What Beauty Is, in 500 Definitions

Mihaela Noroc’s The Atlas of Beauty will change how you think about beauty and womanhood forever.

When Mihaela Noroc set out on her global adventure and began photographing women from all over the world, she did not expect her work to become a worldwide phenomenon. Her project, The Atlas of Beauty, which has captivated people all around the world on social media, is now a book home to a collection of 500 portraits of women from 50 different countries. Noroc’s work is diverse, inclusive, and the much-needed connective tissue that brings us closer together. Looking at these portraits, it’s easy to recognize that as different as we are, there’s also so much about us that’s the same.

Through this book, I came to understand how all-encompassing beauty really is, and how it transcends age, culture, religion, and physical appearance. Noroc has captured the strength, bravery, warmth, and intelligence of each subject, presenting us with 500 different ways to be beautiful—a reassuring notion in a world that bombards us with the same unattainable standards again and again. Here are five inspiring examples that prove that the origins of a woman’s beauty lie not in her physical attributes, but in the life experiences and accomplishments that manifest themselves through her being.

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Firefighters in Mexico City, Mexico

What I love about this image is how it turns the traditional, hyper-masculine idea of what a firefighter is on its ear. This is the kind of image I hope our daughters will grow up and see as normal—that strength and bravery is not a male or female trait—but a human one.

Mexican Firewomen



Woman Running Errands in Jodhpur, India

Noroc explains that this woman is headed to the market—not dressed up for any special reason. I love the confidence this woman exudes—in both her eyes and her outfit. It’s a lesson all women would do well to learn; our makeup, our clothes, should be chosen with no one else’s pleasure in mind but our own.

Woman Running Errands in India



Tattoo Enthusiast Amanda in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Nearly every young woman I know has at least one tattoo, if not several. And almost all of them complain about the flak they get from the un-inked who question whether they’ll regret those tattoos when they’re older. Amanda’s tattoos have brought her pleasure throughout her life, and I’m willing to bet they make her feel as beautiful now as they did when she first got them.

Atlas of Beauty



Furniture Restorer, Gilberte in Paris, France

In our youth-obsessed culture, we fear gray hair and wrinkles, believing they will diminish our beauty. I loved Gilberte’s philosophy on aging, something she learned from her work reconditioning furniture and doors. She’s comfortable at this stage in her life, “recognizing that age brings a beautiful patina to the wood, just as it improves wine.”

Atlas of Beauty



Woman in Sinuiju, North Korea

For the last seventy years, North Korea has isolated itself from the rest of the world, and so many of us know little or nothing about its people. In the political climate, such as it is, we can forget about the humanity of the other side. Says Noroc of her experience photographing North Korean women, “Although we live in different worlds, with different mentalities, there was something deeper that connected us as women and as human beings. There’s beauty and humanity in North Korea, and I discovered it among the ordinary people.”

Atlas of Beauty



Sayena in Shiraz, Iran

Over the summer, I met a young man in Badlands National Park who was touring the country by bicycle. I told my husband how I wished I’d done something similar at that age, but how my fears of being a woman alone on the road stopped me. This portrait of Sayena, who is in the midst of a long bicycle tour around her county despite the strong discouragement of religious authorities—is beyond inspiring. Her bravery is a reminder that we should never let the threat of others stop us from pursuing our dreams.




Dandara in Salvador, Brazil

Womanhood is complicated as it is, and it’s worth every woman’s consideration of how much more complicated it can be when you’re born into the wrong body. Dandara is a transgender woman raised in a traditional household where she faced many misconceptions growing up. Despite this, she’s grown into a confident, happy woman through her love of dance and styling. Her self-assured smile is proof enough that beauty is, in part, being true to oneself.






Photo Credit: Mihaela Noroc


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