The Biggest Beauty Icons in 9 Countries

Beyoncé's appeal is universal, apparently. But there are also some surprises on the list.
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Beyoncé's appeal is universal, apparently. But there are also some surprises on the list.
Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian's beauty crosses cultural and geographical divides. Photos: Jamie McCarthy & Mark Salgiocco/Getty Images

Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian's beauty crosses cultural and geographical divides. Photos: Jamie McCarthy & Mark Salgiocco/Getty Images

Last week, Marie Claire hosted its second annual Global Beauty Forum for a group of editors and beauty brand representatives, moderated by Erin Flaherty, Marie Claire's beauty director. Editors from the magazine's Mexico/Latin America and Arabian editions were on hand, as well as Peach & Lily founder Alicia Yoon and Beautified founder Hannah Bronfman. The conversation was lively and thought-provoking, and veered into the subject of  beauty standards, favorite products around the world, and the women who are considered beauty icons in each country and region.

I found this last bit to be really fascinating, and so I asked Marie Claire, which has over 30 international editions, to help me find out who those beauty icons are across the globe. Here are the selections from nine countries.

USA

Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian and Karlie Kloss. Photos: Jamie McCarthy & Mark Salgiocco/Getty Images

Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian and Karlie Kloss. Photos: Jamie McCarthy & Mark Salgiocco/Getty Images

"Because our country is so multi-cultured and diverse, it's impossible to choose just one woman," says Erin Flaherty, Beauty and Health Director of Marie Claire. "Right now, three stand out: Obviously, everyone across the world is obsessed with Beyoncé, but no more so than here in the U.S., where she is a homegrown talent and top beauty icon. Another distinctly American beauty is Karlie Kloss, who just seems so wholesome and girl-next-door compared to more austere supermodels of other eras. And in the age of the selfie, it goes without saying that Kim Kardashian's brand of extremely manicured beauty has probably helped cosmetic sales." 

South Korea

Miranda Kerr. Photo: Axelle Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images

Miranda Kerr. Photo: Axelle Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images

Alicia Yoon, founder of Asian beauty site Peach & Lily, says that Miranda Kerr's "soft, baby features" make her a popular beauty icon in Korea. "I haven't yet seen her in any ads, but she certainly graces a lot of beauty magazines in Korea and does things like signings and throw[ing] the first pitch at baseball games."

Saudi Arabia

Kim Kardashian. Photo: Grant Lamox IV/Getty Images

Kim Kardashian. Photo: Grant Lamox IV/Getty Images

"The women here love Kim Kardashian," says Sara Rasheed, Fashion and Beauty Editor of Marie Claire Arabia. According to Rasheed, women in that part of the world also love a lot of makeup, so that could help explain the Kardashian admiration. MAC and Nars are favorite brands in the Middle East. 

Mexico/Latin America 

Paulina Veg. Photo: Troy Rizzo/Getty Images

Paulina Veg. Photo: Troy Rizzo/Getty Images

"We are very proud of our Miss Universe! [Former Miss Colombia, Paulina Vega]," says Ariadne Grant, editor in chief of Marie Claire Mexico and Latin America. Grant also noted at the forum that women in her region of the world still love ombré hair, which they call "Californiana." 

Australia

Gisele Bundchen. Photo: Fernanda Calfat/Getty Images

Gisele Bundchen. Photo: Fernanda Calfat/Getty Images

"With flowing, sun-kissed hair, an athletic physique, glowing limbs and healthy lifestyle, Gisele Bundchen is a beauty icon that Australian women find inspiring," says Alex Noonan, beauty director at Marie Claire Australia.

Spain

Penelope Cruz. Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

Penelope Cruz. Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

"I would have to say the beauty icon in Spain would be someone very similar to Penelope Cruz, because she has inspired many women in Spain to believe in their capabilities and make them aspire to anything they wish, knowing that if they work hard enough for it, they have a fair chance of reaching their goals, like she has done," says Susana Blazquez, beauty director at Marie Claire Spain. "Also, she is very beautiful and smart, and has the Mediterranean beauty we love.”

South Africa

Noni Gasa and Beyoncé. Photos: @envirizanacho_nachohairlove/Instagram and Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Noni Gasa and Beyoncé. Photos: @envirizanacho_nachohairlove/Instagram and Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

"South Africa is a country with an incredibly diverse and electric mix of people and nationalities, making it tricky to distinguish just one beauty icon," Kelly Fung, fashion & beauty editor at Marie Claire South Africa, explains. "Beyoncé comes out on top as the international star who women of all ages look to as a beauty icon. Her beauty shines through not only on the surface, but from the idea of her being a powerhouse woman, ready to take on challenges. She is cross-culturally beautiful, meaning all nationalities can relate to her look and feminine transformations. Locally, the consensus is Noni Gasa, one of the the country's most recognized and loved media personalities. She continues to be an integral part of changing the way South Africans see 'beauty', teaching women to embrace the features they were given. With her iconic freckles and often shaved head, she is an icon for stripped-down, bare-it-all beauty.”

Netherlands

Doutzen Kroes and Beyoncé. Photos: Michael Stewart/Getty Images and Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

Doutzen Kroes and Beyoncé. Photos: Michael Stewart/Getty Images and Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

"Actually it's two women for the Netherlands," says Dionne Poole, beauty director at Marie Claire Netherlands. "First of all, our own Doutzen Kroes. She's gorgeous, super-friendly, a hands-on mom and very down-to-earth. A real and a beautiful person inside and out, with or without makeup. Dutch women appreciate natural beauty. Then of course there is Beyoncé. Dutch women like her because she is super gorgeous and she has hips.”

China

Sophie Marceau. Photo: Dominique Charriau/Getty Images

Sophie Marceau. Photo: Dominique Charriau/Getty Images

"If I had to choose one beauty icon the women in my country find inspirational/aspirational, it would be Sophie Marceau," says Ling Jia, beauty director at Marie Claire China. "Of course Sophie is not a new generation actress, but her beauty and elegance are perfectly suitable for her age, which is the most inspirational for us. Also Chinese girls like stars such as Taylor Swift, Miranda Kerr, Keira Knightly, etc. who are really popular by now, but the beauty of Sophie is timeless and very unique."