Beauty Standards in the Ancient World

A Greek statue of a male figure.

Male beauty was highly valued by the ancient Greeks. (Image: via pixabay)

Beauty standards are not permanent. What was considered beautiful thousands of years ago may not be viewed the same today. What is beautiful for one civilization may not be considered so in another. Understanding how diverse the idea of beauty is will help you in appreciating the fact that beauty truly is in the eyes of the beholder. But, of course, that, too, is not absolute.

How beauty was seen in the ancient world


In Ancient Greece, beauty among men was highly appreciated. “A full-lipped, cheek-chiseled man in Ancient Greece knew two things — that his beauty was a blessing (a gift of the gods no less) and that his perfect exterior hid an inner perfection. For the Greeks, a beautiful body was considered direct evidence of a beautiful mind. They even had a word for it — kaloskagathos — which meant being gorgeous to look at, and hence being a good person,” according to the BBC.

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The ideal woman was said to be a bit plump, full-bodied, and have lighter skin. However, women’s bodies were still seen as being inferior to that of the male form, with some even saying that the female form is somehow a “disfigured” version of man. A thick unibrow was in vogue among women and they used a dark pigment to highlight it.

The women also used to bleach their hair with vinegar, which unfortunately led to a loss of hair. As a result, wigs were very popular. Long hair was considered beautiful. However, only women from the upper classes were allowed to have long hair.


One of the most interesting aspects of ancient Chinese female beauty standards was foot binding. “Feet were bound while a girl’s bones were still malleable, between the ages of 5 and 7. The feet were first soaked in hot water to relax them, and then the four small toes were folded over and bound down using cotton bandages. Meanwhile, the footbinder pushed the ball of the foot and the heel together. The result was a half-moon shape, which had to be continually bound for the rest of the girl’s life,” according to History Collection.

Women used to pluck their actual brows and then paint them using various colors. Between 771 and 476 BCE, women used black color for their eyebrows. Expensive conch inks were imported from Persia for this purpose. During the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, women from royal classes started painting their eyebrows in blue and green colors. During the Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE), women with large eyes, a slim waist, small feet, and pale skin were considered ideal, a trend that is still very prevalent in Chinese society.

Beauty for women in Egyptian art often depicted them with slim, high waists, and narrow hips.
Beauty for women in Egyptian art often depicted them with slim, high waists, and narrow hips. (Image: via Wikimedia Commons)


“Women in Egyptian art are often depicted with slim, high waists and narrow hips. Dark black hair, possibly even with a bluish tinge, and golden or “bright” skin for women were considered ideal. Women also wore long, braided wigs,” according to Little Things. Body hair in women was considered ghastly. Females also wore much more elaborate wigs than their male counterparts.

Among men, reddish or brown skin was considered beautiful. Excessively heavy men were seen as inferior to slim men with attractive features. However, powerful men were often depicted as having strong, well-defined muscles. Beards and mustaches were seen as unclean, which is one of the reasons why you rarely see any ancient Egyptian painting where men are depicted with these features.

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