Kit Steinkellner
December 02, 2014 9:55 am

Have you ever slapped up a picture of you and your BFF on Insta only to have said BFF immediately sidebar with you and beg you to take the photo down because she thinks her expression looks weird or her hair looks scary, and while she’s going on a tearing-herself-down rant, you are super confused because the reason you posted the photo to begin with is because you thought you both looked adorbs in the shot? Come on, this has DEFINITELY happened to you, it happens to me basically every time I post a picture of another human being on social media.

You guys, science is stepping in to settle these kinds of debates, proving that we have VERY different ideas about what the “ideal” image of ourselves looks like. Enter photographer Scott Chasserot and his new photography/psychology project “Original Ideal.”

Here’s how it works: Chasserot enlisted 14 participants who ranged from elementary school children to senior citizens, and photographed his subjects as neutrally as possible (re: flat lighting, no makeup, no orders to “Smile for the camera!”).

Chasserot then proceeded to play around with his models’ faces in Photoshop. He would raise cheekbones crazy-high in one retouching, super-arch eyebrows in another, give his subject just the poutiest of lips in yet another shot, basically Photoshopping his subjects to conform to conventional beauty standards.

He then strapped his subjects in to space age-looking electroencephalography (EEG) headsets, which tracked their brainwaves for interest and excitement while they viewed their Photoshopped shots. 

The results were. . .inconclusive, and that’s not a bad thing. Beauty is complicated, you guys! People responded positively to different kinds of changes, there wasn’t this uniform “Everyone likes it when their cheekbones are super-high and their eyebrows are all kinds of archy” response. Some participants liked photos in which their image had been only slightly adjusted, whereas other subjects favored extreme makeovers. One woman chose a photo in which she looked just this side of messy as her favorite, a little boy prized a photo in which his eyes had been enlarged to near-anime proportions.

Chasserot doesn’t have a grand theory explaining why his subjects preferences varied so greatly, but his project does suggest that we’re not as quick to cave to conventional beauty standards as we’d seem to believe.

“This method can’t give a permanent ideal self image, obviously, but it can start to raise questions about the visual culture we live in and how that affects self image,” he toldWired.

So whereas Chasserot may not be able to publish his findings in a big, fancy scientific journal anytime soon, at least we know now that when someone publishes a picture of us online, they might actually NOT be trying to ruin our lives for ever. One person’s “I look awful” may just be another person’s “What are you even talking about? You look amaze!”

For more on the study, check out this cool video that takes you through every step of the Original/Ideal project:

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(Images via Scott Chasserot/Original/Ideal Project)

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