The Different Standards of Beauty

What exactly is beautiful? I saw this on Buzzfeed a few weeks ago It is about a freelance journalist, Esther Honig, who did an experiment by sending a picture of her bare face to over 25 countries and asked them to “make [her] look beautiful through Photoshop.She wanted to find out how the “cultural concept of beauty might have influenced the choices [the editors] have made”.The results she got back were very interesting and I think it ties in perfectly with our readings this week.

                        Original picture

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These pictures display a variety of takes on beauty which differs from country to country. Some put on some eye shadow and lipstick for her and some gave her a different hairstyle. The color of her skin, cheekbones, hairstyle and eyebrow shape have been altered. Honig pointed out that for the majority of the pictures that came back, her skin has been lighten which she believes to be because of “globalisation and eurocentric beauty values”. But I dont think this is all to it, otherwise, this collage of her faces would look more similar to each other than what we see now. Virtually all editors went beyond just adjusting skin tone but also her cheekbones, eyes shape and eyebrows shape.  Even editors form the same countries presented a different idea of beauty.  The two Indias and the two   both differs in skin tone, hairstyle and attire.

Look at India for example, Honig’s face looks darker than her original photograph. If the ideal beauty for all cultures is to look “white”, why has her skin tone been darkened? As Ayu Sarawati said, the “desire fro “whiteness” is not the same as desire for Causasian whiteness” (15).

In the original picture, there is no visible piece of clothing or accessories however some pictures came back having edited clothes and accessories on her. The response from Morocco, giving Honig as hijab, has brought in a new element of beauty – religious custom and Serbia giving her body paint, a cultural custom. This implies that beauty is not only about having a “pretty” face.  In Ginetta Candelario’s “Dominican Hair Culture” and the film “Good Hair” it is the hair that plays a big part ones idea of beauty.

So I wonder – what the results would hve been like if Honig asked the photoshoppers to make her look naturally beautiful, without any use of makeup or had she sent them a picture of her whole body? Would one country make her fuller, with wider hips and bigger breasts while another reduces her size even more? I think yes.


2 thoughts on “The Different Standards of Beauty

  1. I find this post interesting since I just saw a similar post, with a woman who did the exact same experiment. The woman is actually a friend of Esther Honig. Her experiment differs, however, since while Esther is presumably white, Priscilla is both African American and Japanese. Her bi-racial identity proves somewhat more challenging to those who are going to photoshop her, and is quite telling to which races are more “privileged” or desired in various cultures. The concept of hypodescent is quite prevalent here, where some cultures tended to portray one race as more superior, and thus enhanced those features in the photoshopping process. Since white here is seen as the “dominant” or base race, other races were able to layer on top of this base color. As we have read in Glenn’s text Consuming Lightness, colorism is the term for the hierarchy of skin tone, with white or lighter skin being at the top. In many of the photos, there was a lightening of Priscilla’s skin. Hypodescent is also observable in the film Good Hair. The pain and money that is put into transforming natural, African-American hair into the quintessential ideal of white, European hair exemplifies the ongoing effects of a dominant white ideology of society. The idea that black hair is not good enough causes them to strive for white hair, but maybe not necessarily “Caucasian whiteness” as Saraswati writes in Cosmopolitan Whiteness.

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    1. This experiment was really interesting to me as it gives a unique perspective on how different geographic places and spaces impact a culture’s perspective on beauty. In the most recent Glenn reading, Consuming Lightness, she explores how achieving whiteness is often the purpose for many alterations to aesthetics , however, becoming white it not the goal. Whiteness has acted as a form of global as well as symbolic capital and due to colonial roots, often is seen as the superior standard.

      It is rather compelling to look at this collection of photographs and note which cultures have altered the color of this already light skinned female, into a glowing, whiter version of herself. Being white is often not what people yearn for however, becoming a whiter version of something seems to be a trend. Women continually seek ways to maintain an exotic appeal, but desire to appear more white than their natural aesthetic. The goal is to use whiteness as a form of hierarchical acceptance, a way to overcome certain cultural barriers. Through these alterations to the original photo, it is interesting to see what countries have more of an innate influence from colonialism than others.

      One thing in particular that caught my eye was the heavily altered photo from the United States. This photo was by far the most manipulated and one of the few that was obviously made more slender. This says a lot to me about the media’s effects on perception of beauty in the United States, reminding me of Killing Me Softly 4. The photograph reminded me some of the advertisements exposed in this documentary, especially the Dove commercial “Evolution.” The most artificial versions of advertisements are the ones American media constantly publishes, and also the ones most women measure themselves against every single day.


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