Our world has become increasingly obsessed with perfection. The illusive (albeit perplexingly desirable) trait is something we aspire to in both the day-to-day as well as the grander scheme of everything. Whether this manifests itself in the pitch correction of vocalists who (quite often) don’t need it, or the relentless waxing and plucking we put ourselves through bi-weekly (even if the bush is making a comeback), or our increasing fear of sharing selfies that aren’t “just right,” achieving perfection (or pseudo-perfection — because we’ve yet to figure out what “perfect” even means) has become a need, a must, a want, or a combination of all of the above.

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. I play with the things I consider my best attributes, just as most of us do. It’s rare that I post a photo or step out of the house without my powder, eyeliner and lipstick on. Not because I’m ashamed of my natural face — I’ve always been told I’m a “natural beauty” and though it’s taken me a few decades to see any derivative of that claim for myself, I think I’m getting there. I’m not saying my face is perfect — I think it’s actually rather strange. But I try to embrace that as best I can, and use makeup to highlight its peculiarities in a way that represents my style and personality.

All that being said, I find Photoshop a fascinating invention. It’s a tool often used in that same pursuit of perfection. It’s a tool magazines, advertisers, models, graphic designers and just about everyone with an Instagram account (granted, Instagram isn’t Photoshop, but it serves a similar purpose) use constantly. My partner — who is my main photographer and subsequently my main photo editor — will always edit my pictures in some way. But he never does anything he’d consider “immoral.” Lighting and basic color scheme, sure. Slimming of cheeks or removal of visible belly outline, never. He’s my very own ModCloth, what with the brand’s ”No Photoshopping Pledge” and all.

Earlier this year, human interest journalist Esther Honig set out to find out how nearly 40 individuals across 25 countries would alter a basic image of her face if asked to make her look “beautiful.” In her description of her project, entitled ”Before and After,” Honig writes, “Photoshop allows us to achieve our unobtainable standards of beauty, but when we compare those standards on a global scale, achieving the ideal remains all the more elusive.” Some editors widened her eyes. Others gave her long and luscious locks. Others gave her neon makeup. Others slimmed down her already slim face. A scroll through her photographs reveals that our notions of beauty are totally indecipherable. They vary from continent to continent, from nation to nation, from person to person.

Shortly after Honig’s experiment went viral, her friend and fellow journalist Priscilla Yuki Wilson conducted a similar experiment, to see how editors Photoshopped a biracial woman. Just as Honig pointed out, it quickly became clear that what we find beautiful is not as universal as it often seems. Perhaps predictably, however, the majority of the editors did play with the tone of Wilson’s skin. Some lightened her; some darkened her. Others narrowed her face, just as they did Honig’s. But overall, there was no one strong correlation. Once again, our interpretations of beauty prove themselves to be not necessarily ubiquitous, but individual.

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