26 Unforgettable Photographs That Prove There is No One Way to Be Beautiful. {Images}

Via on Jun 28, 2014

Examining “ideal beauty.”

Kansas City-based journalist and blogger Esther Honig, 24, sent an image of her head and shoulders to Photoshop specialists in more than 25 countries and told them to make her look like a woman from one of their country’s fashion magazines.

She calls her project “Before & After,” and its sole purpose is to challenge the widely-accepted notion that beauty is something inborn and inherent within our society, as well as how Photoshop perpetuates an unobtainable standard of beauty.

Here’s a description from Honig’s website:

“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.

 Freelancing platforms, like Fiverr, have allowed me to contract nearly 40 individuals, from more than 25 countries such as Sri Lanka, Ukraine, The Philippines, and Kenya. Some are experts in their field, others are purely amateur.

 With a cost ranging from five to thirty dollars, and the hope that each designer will pull from their personal and cultural constructs of beauty to enhance my unaltered image, all I request is that they ‘make me beautiful.'”

This is her original image:

Following are the images that she received.
















Sri Lanka:






Personally, as a blogger who regularly writes about women in media, body image, and eating disorders, as well as how to raise healthy females, this project struck me as pure genius.

Look at these photographs.

Really look.

Clearly, we are viewing the media’s portrayal of beauty and then accepting it. We’re throwing away our own self-respect, love and inborn ability to feel beautiful in our own skin and we’re not even realizing that we’re replacing it with trash.

So the next time I look in the mirror and consider something I see to be a flaw, I’m going to remember that the variations of beauty are as wide as the ocean.

And I want to love myself as big as the sea.


The New Barbie Looks Fat to Me.






Love elephant and want to go steady?

Sign up for our (curated) daily and weekly newsletters!




Editor: Travis May

Photos: imgur

About Jennifer S. White

Jennifer S. White is a voracious reader, obsessive writer, passionate yoga instructor and drinker of hoppy ales. She’s also a devoted mama and wife (a stay-at-home yogi). She considers herself to be one of the funniest people that ever lived and she’s also an identical twin. In addition to her work on elephant journal, Jennifer has over 40 articles published on the wellness website MindBodyGreen and her yoga-themed column Your Personal Yogi ran in the newspaper Toledo Free Press. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in geology, absolutely no degrees in anything related to literature, and she currently owns a wheel of cheese. If you want to learn more about Jennifer, make sure to check out her writing, as she’s finally put her tendencies to over-think and over-share to good use. Jennifer is the author of The Best Day of Your Life, available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. She's also as excited as a five year old to announce the release of her second book, The Art of Parenting: Love Letters from a Mother, available on Amazon.


25 Responses to “26 Unforgettable Photographs That Prove There is No One Way to Be Beautiful. {Images}”

  1. John says:

    They look so ridiculously fake, the only thing this shows is the limits of photoshop, or the limited skills of the "specialists" paid.

    • Jennifer S. White jenniferswhite says:

      I don't necessarily think that top-notch Photoshop expertise was the point. Further, I think it's really easy to make statements like this (you are not alone in your thoughts, John. I saw similar feedback on our ele FB page) when we've seen the un-retouched, original image. This is the point. All we see when we open catalogs and magazines are the final, horribly symmetrical, "perfect" finished Photoshop work. This is the point.

      Also, if we think that Photoshop is always done wonderfully, then we need to look at more adverts, magazines, etc. I'll never forget the Victoria's Secret catalog that photoshopped a model's belly button out entirely in a bad attempt to get rid of her naval ring (and it made it into publication). I was 18 and a senior in high school and it was my first clue that I had been needlessly comparing myself to something terribly phony.

    • Chantelle says:

      I assume one person did all of those. As if she sent it to that many countries, and they all redid her photo, and sent it back to her with some small differences from each other's edits.

  2. Sherry says:

    the most outlandish are U.K. and USA!

  3. Sue says:

    The first picture in the raw is the most of them all.

  4. Judy C says:

    I don't get it , this is a beautiful girl, she is beautiful in the first picture with no makeup, and all the other photos do is show her with varying amounts and shades of make-up, slightly different hairsyles and one with her hair covered…no big difference between any of them that I can see

  5. Mike says:

    That girl is beatiful in the original . But the isreal is the the one I would pick

  6. Phil says:

    There seems to be so much hostility towards "the media" for publishing images of extraordinarily beautiful people (whether photoshopped or not), but I don't know of any hidden agenda that the media has for pushing a certain look as beautiful, or for publishing images of beautiful people in the first place. In a capitalistic society, the media companies strive to make money. Cosmo puts beautiful women on their covers because thats what increases sales. Thats what women buy. If cover photos of fat, plain, or ugly women sold more copies, Cosmo would have to change the type of models they have on their covers, or else be outsold by magazines that did.

    My point is that the hostility towards the media seems inappropriate. They are simply a reflection of what buyers/viewers want.

