‘Perceptions Of Perfection’: The Body Image Project Showing The Problem With Global “Beauty Standards”


If there is one thing we loathe, it is “beauty standards”. Sure, beauty exists, but when beauty standards are created, it means one version of beauty is better than another. If beauty is subjective, then how can one source determine what the ultimate standard is? And how do we deal with the consequences that come along with putting one particular standard on a pedestal? The consequences include negative body image issues, eating disorders, sexualization and objectification of women in the media, and the subsequent pressure to live up to unrealistic goals.

This issue affects everyone. Men included. We are often made to look up to celebrities and public personalities as the standards of beauty, but the reality is this affects them just as much, and we’d be wise to recognize that before being told by a magazine “get her hair!”, “how to look like her in 30 days” or “the enviable bikini body of…” etc.

For example, in a recent interview with Marie Claire magazine, musician and activist Miley Cyrus opened up about a particular career-changing job that gave her a hell of a time with body insecurities.

“From the time I was 11, it was, ‘You’re a pop star! That means you have to be blonde, and you have to have long hair, and you have to put on some glittery tight thing.’ Meanwhile, I’m this fragile little girl playing a 16-year-old in a wig and a ton of makeup. It was like Toddlers & Tiaras,” she says about her role as Hannah Montana for the Disney Channel.

“I was told for so long what a girl is supposed to be from being on that show. I was made to look like someone that I wasn’t, which probably caused some body dysmorphia because I had been made pretty every day for so long, and then when I wasn’t on that show, it was like, Who the fuck am I?”


She is now aware of the danger in selling the idea of “perfection” to young women.

“When you look at retouched, perfect photos, you feel like shit. They lighten black girls’ skin. They smooth out wrinkles. Even when I get stuck on Instagram wondering, Why don’t I look like that? It’s a total bummer. It’s crazy what people have decided we’re all supposed to be,” she said.

She’s not the only uber-celebrity to fall prey to an industry that thrives of making women feel inadequate. Model turned actress Cara Delevingne recently opened up about how the fashion industry made her feel so bad, she decided to pursue other creative avenues instead.

“I was, like, fight and flight for months. Just constantly on edge. It is a mental thing as well because if you hate yourself and your body and the way you look, it just gets worse and worse,” she said revealing her stress got so bad she developed psoriasis.

“I am not doing fashion work anymore, after having, like, psoriasis and all that stuff. Modeling just made me feel a bit hollow after a while. It didn’t make me grow at all as a human being. And I kind of forgot how young I was…I felt so old.


There are countless more celebrities, as well as everyday women, who have been affected by some sort of beauty standards, and one company in the UK decided to focus its attention on the problem with these standards.

Online beauty store Superdrug commissioned a marketing agency called Fractl to find out what beauty standards look like around the world, in an attempt to show how they are unreliable and not the best point of reference for self-esteem.

Fractl found 18 freelance designers (including four men) from across the globe and requested them to photoshop an image of a girl to make her look “more attractive” according to the standards in their own country. The results were published in a powerful project called ‘Perceptions of Perfection Across Borders’.

“Widely held perceptions of beauty and perfection can have a deep and lasting cultural impact on both women and men. The goal of this project is to better understand potentially unrealistic standards of beauty and to see how such pressures vary around the world,” said the study.


The two biggest extremes were Spain and China. Spain was the country whose final image still closely resembled the original girl, with a few skin blemishes airbrushed out. China’s image was photoshopped so drastically it looked like she had an eating disorder, according to the project.

Along with the images, which we have pasted below in an infographic, they surveyed people to guess the weight of the women in each photograph. Depending on the country of origin of the survey participant, the weight varied quite significantly.

The conclusion they came to was the same as many other similar photography projects we have seen in the same vein: we cannot seriously follow any sort of beauty standard if they vary so differently.

“‘Beauty cannot be judged objectively, for what one person finds beautiful or admirable may not appeal to another’ so says the dictionary. And the range of depictions found in our study appears to confirm this notion. While beauty can come in many forms, and we suspect that people will forever chase these assorted ideals of perfection, Superdrug Online Doctor commissioned this study to explore how such ideals vary across borders,” said the study.

If you are looking for a more healthy perspective on the different variations of beauty from around the world, one that seeks to celebrate, rather than denigrate, differences, check out photographer Mihaela Noroc’s series called the ‘Atlas of Beauty’.

Mihaela Noroc-romania Mihaela Noroc-new_york_usa

Earlier this year she shared her images with Elle Magazine, telling them she has so far traveled to 37 countries and plans to continue her mission to shed light on beauty standards.

“Global trends make us look and behave the same, but we are all beautiful because we are different. It’s not a matter of cosmetics, money, race, or social status, but more about being yourself,” she said, a message that is highly contradictory to what many brands in the beauty and fashion industry would have you think.

“I wish to compare the faces of the world and to show that all the women from my photos have something beautiful. I think beauty is not about age, but is more about being natural and sincere. Beauty is diversity…beauty is everywhere,” she concludes.

To see more of the images click here, and you can also see the full results of Superdrug’s ‘Perceptions of Perfection’ project below:




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