If you search “beautiful women” on Google, the results are not diverse. Most of the images are of light-skinned, perfectly air-brushed women with large, parted lips and blown-out hair. Hardly any of them are smiling, and most of them are in lingerie or swimsuits. This portrayal of beauty is what Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc wished to challenge in her book, The Atlas of Beauty.
When Noroc was 27, she decided to give up her ordinary life in her hometown of Bucharest, Romania to put forth all of her effort and savings into travel and photography. Though she did not know it yet, her new home would fit in the confines of a backpack over the next four years.
Noroc never planned to turn her travels into a statement about feminine beauty. She simply began traveling around the world, talking with women and photographing them at the end of their conversations. She would then post about her experiences on her blog. It began as something very genuine.
“After a year, when my project became very popular, I realized that I have to be more responsible and I have to work more,” Noroc says.
That was when the idea for The Atlas of Beauty was created. The book features 500 portraits of women in all types of situations: women of all different colors, ages, and sizes, from 50 countries around the world. Choosing her subjects was very natural and not something she planned. Noroc believes that if she had planned everything, the result would have been very different.
Her travels consisted of “magical moments” that she believes changed her as a person, making her more confident and more respectful of what other women in the world go through every day. Every situation she came across was very personal. She could spend from as little as seconds to over two hours with her subjects, depending on how much time they had.
“There are lots of magical moments in our lifetime. Maybe sometimes we are just not too careful to see them, and we are preoccupied with other problems. Maybe this project will give you the opportunity to just open your eyes and see the beauty that surrounds you.”
The over-sexualized portrayal of feminine beauty extends much further than a quick Google search. It can be seen in advertising and sales, on social media, in movies, television, and magazines… everywhere! Other cultures are also heavily influenced by Western beauty standards. Some cultures even sell products to make skin lighter. This homogenized idea of beauty needs to end. Real women are beautiful in their everyday lives.
“In the end, I think that beauty just means being yourself. I don’t think we have to change ourselves to be a certain way; I think we just have to keep ourselves as we are and don’t necessarily need to change,” says Noroc.
The message in The Atlas of Beauty states that beauty is everywhere. It comes in different colors and sizes, and may not always be what you expect. It all begins with allowing yourself to see the magical moments that happen every day.
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