Another Woman's Beauty is not the Absence of Your Own

Loving myself has always been a mental battle. Around the 5th grade, I noticed that a lot of the girls that were admired and called beautiful fit a certain mold. The models on the fashion posters, the women with leading roles in all my favorite movies, even down to the plastic Barbie dolls my sister played with almost daily all looked like slightly different variations of one another. None of them looked at all like me. All of them had straight, shiny hair, fair skin, and bright eyes, which was the exact opposite of my curly, coarse hair, dark skin, and brown eyes that were so dark they blended in with my pupils.

So, I did everything I could to try and change. I wanted to be praised, validated. I wanted to have the exhilarating feeling that came with being complimented. Sure, people told me I was thoughtful. Or talented. Or an amazing writer. However, I had become so transfixed on what I looked like that nothing else really mattered, and I became hyper-aware of what other people were wearing or doing to fit in. Instilled into my subconscious was a dangerously flimsy sense of self esteem that would crumble at any backhanded comment. Other girls became my competition in a game of “Who Looks the Best,” and I was determined not to lose. When I saw pretty girls, I felt jealous and invalidated, as if they held the key to a part of life I could only access if I looked like them. This mindset chipped away at me, until I picked up my dad’s camera for the first time.

It started out small. I took pictures of little things, like coffee, cats and rain against my windowsill or any mediocre moments I wanted to preserve. The small and almost innocent beauty of these moments became my shield against all of the big decisions I had to make in my life, and my pictures always inflicted pride. Then I started taking pictures of my friends and sister, where capturing their contemplative or joyful or smug expressions never failed to make me feel like I had encaptured a piece of history. I realized that beauty is subjective. A sunset is beautiful. So are blooming flowers and neon lights in the city, but they are all magnificent in their own ways. Over time, I applied that principle to the people I photographed. Slowly, I unlearned what I had been taught. I normalized the idea that another woman’s beauty was not the absence of my own.

This photoset shows some little moments I've had with with my friends that opened my eyes to a new way of perceiving beauty.

- Joy