“Everyone has their own insecurities, regardless of how you look or how people perceive you, but sometimes people give their insecurities too much power. Defining beauty is simply a matter of opinion. For me, real beauty has very little to do with the structure of someone’s face or body.”
– Devon Aoki
The Best Deals For Digital Design Assets - InkyDeals.com. Learn More>>
What is beauty? Is there an exact definition for it? Can we really sum it up in a few words, or even numbers, in such a way that it will be universally available to all of us? Personally, I do not really think so.
Beauty is a social construct. Sure, there are instances where most would agree that someone is, indeed, beautiful – in the sense that he or she looks good, but standards of beauty vary significantly from culture to culture, not to mention from person to person. Even cultures we might think of as being virtually identical put their own distinctive mark on the concept.
To explore beauty and the global standards of it, blogger and journalist Esther Honing sent a picture of herself to almost 40 designers from 25 countries, some experts, some amateurs, and asked them one simple thing: “Make me beautiful.”
“In the U.S. Photoshop has become a symbol of our society’s unobtainable standards for beauty. My project, Before & After, examines how these standards vary across cultures on a global level.”
The premise of her project is clearly stated in the opening lines, society’s standards of beauty are unrealistic, unobtainable. But even in their unobtainable as they are, the aim here is seeing how they differ according to country and, indeed, individual.
To tell you a little more about Esther; she is a human interest reporter, who works in both broadcast and print mediums. She blogs in English and Spanish, having studied Spanish and pre-Columbian Mexican for one year at UNAM in Mexico City.
She graduated from Mills College for Women in Oakland, California in 2012, having gotten a degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies, and went on to a Fellowship at Kiva, which saw her being a liaison for the organization in Santiago, Chile.
“In my work I enjoy the opportunity to hold intimate conversations and to know a diversity of people and characters. I aim to position the bigger, more complex stories through the tiny lens of a single individual.“
After her stint in Chile, Esther began working as a reporting intern at KCUR, where she learned how to create innovative digital content, and created feature pieces for the radio and web on social issues in Kansas City, ranging from urban development and tech entrepreneurs.
Currently, she works at UNO as social media manager, where she was also nominated for UNO ambassador for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Kansas City.
The project presented in this article got her a lot of attention, as this is probably not the first article on the subject that you are reading. What I will do, however, is pick out a few of them, and try to see what they say about standards of beauty in that particular country. Since there really is not any way to be truly objective about this, I welcome any input you might have.
Let’s get started.
Here, I think, we can see very clearly how the media impacted on the designer’s idea of beauty. In the modified photo, there’s barely an iota of resemblance to Esther left, ending up with what looks like an entirely different photo.
Paler skin, shinier lips and hair, smaller shoulders and eyebrows, possibly larger eyes, and tons of make-up; all creating the likeness of a telenovella character or a beauty pageant contestant.
Just to get everything out of the way, I am Romanian, myself, so there is a fair chance that I see less differences between the original picture and the modified ones because I am used to local standards of beauty.
I do, in fact, feel like the differences here are minimal. A little airbrushing here and there to make it look like Esther is wearing a little make-up, hiding the birthmarks and small imperfections in the skin. I do notice, however, that designer removed the loose strands of hair from behind her head, which does feel seem like a completely arbitrary thing to do.
Same as Romania’s, but with a few interesting differences. I think there’s an overall effect on the entire photo, making it smoother and warmer. It is really noticeable in the hair, where the image seems a bit blurry, and there are no more stray hairs. Also, they made her cheeks rosie, and her lips a brighter red.
The two photos from India are really cool example of two standards from the same place, and how the individual changes the standard. The first one is bright and colorful, and looks as if it was made using Instagram. The eyes are a different color, a bit more make-up, but still less then Argentina, and really bright-red lips.
The 2nd one looks really old-timey, almost like a daguerreotype, and almost unreal, somehow. The clavicle no longer shows up, and the entire lower half of the body looks like it is part of painting, rather than a photo. As for the face, well, it’s uncanny valley. Aside from the eyes and the lips, everything thing else just seems out of place.
Once again, Esther is made a little more paler, and I must say I’m surprised, seeing that this photo comes from a place famous for it’s sunny beaches. Like in most of the photos, the Australian designer also applied some make-up to her face, making her lips red (a recurring theme) and her cheeks pink.
Apparently, according to US standards, she is a long way away from being beautiful. There’s less of the original photo in both of these photos, then there is in the Argentinian one.
Both radically changed her face’s bone structure, both changed her hairstyle, and both changed her eye color. Personally, I think the second one just looks creepy, taking into account how Esther really looks.
Not really a lot of change here, other than a filter applied to the whole photo, and the color of her hair. But still, the goal here was covering small imperfections of the skin.
The similarities between Bulgaria and Romania are clearly visible here. The skin is basically the same in both, the differences, however, are in the eye color, and how the hair in this picture is heavily modified to be symmetrical.
Whether it’s a personal thing, or an actual cultural standard, hair seems to really play an important part in beauty. By hair, I mean hairstyle. Once again, here we see that the stray strands are removed, and it is made, in general, to look more neatly combed.
If in the first photo not much is done, over than adding suit, probably to make her look more “decent”, the second photo is “living the American dream”, so to speak. Her face is once again changed, as is the hair, made black instead of brown, and let loose wildly, like in a shampoo commercial.
Oddly enough, this is the first and only picture out of the bunch that features brightly-colored eye make-up.
That wraps up this article on Esther Honig’s marvelous exploration of global standards of beauty. These are only a few of the pictures she collected for her project, so if you want to see more, check out her website, here, and you can also read what she has to say about it.
Don’t forget to leave your thoughts in the comment section below, because I’m really curios what you think about beauty and beauty standards.