This subject isn't nearly as controversial as it first appears. I make no attempts to judge beauty, because it comes in infinite forms.
Here is the stereotype: "Iceland has the most beautiful women in the world. That's because the Vikings went over to Ireland and stole their most beautiful women and brought them here". The joke often continues to explain that that is why Ireland's women are so ugly, because the Vikings didn't bother with them. It's really funny if you like racist jokes about rape.
It got more air time a few years ago, when an Icelandic woman won Miss World in 2005. It was Iceland's third win for the pageant, with other wins in 1985 and again in 1988.
It's true that most of the people here are blonde and pale, which for some reason seems to automatically denote beauty. Perhaps it's just exotic to come to a country where the people are sometimes blonde to such an excess that their hair is actually white. Personally, I think it's great, but I'm a sucker for blondes.
But if you're not into the Barbie combination, you can choose from the other group of pale, but raven-haired Icelanders. There's another racist origin joke about this one, too. I heard it told by a tour guide at a local folk museum. Apparently, you can blame (or thank) shipwrecked sailors from Spain for any dark hair you see in Iceland.
But here's where this topic gets sticky. Of course there are beautiful people in every place on the planet. There are also different ideas of beauty in every country on the planet. When Iceland boats of it's "beautiful women", they are asking you to envision this:
I mean, yeah. It's true. That woman in Icelandic. But like most places, you shouldn't expect to hit up the clubs and be surrounded by girls like that.
Iceland was pretty isolated from the rest of the world before the World Wars. People lived in simple long houses and ate simple foods like potatoes and boiled fish. During the 1940s, the American military set up a base in Keflavík (which is why that airport is so damn far away). Americans brought with them the usual American fare. Television (which is a major reason why Icelanders can speak English today), rock music, and junk food. If you live in America, you might not realize that American candy is pretty special. Despite being of sub-par quality, people love it and they eat a lot of it. (unless it has peanut butter in it. Only Americans seem to like that. It's impossible to find Reese's in Europe unless you go to a specialty shop, and I've never seen it in Iceland)
Many Icelanders still stick to traditional jobs, such as fishing and farming, both of which are physically demanding. Even now, for these people, breakfast is usually just a cup of coffee. Some toast with jam and cheese if you are feeling peckish. Lunch is also not too big of a deal. Some leftovers from breakfast, or something equally light. That leaves dinner as the main meal of the day. As an American, I will probably never be able to shake the idea that breakfast is the most important, lunch involves a sandwich, and dinner should come with a second helping and dessert. This notion is catching on in Iceland. Especially in Reykjavík, where everyone can speak decent English and is heavily influenced by the trendiest cities in the world. You can see some of the most amazing hipsters on Earth walking down Laugavegur, sporting outfits that would make kids from Williamsburg burst into jealous flames. Lamb hots dogs called pylsur are viciously famous (and addictive). Junk food and candies are available in bulk bins in every single grocery, quick stop, and petrol station. And Icelanders drink more Coca-Cola per person than any other country in the world. Yes, including America. I heard something like 25L per person per year on average.
Everyone knows that Americans are fat. Somehow I've managed to avoid that fate thus far, but many Icelanders are suffering as a result of the adopted lifestyle. Iceland now ranks number 17 on the list of most obese countries in the world (USA is number one), with an obesity rate of 12%.
Overweight does not equal unattractive. Not by a long shot. But it's a far cry from the lithe, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, wool-sporting wilderness beauty so often portrayed. But it's no surprise. If you only looked at American advertisements, you would think we all looked like Megan Fox.
My purpose with addressing this Icelandic stereotype was to draw attention the rise of health problems associated with an American lifestyle. It's still somewhat of a new introduction in Iceland, and even though the average lifespan is still very high (82.9 years for women), heart disease is now the top killer in the country and will continue to be a problem without drastic changes to public health awareness.
Am I saying that fat women are automatically ugly? No.
Am I saying that thin women are automatically beautiful? No.
Am I implying that white people are somehow more attractive than non-white people? No, of course not.
Am I saying that America is the cause of all of the world's problems? Yes. Yes I am.
Join me next time for another episode of Me Telling You Things About A Country That I'm Not Even From.