What Photographing 500 Women Across the World Taught This Artist About Confidence

Idomeni Refugee Camp, Greece. | Mihaela Noroc

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By: Stephanie Jade Wong for Shine

When you travel, your camera roll most likely fills with images of the sights you see, the food you eat, and a handful of selfies. For one photographer — who recently had the opportunity to travel the world — her camera filled solely with images of the women she encountered in more than 50 countries.

(Delphi, Greece) | Mihaela Noroc

For the past four years, Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc traveled and took photos of everyday women everywhere she went. She showcased their diversity and beauty in an ongoing online photo project, The Atlas of Beauty.

Noroc — who’s currently living in Berlin — recently launched her first photo book from the project, The Atlas of Beauty. It features portraits of the 500 women she met during her travels, and many of the images are never-before-seen.

(Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia) | Mihaela Noroc

These women taught Noroc, 32, that beauty and confidence go hand in hand.

“In general, a woman that considers herself beautiful is much more confident,” she told Shine.

But what is beauty? Can it be defined from images we see in the media? Is it a thing we read about in fairy tales?

(Pyongyang, North Korea) | Mihaela Noroc

Noroc’s photos show that “beauty” can have a different meaning to everyone.

To one person, it can mean getting all dolled up or sporting the latest runway trend, but to another it can also mean not wearing any makeup, going about your typical daily routine and just living life.

“Through my project, I want to prove that each woman is beautiful because beauty doesn’t have a definition,” Noroc shared.

(Bucharest, Romania) | Mihaela Noroc
“I want to prove that each woman is beautiful because beauty doesn’t have a definition.” — Photographer Mihaela Noroc

Noroc’s portraits throw the notion of “beauty standards” out the window. While “beauty” is typically defined as one thing by mainstream media, the women Noroc photographed show there’s no cookie-cutter image of beauty — there’s women, in all their unique, beautiful glory, living all across the globe.

(Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) | Mihaela Noroc

“Instead of trying to be somebody else, we should be confident in the way we are,” Noroc said. “Beauty is in our differences and I hope this message will make more women confident.”

Noroc’s view is a lens we deserve to see women through more often. For many women, posing for Noroc helped them gain confidence.

“After they saw their photos on my social media pages, accompanied by so many beautiful messages from all around the world, many of them wrote to me saying that this is something they never expected,” Noroc said of the women she photographed.

(Paris, France) | Mihaela Noroc

Noroc, who said she easily connected with the women she met, admitted that she’s also struggled with confidence. She quit photography for years, convincing herself that she just wasn’t talented enough to succeed in the profession. But she pushed through her own doubts to meet strangers across the globe and create this moving project.

(Chichicastenango, Guatemala) | Mihaela Noroc

She hopes more women can see her project and start to grow their confidence from the inside out.

“We shouldn’t need confirmation from the ones around us to feel confident,” Noroc said. “This should be something natural and we should grow up with this feeling.”

(Reykjavik, Iceland) | Mihaela Noroc

Read on to see more striking images from her book and learn about the women she photographed:

Beauty is a woman working in a field in Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan, one of the most remote places of the world.

Beauty is Maria, a vegetable vendor in Chichicastenango, Guatemala, who became shy as soon as she saw Noroc’s camera.

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At first, Laile of Milan, Italy didn’t want Noroc to photograph her because she said she wasn’t beautiful enough, but Noroc convinced her otherwise.

Beauty is a mother, who doesn’t speak English, on a walk with her son in Kathmandu, Nepal. When Noroc had her son translate that his mother is beautiful, he smiled and looked at his mother in agreement, saying, “Yes, she is.”

For years, Lisa of Berlin, Germany told Noroc she felt insecure in her skin because of how easily she blushed and because of scars she got from an accident.

Beauty is Serena, who makes “cornicelli,” little horns that are ancient good-luck charms, to sell in her parents’ shop in Naples, Italy.

Beauty is a Tibetan mother of two, wearing her jewelry to clean her house in a rural village of the Sichuan province in China.

All photos courtesy of Mihaela Noroc.

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