What does the ideal man look like? The answer may depend on where you live.
We all know that health, body confidence, and wellbeing matter more than appearance. In order to better understand body image issues around the world, we asked graphic designers – 11 women and eight men – in 19 different countries to Photoshop our guy (a New York photographer who courageously provided his self-portrait) to produce their own version of an attractive man for their country.
Our previous Perceptions of Perfection study (inspired by by journalist Esther Honig’s project Before & After) focused on sometimes-unrealistic standards of female beauty – and judging by how quickly it went viral, it strongly resonated with people.
But, as this new project proves, the quest for a perfect body transcends gender: Fueled in part by the media and popular culture, men around the world may feel even more body image–related pressure than women do – pressure to be stronger or slimmer or more muscular. Our goal with this project is to fuel a revolution: to spark real change about body image, to empower people to prioritize health above appearance, and to promote body confidence around the world.
Want to see what happened? Here are the surprising submissions from around the globe.
In order to attain a true snapshot of male attractiveness standards across cultures, we gave our graphic designers minimal instructions. Their revisions ranged from subtle to jaw-dropping – in some cases, it’s hard to believe every image represents the same person. His physique, skin colour, and hair transform noticeably in virtually every submission.
In Australia, he maintained his shape for the most part; in the U.K., he got a slimmed-down body; and in the U.S., he got a chiselled physique. Our designer in Egypt made him swarthy, our Spanish artist maintained his light skin tone, and our Hong Kong designer narrowed his face. Some touches are intriguing: Our Russian designer gave him a golden mane, while our American artist added a well-gelled coiffe. Our Serbian designer even drew a half-sleeve tattoo (and our Bangladesh Photoshop artist conjured a lungi).
Select a country below to see the full-sized Photoshopped image:
Real men come in all shapes and sizes and span various skin tones and facial features – and so does our man. Watch him evolve based on each culture’s beauty standards and ethnic norms: barrel-chested or slim, muscular thighs or sinewy legs, wide eyes or hooded lids, a smattering of body hair or a baby-smooth body.
Examining Men’s Faces
In a world abuzz about bodies, how much do people notice faces? Our Photoshop designers certainly paid attention to them. Across our renderings, most men have dark, cropped hair and dark stubble, but in each submission, various cultures’ norms shine through: Some men have almond-shaped eyes, thick eyebrows, or dark, heavy beards. Others have broad noses, full lips, or strong browlines.
Body Attribute Analysis
We tagged the men with some common body features in order to group them. The difference in each man even within the same group is in some cases surprisingly dramatic – our Hong Kong man is startlingly slim, our Russian man has surprisingly strong pecs, and our American man takes the term “six pack” up a notch.
Designers Across the Globe
Standards of attractiveness vary around the world. To get a diverse picture, we located designers from 19 nations spanning six continents, including Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America. Participating designers live in the U.S., China, Indonesia, Macedonia, the Philippines, Russia, Venezuela, South Africa, Serbia, Colombia, Spain, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Australia, Egypt, U.K., Portugal, Nigeria, and Croatia.
Real Diversity, Real Health
People of all ages can feel societal pressure to attain certain physical ideals – and these feelings can colour everything from self worth to relationships. We want to affect change: to empower children to start life confident about their bodies, to promote health and wellbeing over quick-fix diets, and to encourage society to embrace people with all body shapes and sizes.
Denise Hatton, Chief Executive of YMCA England, a founding partner of the Be Real campaign for body confidence, said: “Superdrug’s second ‘Perceptions of Perfection’ report shines a much-needed light on the pressures men across the globe face regarding body image.
Men suffer equally with women around low body confidence as many strive to attain a standard of ‘attractiveness’ that is both often unobtainable and, as this report shows, driven by cultural perceptions and advertising ideals.
Our own research found that 40% of men in the UK felt pressure from television and magazines to have a ‘perfect’ body and this has negative effects on how they view themselves and others.
We hope this report helps to empower men to place their physical and mental health above appearance to ensure we become a nation where body confidence is, in fact, the cultural norm."
If you or someone you love have concerns about body image or are experiencing any type of body dysmorphic disorder, eating disorder, or health problem related to body confidence, don’t delay: It’s important to seek information and help now. You are not alone, and you deserve support.
Superdrug Online Doctor commissioned this study to explore how such ideals vary across borders. If you liked this study but wished we had taken a different angle or perspective, check back as we are planning follow-ups on both male and female beauty.
We grant permission to repost the images found on this page. When doing so, we ask that you kindly attribute by linking to onlinedoctor.superdrug.com and this page so your readers can learn more about the project and its methodology.
Original image credit: NYPhotoNY, Self-Portrait
Superdrug Online Doctor contracted with 19 freelance designers and gave them the following general instructions:
Photoshop and retouch this man to make him more attractive to the people of your country.
We are studying attraction and how that differs across the world. Multiple designers are involved, each from a different country.
All changes, including those to his shape, form, coloration, etc., are up to you. You can modify any feature. We recommend against further covering his form with clothing as your submission may not be accepted.