Photoshopping the Beauty Standards Away 4 Art

June 27, 2014 • Beauty

By now I am sure you have seen the Photoshop Beauty Project by Esther Honig, discussed in Elle. Her project, titled Before & After, examines societal standards of beauty on a global scale via the use of Photoshop retouching of a photo of her.

She got back 40 different portraits of different shades of horror back from supposedly professional retouchers. I quote:

“[All of the photos] are intriguing and insightful in their own right; each one is a reflection of both the personal and cultural concepts of beauty that pertain to their creator,” she writes. “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 illusive.”

Here are some of the results:





Honestly, I think this says just as much about how many people are terrible at their jobs than it does about beauty culture. I am also perhaps bored of this type of experiment in the beauty conversation — I’d like us to all be really critical about the prospect of cultural tourism that comes into play when we talk about beauty trends and standards from other places. I see a lot of “fresh new beauty treatment from (insert Asian country here)” and such when you can trace back these claims back to nonsense. Marketers mostly want us to be fascinated by the Other — and it works! And on the same coin, people similarly often suspect these “Other” countries to be obsessed with a singular standard of beauty through whitening creams and such and such. This project does portray that not everyone wants us to be White People, of course, I think it could have just been…done…better.

Regardless of my own criticism, I do think it’s a fun idea. So in homage to the terrible photoshop jobs, I have decided to continue her project and photoshop her into classical representations of beauty in the Art world. Please send me all job offers for full time retouching positions only if they include healthcare benefits and approx 12 months of paid vacation leave. Thaaannkssss. P.S. For the love of mascara, don’t sue!


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  • Mai

    Is it terrible that when I first heard about the collage I had to think “please no blackface, yellow face, etc”. While I’m aware of their actual “goals”, their accomplishments seem to be more along the lines of a weird photoshop horror (I’d like to think everyone was trolling her considering the aftermath). It’s also ignorant on the author’s part to presume lightened skin is automatically equated with a desire to be European.

    • No, I think that’s perfectly reasonable for you to have fear of. And I think I read somewhere that she only paid each person like $5 for their work (don’t quote me on it) so perhaps you get what you pay for. It’s telling that none of these people asked for credit in their work… pft

      • maddy v

        Yeah, I’m pretty sure she said she used Fiverr, which is a marketplace where you can buy/sell various skills etc for $5.

        • Yeah that explains everything. No professional retoucher for any print publication is going to open their laptop for less than $300 at the absolute minimum.

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