Bizarre things Americans find attractive

Surprised woman

When you’re surrounded by people who, for the most part, are into the same things as you, you probably don’t feel all that different from your peers. If you’re living in the United States, you probably don’t think American customs are strange — if you even think about them at all — but that’s only because they may be all you know. As it turns out, we have some downright bizarre tastes — especially when it comes to how we present ourselves.

According to Western Illinois University’s guide, “American Culture: The Basics,” success in the United States is “often measured in dollars.” That’s not to say we don’t value relationships, but materialism is how we non-verbally communicate our social status. Naturally, a lot of the things Americans find attractive are rooted in things that point to success and, often times, wealth. Here are some examples of the strange things we find pleasing to the eye or, if we were Paris Hilton, would cause us to say, “That’s hot.”

Beyond the pale

In the United States, many women — especially caucasian women — strive to achieve tanned skin. Dr. Deborah S. Sarnoff, a New York City dermatologist, told The Skincare Foundation that this trend is actually pretty recent. According to her, “tanned skin is not, nor has it ever been, a universally accepted ideal.”

While Americans aren’t the only ones wanting to darken their complexion — European and Brazilian women do too — we’re not the majority. Women throughout China, Korea, and Thailand don’t understand the tanning trend — they actually strive to look paler or, as Sarnoff explained, “more pink in tone.” In India, too, some men and women look to creams to lighten their natural skin tone.

For centuries, pale skin was thought to indicate high status because a tan would mean you spent a great deal of time outdoors, perhaps doing manual labor, whereas pale skin meant you were privileged enough to stay indoors. Needless to say, America’s glorification of fair skin was pretty cringe-worthy back then.

By the 1920s, however, Coco Chanel popularized tanning and, by the 1960s, being tan started to signify privilege because it meant you had the time — and the money — to travel. Whether Americans were obsessed with staying pale or, now, getting tan, attempting to change your skin color — especially to look wealthy — is a bit surreal.

Straight pearly whites

While some Americans may find glowing white skin unattractive, the opposite is true for their teeth. The whiter your chompers, the better. Statistically speaking, you have likely used a product in an attempt to whiten your teeth. According to U.S. Census data and Simmons National Consumer Survey calculated by Statista, over a whopping 39 million Americans used teeth-whitening products in the year 2017. 

Not only are we obsessed with getting our teeth as white as possible, we also want them to be straight. In 2015, New York Magazine reported that over the previous 20 years, the number of American and Canadian teenagers receiving orthodontic treatment just about doubled. Meaning, 80 percent were under the care of an orthodontist in 2015. Adults, too, now make up a quarter of all orthodontics patients throughout North America.

Not everyone places the same value on having bright white and super straight teeth. Professor Jimmy Steele, of the School of Dental Science at Newcastle University, told BBC News that British people prefer “nice natural smiles — natural in colour,” explaining by contrast how “U.S. teeth are sometimes whiter than it is physically possible to get in nature.” Well, he’s not wrong.

We don't just love our jeans to be skinny

Obesity in America reached an all time high in 2016, yet Americans are still aspiring to be thin. According to Dr. Mairi Macleod, a researcher in the School of Psychology at the University of Dundee, this dilemma directly leads to body dissatisfaction.

Much of how we view ourselves and others can be linked back to the media. In a study conducted by Lynda Boothroyd of the University of Durham, young women were shown many pictures of overweight or underweight women. Interestingly, the women rated the attractiveness according to what they were seeing, not solely based on their predetermined set of ideals. For example, if shown photos of underweight women, the women would consider thin to be most attractive.

People in places without access to the media, like the remote parts of Nicaragua, don’t think as much about being overweight. Well, they didn’t, that is, until they were gifted — or cursed — with western media. As part of another study, Boothroyd observed what happened when villagers began watching our TV shows. Sure enough, they started idealizing thinner bodies and some even tried to lose weight. The more TV consumed, the more likely these women were to feel this way. Yikes. There’s no denying we’re the peculiar ones here.

A little cosmetic surgery here and there

Americans may be pretty obsessed with getting skinny, but we still want parts of us to be big and beautiful. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) reported a 115 percent rise in plastic surgery since the year 2000. Gluteal augmentation — aka butt lifts — alone have increased by 252 percent since the new millennium. Other kinds of lifts, including breast and lower and upper body ones have also increased — some by percentages ranging in the thousands since 2000.