    • Guenevere Neufeld bluemountainchild says:

      I disagree, Phil. Advertisers pay enormous sums of money to reach into our psyches and create a feeling. They want us to feel that our lives will be better if we purchase their product.

      Yes, it's capitalism, but the subversive part is that we're only subjected to the powers that instil this sense of lack into us. We're not given the tools to learn how to view these messages for what they really are.

      We're caught in this endless loop fed to us by the media: feel bad about yourself, buy this product to feel better, now buy this *new* product to feel *even* better.

      It's a hidden agenda because we're not how taught to view these messages critically. We're not even taught that we *can*.

      The tools to do so would be skills and abilities to live in this world; how to empower ourselves and take our lives into our own hands; how to empathize and connect with others.

      Instead we're overtly fed the line that we need to compete with each other—we need to be like the pretty ones in the magazines.

      The media is not a reflection of what buyers/viewers want—it's a reflection of what they've been told to want.

      I don't mean to put the responsibility on the vast and faceless "powers that be," it is on each one of us to create the life we want for ourselves. Currently the world is a little imbalanced for people that are looking for ways to nurture their own "still small voices within." It tends to get lost in the mix of the loud multimillion dollar corporations.

      I'm grateful for communities like elephant journal to nurture independent and nourishing thoughts.


      • Phil says:

        Thanks for your reply, bluemountainchild.

        Cosmo will sell more copies with an attractive woman on the cover than with an ugly one. A newscast will catch more viewers with attractive anchor people than ugly ones. TV shows and Hollywood movies will likely do better with attractive actors than ugly ones. Those are not product advertisements where people are being made to feel inferior and offered a product to improve themselves. Those are merely instances of the media giving people what they like to see and pay attention to. Are we to blame the companies that produce those things for not sacrificing sales and viewers by opting for ugly spokespeople in order to protect the public's self esteem?

        "Instead we're overtly fed the line that we need to compete with each other"

        I couldn't disagree more. The drive to complete for social status is baked into our genes, not put there by the media. The same drive can be observed in other species, including our closest evolutionary relatives, chimpanzees.

        Many people seem to want to give the media the blame/credit for defining what is attractive, but that is misguided. This article tries to argue against the "standard" interpretation of female beauty by highlighting differences in how different cultures would photoshop a model. But when we put similar things next to each other we tend to see the differences, not the similarities. What I see is that the 26 cultures actually agree very much on what is beautiful. For example, none of the photoshop artists gave the model a wrinkly appearance, acne scars, blotchy birthmarks, or made her appear fat.

        Humans evolved a sense that some individuals are attractive and others are not because certain physical traits were indicative of fertility and/or genetic quality. Thus the traits that we view as attractive are not arbitrary traits determined by the media or by culture, but are traits we evolved to find attractive due to eons of natural selection.

        • Guenevere Neufeld bluemountainchild says:

          Hi Phil,

          Yes, you are totally right, our drive for competition is baked into our genes. And our view of what is physically attractive has been shaped by time.

          What I want to get at here is that we're more than that: we have a chance in this precious life to be "truly human." We can step beyond our genes and become aware of everything you've said about our drive for beauty, and critically analyze whether or not it is helpful for what we want to create in the world.

          Personally, I aim to evolve my consciousness out of the competitive, searching for security, stuck in the mud themes of the first chakra that I am so often working with.

          It's hard to do if I'm watching a lot of television—I know from experience that I become what I surround myself with.

          And I disagree, a newscast, TV show, or Hollywood movie *is* a product that's being sold to us. Just look at the different styles of newscasts in different countries, product placements on the screen and the broader themes that are being "sold" to us in sitcoms delineating what it means to be a member of society.

          It's not always overt, it's the subtle reinforcement of cultural idiosyncrasies that become the norm. One of my favourite things to do is to notice them and talk about them.

          *That's* how we'll evolve our consciousness.


          • Phil says:

            "We can step beyond our genes and become aware of everything you've said about our drive for beauty, and critically analyze whether or not it is helpful for what we want to create in the world."

            Absolutely. We can set our priorities. We can decide we don't care about being attractive, of if we do, how much effort we're willing to put into it. I would point out that there's a difference between being attractive and being fashionable. Being attractive is closely related to looking healthy. Being fashionable is about demonstrating social status by showing that you have the time and money to keep up with what is current and buy it.

            "It's hard to do if I'm watching a lot of television—I know from experience that I become what I surround myself with. "

            I don't have that problem, but I don't watch a lot of TV either. I think one reason I don't enjoy movies is I cant "get lost" in them, but instead watch analytically, like a film school student. I think its my constant analysis that keeps me from becoming what Im surrounded with, and instead leaves me shaking my head at how much stupidity there is in the world.

            "And I disagree, a newscast, TV show, or Hollywood movie *is* a product that's being sold to us."

            Of course they are, but they don't fit the mold you described: They don't set out to make us feel inferior or inadequate in order to sell us a product that will fix the inadequate feelings they just created. The product ads that allow the media to pay their bills often do that, but the media itself doesnt. The attractive people in movies, newscasts, etc are there just because we like to look at attractive people, and will spend more money and time buying/watching products that feature them.

