What do you think makes someone beautiful?
About a year ago, fashion photographer Sara Melotti was thinking long and hard about this question, and society's beauty standards.
"I started to feel torn inside as I realized I was contributing to set some very unrealistic standards of beauty that make many women suffer," she told A Plus. "It was a mix between realizing how much women are still being objectified today, and hearing so many of my beautiful girlfriends — and I had been guilty of the same crime in the past — saying horrible things about their body and their looks. It made me realize that the work I was producing contributed in creating their suffering, and even in encouraging gender inequality in a certain way."
So, she set out to make a difference using her photography skills to try to help women love themselves more. In her project Quest for Beauty, Melotti travels the world photographing and interviewing everyday women in an effort to rediscover and redefine what we think of as beautiful.
So far in her journey, she has visited and photographed women in Morocco, Vietnam, Cuba, Mexico, Hong Kong, the Italian Alps, and New York City. In each new country she visits, Melotti canvasses a neighborhood until she finds a backdrop she likes. Then, she waits for a woman to walk by who is willing to participate in her project.
"I am not very selective. Any woman is a great subject as long as she is in her natural environment and feels comfortable," she said.
Melotti has already learned a lot about beauty herself throughout the process of this project.
"The more countries I visit for this quest, the more I realize that beauty has very little to do with outer appearances. Instead, it has a lot to do with kindness, love, and with being ourselves," she said. "I'm also rediscovering the importance of real human connection through this project. It's incredible how much you can connect to people even if you don't even speak the same language."
She believes other people will learn a little something when discovering her project, too. Melotti hopes to positively contribute to a conversation about changing the unrealistic beauty standards the media perpetuates.
"Nothing about the images we see in magazines and billboards is real. It takes a whole team of people," she said. "I am hoping to restore some self-love in women around the world. I hope that people will understand that beauty is something we have within and it's accessible to anybody, not just to an elite of people gifted with great genes. I truly see beauty in everyone as long as they are nice to others."
During her interviews, she asks each woman five questions.
"What is the most beautiful thing in the world to you?"
"What makes a woman beautiful?"
"What makes a woman unbeautiful?"
"Do you feel beautiful?"
"What is beauty?"
Here's how a few women answered that last one.
"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." —Emily in New York City
"To me, beauty is what I can see in another person. Not outwardly, but more inwardly." —Laura in Monno, Italy
"Confidence, self-love, self-care, and lots of working to becoming a better person every day. For me, that shows beauty." —Dana in Chichen Itza, Mexico
"Look around." —Khadouj in Agadir, Morocco
"The most important beauty to me is the one with have within ourselves, our self-esteem, sweetness, 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." —Annika in Monno, Italy
"Beauty is when someone is kind." —Amelia in Teabo, Mexico
"I think beauty is original normality. What the world should be like originally. Everyone and all the things in the world are beautiful for their natural way to be." —Vivian in Hong Kong
"Beauty is something you can see and you don't want to stop seeing." —Ilse in Merida, Mexico