This plus-sized woman's Photoshop experiment says everything about how we see beauty
It’s become kind of a thing: sending your photo around the world and asking people from different countries to take to Photoshop and “make you beautiful.” Both Esther Honig and Priscilla Yuki Wilson sent their headshot around the world earlier this year, and marveled at how Photoshoppers from different cultures radically retouched their faces to make them “beautiful.”
Now Colombian-American woman Marie Southard Ospina has joined the game, and added a personal twist. She is a plus-sized woman asking the world to Photoshop her portrait.
As Ospina explained in a piece on Bustle that she wrote about her experiment: “As most plus-size women know, there are certain repeated phrases thrown around at women of size quite consistently: ‘You have such a pretty face; if only you lost some weight.’ ‘You’re pretty for a big girl.’ And then there are the meaner ones — the porcine similes or the accusations of perpetual sloth or the faux-concern that usually goes something like this: ‘It’s not that I have a problem with your body, I just worry about your health down the line,’ — and the latter one is often a not-so-sly code for, ‘I do have a problem with your body, so why don’t you do something about it?'”
She goes on to say that whereas she is aware that “in countries like the U.S. or the U.K. being fat is (although quite common) perceived as an inherently negative thing . . .” she also knows that ” . . . the notion of ‘thin is the only beautiful’ doesn’t permeate the entirety of the world . . .” Specifically, she cites the Ugandan Hima tribe as an example of people who embrace plus-size women. When she researched this tribe, she writes that she was “amazed to learn how much beauty they see in a larger woman — and that being fat is still considered a sign of prosperity, health, wealth and/or grace.”
And so she sent her photo out to 21 Photoshop experts around the world, and asked them to make her look beautiful.
Let’s take a look at some of the shots that were returned to her. The images speak volumes about beauty standards around the world, and even a heartening silver-lining that Ospina did not expect.
I know, I laughed at Canada too. I guess if you want to look hot way up north, you have to rock “The Rachel” and a turtleneck.
In all seriousness, what’s noteworthy about this project is how many Photoshoppers left Ospina’s plus-sized figure alone. The results surprised Ospina, too. She wrote on Bustle:
“I must admit that when embarking on this experiment, I pretty much assumed that the majority of the editors would quite drastically change my bone structure and weight. However, out of the 21, only three really made me look visibly thinner — and drastically so (Ukraine, Mexico and Latvia). Weirdly enough, there wasn’t much of a middle ground. Some used quite a lot of airbrushing (India and Sri Lanka, for instance) to create an overall softer, less angled feel. And as a result, that made my face look less double-chinny and more calcimined. But for the most part, I was actually pretty surprised to see how much I still look like myself in the vast majority of these photos.”
In fact “the closest thing to a common thread” among the pictures wasn’t a change in Ospina’s size, it was a change in her hair and makeup.
Ospina concludes, “the experiment offered a lot more editors in favor of ‘preserving natural beauty’ than I would have imagined, and so I feel extremely positive about its results.”
It’s always interesting to see how different cultures imagine beauty and we’re glad that Ospina’s size was almost unilaterally preserved over the course of this global experiment. Winds down her Bustle piece, she muses, “maybe natural beauty is making a comeback.” We hope so, and we hope this experiment is a sign of a real sea change in how we as a world support the specific and individual beauty of our inhabitants.