The “make me beautiful” photoshop experiment

Journalist Esther Honig wanted to examine how the standards of beauty vary across cultures. She sent a picture of herself—makeup free and hair pulled back– to 40 different graphic designers across the globe with only one request: “Make me beautiful.”

What she received back blew her mind. (And mine.)

Some of the pictures came back with minimal changes, what I think of as studio photo retouching. Like this image from Romania:

All images in post are courtesy of Ester Honig.

Others were radically altered. This one is from the Philippines:

What struck me is that some designers changed Honig’s features in ways I wouldn’t even think of, going to extremes like changing her eye color, removing collar bones, and altering the shape of her eyes and forehead.

As in this one from an artist in the US:

Honig told Elle Magazine, “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.”

That depresses me, I’d rather keep the Photoshop-driven obsession of beauty contained within one or two countries.

In an InStyle interview, Honig described her reaction to Morocco’s image, “The creator’s choice to dress me in a Hijab introduced me to a new element to the notion of beauty and religious customs I hadn’t really considered.”

One designer in Germany created more of an artsy portrait:

And Bangladesh’s contribution seems to equate beauty with the Swan Lake:






The picture that most shocked Honig was not from a foreign culture. She told InStyle that the image below, created by a US designer, “…made me shriek when I first opened it. It has been manipulated so radically that I felt like I was looking in the mirror and not recognizing my own face.”

In total, forty designers from twenty-five countries participated, but Honig has received many unsolicited contributions after the project received media attention. She’s thinking about including those images in phase two of the experiment. Her conclusion after this first phase:

“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.”

Would you consider yourself more beautiful if you had a different eye color? Different shaped face? How much of your appearance could be altered before you would no longer recognize yourself in the image?