Is there a universal standard for beauty in a globalized world?
That question went viral after Esther Honig, 24, a journalist in Kansas City, Mo., hired people in more than 25 countries to Photoshop an image of herself with naked shoulders, hair tied back and no makeup.
Honig hired freelancers through Fiverr and received 40 images from 25 countries for her “Before and After” project.
Although you can see cultural influences in some photos, she received widely differing interpretations from Photoshoppers within the same countries. The images ranged from heightened natural to unabashed artifice, demonstrating there is no way to quantify a nation’s perception of beauty.
Altering light levels gave her varying skin tones, and changes in background often altered the mood.
“The females were just as likely as males to radically alter the image, but in all actuality my pool of examples was hardly large enough to generate any solid conclusions,” she told me. “I will say that in the instances that makeup was applied, the female Photoshoppers did a far nicer job compared to the males.”
Which country’s makeover gave Honig the most pause?
“The image I received from the U.S. with the blond hair made me shriek when I first opened it,” she told InStyle. “It has been manipulated so radically that I felt like I was looking in the mirror and not recognizing my own face.”
Another U.S. submission gave her extra hair, an eye color not found in nature, and plenty of makeup to create a generic blowup-doll look.
Honig told Elle: “We have to remember that this is a reflection of our culture, but also a reflection of the individual Photoshopper. In the U.S., maybe the Photoshopper felt he was given creative freedom, so he was inclined to really go at it and see what he could create. I don’t think it necessarily says that in the U.S. we’re more inclined to alter images or more obsessed with this concept of unattainable beauty.”
She added that since the photos have gone viral, she’s been receiving unsolicited submissions from strangers around the world and is thinking about putting together a second series showcasing those images.