One of the most beautiful things about our world is its diversity. Travel the world and you will meet people who look different, speak different languages, and have different cultural customs and values. Talk to them, and you will hear incredible stories and learn more about yourself and the world. Telling these stories is just what Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc has set out to do with her project The Atlas Of Beauty. She travels the world taking pictures and telling the stories of the inspiring, strong, and amazing women she meets everywhere she goes.
The Atlas Of Beauty Tells The Stories Of Incredible Women From Around the World
Online and in the media, we are subconsciously taught to think of beauty in one way. One “look”, one style, and one body type. What Noroc has done and continues to do with The Atlas Of Beauty is prove that beauty is diverse and there is no one standard description of a beautiful woman. She also tells their stories, making a point of photographing women who are beautiful inside and out.
This photo is of a woman named Þórunn Antonía Magnúsdóttir in Iceland. She created a Facebook page for the women of Iceland to unify them and encourage them to support one another. Her goal is to change the idea that women are “catty” and are always threatened by one another. The idea came to her after she gave birth to her daughter. Thorunn remembers growing up constantly comparing herself to other women in a negative way and took years to feel confident and comfortable in her own skin. She knew she didn’t want her daughter growing up hating what she saw in the mirror or feeling as though she couldn’t compare to the women she saw in the media.
Thorunn believes that women can make strides towards gender equality by working together, rather than against each other. She also believes that women should celebrate their femininity and the power that comes with it, rather than trying to be more like men in order to achieve equality. Her Facebook page, The Good Sister, is a place where women can share their emotions, worries, dreams, and triumphs with one another. She is working hard to create a world where all women are like sisters.
Mexico City, Mexico
This is a photo of a woman named Paola getting ready for the Dia De Los Muertos Parade(Day of the Dead) in Mexico City. This special day is a combination of both indigenous and Catholic traditions when Mexican families honor the memory of their ancestors and deceased loved ones. The Mexican people once feared that the tradition would be usurped by Halloween. Thanks to the dedication of the country’s citizens, the holiday has seen a big boom in recent years. Now, the special day is a true phenomenon, and many others from around the world travel to Mexico to experience the spectacular themselves.
Gema is a Flamenco dancer living in Barcelona. Though often associated with the Catalonian city, flamenco actually comes from Andalucía in the South of Spain, from the Romani people. Gema, herself, comes from a Romani family and a long line of incredible flamenco dancers. Her great-great-aunt has been hailed as one of the greatest of all time and the first female dancer to truly master the dance’s complicated footwork. They called her the human tornado. Now, Gema continues the family tradition of sharing this special part of their culture with citizens and tourists alike.
Amy-Mae is an Irish dancer who is now the lead role in Riverdance, one of the most famous productions around the world. This show is one that shows off traditional Irish music and dance like no other. Amy-Mae flies currently performs the show all over the world, sharing a bit of Irish culture with audiences everywhere. When she is done dancing, she plans to go to medical school and become a doctor.
Noroc took this photo while watching a Hindu ceremony at the Hooghly River. The woman in the photo, Sandra, had filled her pot with water from the river as part of a traditional ritual. Prior to this day, she had made a wish which came true. As a thank you, she was taking the water from the river to a temple to offer it to Lord Shiva.
Seoul, South Korea
This young woman’s name is Woojoo. She is taking part in a regular tradition in South Korea. Seoul is one of the most technologically advanced and modern cities in the world. Despite this, on nice weekends thousands of women continue to don traditional clothing and visit the gardens of the Gyeongbok Palace. It is a beautiful clash of old traditions with the modern world.
These women and girls are from a small neighborhood called Itapuã. They are part of a music group called Ganhadeiras de Itapuã that celebrates the music, dance, and traditions of their small town’s culture. A multi-generational team, they perform with joy and enthusiasm in every show they do. They performed during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games closing ceremonies and became the pride of their neighborhood, bringing global attention to their small part of the world.
