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The Atlas of Beauty: Thoughts and Images of Beauty

Most women I know dread “getting older”--and that means different things to each of us. When we reach our late 20’s we seem to have the first feeling of “being older” and the older we get the more we realize how young we were when we were 29. Age and “being old” seem to be relative to our current age. Along with less shiny hair, less springy skin, more wrinkles, and possibly more flab, come lots of good things that come with age. It seems the older I get the more colors exist around me. My view of life is getting clearer and broader. Some of my sharp edges are getting softer, and some of my soft edges are getting stronger.

When I was a teenager and in my early twenties I would spend an hour a day making my hair perfectly straight. I would start by washing and double conditioning it. I would use two or three products and then blow dry it with my round brush. After I’d spent about 40 minutes drying and straightening my hair I would use my curling iron to flatten my hair and get the last bit of frizz out of it--because there was a day when flat irons didn’t exist. I would use more product and enjoy my straight and shiny hair--until the wind blew, or it got a drop of water on it, or I got warm and then it would frizz out. This is how I spent 10 years of my life. To me, and to society, in the 1990’s and early 2000’s straight hair was beautiful. I bought into what society told me was beautiful. My idea of beauty was narrow.

Me, circa 1995

With age, and experience, I’ve come to appreciate that beauty isn’t just one thing. Beauty is straight and shiny hair, but it's also frizzy curls, it’s flat stomachs, and those with flab. Beauty is clear skin, and skin full of acne. Beauty is young unblemished skin but it’s also skin that's weathered life and carries the lines to show where its been. As women, our bodies are strong and incredible. They carry us through our days and hold up the under massive demands we put on them while often filling them up with caffeine and food products rather than water and food that is alive. As I gain experience, and age, my definition of beauty is expanding and I like that. With the expansion of colors I see, I also see an expansion of beauty. I am able to see it in myself and those around me. And I like that. A lot.

Last year I came across a book review of “The Atlas of Beauty” a book filled with 500 pictures of women from around the world. I was drawn to the beautiful skin tones, and the diversity of beauty in this book. For a year I would go to my local book store and look at the pictures and read the stories in this book. This year for my birthday I received “The Atlas of Beauty” from my co-beauty loving daughter. I’ve probably looked at the book every day since my birthday. Diversity is beautiful. Women are beautiful. “The Atlas of Beauty” is beautiful and ought to be everywhere women and little women are so we can constantly be reminded that beauty is not one thing. Beauty is found on each of our faces, on all of our skin, and in everyone's story.

Photographer and creative, Miheala Noroc of Romania, started a project very organically: she took her camera on a vacation. Shortly after that she started backpacking around her own country taking pictures of women in natural light and in natural settings. Before long her Instagram was getting loads of followers and she realized the impact her art was making in the word. She took pictures of women she was drawn to, and of women who would allow her to take their pictures. Often women would refuse to allow her to take their pictures because they were uncomfortable having their picture taken, or because they’re husbands would not allow it.

When Miheala speaks about beauty she says “If you put the words “beautiful woman” into google, you’ll see mostly images of seductive women: … I think that beauty is about being yourself, natural and authentic, about letting people see what is inside of you. ...each woman should be free to decide how to present herself, and to explore her own beauty without feeling pressure from the outside world.” With her creation and publication of “The Atlas of Beauty”, Miheala gifts us something tangible to remind us that beauty isn’t only sensual perfect bodies, but includes makeup free skin, frizzy curls, freckles, wrinkles, extra skin, extra pounds, and all of the beautiful skin tones that make up the human race.

By Heather Fenner

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