“I’m a 29 years old photographer from Bucharest, Romania. I love to travel and I visited more than 60 countries until now, with my backpack and my camera.
I like modern boulevards from Tokyo, or crowded streets from New York, but also remote communities of Africa or Amazonia, where locals live like 200 years ago and I can sleep in their homes.
I love the variety of earth, the diversity of people and I try to go beyond their surface, to discover their sincere and authentic side, to photograph it.
In the last years I worked hard, saved some money and started an independent unique project about women from all around the world: The Atlas of Beauty. I spend all my savings traveling to 37 countries, and now I look forward to find funds and continue.”
Diversity is the key to a new understanding of beauty, proposes Mihaela Noroc of ‚The Atlas of Beauty’. As nearly every woman is grappling with the concept of beauty during her lifetime, we had a closer look at Mihaela’s project.
I went to an all-girls’ high school, and I remember very vividly my favourite teacher telling us teenage girls that only those quirks and supposed flaws are what make every single one of us unique. ‘If everybody looked perfect, there’d be no beauty’, she said, and all of us nodded, flattened by logic but ultimately unconvinced. Because who wouldn’t want a symmetrical face with high cheekbones, perfectly arched and full brows, full lips, and a slim nose? Blemish free, please?
My Instagram feed shows me, though, that we may be well underway to a beauty ideal that makes women look more and more alike. And it feels like nearly everybody is doing the same makeup, no matter what: contoured face, full brows that look alike, whether they are natural or drawn on. Mihaela’s remark ‘maybe in 50 years all women from all around the world will dress and act the same’ scares me quite a bit, because it’s not only a possibility, it’s a quite likely picture, given that our world, thanks to all technical advances, becomes smaller nearly every day.
Does the world become smaller, or does it become larger? Two years ago, that question didn’t matter that much to Mihaela, who gave up her job and her old life in Romania to travel the world. She travelled to 37 countries across all continents (Antarctica is still missing, though) and took pictures of women. She had the idea for what became ‘The Atlas of Beauty’ in Ethiopia, where she saw women with both Arabian and African heritage, who retained their traditional look and fashion in an increasingly modernized and westernized world. That fascinated her. She started to take pictures of women. She makes sure that her pictures aren’t just portraits, too. The women she photographs are always surrounded by something their culture stands for.
With The Atlas of Beauty, Mihaela wants to show the faces of the world and that every woman she took a picture of is beautiful, so showing each country’s unique concept of beauty. Why women? Why are they all young? “I chose a group I’m part of. And in adhering to that age group, beauty becomes comparable”, she claims.
She finds the women she photographs through different channels. Some are chance meetings in the street, some she finds on social media, and one of the most striking portraits pictures a woman she met while couchsurfing who was initially her local guide (it’s the first picture of this post and shows a woman in a mosque in Iran).
When I had a look at the women pictured in the Atlas of Beauty, I was suddenly overwhelmed by all these beautiful faces – they all became a blur of regular features, exotic backgrounds. While it’s very clear that all these women are from different areas of the world, there seems to be a common denominator in the women Mihaela takes pictures of. Symmetrical faces, wide eyes, straight noses, full lips, slim figures. Is that Mihaela’s concept of beauty (after all, she decides which woman to photograph) or is it a concept of beauty that is found all over the world? I decided to ask her, but sadly she didn’t reply to my email.
The notion that facial symmetry is beautiful is a concept that seems hardwired into our (Western) brains, going back to the ancient Greeks. I’d love to see more diversity in her pictures, but then, Mihaela’s project is called ‘The Atlas of Beauty’, and not the ‘Atlas of Women’ (which I would’ve loved). So in the end, the Atlas can’t answer my questions about what is considered beautiful in different countries and how that is filtered down through the lens of a woman with a specific background. But what still resonates with me is Mihaela’s approach to challenge that notion of beauty that comes from copying another person and another lifestyle. Is that overdrawn nude lip and contoured and highlighted face really yours? And why are you doing it? For everybody who loves makeup, it’s a fine line to tread. There’s something for concealing features I’m not happy with, adding some false lashes to my sparse ones, let my nose appear smaller. Maybe we should start emphasize features we like more and hide the ones we don’t like less. Or, like Mihaela said: “In the end, the original is better than a copy.” Be the original. With makeup or without.
All images © Mihaela Noroc