellent points, I moreover assume this s a new very excellent website. My partner and i will visit all over again with regard to more quality contents and as well, advise this site for you to all. Cheers.


  31. Hi there just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The words in your post are very well composed. The style and design look great! Many thanks


  32. Wow! This could be one particular of the most useful blogs We’ve ever arrive across on this subject. Basically Magnificent. I’m also a specialist in this topic so I can understand your hard work.


  33. I will immediately grab your rss as I can not find your e-mail subscription link or newsletter service. Do you have any? Please let me know in order that I could subscribe. Thanks.


  34. This is very interesting, You are a very skilled blogger. I have joined your feed and look forward to seeking more of your wonderful post. Also, I have shared your site in my social networks!


  35. Terrific work! That is the kind of info that should be shared across the internet. Disgrace on Google for no longer positioning this submit higher! Come on over and consult with my site . Thanks =)


  36. The next time I learn a weblog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as a lot as this one. I imply, I do know it was my choice to read, however I truly thought youd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could possibly fix in the event you werent too busy in search of attention.


  37. Pretty good post. My spouse and i just stumbled upon your blogging site and wanted to admit My partner and i have really liked reading your blog blogposts. Any way I’ll be following to your feed and even I hope you blog post again soon. Big just useful data.


  38. Great beat ! I wish to apprentice while you amend your site, how can i subscribe for a blog website? The account helped me a acceptable deal. I had been a little bit acquainted of this your broadcast provided bright clear concept


  39. I really enjoy the theme of your blog. Do you ever before face any kind of internet browser compatibility troubles? A small number of my blog target market have actually grumbled concerning my site not working correctly in Firefox however looks excellent in Safari. Do you have any type of suggestions to help solve this problem?


  40. Whoa! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a entirely different subject but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Superb choice of colors!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.