Beauty. It has often been said to lie in the “eye of the beholder.” But does beauty also lie in part, in its origin? Do our individual concepts of beauty shift based where we think it comes from?
According to recent relevance research at Brodeur, it does. Quite a bit, actually.
Recently we were asked by a cosmetics firm to have a discussion about the concept of beauty. They posed a curious question. Is there such a thing as “Asian beauty?”
That got us thinking (we do that a lot at Brodeur). Do Americans’ concepts of beauty shift based on where they think that “beauty” is coming from? For example, is beauty from, say Asia, different from beauty that originates from somewhere else? And how is “Asian beauty” different from “Latin beauty” or “European beauty.” And if these geographically based concepts of beauty exist, are there differences between genders? Do American men and women think about these things in the same way?
To find out, we asked Americans to think about “beauty” from five parts of the world – America, Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia. We then asked them to select among eight attributes, the one attribute that most characterized beauty from that particular region. The attributes were:
What we found was that beauty was not just in the eye of the beholder, it is also in region and culture of origin.
“American beauty” – Classic, but also seductive, refreshing and complex
The concept that best defines American beauty is “classic.” As in “classic American beauty.” Just under a third of men and women picked that as the one most defining characteristic of beauty from America. But unlike other views of regional beauty where one or two concepts dominated, Americans thought of beauty in quite multi-dimensional terms with significant numbers of people choosing terms like seductive, refreshing, complex, and exciting.
“European beauty” – Classic and chic
For Americans European beauty is a lot like American beauty, just a lot more “chic.” Being stylishly fashionable is something Americans apparently don’t see in themselves but do see in a lot of in beauty from across the Atlantic. This was true for both men and women.
“Latin beauty” – Seductive and exotic
Moving south, things get a bit racy. And here the gender differences are interesting. One thing that American men and women both agree on: Latin beauty is seductive. Think “Latin lover.” But, and take note American men, this idea of Latin beauty as “seductive” is much more prominent among American women than men.
“African beauty” – Exotic and complex
Moving to Africa, the dominant Americans’ concepts of beauty move from the “classic” to the “seductive” to the “exotic.” More specifically, Americans view African beauty as a combination of “exotic” and “complex.” African beauty is something that is both foreign and hard to decipher. It is exotic, but also intricate, convoluted, impenetrable.
Asian beauty” – Exotic and innocent
Which finally leads us to Asian beauty. Here we find an interesting combination. Americans see Asian beauty as “exotic” – just like African beauty – but also “innocent.” It is a combination which is foreign but also that which is wholesome, pure and virtuous.
So what does this all mean? We had two takeaways. On practical and another theoretical.
On the practical front, this type of analysis would be important for anyone in the fashion, beauty, and hospitality business. When positioning anything from a product line to an experience, you need to know the “frame” or “relevance touch points” that people carry with them. In this case it will likely be challenging to sell “classic Asian beauty” or “chic Asian beauty” because those aren’t concepts that Americans readily associate with beauty originating from Asia.
On a more theortical front, it is a reminder that basic concepts are always very complex. Beauty is a basic concept, right up there with concepts of “justice”, “freedom” and “happiness.” But as with all these basic concepts, there are factors (in this case origin) can prompt an individual to define the same concept in dramatically different ways based on context.
A recent CNN article by Katia Hetter looks at this concept through photographs taken by Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc, where she captured beauty around the world. “In my opinion, beauty means to keep alive your origins and your culture. To be natural, sincere, authentic, particular, not necessary fashion or skinny” said Noroc. Looks like Noroc agrees with our research that beauty is also in the region and culture of origin.
So yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.