One woman’s personal exploration into global perceptions of beauty was doing the rounds on social media last week. Ester Honig, a freelance American journalist, sent an image of herself to graphic designers in 25 different countries, with a simple brief: “make me beautiful”. The outcome of the creative translation experiment is an intriguing series of before and after photographs, documenting the designers’ digital permutations. Localisations of beauty differed vastly, with some even altering eye colour and skin tone.
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The cosmopolitan images highlight that beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, although local market and cultural influences are undeniable – an important reality for any multimarket brand that chooses to translate its advertising. A Philippines entry dressed Honig in smart clothes and added a colourful background, but made minimal changes to her face and hair. Bulgaria gave her blue eyes; India took away her collarbones and gave her a darker complexion and thicker eyebrows. The Moroccan adaptation put Honig in a hijab and gave her smoky eye make-up.
The media tends to represent an aspirational ideal of beauty; a kind of perfection that is elusive, and something to strive for. Honig’s project highlights that there is no universal standard for the beauty ideal, suggesting that advertising agencies developing international beauty campaigns will be more successful to consider not only transcreation of copy to local tastes but also the cultural relevance of visuals. In an interview with InStyle Magazine, Honig says: “when we compare unobtainable standards on a global scale, achieving the ideal remains all that more elusive. It almost neutralizes the belief in a universal beauty.”
The iconic Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty was built around this very notion: the campaign features ordinary women of all shapes, sizes and ethnic backgrounds, representing beauty in all its forms. Truly innovative when it was launched, the campaign challenged beauty stereotypes and is today still one of the only cosmetics brands questioning the definition of female beauty. Instead of espousing an unattainable ideal, the Campaign for Real Beauty reflects reality – a beauty which is personal, subjective and diverse.
Like the Dove campaign, the “make me beautiful” project is an artful reminder that there is no one-size-fits-all: what’s desirable to some could be off-putting to others. It all depends on who you talk to, where they come from and what core brand values you want to convey to local customers.