A world atlas of beauty (PHOTOS)

The first photographic encyclopedia of the women of the world helps illustrate our cultural diversity and natural charm.

From the left: A woman preparing for a traditional show in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; Anastasia, a ballet dancer from the Mariinsky Theatre in Petersburg; a woman from the Arbore tribe in Ethiopia, where people live similarly to how they lived a century ago. Mihaela Noroc | The Atlas of Beauty

She leaves her job, gets her backpack ready, and heads out into the world. With little money, but huge faith in her project, a young Romanian photographer, Mihaela Noroc, wants to prove that beauty is a universal thing and has nothing to do with skin color, economic status, or the aesthetic trends promoted by fashion designers. Her goal is a lofty one carried out with simple tools: to create the first global encyclopedia of women, illustrating our cultural diversity and natural charm, something she calls “The Atlas of Beauty.”

Mihaela set out in August 2013 with scarcely enough funds to take her to the first few locations and take her first photographs. Luckily, just as her money was about to run out, the project received attention online from the Facebook photos she had been posting and it eventually garnered international media attention. Mihaela’s journey has been described by CNN, BBC, TIME, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Corriere dell Sera, Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Marie Claire, Forbes, and Business Inside and many others. She even got to visit Oprah during her Super Soul Sunday show.

In 2014 Mihaela asked for help online, through a crowdfunding campaign via Indiegogo, promising prizes for financial involvement in her project and asking for thoughts on possible destinations. She planned to visit all the continents (except Antarctica), to span both the most developed and the most marginalized countries, large, vibrant cities and forgotten, barely accessible villages—all to show the astonishing richness of our species through the portraits of women. The response was immediate—by April 2015, she gathered 135 percent of her initial goal and the Atlas of Beauty became one of the most popular photo projects on social media.

Now a 30-year-old, Mihaela has created a portfolio of photographs and stories of women from over 50 countries of the world.

The Atlas of Beauty by Mihaela Noroc

The Wakhan Corridor Afghanistan. Mihaela Noroc | The Atlas of Beauty

The Atlas of Beauty by Mihaela Noroc

Kichwa, Amazon Rainforest. Mihaela Noroc | The Atlas of Beauty

The Atlas of Beauty by Mihaela Noroc

Every pilgrim bathes in the waters of the Ganges, Varanasi, India. Mihaela Noroc | The Atlas of Beauty

The Atlas of Beauty by Mihaela Noroc

Eleni, Delphi, Greece. Unlike in the shot, Eleni wears ordinary clothes while commuting down narrow mountain paths and helping in a family restaurant. Mihaela Noroc | The Atlas of Beauty

The portraits are of women from all cultures, races, and classes. The message is simple: the celebration of untamed, feminine energy, with its strength and serenity, charm and wisdom, experience and warmth. Each of the women she photographs has a story. Each has dreams. They are completely different and ultimately the same.

Jackie is a First Nations artist and activist in Winnipeg. She has started painting in prison, where her difficult childhood experiences led her. Cornelia, a German journalist, photographed at the remnants of the Berlin Wall, is a twice cancer survivor. Julia speeds through the streets of Bucharest on her skateboard in search for freedom, dreaming of surfing the waves in Hawaii. A deaf Hindu woman in the slums of Bombay signs the word “friendship.” Eleni lives in the highlands of Greece and helps her parents to run a small restaurant in Delphi. She poses in a traditional local outfit, worn once a year during Easter.

Linda from Grozny in the Chechen Republic lost her father in a street shootout during the wartime. Her mother and little sister are all that she has left. Today she’s about to graduate from a medical school with plans to become a pediatrician. Strolling down the rainy streets of Stockholm is Emilia, who has just been accepted to the Royal Swedish Opera. In a camp in Idomeni, Greece, as dated cultural barriers crumble, new friendships sprout between aid workers from Great Britain and Syrian refugees. Athina is from Athens. She’s a daughter of an Ethiopian mother and a Greek father and a professional runner who broke national records in the 3000m steeplechase. She looks into Mihaela’s camera standing at the Panathenaic Stadium, the place of the first modern Olympics in 1896.

19-year-old Munira from Tajikistan dreamt of becoming a doctor, but the financial struggles of her large family forced her to make money by planting flowerbeds in the city. Tzvetana is a hockey player in the Bulgarian national team. Jade from Cape Town loves photography and wants to travel the world. Among the women from Omo Valley in Ethiopia, nakedness is almost as natural as 4G technology.

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The women of southern Ethiopia walk a few miles to fetch water from the nearest river. They are happy to do so, as other regions do not have water at all. Mihaela Noroc | The Atlas of Beauty

The Atlas of Beauty by Mihaela Noroc

San Francisco. USA. Mihaela Noroc | The Atlas of Beauty

The Atlas of Beauty by Mihaela Noroc

Tibetan women are famous for their beautiful traditional and contemporary outfits, Sichuan, China. Mihaela Noroc | The Atlas of Beauty

The Atlas of Beauty by Mihaela Noroc

Anais was born in France but lives in Berlin. In Europe, she says her skin color is perceived as black, but in Mali, her mother’s homeland, she is viewed as white. Mihaela Noroc | The Atlas of Beauty

Weight, height, skin, eye, and hair color, age, socioeconomic status, or financial situation, do not determine beauty. What Mihaela tells her subjects in every interview is that her biggest goal is to capture the natural and authentic charm that every woman, in every corner of the world, carries inside. Her photos are real, and not retouched, showing an ordinary reality and saving the fleeting beauty of a moment. Mihaela emphasizes that the real strength and magic of beauty lies in our diversity. Many women these days bend under social pressure and try to fit in the ideals created by magazine covers and photoshopped models and celebrities.

This project teaches the people who view it to remember that each of us is unique and that nature has given us the most valuable gifts. Understanding and appreciating the value of diversity can spread tolerance in a world that can feel desperately lacking of just that. Mihaela believes that art is not only for the elite, and that social media can help bridge the gaps, and cross the boundaries that separate us. Through her art, she wants to create a space where everybody can share their creativity.

The Atlas of Beauty by Mihaela Noroc

A refugee camp in Indomeni, Greece. Alice, an aid worker from Great Britain holding a little Syrian girl. Mihaela Noroc | The Atlas of Beauty

The Atlas of Beauty by Mihaela Noroc

Octaval, Ecuador. Mihaela Noroc | The Atlas of Beauty

The Atlas of Beauty by Mihaela Noroc

Molina Omo, Ethiopia. Mihaela Noroc | The Atlas of Beauty

The Atlas of Beauty by Mihaela Noroc

Tamara with her granddaughter, Sonia. Rostov-on-Don, Russia. Mihaela Noroc | The Atlas of Beauty

“During my journey, I realized that it was not religion, ethnicity or skin color that were responsible for conflicts and lack of tolerance, but greed and egoism of a small group of people,” says Mihaela Noroc. “Only love can overcome ego and bring back peace. I would never expect that the voice of an ordinary Romanian girl would be heard all over the world and millions would see my photos. If my dream could have come true—any dream can, yours too.”

The photographer plans to continue her project and journey around more places in the world. The hope is that The Atlas of Beauty will inspire all women of the world to preserve their identity and cherish their natural beauty and authenticity.

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Mihaela Noroc in Afghanistan.

Kaja Cyganik
Kaja Cyganik
Kaja Cyganik was born in Krakow, Poland; she graduated with a bachelor in journalism and mass communication from Jagiellonian University. She is an avid traveler, blogger, writer, photographer, musician and poet. She emigrated from Poland to Dublin and then eventually to Canada after her graduation. Here she continues to play an active role in the Polish community with her journalistic spirit.

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