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Posted by on Jan 16, 2017 in Articles | 7 comments

How traveling made me love myself

How traveling made me love myself

Growing up I never thought I was beautiful. I never considered the fact I could be attractive.  It never crossed my mind I could be special and unique in any way.

To support this, was the fact that my parents had never, ever complimented me for my physical appearance or intellectual  capacity. My mother never told me I was pretty, although she was quite vocal letting me know how smart Ana was, how beautiful Sabrina looked.

Although the absolute lack of love, reassurance and compliments from my parents had never caused me any complex, they were the main reason I walked through life thinking I was just another Jane Doe, with nothing special to give to the world and who didn’t fit in the “beauty standards” of the blond, blue eyed with big boobs.


skinhead girl

During a trip to the Canarian Islands when I was only 16 and had shaved hair


It all changed the moment I started dating Martin, a hot Polish boy who I met when I was 21, during a hot summer day. He had just arrived from Barcelona with his punk band to record an album in Lisbon. I had just arrived to Lisbon, after over 2 years living in the USA, still carrying a thick American accent that amused and irritated some of his band members.

Martin was fascinated by my dark brown eyes, my long curly hair, my typical dark Mediterranean skin color. I was the exotic Latina, the hot brunette he fantasized with.  He told me how beautiful and gorgeous he thought I was almost daily. What in the beginning I took as a joke (well, I wasn’t used to compliments at all) it later sank in as I’m special and beautiful in my own way. Little by little I started owning my uniqueness and writing my own beauty standards.


4 unique beauties, the Mexican and the Portuguese latinas, the American and the Korean. Thailand 2013


Traveling around the world as a solo female traveler, made me understand that the “ultimate beauty standards” the media tried to force upon us girls (and boys who are somehow directed to prefer a certain type of female body shape, hair color, etc) is a completely fabricated concept. Traveling showed me the beauty of diversity. The importance of uniqueness and most of all that beauty is a whole package and not merely based on looks.



In Myanmar, women often wear Thanaka make up (made of bark paste) to enhance their natural beauty.



Trip to Myanmar 2015


In New Zealand, Maori people considered that women with tattooed lips and chins were quite beautiful.


Maori woman portrait CCLincese


The Mursi women from southern Ethiopia, stretch out their lower lip by inserting clay plates, which are replaced for bigger and bigger ones. This is both a symbol of sexual maturity and beauty.


Mursi woman

Mursi Woman Photo by Gusjer CCLicense


The Masai in Kenya strech their ear lobes using stones and pieces of elephant tusk. This is considered beautiful among the tribe.

In Mauritania more is better and women are encouraged to gain many extra pounds, as bigger women are seen as better wives and a status symbol for her husband.

For the Ethiopian Karo tribe, scars are seen as sexy and attractive and scarring is performed as a way to become more beautiful.


karo women beauty standards

Karo women CCLicense

Woman of the Kayan tribe in Thailand elongate their necks by using a series of brass rings, adding them along as they grow older. This ritual can start when the girl is 15 years old and is a symbol of beauty.

For the Wodaabee tribe, the roles are completely inverted. Men are the ones who have to seduce the women and use all their charm and beauty in order to get the female’s attention.  They use makeup and a dance ritual where they roll their eyes in synchronized ways.


wodaabe beauty standards

Wodaabe Males trying to impress the girls of the tribe CCLicence


The Yanomami women, an Amazonian tribe of Brazil and Venezuela,  decorate themselves with parrot feathers and paint themselves with urucum as a mix of beauty and spiritual protection.  They often pierce their lower lip with wood sticks.


Yanomami woman beauty standards

Yanomami woman with her child CCLicense


Brazilian women come in all colors shapes and sizes, thanks to the intense miscegenation, but curvaceous and athletic girls (big butts, round hips, thick tights, skinny waste) are still seen as the beauty standard.


Brazilian woman beauty standards

Débora Dantas CCLicense


Traveling made me own my uniqueness and recognize the diversity of beauty


Traveling has taught me about the beauty standards in different cultures mostly by contrast. I found beauty in the modesty of Muslim girls and woman who decided to use the Hijab in order to keep part of their beauty hidden.


istanbul cat

While in Istanbul 2013


It made realize that in other parts of the world there’s a radically different way of wearing make up…. That in some places revealing a lot of flesh is cool whereas in others modesty better.


myanmar dress

Wearing the traditional tanaka make up and skirt in Myanmar 2015


During my travels I would dress according to the local fashion, expressing and experiencing myself in completely different ways.

Having experienced so much beauty and differences, it makes me look back at my culture and feel completely enraged about the unrealistic and impossible beauty standards the media have imposed upon us. The uniform beauty standards no one seems to be able to achieve… Where most advertisement and fashion photos have been Photoshop and retouched to exacerbate an already impossible body.

It makes me think over the hundreds of magazines who make their millions by telling there’s something wrong with me and that I should get this or that changed. About beautiful, healthy young females who feel embarrassed about their breast size, as if having gigantic boobs would have any practical function other that fitting the beauty standard assigned for us.


beauty standards

Photo shoot session in Spain


It also makes me wonder about the obsession for fair skin in certain Asian countries. The obsession for extreme fat, or extreme thin bodies in different parts of the world. Beauty dictatorship is not an exclusivity of western societies, although our image of the perfect body seem to be more unrealistic and extreme.

Beauty is a whole package, filled with our best assets and our flaws. It’s a combination of physical beauty and fun personality. It should include our corky side, our weirdness and most of all our uniqueness.

If you love it, share it!



    • Thank you Erin! What a great way to start the year, right? Celebrating beauty in all it’s shapes and forms :)

  1. What a great post!
    The pictures you shared of women throughout your travels are really inspiring. It’s strange how different cultures have such different standards of beauty!

    • Hey Lindsey, yes the standards of beauty vary radically from culture to culture! It’s refreshing to see that the insane and unhealthy obsession for skinny bodies, is nothing but one perspective amongst many :)

  2. The article is very interesting, it helps me to know the unique culture of many places.

    • Thank you! Yes, beauty is so diverse and so subjective to culture :) I love how women of all shapes and forms are equally sexy and special in their own way.

  3. Extremely well written. Yes, indeed, traveling changes us in so many ways. Thanks for sharing this.

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