When she was just 21 years old, Uliana had an accident in the street that left her paralyzed. Not to be deterred by her new disability, this woman became a Karate champion and then a television producer. Now, she works with other people who have had similar accidents to help them regain their lives and start fresh in their “new” bodies. Her goal with each of her clients is to help them find happiness, purpose, and fulfillment again just like she did.
Omo Valley, Ethiopia
This young woman is a member of the Daasanach tribe, who has lived traditionally and in isolation from others for many generations. The amazing thing about Ethiopia is how diverse this country actually is. Not so far from this tribe, there are cities and towns where people follow different religions, speak different languages, and the women wear specific clothing as dictated by their faith. In the country’s capital city, however, the women are modern and dress as such.
Farnoush is a violin player. When this photo was taken, she was preparing for her first-ever concert. Noroc’s goal with this photo, as well as many of the others she has taken of women in Iran, is to show another side of the country. Often in the media, we only see violence and corruption. She wants to remind us that there are people there, too. Regular people, with lives, goals, and dreams.
Noroc took this photo of Emiko while she was out on a date with her husband. They were on their way to a concert hall. Norco explained in the caption that originally, Emiko did not want to be photographed, saying she was too old and therefore not beautiful. Her husband then spoke to her, convincing her that she was beautiful and deserved to have her photo taken. Japan is not known for showing such emotion, however, this photo and the story behind it proves that our preconceived notions of a place and its people don’t always hold true.
Refugee Camp, Bangladesh
Norizan is one of the thousands of Rohingya people who fled the massacre in Myanmar. Pregnant at the time Noroc took this photo, Norizan was living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, uncertain what she and her unborn child’s future held. The United Nations called the situation an attempt at “ethnic cleansing”. Sadly, tragedies such as this one occur around the world every day, most of which we never hear about.
In this photo, this Tibetan woman had just made the long, exhausting pilgrimage to Labrang Monastery. This is one of the most important places for Tibetan Buddhists. Though the journey was tough, this woman was very happy to have done it and to have reached this very important site to her culture.
Aslıhan has a bachelor’s degree in engineering, but also studied her passion, acting, at the same time. An intelligent and determined young woman, she worked hard to fit in both of her studies. At the time Noroc took this photo, she had just landed her first role on a television series.
New York City, The United States
Abby and Angela are both Ethiopian and Nigerian. Their parents worked for the UN, so growing up they lived in six different countries. Both of them plan to move back to Africa after they graduate college with the goal of inciting change in their home continent. In the caption, Noroc quoted Angela:
“Among my peers in my age group, I want to start a movement of coming back to the continent. I want to shine a light on the potential of my people, and I want to lift the entire region out of the health confict it is in, putting power in the brilliant youth, using local talent, and customizing policies that work in the African setting rather than transposing Western policies.”
Caterina and her mother Barbara are a testament to the sacrifices that parents make for their children around the world. Dancing ballet since she was three years old, there were no opportunities in their small town. Barbara moved to Milan with Caterina, despite the fact that her husband and son had to stay behind. The sacrifice paid off, and Caterina is currently successfully dancing ballet at the professional level in Italy.
Skopje, Republic of Macedonia
When Monika was a young child, a drunk driver caused a car accident that left her with terrible injuries but he was never charged with anything. When Noroc took this photo, Monika was in university studying law. Her goal is to change the laws not just so that these people are held accountable, but also so that education and prevention systems can be put in place.
When Alice was a child, her classmates bullied her relentlessly. The most common insult she heard was that she was stupid. This heavily affected her self-esteem and therefore her grades. As she grew up, she learned to ignore these comments. Her marks improved incredibly and in 2017 she became one of the top students at the National Mathematical Olympiad.
In this image, Soni is celebrating the Hindu festival of Holi, the festival of colors. Holi is a celebration of spring, the triumph of good over evil, and focuses on forgiveness. It is one of the most famous festivals in Indian, known around the world.
Iriana is from Venezuela but now lives in Uruguay. She is one of the thousands of Venezuelans, as well as people from countless other countries around the world, who have had to leave their home country due to violence, corruption, and lack of opportunity.
