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Finding Your Own Brand of Beautiful: Real women discuss Photoshop, body shaming and how to embrace unaltered beauty.

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From Alicia Keys’ bold move to live life makeupless, to Meghan Trainor’s statement against the photoshoppers who slimmed down her waist, women everywhere are stepping out of the shadows to challenge our current culture’s idea of beauty. Teens, twenties, thirties and beyond; models, moms to the average gal are striving to educate women on altered images, as they unapologetically embrace their “own brand of beautiful.”

Billboards, magazines, commercials and every form of media in existence have seemingly managed to create one picturesque epitome of what it truly means to be beautiful. From Cara Delevingne’s god-like eyebrows to Kendall Jenner’s flawless frame, the money-seeking tabloids have slowly erased flaws from beauty one mouse click at a time. In turn, leaving real-life women insecure, unconfident and emptying their pocketbooks, as they hopelessly struggle towards an image they can never physically attain.

Bethany Fagan, a model for several international and domestic clothing lines, is just one among millions of real-life women who find themselves discouraged by failing to attain Hollywood’s view of “beauty.” As a model, Fagan said she herself often feels disturbed and “under par” because of the amount of digital altering that is done to her body.

“It’s disturbing,” Fagan confided. “It’s disturbing how they can hire you based on your looks, based on your size, based on the way your body fits lingerie or clothing and it’s still not good enough. It’s scary to think that what is supposed to be such a good tool, to fix clothes in retail or on a commercial level, is being exploited and manipulated to not only sell clothing or a product, but to control how women view other women.

“During a recent photoshoot, the shots came back, and I instantly knew it was not all of me in those photos,” Fagan continued. “I was already in a corset, and they edited down my waist even more, made my busts larger and edited in sharper angles. I know my body. I know what it looks like, so I have noticed in the past when it’s been altered.”

Worldwide, however, Hollywood’s definition of beauty in no way matches the perception of true beauty cross culturally. In Ethiopia, according to research by Cosmopolitan magazine, body scars define beauty. In Mauritania, full figures; New Zealand, face tattoos; China, pale skin; Iran, surgical bandages; Thailand; long necks. Modern America continuously injects its women with the idea that beauty is only portrayed through one image — skinny, yet curvy. Tanned, but not tainted. Contoured, but not too bony. Large assets, small waist, the list goes on.

“When I see these perfect images, I immediately just want to get back in the gym,” admitted 43-year-old Micki Wypyszinski, everyday woman and mother of four. “The superficial part of me says I need to do something to look like that, while the realistic part of me tells myself those images aren’t real. There is no perfectly flawless body or face; everyone has some type of flaw.”

The fight for perfection in modern day America has resulted in a tremendous influx of extreme body altering methods. Plastic surgery, botox and thousands upon thousands of dieting methods. Even more harmful, bulimia, anorexia and body cutting have been on the rise in teens and young adults, according to Cheri Murray, a licensed counselor. She said many teens and young adults use these methods as a last-ditch effort to relieve the shame they experience, as a result of poor body image.

“Sometimes I have these goals I set in my mind of what I want to look like,” agreed 13-year-old Abigail Wypyszinski. “When you see these pictures it makes you lose hope, almost to even have a healthy lifestyle because I’ll never look like that perfect image. I can be healthy, but my face will never look that pretty. I can change my weight, but I still won’t have those features.

“To come back from that, I concentrate on the fact that I exercise because I want my organs to function properly, not because I want to change my body,” she continued. “I always encourage everyone to do the same.”

Murray said she believes disclaimers should be set into place to educate the public on the unrealism of these images, separating an expression of art from reality.

“It would give the women out there a message that these models aren’t perfect either,” Murray said. “In the years after having kids, your body changes. When you see these other women celebrities who have also had children, and when you see them photoshopped into having this perfect body, you do stop and think, ‘I’ll never look like that.’ It does make you feel negative about yourself.”

Fagan agreed, stating the most destructive thing to both women and men’s self-health and image is comparison and believing what others say about your image. The overuse of Photoshop, according to Fagan, is the number one tool that can “mess you up.”

“I personally love the creation of these photos,” Fagan said. “I love how they come out. I love experimenting and becoming something different. I love being in my pajamas and staying in my home all day, but I also love going to work and becoming a pinup goddess. Everyone has a version of that, and everyone’s version of that is beautiful. You can make a checklist of what you want to change about yourself, but anything portrayed in the media should be taken as an opinion.

“I’m a firm believer that literally everyone is beautiful and anyone can be beautiful,” she continued. “It’s a personal thing of how you see yourself and the world around you. It’s about finding your own brand of beautiful and believing in it.”

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