In the past week many articles have been written about a fascinating Photoshop project that has gone viral. The Before and After project enlisted 27 artists from 27 different countries — each one got the same photograph and instructions to make the subject look  beautiful. The results clearly depict how standards of beauty vary widely from country to country. Esther Honig, the human-interest reporter who began the project, was “surprised by the degree to which a country’s cultural values could show up as aesthetic preferences.” Not only did the photoshoppers change hairstyles, add makeup , and broaden noses and cheekbones, but they clearly applied cultural values of religion and customs in addition to aesthetics.

For me, as an Account Planner at an advertising agency who routinely produces global work, it was a shocking reminder that beauty is multifaceted and, as they say, “is in the eye of beholder.” I think we are accustomed today to thinking about skin color and hair color, and perhaps eye shape as we choose subjects for the creative work we produce. This project demonstrates that we need to be much more thoughtful of cultural and religious norms as well as we produce work to be used across the globe.

And if you have ever seen me in person — with my crazy long curly red hair — you would begin to understand, after viewing Before and After, why I often feel like I am being stared at when I travel abroad. And it’s clearly not because I am meeting the standard of beauty in these countries. As Esther Honig writes on her personal website: “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.”

Enjoy the article.

– Cara Levinson, VP/Group Director, Account Planning, Philadelphia