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‘Perceptions of Perfection’ research fallacy 


research, perception of beauty, undressed women againSuperdrug demonstrates little with its research into how beauty is perceived.

A research project funded by Superdrug’s Online Doctor service purporting to demonstrate how people’s perception of beauty differs from country to country has been reported in the media recently.

As the focus of the ‘Perceptions of Perfections Across Borders’ study, graphic designers from 18 different countries were asked to edit a woman’s photograph in order to ‘fit with their culture’s perceptions of beauty and an ideal female form’.

The subject of the photograph was a white female.

The research was carried out on behalf of Superdrug by Fractl.

Fourteen of the designers were female but four were men, apparently because they couldn’t find women to do the work becuase of Fractl’s inability to find them on freelance job boards – which was the expert way in which they appointed the designers.

Apparently they ‘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’.

It certainly sounds like they tried really hard to get as ‘wide a spread as possible’. I mean I can believe that out of the 196 countries in the world only 14 have easily accessible female designers, sure. That makes total sense.

The study claims to have located designers from five continents North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

And while this is technically true, this is how it broke down: Europe: Italy, Netherlands, Romania, Serbia, Spain, UK, Ukraine; North America: United States and Mexico; South America: Argentina, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela; Asia: China, The Philippines and Syria; and Africa: Egypt and South Africa.

This hardly seems representative of many parts of the world.

And yes, apparently Fractl couldn’t locate female designers in more than fourteen countries and yet they managed to get a designer in Syria, a country currently crippled by a devastating war.

Don’t worry though, Fractl were really careful to make sure they gave the four lucky male designers a strict caveat – they were given clear instructions to seek input from women and base their design changes on that feedback.

Well, that is a relief.

The study describes the results as intriguing: “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’.”

Hang on though, wasn’t the whole point to find out how beauty is perceived across the world, and therefore the fact that in many cases the picture is unrecognisable is not really that surprising?

Personally I don’t think you can claim they look unrecognisable. For starters, they are all still white.

Plus, people’s average weight is also something that differs throughout the world, doesn’t it?

I genuinely find it hard to think of a more pointless piece of research than this study. From beginning to end it seems to serve little purpose and the way it has been carried out questionable.

Apparently the purpose of the research is to help “understand potentially unrealistic standards of beauty and to see how such pressures vary around the world”.

How it has achieved that is anybody’s guess.

Seriously, why Superdrug are paying for this type of ludicrous research is anybody’s guess.

In fairness, it has achieved a fair bit of publicity for them as this ‘research’ was written about in a variety of publications including the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan and The Telegraph, which described the findings as ‘offering a fascinating look at the ideal female form”.


Personally I think all we can glean from this research is 18 random people’s thoughts on what they presume random people consider to be beautiful. Not much more.

And a good example of how the rest of us must remember to check out how any ‘research’ we read about was carried out.

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