Can We Start Ignoring Standards of Beauty, Please?

by Holly Trantham

We all probably remember Esther Honig’s project in which she asked Photoshop experts from all over the globe to make a photo of her look “beautiful.” The results from country to country were vastly different; they elongated, widened or shrunk different parts of her face, added substantial makeup or made her edges softer. Basically, it showed that while there is no one global standard of beauty, every society has in place its own unattainable criteria for female physical perfection (whatever that is).

Esther Honig, before and after Photoshop

Marie Southard Ospina essentially re-did this project, with the added “complication” of her being plus-sized. Considering how the world at large seems to feel towards body weight, she expected there to be one across-the-board trend: she expected every photo editor to make her appear thinner.

Photoshop from Ukraine


Miraculously, this didn’t happen. Only three of the twenty-one editors made her appear drastically slimmer (see Ukraine above). The biggest trend overall was the removal of her facial mole—an interesting development, since many (including Ospina herself) would consider it a Marilyn-esque “beauty” mark. Each editor also did something different with the background: some softened it, some completely replaced it with a sunburst graphic or wood paneling, and some just removed a background altogether. The changes give a sense that beauty is specifically tied to outside interpretation rather than personal preference or self-esteem.

Ospina is pretty positive about the results; since so few actually made her appear thinner, “the experiment offered a lot more editors in favor of ‘preserving natural beauty’ than [she] would have imagined.”

All of the above: Bangladesh

The editors from country to country still changed her looks—none of them returned to her an unedited photograph (though the three editors she asked from Iceland awesomely refused to Photoshop altogether!). But the nicest part is that, despite the United States’ well-documented attitude about our perception of our global influence, America is not dictating the rest of the world’s beauty standards. Even the American-edited photo doesn’t seem nearly as airbrushed as the covers of most American women’s magazines. Subjection does not only occur between countries, but also within them—you wouldn’t guess that the three photos from Bangladesh all represented beauty standards from the same nation.


Looking at the drastic differences in these photos can still be disheartening. Standards of beauty may change, but they will never be completely eradicated. With so many contradictory ideals of beauty in place, it’s impossible for one person to be considered beautiful all over the world. But isn’t that kind of great? It’s so much easier to ignore something when we see how tentative and subjective it is. Maybe seeing all these different results, from the ethereal to the ridiculous and possibly ironic (lookin’ at you, Canada), will help women see the inherent absurdity in trying to attain some outward-influenced ideal of perfection, and instead focus on being kind to themselves.






Images courtesy of Bustle.

You may also like

Get the print magazine.

The best of BUST in your inbox!

Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter

About Us

Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

©2023 Street Media LLC.  All Right Reserved.