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Woman photoshopped to 'ideal' beauty of 25 countries

This is what happens when graphic artists from around the world are asked to make one woman's portrait "beautiful."

Esther Honig before and after
Esther Honig gets a makeover from an artist from the Philippines.Esther Honig

Sometimes beauty is in the eye of the photoshopper. Radio journalist Esther Honig conducted an experiment using Photoshop and international graphic artists to explore cultural differences in concepts of beauty. It all started with a photograph of Honig, a straightforward self-portrait. She isn't made up. She wasn't attended to by an army of stylists. It's just an honest image.

Honig then hired 40 different graphic artists in 25 countries to rework the image with the simple instruction, "make me beautiful." She used freelancing platforms like Fiverr to locate the digital artists and paid between $5 and $30 for each image. She calls the project "Before & After."

Some of the artists are amateurs and some are professionals. It's good to keep in mind the resulting photos are the work of individuals who were asked to apply their own standards of beauty. "They 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," Honig writes.

The results are thought-provoking. Some artists barely altered her image. An artist from the Ukraine smoothed and lightly lightened her skin, but mainly kept a more naturalistic look. An artist from the Philippines, however, gave her a massive wave of dark hair blowing in an unseen breeze along with bright red lipstick and diamond earrings.

One of the graphic artists from the United States gave Honig big blue eyes, trimmed eyebrows, blushing cheeks, and a beauty-queen-style cascade of hair down her shoulder. Contrast that with the offering of a Moroccan artist, who placed her in a discreet but colorful headscarf.

Honig's experiment might lead us to look differently at the heavily photoshopped magazine cover images that have sparked discussions about unattainable and unrealistic beauty ideals. Someone from another country or different cultural background might not be so impressed by what Americans tend to think of as beautiful.

"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," Honig writes.

Esther Honig before and after
The before and after image, with the after coming from a Moroccan artist.Esther Honig