Perceptions of Perfection across borders

How do perceptions of beauty vary across the globe?

From that simple question, the idea for this study was born. We asked female graphic designers from around the world to Photoshop a female form by making her, in their opinion, more attractive to other citizens of their country.

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.

The resulting submissions are intriguing.

Perceptions of beauty by countries worldwide

As you can see, our designers’ changes made some of these images almost unrecognisable compared with the original photo. While some remained largely similar with the exception of slight slimming, others resemble a new woman altogether. Drastic changes in hair colour, attire, and waist-to-hip ratio were common. Some designers in North, South, and Central American countries produced an exaggerated hourglass figure; others in European and Asian nations chose to render her so thin that her estimated BMI, according to a survey we conducted (described below), would fall under or dangerously close to 17.5. According to the NHS, “Adults with anorexia generally have a BMI below 17.5.”

Given the wide range of body sizes submitted, we wondered what these women might actually weigh in the real world. We ran a brief survey with a 35-person sample and, assuming a height of 165 centimeters, asked participants to guess the weight of the woman in each Photoshopped image. We then calculated her BMI based on average weight data.

Estimated Weight and BMI of Each Submission by Country

China and Italy had the thinnest submissions, weighing in at an estimated 7.28 and 7.71 stones respectively. Spain had the heaviest submission at 10.93 stones, while China had the lightest (7.28 stones), which translates to an estimated BMI of 17. As noted above, according to the NHS, this qualifies as anorexic.

Study Details

Superdrug Online Doctors commissioned us (Fractl) to investigate perceptions of beauty around the world.

We contracted with 18 freelance designers and gave them the following general instructions:

Photoshop her form. The idea is to Photoshop and retouch this woman to make her more attractive to the citizens of your country. We are looking to explore how perceptions of beauty change across the world. Multiple designers are involved. You can modify clothing, but her form must be visible. No nudity. All other changes, including those to her shape and form, are up to you.

We focused on female designers, as we wanted a woman’s view of what her culture finds attractive and to understand more about the pressures they face. However, in order to get entries from more countries, we accepted contributions from four men with the caveat that they first seek input from women and base their design changes on this feedback.

We used three designers from international locales with whom we were already acquainted, but most of the artists featured were contracted via freelance job boards. We attempted to get as wide a spread as possible across the world, but many countries are poorly represented on these job boards, particularly when it comes to female designers. We also had issues finding interested artists in some countries due to the amount of skin shown on the model.

Designers Across the Globe

Since what is perceived as beautiful can vary substantially around the world, our study of the ideal body image attempted to compare as diverse opinions as possible. We located designers from 18 nations spanning five continents, including North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Designers Across the Globe

Beauty and the Beholder’s Eye

“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.

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.

Fair Use

We grant permission to repost the images found on this page. When doing so, we ask that you kindly attribute by linking to and this page so your readers can learn more about the project and its methodology.

Original image credit: Hugo Felix/Shutterstock.