While Americans are not the only ones surgically enhancing their appearances, we are arguably most obsessed with it. While Brazil accounts for a little over ten percent of the worldwide population’s cosmetic surgeries, the United States is responsible for a staggering 17.9 percent. Other developed countries like France, Germany, Spain, and Australia don’t even make up a competing percentage — combined. So, what gives? It seems it’s just not as attractive to them.

German YouTuber Trixie of Don’t Trust the Rabbit gave her personal point of view, saying, “In Germany, this topic [of plastic surgery] is not that common. I literally don’t know anybody who did plastic surgery and from the friends I know, most of them wouldn’t consider it.” Plastic surgery may look good to us here in the States, but, likewise, pretty bizarre to outsiders.

The more makeup the better

While more women may be forgoing makeup these days, it’s obvious we Americans are still pretty into our cosmetics. But are we more into makeup than people in other countries? According to Spanish Maybelline makeup artist, Gato (né Ruben) Zamora, yes — or, at least, we go about it differently.

Speaking to The Cut, he explained the differences in the American versus Spanish approach to makeup. “You guys take risks,” he explained, “In Spain it’s much quieter.” Zamora also noted how Americans and Londoners “don’t feel bad” wearing false lashes to work, but that’s not the case in Spain. He highlighted another trend American women love. He wouldn’t go so far as to call it bizarre, but he did say it is “very curious” — we know what you really mean Zamora! “They don’t care if their foundation looks orange or a different color,” he explained, “It’s funny because I think it’s about the culture.” 

Laura Mercier of the French eponymous cosmetic line has also noticed odd makeup trends in America. “It really astonishes me the way American women wear so much makeup,” she told The New York Times. “French women are not flashy. They must be subtle. The message must not be, ‘I’m spending hours on my face to look beautiful.'” To each his — or her — own, right?

Keepin' it casual

In 2016, the Associated Press sent reporters around the globe to ask ordinary people about their impressions of America. Naturally, they heard many perspectives. Antara Rao, an 18-year-old student from New Delhi, explained (via CBS News), “There was a bit of a culture shock when I first went [to the United States] because the way people dress there is very much different from the way we dress here. All of them wear shorts.”

While it’s probably a bit of an oversimplification that we all wear shorts, you can likely see where he’s coming from. Deirdre Clemente, a historian of twentieth century American culture at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas told The Washington Post, “Americans have come to dress casually in a way that is very interesting as a historian.” She said when looking at photos from the past, it’s shocking to see how formally we used to clothe ourselves.

Although much of the world has adopted a more casual approach to fashion, Clemente said other countries don’t get “as down and dirty as the American version.” This makes us jeans-and-hoodie-wearing folk the odd ones out. Nevertheless, we like what we like. Men’s Health polled 800 women and found over half of them thought their partners looked sexiest in “faded vintage-style jeans.” Jeans are the best.

Hair — where?

While some American women, including celebrities like Madonna and Miley Cyrus are all about posing for — and sharing — photos of their au natural armpits, they are certainly not the norm. At least not in the United States, that is. In fact, you don’t have to scroll through the stars’ Instagram photos for very long before you find people who are completely perplexed by the idea of not shaving.

Getting rid of body hair is what most women in the United States are all about. As it goes, though, we’re not the only ones. Both men and women shave their armpits in Colombia and Turkey. In places like China, however, hair removal didn’t even become a thing until about twenty years ago. So, those of us waxing, tweezing, and shaving our body hair would’ve been thought of as quite odd. Although with more and more countries embracing hairlessness, we may not be considered weird for very long. 

Groomed from head to toe

As Americans, we may not think we’re all that different from our friends across the pond. In some ways that’s surely true, but, in other ways, we’re not alike at all — and, frankly, our foreign neighbors find some of our tendencies bizarre. In an article aptly titled “I’m British And I Just Don’t Understand American Women” by British-born and Ireland-dwelling writer Suzanne Jannese, she addresses some of the differences she’s noticed between European and American women.

For one, she’s perplexed by our obsession with getting our nails done. As someone who bites her nails, she couldn’t really comprehend why people spend so much time and effort on getting perfectly manicured nails. Yet and still, it’s not just nails we care about. “You seem to spend an unholy amount of time being groomed: blow-dry salons (something the UK hasn’t gotten into… yet) and making time in your day to get your nails done and hair coiffed,” she wrote. Well, what can we say? America the beautiful, right?

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