Perceptions of Fitness

In case you haven’t heard – though it’s very likely you have – strong is the new skinny. Gym and nutrition guides have replaced strict fad diets, and “fitspo” has replaced “thinspo” (for better or worse). But before the gym became sacred ground, some countries were known to idealize thinness to the point of sickness.

With a new focus on fitness and the bodies that come with it, we were interested to see what the ideal female fit body looked like in various countries. We worked with designers from 15 countries and asked them to alter an image of a 28-year-old woman to fit their country’s perception of “fit.” Continue reading to see the fit body through the eyes of the world.

International Ideals

It looks like America may not be the only country where waist trainers are sought after. Artists from all 15 countries took in the waist of our model and tightened her abdomen. While the waist was tightened and flattened, ab muscles were a prevalent focus in many countries.

The model’s arms seemed to be the least tweaked body part, with only the U.S., Spain, and Italy adding muscle definition. Argentina and China, however, altered her body to be much thinner than the rest. While China thinned out every part of her body, Argentina kept curves in her hips and thickness in her thighs. A thicker lower body was a common feature in most of the countries, especially Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Spain, and the U.S., where a thigh gap was almost nonexistent.

Let’s Get Personal

An ideal body isn’t the only or main reason people turn to fitness. Like our model, people often use exercise as a way to escape from normal life duties and stressors or to work toward a healthier lifestyle. The body that results from the hard work they put in – well, that’s just a bonus.

With such a busy schedule, it would seem our model doesn’t spend all of her time in the gym, hoping to look like someone on the cover of a magazine or the Photoshopped versions of herself. She balances her time between graduate school, the gym, and living her usual social life. Her fitness goals aren’t centered around a gap between her thighs or six-pack abs – but on giving her brain a break from the stress and strain of school and everyday life. Of course, though, you won’t hear her complaining about the muscles she’s gained from the 30 miles she runs each week.

Supreme Silhouettes

For those already immersed in the fitness world, athletes and trainers are likely the ones they idealize. But for those who stick to mainstream media, the Kardashian clan may be their idea of fitness inspiration. The hourglass figure has been idealized for centuries, dating back to when corsets were everyday wear, but the focus on a small waist in addition to bigger breasts and a bottom has not gone out of style. So what do other countries think the fit body looks like from the side?

It turns out the “Kardashian body” may be more ideal in Peru than the U.S. Peru was the only country that significantly increased the size of the model’s glutes. Most countries only slightly changed her chest size, as well. Mexico, China, Argentina, the Netherlands, and Nigeria gave her breasts more of an augmentation than the rest of the countries. Overall, almost all of our designers chose to alter the model’s obliques, slimming her silhouette.

Posterior Perfection

Better get squatting because it looks like the big butt trend is here to stay (at least in some parts of the world). Most of the countries added definition and volume to the model’s rear end, the most prominent being Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru, and South Africa. Despite this growing trend, China kept the model’s fit frame more slim than strong. Muscle definition was also added to her upper back in a few of the countries, Chile and Spain specifically.

Women’s bodies have been idealized by societies all over the world for thousands of years. Being fit isn’t an escape from scrutiny, as many may think. There is still pressure to have the ideal body, just in the form of more muscle and tone. The added pressure of social media is still present, especially with the rise of Instagram fitness models posting their pictures for the world and themselves to judge. But those focusing on fitness for reasons other than appearance, like our model, may not only be growing muscle but also a thicker skin to deal with any criticism thrown their way.


The ideal body has changed numerous times over the years and continues to differ between countries to this day. As society shifts focus from being thin to fit, the ideal body will change as well. While some countries thought the ideal fit body should have some curves, China was the only country to favor a petite frame overall. However, getting fit isn’t about living up to your country’s version of an ideal body – it’s about being healthy and feeling comfortable in your own skin.


We worked with designers from 15 countries and asked them to alter an image of a 28-year-old woman to fit their country’s perception of “fit.” We asked them to think about the aspects of a woman’s physique that are considered when they think of a fit body and to alter images accordingly.

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