What does it mean to be beautiful? Depends on who you ask. A little over a month ago, Kansas City-based journalist Esther Honig called out to the community of Photoshop pros on Fiverr with one request — to make her beautiful. From there, people from all corners of the globe edited Honig’s original, un-modified image to showcase what they considered beautiful, and the results were as surprising as they were diverse.
“I was curious to see how people in different countries would alter my image, and it became sort of an independent project I took on,” she tells InStyle.com exclusively of her Before and After project. “It occurred to me that each individual likely had an aesthetic preference particular to their own culture. If you sent, say, five of them the same image, they were bound to alter it in drastically contrasting ways by influence of their cultural concept of beauty.” Over 40 artists from 25 countries participated, and Honig confessed that Morocco’s rendition of her image (above, right) was one of the most eye-opening examples she saw. “Morocco sent me the most dynamic 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,” she says. While some artists didn’t change her photo too much — save for a few filters and light tricks — the most shocking result came from right here in the United States. “The image I received from the U.S. with the blond hair (above, center) made me shriek when I first opened it,” she adds. “It has been manipulated so radically that I felt like I was looking in the mirror and not recognizing my own face.”
Almost immediately, Honig’s Before and After shots were shared all over the Internet, and the journalist has even had additional photos come in from strangers who wanted to submit their own edits. “I’m still trying to understand why this project received the response that it did. It appears that I’ve cracked the viral code without meaning to!” she tells us.
Honig was aware of the varying (and sometimes unattainable) standards of beauty around the world prior to starting Before and After, and in poring over each submission, the images have given her a larger insight into others’ perspectives, as well as the forces that influence each area’s definition. “I hope this forces viewers to reconsider their concept of beauty and the expectations they hold themselves to,” Honig says. “When we compare unobtainable standards on a global scale, achieving the ideal remains all that more elusive. It almost neutralizes the belief in a universal beauty.”