Esther Honig’s “Before and After” Series Challenges Ideas About Global Beauty

We talk a lot about how badly the overuse of Photoshop contributes to the United State’s impossible standards of beauty — but is the issue limited to the US, or does it span the globe? Human interest journalist Esther Honig asked herself just that — and then she set out to try to find the answer. The resulting project, which she calls “Before and After,” shows not only how beauty standards vary from country to country, but even more interestingly, how varied and complex the bigger global picture is.

Using freelancing platforms like Fiverr, Honig contacted nearly 40 individuals from countries ranging from Sri Lanka to the Ukraine — 25 in all — sent them an unedited photo of herself, asked them simply, “Make me beautiful.” Some of the designers she spoke to are professionals and experts at photo manipulation; others are amateur; but no matter what their skill level, each designer did their best to do as Honig asked. The results reveal both personal and cultural concepts of beauty as seen through the eyes of each designer — and how vastly different standards of beauty are across the globe. 

Here, take a look at a few of them yourself — the original photo Honig sent out is on the left, with each Photoshopped version on the right. Some went all-out glam, lightening her skin, changing the shape of her eyes, and giving her quite the makeup job, like the image from Argentina:

While others, like the one from Bulgaria, went with a more natural look:

You’ll notice, however, that although the changes are subtle, the photo has still been enhanced — Honig’s hair has been neatened up, her eyes have changed color, any imperfections have been smoothed out, and she’s been brightened considerably.

In Chile, Honig got a little bit of makeup and some sparkly accessories:

While in Vietnam, the only change seems to be a brightening of her overall skin tone:

The fact that so many of them lightened her skin is particularly interesting, although not all of them did as such — in fact some of them, like the one from Pakistan, actually darkened her coloring:

“Seeing some jobs for the first time made me shriek,” Honig told BuzzFeed about how she reacted to each new image of herself. She continued, “Other times images, like the one from Morocco, took my breath away because they were far more insightful than I could have expected.” Here’s the Moroccan image she’s talking about:

Oh, and for the curious? The US’s image was kind of a huge fail:

This one looks like it made the most changes to Honig’s actual facial structure; her eye shape has been angled upwards, her eyes themselves have both changed color and seem to sit lower on her forehead, and her face has been noticeably slimmed down.

But what so many of them have in common, no matter how different they are to each other, is that they represent beauty standards that are as unobtainable as the ones we see here in the United States. What Honig learned from the project, she writes on her website, is this: “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 illusive.”

Check out the whole "Before and After" series over at Honig’s website — it’s definitely worth it. 

Images: courtesy Esther Honig

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