23 Photos Of What Women Really Look Like Around The World

Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
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.

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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Yoanna photographed in Cuba.

What is Beauty?
"Beauty is something that you find inside."

What's the most beautiful thing in the world to you?
"My children."

What makes a woman beautiful?
"To be aware of the beauty God gifted her."

What makes a woman unbeautiful?
"Seeking people's attention too much."

Do you feel beautiful?
"Yes, I feel I'm a beautiful person."
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Chaima and Khadija photographed in Agadir, Morocco, October 2015.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Clara and Liliana photographed in Trinidad, Cuba, March 2016.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Yoli photographed in Havana, Cuba, March 2016.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Dana photographed in Chichen Itza, Mexico, March 2016.

What is Beauty?
"Qualities that pleases the aesthetic senses, something that you could see or feel that makes you real happy."

What's the most beautiful thing in the world to you?
"Family."

What makes a woman beautiful?
"Confidence, self-love, self-care, and lots of working in becoming a better person everyday, for me that shows beauty."

What makes a woman unbeautiful?
"I think every woman is beautiful in her own way, but the lack of confidence and if you don't love yourself maybe that could reflect some negativities in the beauty of woman."

Do you feel beautiful?
"Like most of the girls in the world, I have insecurities, but I try to work everyday on them to feel the best I could feel about myself, so yes I am beautiful and I'm proud to say so!"
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Annika photographed in the Italian Alps, October 2016.

What is Beauty?
"The most important beauty to me is the one [we] have within ourselves, our self esteem, sweetness, [and] serenity. A person will never say he or she is beautiful if she or he doesn't feel those things. Exterior beauty can be changed with years and money, but inner beauty can't, people can perceive it from just being near you. That's beauty to me!"

What's the most beautiful thing in the world to you?
"Happiness, because if you have that you have everything."

What makes a woman beautiful?
"A woman is beautiful if she takes care of herself, if she is sweet, kind, and polite, and above all if she gives you a beautiful smile."

What makes a woman unbeautiful?
"Arrogance, vulgarity, and shallowness. If a woman faces things in a superficial way she's unbeautiful to me."
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Marilyn photographed in Hong Kong, January 2016.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Chiara and Saori photographed in Merida, Mexico, March 2016.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Paulina photographed in Mexico.

What is beauty?
"When you feel attracted and pleased by something."

What's the most beautiful thing in the world to you?
"Nature."

What makes a woman beautiful?
"The confidence that she has in herself."

What makes a woman unbeautiful?
"The feeling of not being beautiful."

Do you feel beautiful?
"Yes, but not always."
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Laura photographed in the Italian Alps, October 2016.

What is beauty?
"To me beauty is what I can see in another persona not outwardly but more inwardly."

What is the most beautiful thing in the world?
"Health and happiness."

What makes a woman beautiful?
"I think what makes a woman beautiful is the way she is and acts, by being nice and happy."

What makes a woman unbeautiful?
"Not being nice."
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Beth photographed in New York City, December 2015.

What is beauty?
"I don’t think beauty is in appearances; I think beauty is a state of being. It can be seen in acts of compassion, kindness, and empathy towards one another. I think it can also be seen in nature. It is something that embodies life. It is living. When we are being human, we are being beautiful."

What is the most beautiful thing in the world to you?

"My mum, my granny and my brother."

What makes a woman beautiful?
"Someone is beautiful when they display compassion, empathy, and kindness."

What makes a woman unbeautiful?
"Someone is unbeautiful when they violate those above."
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Chaima photographed in Agadir, Morocco, October 2015.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Jamila photographed in Marrakech, Morocco, October 2015.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Leila photographed in Marrakech, Morocco, October 2015.

What is beauty?

"Beauty for me leads first to the outside appearance. Of course you are always first attracted to the body curves, hair, height, smile, eyes ... however to be able to speak about beauty you need to add something else: the inside appearance. I know it sounds cliche but for me you can see a beauty shining only where the personality, the values, the soul and the appearance are present together. Beauty is the imperfection."

What’s the most beautiful thing in the world to you?
"The most beautiful thing for me on earth, it's nature. Same thing for women; they are beautiful when they are natural."

What makes a woman unbeautiful?
"Same thing for women, they are beautiful when they are natural. For me that's what makes a woman beautiful. When you are wearing too much make up, and adding too much artifice...you are not the same person, and it can reflect a different part of your personality or just somebody that you are not. It can also [instill] low confidence in yourself."

Do you feel beautiful?

"I think like every girl that there are days better than others. Somedays I feel beautiful and somedays I feel ugly. The clothes give you confidence. You feel good when you look good."
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Hue photographed in Hoi An, Vietnam, January 2016.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Bian photographed in Hoi An, Vietnam, January 2016.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Ashley photographed in New York City, December 2015.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
America photographed in Teabo, Mexico, March 2016.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Emily photographed in New York City.

What is beauty?
"Natural, untouched, it is a rawness that cannot be duplicated."

What is the most beautiful thing in the world to you?
"My family."

What makes a women beautiful?
"Her character. Whether it's quirky or confident, soft-spoken or over-the-top. It is what makes each female so unique to who they are."

What makes a woman un-beautiful?
"Falsity. Trying to fit in a mold of what others want/tell you to be."

Do you feel beautiful?
"Yes."
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Thui photographed in Hoi An, Vietnam, January 2016.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Zi photogaphed in Sapa, Vietnam, January 2016.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Ju photographed in Tai O, Hong Kong, January 2016.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Melotti.
Be and Han photographed in Sapa, Vietnam, January 2016.
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