          • Guenevere Neufeld bluemountainchild says:

            Good distinction between healthy and fashionable. Unfortunately it gets all mixed up together sometimes. Does the average person think about the difference? I don't know.

            I think the world could benefit from a giant dose of curious analysis. How do you think you got yours? How can we foster it?

            I can't be convinced that the media itself isn't part of the problem concerning what feelings it creates. The medium is the message, after all. They're all owned by corporations so in effect they are aligned with particular inferiority-inducing products, subtly or otherwise.

            Thanks for the food for thought,

          • Phil says:

            "I think the world could benefit from a giant dose of curious analysis. How do you think you got yours?"

            I definitely think its genetic.

            "I can't be convinced that the media itself isn't part of the problem concerning what feelings it creates."

            I think people with tendencies to feel insecurity, anxiety, depression, envy, etc will feel that way regardless of what they see in the media. An image, article, or ad can spark feelings in the short term, but blaming the media for people's self image is like blaming Dunkin Donuts ads for the fact that people like sweets. Our social confidence level (like our love for sweets) seems to be largely genetic.

          • Chuck says:

            As it seems to me, Guenevere, these "newscasts, TV shows, and Hollywood movies" make money by selling audiences to advertisers. If they can create a television show that more people watch, they can charge more money to their advertisers. So I don't think that it is correct that we are only being sold the media. It's not so much that we are the customers, but rather that we are the product. Similarly, I hear all sorts of complaints about Facebook, and how they are mistreating their customers. Again, we are not Facebook's customers. We are their product. People are so shocked that Facebook is selling the information we have so freely offered. You also said that "The media is not a reflection of what buyers/viewers want—it's a reflection of what they've been told to want." I think that the media gets a lot more mileage out of figuring out what we want, and then getting us to watch whatever that is, than the other way around, by trying to change our tastes. It's just so much easier for them that way. Why take c a chance on re-inventing the wheel when it is so much easier to copy a formula that works. Occasionally a network will take a chance and create a show that breaks the mold, and if it is successful, look for a sequel.

          • Guenevere Neufeld bluemountainchild says:

            That is an excellent point, Chuck.

            We are definitely the products in this set-up.

            I still feel as though our preferences *are* subtly directed by forces outside of our control. Ultimately, yes, it is only ourselves who get to decide how we think/behave/feel/be, but there is a lot of energy put into directing our choices. We're directed toward what to want and then they give it to us. Talk about clever!

            It isn't as simple as throwing out our tv's, (or the joke that is recycling them) we need alternatives offered to us. Because even if the current "wheel" appears to "work" as you observed, it can't last forever.

            So what else can we do? I don't have a tv. I like to meditate, go for walks, spend time cooking good food, hang out on my balcony garden, do lots of forms of yoga.

            It's like the dilemma faced by the writers of the modernist era: how can someone express their humanness through pen and paper? It's inherently incapable of presenting our true depths just as our current societal norms are.

            Thanks for the chance to get these thoughts churning.

      • Lou says:

        Absolutely true. As someone who used to (briefly) work in the advertising industry and beauty industry, I can say there is nothing beautiful about it. It's as cynical as it gets. Advertisers spend billions into understanding the psychology of body shame and aspiration and relentlessly target and exploit it.. Their job is to create body shame and feelings in inadequacy in people who wouldn't normally feel bad. Advertising 101 – 1) create/manufacture a problem. 2) Install motivation (eg shame/peer pressure exploit) 3) Offer a solution that can only be helped by your product. It's a never ending cycle that is never satisfied, and new products are out all the time.

        There has been research to show that those regularly exposed to media have higher instances of depression, self loathing and body image issues. I personally see it all around me all the time.

        All I can say is I am glad I have no TV, and don't by those types of publications.

  7. Jacquelyn says:

    She’s stunningly beautiful without any photoshop. Great experiment, great article. Thanks for sharing. Always so interesting to see the differences in how each culture and individual define beauty.

    • Jennifer S. White jenniferswhite says:

      Thanks for your response, Jacquelyn. You share my sentiments and why I wanted to post this story on elephant journal. I was blown away with the idea of this experiment. Fascinating. Insightful. Thought provoking.

  8. Julia Carpenter says:

    Imagine how you would feel if you were a girl with brown skin looking at this

    • Phil says:

      Good observation. I hadnt noticed that all the artists lightened her skin. Playing around with Photoshop myself, Ive noticed that lightening a person makes them look younger. I did notice that every single artist used some kind of blurring/smoothing filter to make her skin look smoother and more youthful.

  9. jin says:

    Omg…USA completely changed her. But are you surprised? Ho hum…

  10. Jess says:

    Romania and Venezuela kept her looking most like herself and natural… cheers to them for that. OF COURSE the USA made her look the worst. Way to represent, America.

Leave a Reply