‘The Atlas of Beauty’ hopes to redefine looks

Not just a pretty face: These portraits were taken in Germany, Iran, and China. © Mihaela Noroc

Can beauty be defined, or is it in the eye of the beholder? The photographer Mihaela Noroc has travelled the world, photographing ordinary women to challenge “unachievable” beauty standards.

Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc has a mission. “The famous people of our planet have set this unachievable and fake beauty standard,” she explains. “But slowly, slowly, I think the message of natural and simple beauty will be spread around the world.”

She has been travelling the world for four years to help make this happen. She has been to 60 countries, where she has photographed ordinary women. She hopes the pictures will convince people that "They can look the way they look and be considered beautiful.”

Now 500 of her portraits have been published in a book, The Atlas of Beauty.

But what, exactly, makes someone beautiful? Pinning down a definition can prove tricky.

To solve this problem, the ancient Greeks worked out a mathematical formula for beauty, based on something called the “Golden Ratio”. In recent years this has been used to create an ideal “mask” based on the distances between your eyes, nose, lips and so on.

Meanwhile, scientists have argued that a culture’s most “average” face is often considered its most beautiful, as its features tend to be the more familiar and symmetrical.

The women in The Atlas of Beauty have been praised for their “natural” good looks. But can we ever pinpoint what makes someone beautiful or not?

Pretty woman

“Of course,” argue many people. Some faces are clearly more pleasing to look at than others. Science proves how and why. It is great that The Atlas of Beauty is celebrating beautiful women from all cultures and backgrounds, but its models were chosen for a reason.

Others think beauty is not just about appearances — including Noroc herself. Everyone finds different people attractive for all sorts of reasons. And what really makes someone beautiful is the confidence to be themselves. Anyone can be gorgeous once they know this.

You Decide

  1. Which of the three women above do you think is the most beautiful, and why?


  1. Write a definition for what makes someone beautiful in ten words or less.

Some People Say...

“No living thing is ugly in this world. Even a tarantula considers itself beautiful.”

Munia Khan

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Lots of people have tried to scientifically define what makes someone beautiful, leading to some of the theories mentioned above. Usually these studies lead to a preference for symmetrical faces close to a population’s average.
What do we not know?
Exactly why this is the case, or whether it is down to nature or nurture. It may be an evolutionary trend, or it may be learned.

Word Watch

The Atlas of Beauty
This was published by an imprint of Penguin Books in September 2017. It costs £21.
Golden Ratio
This number is also called phi. It is represented by the symbol Φ and roughly equals 1.618. It is often found in nature (such as human faces), and is thought to have been used in the designs of ancient architecture like pyramids in Egypt and the Parthenon in Greece.
Not average as in “not particularly special”; average as in the mean.

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