The Atlas of Beauty

Portraits celebrate the diversity of Indian women, from the Mumbai slums to Bollywood

Mihaela Noroc’s photos showcase the inner beauty of Indian women, of every social background


In 2013, Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc quit her job and set out on a mission to photograph women from every country on Earth. Three years later, Noroc is still on the road. Armed with just her camera and a backpack, she’s visited more than 45 countries across 5 continents, and created hundreds of portraits with the help of friends and fundraising.

Since its inception, her portrait project, The Atlas of Beauty, has become a viral internet sensation, spotlighting groups of women who are often marginalized or ignored by mainstream media. Last Fall, Noroc even traveled through North Korea, and caught up with Women in the World following her trip. Noroc’s goal for the project is simple: to document the beauty she sees in ordinary women. “For me, beauty is something that comes from inside each one of us,” she says.  “I believe that it shouldn’t be limited by trends or social rules, but more by our feelings.”

To celebrate International Women’s Day, Noroc has released a series of portraits of women across India. In her travels, she spent two months there in November, 2015, where she met and spoke with dozens of women from various regions and social backgrounds. “I had the opportunity to hear many of their problems and dreams,” she says. “I found these women to be incredibly graceful and kind-hearted, but at the same time, powerful when dealing with their everyday struggles.”

Though Noroc’s portraits only skim the surface of those struggles, she acknowledges the very real, uphill battle that millions of women in India face, where caste-based discrimination and gendered violence remain major threats. “Unfortunately it is incredibly common for Indian women to suffer from domestic violence,” Noroc says. “Acid throwing, child marriage, rape, and sex selective abortion are not uncommon. Some women, and men, face discrimination just because of their skin color or social background.”

One of Noroc’s images, below, shows a girl who lives in a tent on a sidewalk in Mumbai. Though her father passed away years ago, Noroc writes that the girl’s mother has been able to keep her in school by selling goods at a local market. Though she only gives us a small glimpse of this family’s life, Noroc’s image underlines for viewers a strength in the face of adversity she says she witnessed repeatedly as she traveled through India. “There are also countless ordinary women, usually unnoticed, who are symbols of strength and dedication for their families and within their small communities,” she says.

(Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc)

(Courtesy of Mihaela Noroc)

Though finding beauty in ordinary life is a familiar concept, the result of Noroc’s efforts is a vibrant and serene collection of portraits. Perhaps the most powerful aspect of Noroc’s project is not the aesthetic power of her images, but her attempt to combat the rigid caste-based social hierarchy in Indian society. Alongside Noroc’s portraits of middle and lower class women is a portrait of Sonam Kapoor, one of the highest-paid and well-known Bollywood actresses in India. “I want to show how special Indian women are, regardless of their environment or ethnicity ,” says Noroc. “Sonam is not just a huge star in India, but also a great person, and a symbol of beauty and success for many. My wish was to let Indian women know that all of them are stars for me.”

Noroc has sent the images to major media outlets in India, where she says many picked up her story. Her goal was for women to see her subjects celebrated equally, regardless of their skin color or social status. “Together, (Indian women) are more than 600 million beauties, part of an incredible and ancient culture,” she says. “Every one of them deserves the respect of the world.”

You can follow Mihaela Noroc’s The Atlas of Beauty on Facebook and Instagram.


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