“I had to leave Venezuela. I was tired of being afraid all the time. As a family, we used to be together during Christmas, but this time I’m in Uruguay, one of my brothers is in Panama, the other is in the US and my father is in Venezuela.”
Imane has both African and European roots and studied art in Paris. She loves celebrating diversity and hopes to one day own her own art gallery. Her goal for the gallery is to bring together artists and art styles from all over the world.
Cape Town, South Africa
Koleka is a poet originally from Port Elizabeth, South Africa. She is happiest when she is reciting her poetry on stage, however, her other favorite moments are each of her birthdays. Koleka believes every year is a gift and should be celebrated. She says getting older is a privilege, not something to be feared or fought against.
Lisa loves to travel and has many interesting stories to tell. She is also self-conscious of her easily-flushed skin, which was the result of an accident many years before. When she was 11, she was hit by a tram that smashed many of her organs and broke many of her bones.
“I was very insecure with my skin. I thought people could look through me. Everyone could see when I was nervous or excited. I love to sing, I was in some bands but I was too afraid to sing in front of an audience because of my skin which used to get very blotchy. I hated it because of the red spots and all the scars of the accident.”
Today, she is grateful for her ability to walk, travel, and go wherever she wants to. She has learned to accept her scars as a part of her story, rather than be embarrassed by them.
Athina’s mother is Ethiopian and her father is Greek. She is a professional runner and holds the national record in the 3000-meter steeplechase. Though she missed out on the Rio 2016 Olympic Games due to an unfortunately-timed injury, she is passionate about running and said she would continue to train with hopes of qualifying for the next ones.
Originally from Lapland, Aliisa works with a little girl in kindergarten who is unable to move without assistance. She says that the little girl inspires and teaches her things every day. Her positivity and ability to find happiness in little things every day motivate Aliisa to appreciate her life, even the smallest details.
When most people think of Afghanistan, they think of war, danger, and violence. While the country has been at war for over 40 years, there is another side to it: The people. They are vibrant despite what they continue to go through and do their best to remain positive, warm, and celebrate their culture. This photo is of Mahal Wak, an award-winning actress, and activist. She works hard to fight for the rights of the Afghan people and spread awareness not just of their struggles, but also the other side of their life and culture.
The women in this photograph, Maliks, Nizoramo and Sharafnisa, are doing a type of embroidery called Chakan. This craft is actually on the UNESCO intangible heritage list. The knowledge of how to make these magnificently colored garments is passed on generationally. Grandmothers and mothers teach their granddaughters and daughters, who then teach theirs, and so-on.
Cami is a true music lover through and through. Not only a DJ, she has also been talking to people from all over Cuba for years about the music they love. She collects old records from them, then takes those records and mixing them with current beats and popular rhythms on dance floors all over the country. Her goal is to revive the old, lost music from her country and from elsewhere in the world.
Micaela is a fruit seller in a local market in her city in Guatemala. It is a family business – her mother worked there before she was born, while pregnant with Micaela. With 10 younger siblings, Micaela has not only worked at the market her whole life but also helped to raise her brothers and sisters. Her bright spirit and love for her family can be felt in everything that she does.
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Sonali is a woman who has suffered greatly, for many years in silence. A successful bio-medical engineer, she suffered from bipolar disorder. She attempted suicide several times and practiced self-harm starting when she was just 11 years old. Now she works for the Global Health Organization and the global movement SheDecides. Her goal in everything she does is to help others who are suffering because she knows firsthand what it is like.
Killa is a weaver who makes and sells traditional Incan clothes and costumes. Though she is from Peru, her native language is not Spanish. She speaks an ancient language called Quechua. Her name, translated from Quechua to English, means moon.
Caitie is a tradeswoman who works in tiling. It is a very male-dominated career, however, Caitie says that women shouldn’t feel intimidated by this. She explains that a good tiler needs to be dextrous, patient, and have high attention to detail. These are all qualities that many women possess, just as much as men. She hopes that she can inspire other young girls to consider tiling and the trades, proving that women are just as capable as men in these fields.
