global beauty

Illustration by Nisala Sathyajith Saheed

Polarizing Notions of Beauty

With notions of beauty being so polarized, what can the mutlicutural environment of NYUAD teach us about beauty ideals across the world?

Beauty is one of the most polarized notions. Pale white skin, large hips or long necks are a few examples of revered traits. While the concept of an international standard of beauty is unattainable, can we find any similarities across the beauty standards that make the headlines of fashion magazines?
What is the first thing you do when you step into a new venue? You try to spot the most attractive person. It is an automatic habit that can reveal one’s preferences in terms of beauty. The features that stand apart are a matter of taste and vary greatly by culture. At a global university like NYU Abu Dhabi, uniqueness springs up at every corner. It is a pleasure to notice the mix of different cultures in a constantly changing environment.
“Maybe in the U.S. or in other Western countries wearing [a] hijab is not a norm of what is considered beautiful, of what you see normally in a fashion show ... but definitely here [in the UAE, it is] more accepted to have fashion combined with modesty,” said sophomore Lama Ahmad.
Recently, the world of fashion has been astonished by the first all-hijab show at New York Fashion Week, where the Indonesian designer Anniesa Hasibuan presented her new collection. All eyes were focused on the models who wore colorful, lightly-textured dresses that showcase Muslim attire and attempt to break down the misconceptions that revolve around Muslim women wearing headscarves.
“Skinny is not what guys are looking for. I think that big hips, big assets, volume, curves is a Middle Eastern thing. They are not opposite [to Western beauty standards], but they are not the same, at all. What is beautiful in the [United] States in not quite the same in Morocco,” said freshman Nada Ammagui.
“One thing I noticed here in Abu Dhabi and in my semester in Ghana, is that even in countries where the U.S. Americans don’t make [up] a significant percent of population, that ideal of beauty is still idealised. So for example, skin lightening creams. … [In contrast] I think being in this university is very nice, because everyone looks so different, there is not one standard,” shared senior Annalisa Galgano.
“Back home, I couldn’t [leave the house] without having my hair straight. Also, you had to be skinny, to do your eye makeup in a certain way — there was one look everyone was trying for,” said Galgano, who was keen to challenge the beauty trends when she went back to the United States.
“Now, when I am home, I don’t feel as much pressure to conform to the same look because I’ve developed my own style that feels more comfortable for me,” she reflected.
We live in a world where the notion of beauty is distorted by numerous articles telling us what to wear and how to improve your appearance. The standards engraved in the collective mindset as important values are the subject of heated discussions. But what is truly suitable for you?
“When I think of the word beauty it doesn’t necessarily mean makeup or what you’re wearing, but those things that make you [feel] accomplished. Beauty comes from someone feeling confident and joyful with themselves and it can come in lots of shapes, sizes, races, ethnicities, what you wear, your skin color. Everything, I think ... comes from what you feel inside,” said Ahmad.
On a related note, Ammagui finds beauty in confidence and in personality traits.
“I see more beauty [on the] inside, than in the physical appearance. I think that a nice personality trumps a good look, because you can change your look, you can outgrow it, you can alter it, but who you are inside doesn’t go away,” she said.
The beauty of beauty resides in diversity. And in being unique while proudly carrying yourself in your shoes.
Daria Zahaleanu is a staff writer. Email her at
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