What is Beauty?

September 09, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

What is beauty? Is there a standard by which beauty can be determined? Journalist Ester Honig sent a photograph of herself to editors in eighteen countries plus the European Union. She requested that they edit her photo to make her beautiful. Looking at the resulting photographs is fascinating. They differ in skin tone, bone structure, makeup, and apparent ethnicity. Viewing the images brings to mind very quickly, questions about how we identify ourselves. Is our place in the society we live in affected by what we look like? There is the old saying, "you never get a second shot at a first impression".

The standard for photo post processing is Adobe Photoshop. This highly complex software can do most anything the artist's imagination conjurors up. Only the skill level of the editor limits the results. The fact that different cultures have different concepts of beauty is not surprising at all. What did surprise me was how Ms. Honig's ethnicity seemed to morph from country to country. Another obvious fact that jumped out at me was the wide range of skill levels of the editor from photo to photo. In most photographs, her skin was given the soft treatment. Lenses in today's cameras are very sharp and can reveal every pore if that is what is wanted. Quite a few of the images were processed to add what seemed to me as to much makeup. This is my personal bias that given a chance to edit, would have been given a lighter treatment. The shape of her face also changed from country to country. At times rounder, then at other times longer and thinner. Her hair did not escape the editors brush. Here geographical preferences seemed obvious, and helped her image adopt the local ethnic preferences. Some editors of more conservative cultures added clothing to her bare shoulders. From my point of view, and of course this is also a bias, the Photographs from Bulgaria and Italy seemed to enhance the image to local beauty standards, and at the same time remain most accurate. In no two photographs did her skin tone match the "before" photograph provided by Ms. Honig. This could be due to monitor calibration, or lack thereof. The possibility exists also that this could be an edit choice.

According to Dr. Gordon Patzer, who has concluded 3 decades of research on physical attractiveness, human beings are hard-wired to respond more favorably to attractive people: “Good-looking men and women are generally regarded to be more talented, kind, honest and intelligent than their less attractive counterparts.” Patzer contends, “controlled studies show people go out of their way to help attractive people—of the same sex and opposite sex—because they want to be liked and accepted by good-looking people.” Even studies of babies show they will look more intently and longer at attractive faces, Patzer argues, (Wired for Success How to fulfill your potential by Ray B. Williams). In my opinion, it seems that what we perceive as beauty is a mix of culture and biology. There are opposite forces pulling against each other at work here. On the one hand, we strive to treat everyone the same, at the same time our preferences of beauty are shaped by where we live and develop in our younger years. The media, entertainment and fashion industries play a big role in shaping societies opinion on beauty. Social and cultural influences can vary from liberal to very conservative.

It just might be time to question your own concept of what is beautiful. This is not a radical thought here, just a nudge to be more open minded. As the saying goes, question everything. Ask yourself, am I 100% invested in the media's version of beauty? Walk around with that thought, and work on being open and conscious with your opinion about beauty. The standard set by the advertising, entertainment, and fashion industries is an illusion. Real people do not look like that. In fact, the people in the media do not look like that.


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