Nataly grew up during the reign of famous drug lord Pablo Escobar in Colombia. When she was four years old, her police officer father was killed while on a mission against Escobar’s cartel. Her experience growing up made her want to follow in her father’s footsteps and also become a police officer, so she could fight for justice and peace. Now, she is a captain and has 60 officers beneath her. Most of those officers are men. Today, Medellin is a much safer place in large part for officers like Nataly who worked hard to achieve peace in the city.
One day while driving, two men on a motorcycle drove up next to Marzieh’s car, threw acid on her face, and then drove off. They were never caught, but Marzieh’s life was forever changed. There were other similar attacks that year, all towards women who were not wearing conservative-enough outfits. Many believe that authorities approved attacks like these to discourage women from dressing in a more liberal way. Marzieh is now working to ban the sale of acid and is raising awareness about this kind of attack.
This woman is a woman of two names. Her given name, Angsana, is the one she uses in her professional life as a marketing specialist. Zaza Sor Aree is her ring name when she is fighting Muay Tuay. She has fought over 41 times and is the former world champion. Angsana, and Zaza Sor Aree, are proof of the strength and power women possess on all sides of themselves.
Ta Mai lives in a small village in Northern Vietnam. She is a part of the Red Dao ethnic group. Though only 20 years old, she is already married – you can tell by the red turban she wears on her head. She got married at 16 and already has two children, which is not uncommon in this part of the world. Lucky for her, her marriage was actually a love match as opposed to arranged.
Jeddeh, Saudi Arabia
Nujood has had a hearing disability since childhood and has since learned to read lips. She is a painter and attributes her love of the visual arts to her disability. Beyond her painting, she also works with children with learning disabilities. Her goal is to give back because, despite her own impairment, she feels very blessed in life.
In this photo, Jois is performing ritual purification in the holy water of the Hindu temple Tirta Empul. This is a common practice in Bali, with many water taps under which you perform certain rituals. Tourists can go too, however, there are certain taps they are not allowed to go under unless they are Hindu as well.
Reka is a Leukemia survivor who documented her experience with the illness through a series of her own self-portraits. Her goal was to show to the world that women with no hair and battling cancer are still beautiful and strong. She hopes to inspire others struggling with cancer and losing their hair to chemo to not give up and keep fighting.
At 84 years old, Alice still works as a physiotherapist. She has no plans on retiring as she has a special bond with many of her clients. Alice utilizes many of her clients’ services, as well. When this photo was taken, she was on her way to pick up her car from one of her clients, who is a mechanic.
Having lost her father to drug addiction at an early age, Angela now dedicates her life to helping others avoid the same fate. She is studying psychology and works with young people to help them overcome addiction and mental illness.
This is a photo of a woman named Zahra who was shopping at a market with her granddaughter. She doesn’t know how old she is because birth certificates and birthdays weren’t something that existed when she was born in her region. She now has seven children, all of which she gave birth to at home, as well as grandchildren.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
At 76 years old, Vera runs between 10 and 16 kilometers every other day. She is a true testament to the old adage “age is but a number”. She only started running four years ago and now it is one of her favorite activities. Hopefully, she will inspire other people to get out and get active, no matter how old they are.
Nadie is now in her 30s, an age that many women in their twenties fear. She, too, was scared, thinking that her twenties would be the best years of her life. She has since changed her tune. Her 30s have turned out to be highly rewarding and a lot of fun. Life, after all, is what you make of it: If you decide your life is over at a certain age then it likely will be.
This photo of a woman milking a yak on a freezing cold day in Mongolia proves how resilient women are. Women bring a certain beauty and grace to everything they do – including farm work.
Lina is the founder of SheFighter, a self-defense school for women and one of the first of its kind in this part of the world. Often bullied by boys as a child, she started taking Taekwondo. She became quite good and earned her black belt, but a bad knee injury ended her career. Now, she teaches others about her favorite sport as well as how to defend themselves from harassment and violence both in the street and at home.
To see more of Noroc’s incredible photos and read the amazing stories of the women in them, follow her on Instagram.