“Make me look beautiful.”
That’s what Esther Honig asked 40 photo editors to do — in over 25 countries. Using the service-sharing site Fiverr, Honig, a human interest reporter, sent a picture of herself to be photoshopped around the world to see just how much cultural values are applied to standards of beauty. The results throw the idea of “the perfect woman” into sharp relief.
Honig found that individuals from every country applied a distinct perspective on beauty to her image. She was surprised by the degree to which a country’s cultural values could show up as aesthetic preferences. Specifically, an image she received back from Morocco was “a bit of a shock initially.” She told The Huffington Post via email, “[It] definitely highlighted my own lack of cultural awareness. Of course, someone from a country where the primary religion is Islam might elect to add a Hijab to my image as that aligns with their own cultural customs. For me it really added depth to my project by touching on the concept of religion and custom, not just aesthetics.”
Seeing her image manipulated in so many dimensions had a profound impact on Honig’s own self-perception. “I voluntarily sought out this opportunity and was pleased with how it turned out, but it did make me more aware of certain things like the uneven tone of my skin which was touched up by nearly every editor,” she said. “I’ve watched my image subtly soften with filters and cloning brushes as well as radically transform with splicing, stretching and re-angling that completely restructured my face. Seeing some jobs for the first time have made me shriek.”
Honig is reluctant to draw a “moral of the story” from the project, which is ongoing. “Flipping through the collection of Before & After, one may spot trends in models of beauty that represent each designer’s culture of origin, but that is entirely based on our interpretation,” she said.
Still, the project dispels the myth of a singular beauty norm. As Honig wrote on her personal website: “Photoshop allows us to achieve our unobtainable standards of beauty, but when we compare those standards on a global scale, achieving the ideal remains all the more elusive.”
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