Many people strive to achieve bodily perfection, and sadly the results can be disastrous to someone’s health and self-esteem. However, there is no universal standard of beauty. In fact, you’d be surprised at how much standards vary worldwide. To illustrate this, one man bravely allowed his self-portrait to be photoshopped into the ideal physical forms of 19 countries. And the results are eyeopening to say the least.
To begin with, this Australian standard of perfection doesn’t alter much from the original shot. Sure, the model appears a little slimmer and more toned, but his weight and body structure are broadly similar.
However, this Russian version is markedly different and no doubt recognizable to any man who’s spent time lifting weights. Bulging with muscle and displaying a well-defined physique, the model projects an image of strength and power that can be perilously difficult to replicate.
Commissioned by British health and beauty retailer Superdrug, these images showcase the wide range of weights and builds that different countries consider to make the perfect man. They also reveal the differing attitudes to strength and masculinity around the world.
Entitled Perceptions of Perfection, the project started in 2015 and was based on journalist Esther Honig’s investigations into female beauty standards. Owing to the success of this first piece, which focused on the varying degrees of bodily perfection expected on women, a second set of images looking at masculine standards was commissioned.
New York-based photographer Richard Storm was selected as the project’s subject, which saw him strip down to his boxers for the obligatory “before” photo. This was then sent to 19 graphic artists across the globe, who added their own touches via Photoshop.
Now while appearing semi-naked may be an issue for some, it wasn’t for Storm. “I’ve always been comfortable in my body and was super curious to see what my body type would look like modified for different countries’ ideals,” he told the Daily Mail.
Unlike the previous experiment, which utilized the talents of predominantly female artists, this one used contributions from 11 female and eight male graphic designers. They came from countries as varied as China, Egypt and Colombia.
According to the project’s website, the artists were given precious few guidelines on how the model should look. And this gave them free rein to alter Storm’s image based on their own respective nations’ ideals.
The most common alterations came with Storm’s weight and muscles, which were sometimes scaled up and occasionally scaled down. Skin color and hair styles were also changed, while Storm’s facial outline received a few sporadic touchups.
Some designers, meanwhile, went so far as to add cosmetic features not present in Storm’s original photo. For example, the Bangladeshi artist replaced the model’s undergarments with a more traditional lungi, while the Serbian designer digitally inked a tattoo onto his left arm.
All in all, the results display a wide range of physical differences; even countries with cultural similarities showed surprising contrasts. For instance, Balkan states showed a marked division: the Serbian model favored a powerful physique, while the Croatian and Macedonian ideals featured slimmer builds.
Since its release earlier this year, the project has received considerable attention online. And Storm, who was fascinated by the results, was particularly drawn to the more outlandish images.
“I took all the image manipulations with a grain of salt and honestly most of them are pretty hysterical,” he recalled to the Daily Mail. “My personal favorites are Nigeria because he looks jolly, Serbia because he looks like a cage fighter and Venezuela because they didn’t modify my head at all.”
Yet though Storm took a lighthearted approach to the photoset, the project’s motivating cause is no laughing matter. Stress related to body worries is a serious problem, with studies having shown that such anxieties are in fact more common among men than women.
And judging by the British entry in the series, the bar of ideal masculinity is alarmingly high. With body standards set by sculpted media figures, it’s little surprise that the pursuit of physical perfection can be draining both physically and mentally.
Because the likes of David Beckham and Robert Pattinson are often used as examples men should be aiming for, it’s no wonder that many men feel uncomfortable in their own skin. But could Perceptions of Perfection be starting to change people’s body-confidence attitudes?
Superdrug, for its part, hopes the campaign will “fuel a revolution” that will help men the world over think more positively about their appearance. Indeed, it’s aiming “to encourage society to embrace people with all body shapes and sizes.”
The initiative’s message has won particular praise from youth charity YMCA England, whose research informed its core. Indeed, the organization’s chief executive Denise Hatton said it “shines a much-needed light on the pressures men across the globe face regarding body image.”
Whatever the long-term results of Perceptions of Perfection will be, it certainly brings attention to the absurdity of achieving physical perfection – whatever that is. With these pictures in minds, it would be wise to think twice before taking other people’s impressions of your body to heart.