The most surprising part is what they didn't do to her
We've seen it before: A woman sends a basic picture of her face to "photoshop experts" in different countries and asks them to make her beautiful according to their cultural tastes. Journalist Esther Honig did the original experiment, and others have upped the ante since then by adding different descriptors to the word "woman" to find out what exactly makes us beautiful. But so far, all the women being Photoshopped had the same slim, conventionally attractive body type. Would the experiment go differently if the subject was a plus-size woman? Marie Southard Ospina decided to see for herself by sending her unretouched headshot to 21 different countries. (Meet six other Inspiring Women Who Are Redefining Body Standards.)
"Having grown up predominantly in the first world, I’m aware that in countries like the U.S. or the U.K. being fat is (although quite common) perceived as an inherently negative thing. Stereotypes include, but are not limited to: laziness, selfishness, stupidity, naiveté and even a lower socioeconomic class," Ospina writes of her project. "But I’m also aware that the notion of 'thin is the only beautiful' doesn't permeate the entirety of the world."
She was surprised when she got the finished pictures back. Some countries added heaps of makeup (step away from the blush, India!), others smoothed or straightened her naturally wavy hair, and others altered her skin tone or eye color. A few insisted on adding clothing to her naked-from-the-clavicle-up body, including a kicky pink bustier in one shot (olé, Mexico!). Canada even went so far as to...well, we're not exactly sure what they did to her, it was that strange (think Kate Gosselin circa 2004). But it was what they didn't do that was truly surprising: Out of the 21 countries, only three chose to make her thinner (check out all the final photos).
"I pretty much assumed that the majority of the editors would quite drastically change my bone structure and weight," she says. Clearly, that didn't happen. And out of the three that did slim her—Mexico, Ukraine and Latvia—one editor actually reached out to tell her that he personally wouldn't have done that to her, but, for the sake of her experiment, he altered her in the extreme way that is popular in most of his country. He even apologized for "hurting" her natural beauty.
"Ultimately, there was far less body snark and unspoken body shaming through these photo edits than I first assumed there would be," Ospina says. "I won’t assume that all of the photographers are as pro-plus-size as I am, but maybe natural beauty is making a comeback. And I, for one, would be greatly pleased if this was the case."
We couldn't agree more. When it comes to our hair, weight, skin, or breasts, natural is beautiful. There's nothing wrong with makeup or hair extensions, but women should be free to exist exactly as they are—and still feel every bit as beautiful. (Dare to go bare? Find out How to Get the Natural Look from a beauty pro.)