Why I Don't Regret Photoshopping My Face

"You have the best hair!" Sally Hershberger stylist Matt Fugate gushes as he blow-dries my long, thick naturally wavy strands. I beam back at him. Matt has coiffed the heads of celebrities like Lea Michele, so this compliment means a lot coming from him. But honestly — without sounding cocky — I wasn't surprised. I hear this from hairstylists almost every time I'm in the chair. My naturally honey-highlighted locks have been a huge part of my identity and self-esteem since I was old enough to understand how to use a hairbrush. And as a dancer, it's a lot more fun to perform a Beyoncé routine with some fierce hairography.

But that doesn't mean genetics left me off the hook. I have dark, thick hair . . . and it pops up in places where I don't necessarily desire it, like my unruly eyebrows, or on my arms. And as I slowly count down the months until I turn the big 3-0, my hormones have been changing, and now it's sprouting on my upper lip.

When I noticed this, it was devastating. First of all, my upper lip is a hot mess to begin with. I have broken capillaries around my nose, a condition in which small veins break and leave bruise-like spots. I also have a bit of melasma — patches of dark skin caused by the sun. Add in a slight 'stache, and you are left with a whole lot of insecurity. Every time my boyfriend gives me those brooding, Edward Cullen-like stares, I panic that he's secretly looking at my fuzzy upper lip. When I apply lipstick and longer strands of hair get coated with red or pink, I feel totally embarrassed and just want to wipe it all off. Seriously, if it weren't for wonder-working foundations and concealers, I would probably walk around with one of these on my face.

On top of being a 20-something woman working and living in Manhattan, I'm also a beauty editor. That means people are always looking at my face — whether it's because I'm modeling a makeup how-to shoot, sharing a selfie of my latest hair transformation, or getting a facial. Oh, and there are multiple photos of me floating around Pinterest from said photo shoots. I can't escape my facial hair.

Perhaps now you can understand why I got weak and turned to Photoshop. The deed was done last Spring. I had just returned from my best friend's bachelorette party in Puerto Rico, which means I had been in the sun, and my melasma had flared up. I had no time to bleach my mustache or get my eyebrows waxed before we shot this DIY bridal makeup story. And once the photos came back, I was horrified by the high-definition reflection staring back at me. All of my furry flaws were on display, and the last thing I wanted was for those humiliating pictures to land on Pinterest.

My solution was to ask one of our graphic designers to photoshop my face — clean up my eyebrows, blur out my upper lip, the works. She complied, and much prettier photos ran in the feature. You can see the before and after by scrolling up and down on the images in this post. After, I started doing electrolysis on facial hair (though my boss also had great results from laser), and I'm feeling a lot better about my hairy situation. Those magnified mirrors are a lot less terrifying, and I'm much more eager to get into a staring competition with my beau. I forgot all about my short-lived Photoshop stint.

This week, I discovered Dana Suchow's story. She's the New York-based fashion blogger behind Do the Hot Pants. Her name went viral when she admitted that she photoshops herself to appear thinner and to smooth out her acne. She finally "came clean" in order to be more truthful with her followers and inspire other women with similar body insecurities. Well, it gave me the courage to reveal the truth about my photoshopping habits. Dana, Lorde, Kate Winslet, and other strong female voices are changing the landscape for what it means to be a woman in 2014.

Of course I'd like to join that movement. Be brave, put my flaws on display, and never look back! But even just sharing these untouched images of myself gives me knots in my stomach. And I'm left wondering: where do we draw the line? Does using a flattering filter on Instagram count as "photoshopping?" Was it such a crime to erase my unwanted facial hair? There's probably no black-and-white answer to the Photoshop debate, so I'm going to keep my values in that gray area. Until we change the face of beauty across the board to be more forgiving, photoshopping will continue to be part of the conversation.