Demystifying Global Beauty Standards: How Living in Medellín, Colombia Transformed My Self-Confidence

When I decided to take a leap and move to Medellín, Colombia, one of the most common reactions I’d receive from people was, “The women there are SO beautiful.”

Naturally, I was a little annoyed. I couldn’t believe I was about to embark on the biggest, most exciting adventure of my life and all anyone could talk about—both my male and female friends—was how beautiful the women were in the country I was headed to. Besides, how the eff would they know? None of them had actually ever been to Colombia.

I felt like the significance of my life-changing adventure was being overlooked thanks to stereotypes about women and beauty, above all else. It wasn’t long before I began to feel uneasy about myself. By the time I arrived in Colombia, my looks were all I could think about.

And I was prepared to combat my decreasing confidence with a few tricks. Oh yes, I arrived armed with a set of new colored contact lenses, and considered fabricating story about being half Asian (I’m full Asian). Don’t judge, ya do what ya gotta do.

I was obviously more preoccupied with how I would measure up to the stereotypical Colombian beauty as a foreign Chinese-Canadian woman, than with starting my exciting new adventure, learning Spanish, and exploring exotic fruits (this part of the world has a ton of fruits you have never even heard of before).

I learned pretty quickly that none of my ‘tricks’ were necessary. Turns out that I didn’t have to hide my true self to try and blend into local beauty standards at all.

Body

As I grew more familiar with the local culture during my first few months in Medellín, I gained a whole new perspective on beauty that was all for the better.

This new perspective of mine has challenged many of the North American practices I’d become accustomed to—and most of all, it has helped me appreciate my differences. Like seriously appreciate. I realized that beauty comes in all forms. But perhaps most importantly, I learned that appreciating the attractiveness of another woman removes nothing from my own attractiveness. I hope some of my hard-learned lessons can help you, too.

Lesson 1: One Size Fits No One

One of the first things I noticed was all the different body types of the women in Medellín. In North America, “thin” may be “in”—but based on what I’ve observed, that’s not the case in Colombian. Colombian women flaunt all shapes and sizes regardless of their body type: slender, muscular, or curvier. More often than not, I’d say they tend to embrace curves a bit more, but they encourage body acceptance no matter what size you are. This just seems to be a part of their culture. And I like it. I was surprised at how comforting it was to be surrounded by so many different body types. The diversity took away the pressure of a cookie cutter body image.

Lesson 2: Own What You Got (Or Bought)

In addition to embracing their curves, women in Medellín love to flaunt what they got. And sometimes “what they got” … is something they paid for. From what I’ve heard (and seen), plastic surgery is no big deal in Colombia. According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, Colombia performs half a million plastic surgeries a year, with about 20,000 of those being for travelers.

In fact, getting breast or butt impacts is so common in Colombia that they passed a law prohibiting implants for girls younger than 18 because it was common for minors, sometimes as young as 15, to get implants.

I think minors are way too young to get plastic surgery, but I’m all for adults making their own choices about their own bodies. I think the older you are, the more likely it is that you will made a well-informed decision about surgery.

With so many women ‘flaunting what they got’ (or bought), I started to mirror their inner confidence. Although I initially was comparing my naturally athletic physique to the more curvier bodies I saw at the gym when I first arrived, I quickly realized it was “wasted brain power” spent lingering on differences.

With the plethora of spas and salons everywhere in Colombia, it’s no surprise that beauty is serious business here. In fact, it no longer surprises me when I see women in all their glamorous glory while working out at the gym—curled hair, fakes lashes, and all.

With so many women ‘flaunting what they got’ (or bought), I started to mirror their inner confidence. Although I initially was comparing my naturally athletic physique to the more curvier bodies I saw at the gym when I first arrived, I quickly realized it was “wasted brain power” spent lingering on differences. And for the first time, my confidence started coming out at the gym. I even started wearing a sports bra instead of a full-length shirt to the gym, which was another first for me! For me, this was a huge deal a I had spent my entire life in Vancouver (my hometown) never having the confidence to go shirtless during a workout. But after a few months in Colombia, I felt good enough to ditch the shirt.

Lesson 3: Another Woman’s Beauty Does Not Hinder Your Own

One of my favorite things about the women in Colombia is the appreciation they have for the beauty of others. It’s no big deal to walk down the street and notice smiles between women in acknowledgment of each other’s attractiveness. I’ve adapted well to that part of the culture and have gotten much more comfortable with this than I would ever have expected.

The most important lesson I’ve learned from living in Medellín is that appreciating another woman’s beauty doesn’t take anything from my own. Complimenting others has become a part of who I am, regardless of where I am. I love pointing out the beauty in other people’s clothes, hair, and even smiles. I want everyone to feel to joy of being complimented and I hope it catches on.

It’s funny: I feel more confident in Medellín than I ever did in Vancouver despite the fact that I am definitely a minority in Medellín.

It’s funny: I feel more confident in Medellín than I ever did in Vancouver despite the fact that I am definitely a minority in Medellín. For many people, I was the very first Asian they had ever laid eyes on! A distinct trait that had never happened to me before (being from Vancouver, often known as ‘Hongcouver’.) Being surrounded by so many confident women has taught me that it’s important to be confident in my skin, no matter what you look like and even if you don’t fit in. If women love their bodies—both altered and natural—why couldn’t I? Why can’t you?

Experiencing a new culture has changed the way I look at beauty and self-acceptance forever. It saddens me to know that there are women who avoid looking at mirrors because they think they aren’t attractive in the way their ‘society’ tells them they should be. I wish every woman could see themselves for the beauty they possess. If the women of Colombia have shown me anything, it’s that time is better spent flaunting than hiding.

How many more hours, weeks, months and years do you want to spend hiding from mirrors or worrying about the way you look? Listen: Your time would be much better spent on more value-added activities like learning, reading, or practicing gratitude. Start your own adventure and go see the beauty in the world around you. Chances are, you’ll gain a new understanding of your beauty too.

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