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A Plus-Size Woman Asked Photoshop Experts Around The World To Make Her Beautiful And Only 3 Slimmed Her Down

Marie Southard Ospina's experiment for Bustle saw only three attempts to slim her down.

This is a picture of Marie Southard Ospina.

Marie Southard Ospina /

She's a plus-size Colombian-American fashion and beauty editor. In a recent post for Bustle, she mused on the nature of perfection.

She wrote:

I would be lying if I said I didn't actually care about how others perceive me. I select the photos I use on my blog or in my work carefully. I don't try to conceal my fatness or pretend not to have a double chin or anything, because I actually do like being plus-size, and I enjoy the wobblier areas of my body and my high-boned yet chubby cheeks. But I do tweak lighting. I do angle my face in the way I know will make it look more glamorous or beautiful or interesting.

Ospina is also interested in the ethics of Photoshop.

She was inspired by two experiments – the first by journalist Esther Honig, who had her face photoshopped in over 25 countries to investigate beauty standards. Shortly after that, a biracial woman, Priscilla Yuki Wilson, carried out a similar experiment.

Ospina wondered: What would this result mean for a plus-size woman? As she wrote: "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.'" She added that "in countries like the U.S. or the U.K. being fat is (although quite common) perceived as an inherently negative thing."

So what would happen if a plus-size woman repeated Honig's experiment? Would they all, for example, try to slim her down? She paid 30 "experts" (their abilities varied) around the world an amount they set themselves (up to $30) to go to work on her picture.

And this is what happened...


Marie Southard Ospina /

India, like Sri Lanka, made liberal use of the airbrush. Ospina wrote that it gave her face a "softer, less angled feel".


Marie Southard Ospina /

However, she also wrote that she was surprised by how much she looks like herself in the finished pictures. Like a lot of the editors, the Italian one went for some make-up changes.

Ospina told BuzzFeed News:

My experiences with Italy definitely matched up to the edit. There's so much passion in Italy – people are just full of life. You're constantly surrounded my laughter. And I think the photo was definitely intense in a similar way, which I loved. I also felt, when I was there, that a curvaceous woman is definitely perceived as being quite beautiful, so I wasn't surprised that this editor didn't slim me down.


Marie Southard Ospina /

Mexico slimmed her down and was also one of a few countries to give her clothes. Ospina was actually wearing a towel in the original picture.

Having visited the place, she was surprised she was slimmed down. She said: "I was definitely surprised that the editor from Mexico slimmed me down. From my experiences there, the majority of the women I saw and interacted with were fuller-figured. I left thinking it was such a more accepting country – and I still think it is! But the picture was certainly unexpected."


Marie Southard Ospina /

Bulgaria was one of several countries – including Macedonia and Bangladesh – to do striking things with her hair. She wrote: "It’s fascinating to see what certain editors consider feminine – from luscious, shiny locks to a Vince Noir-ish ‘do."


Marie Southard Ospina /


Marie Southard Ospina /

Ukraine slimmed Ospina down, but it's interesting to note the editor actually got in touch to say he was sorry for "hurting" her natural beauty: "So basically, he intentionally over-photoshopped to showcase just how ridiculous some of the editing that’s considered “normal” today actually is," she wrote.

Ospina told BuzzFeed News that the fact that only three countries slimmed her down was "definitely the most fascinating thing":

I think the reality is that most of us grow up with one very specific beauty ideology thrown at us. The "aspirational" image that usually involves being quite slender. It can be easy to forget that beauty is an individual thing; that it means different things to different people.

I was definitely expecting the majority of editors to thin me down, and the fact that they didn't was such a reminder of the very basic principal that what is beautiful to one person is not necessarily beautiful to another. But that's just as it should be!


Marie Southard Ospina /

Like many countries, Pakistan got rid of her mole. She said: "I actually love my mole. I wonder if people felt all blemishes needed to be removed. But personally, I don’t consider moles blemishes!"


Marie Southard Ospina /

Canada is another country she's visited. She said: "I just don't even know what to make of that particular photo. It was either a joke – or the editor's response to my "nudity." He is the one who asked me, "Are you a porn [sic]," so I think the nature of the photograph offended him, and he took it upon himself to edit the picture in a silly way. Maybe!"

United States

Marie Southard Ospina /

Ospina said: "I was definitely shocked that I wasn't remotely slimmed down. Some people have this misconception that because there are more fat people in America than there have been in the past, there must be more acceptance. But that's simply not the case."


Marie Southard Ospina /

We asked for her opinions on South America, and she replied:

I'm actually half Colombian, and I think Latinos have this kind of "Curves are great, but fat is not" mentality (this is a generalization, obviously — but it's just based on my experiences). It's hard to achieve that "perfect" balance — to have the big derriere and the thick thighs and the boobs and a small waist, BUT NOT THE FAT. My body never allowed for that. If I was going to have a big butt, I was always going to have a big belly, too. That being said, most of my time in South America has been spent in Colombia, so I cannot speak for other countries, nor would I really want to try!

And for fun: her boyfriend (UK).

Marie Southard Ospina /


You can see the rest of the images on Bustle.

We asked her about the UK, and she said:

After having spent almost two years in the UK, I definitely think notions of beauty overlap with the States. Striving to be thin is still the norm. Diet talk still prevails in many a conversation, and in the media. I was lucky in finding groups of people in England who felt passionately about body positivity and size acceptance, though. But I also encountered the same, often mindless fat shaming that most people do without realizing. All the "You have such a pretty face, if only you lost the weight," comments. All the "What could be worse than being fat?" remarks. People very often say these things without realizing that they are making an entire group of people feel badly about themselves. But it's definitely something problematic, that I hope to see change across the globe as time passes.


She tried three Icelandic experts, who all said they wouldn't use Photoshop. As she pointed out, the country also banned weight discrimination in 2013. She wrote: "I wouldn’t presume the three people I spoke to are indicative of an entire country. But, hey. All signs point to Iceland being as close to utopia as one can get."

She told BuzzFeed News:

I definitely just want to say that when I set out to do this, I wasn't intending to debunk or belittle the entire photography industry, or photo editors as a whole. There are Photoshop practices that I find unethical, yes. But I've also had the pleasure of working with amazing photographers and editors who believe in capturing a subject's natural beauty.

I mostly wanted to show that beauty is such an individual thing. And that no matter how often you hear that "thin is the only beautiful" ideology, it's just not the only one out there. I think striving to achieve a sense of self love and self worth are far better aspirational goals than trying to achieve a certain weight. But that's just me.

Alan White is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

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