Three years ago, photographer Sara Melotti
was working as a fashion photographer — shooting tall, waifish model after tall, waifish model. It was 2015 when it occurred to her that these images, which offered only the most narrow definition of beauty, could have a lasting negative effect on women. "I realized the work I was producing was contributing to very unrealistic standards of beauty — killers of self-esteem — that made my friends and countless other women suffer," she tells Refinery29. So, as a counterpoint to the fashion industry's standards, Melotti started her ongoing series, Quest for Beauty.
This search "to rediscover and redefine the meaning of Beauty," as she describes it, has taken her around the world, photographing local women about what beauty means to them. Melotti says she approached all types of women — "daughters, mothers, sisters, friends, strangers, students, workers, young, old" — during her visits. And, when a language barrier wasn't an issue, she'd interview them as well.
One question she made sure to ask everyone was, "What makes a woman beautiful?" She told us that this one, of all her questions, brought up the most surprising answers: "No one really [had] an answer regarding appearances. Every single one of them responded with, 'kindness, confidence, a big smile...' that, to me, is fucking amazing!"
The women in Melotti's photos barely discuss appearance in their interviews. In some of the more remote areas she visited in Morocco, Vietnam, and Mexico, the women didn't seem to bother with concerns of exterior beauty. "At one point [in Vietnam]," she said, "one of the ladies grabbed some leaves and made a cute, heart-shaped object with them, and handed it to me and said, 'heart is what's important.'"
These photos, and what these women have to say, send a powerful message of self-love. Melotti put it as, "if you feel like shit looking at a magazine, don't buy it! If you feel like you want to cry after watching the news or other stuff on TV, stop watching it! If you don't like something, say it out loud and do what you can to change it!" There is beauty beyond the Western mainstream, and countless women live by these more varied, more personal definitions every day. Think how different things would be if more people agreed that the "heart is what's important."
Melotti doesn't plan to end her Quest
until she's traveled to 20 countries — so far, she has visited seven, including the U.S. Click through to view a selection of Melotti's work.
It's your body. It's your summer. Enjoy them both. Check out more #TakeBackTheBeach here.