Take a look at anything related to “natural beauty”—the ads, magazines, websites, and billboards. They all seem to look a little monochrome, no? All the women seem to have the same skin tone (fair), the same shape (slim), the same hair (long, tousled). It’s like there’s one sole definition of beauty—one that leaves a whole lot of women out of the picture. Not to mention the fact that the beauty industry has gotten us all a little too focused on what’s on the outside. It’s all about fixing our perceived flaws (too wrinkly, too dark, too whatever) with products that they sell (how convenient). What about a more holistic view of natural beauty? One that cares just as much about our compassion as it does our concealer? It’s time for a new face of natural beauty—one that celebrates the vast diversity of people on the planet, encourages women to unabashedly own their style (whether that’s a cat eye and red lip or just a smile), respects our values, and honors the fact that some days we just don’t feel like putting in the effort (and that’s okay). Redefining natural beauty won’t happen overnight, but it starts with listening to the voices of all women and amplifying the ideas of people who aren’t typically invited to the conversation. Here’s what nine strong, opinionated women shared when we asked what natural beauty means to them—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Natural beauty gets creative.
“Natural beauty is an interesting phrase when a major part of your body is literally artificial. My left leg is amputated above the knee, and so I wear a prosthetic leg to move around the world. For years, I had a ‘cosmesis’ (the cosmetic cover that goes over a prosthetic limb) that was meant to emulate a ‘real’ leg. It was a piece of soft foam carved to the same shape as my right leg. I wore thigh high nylons over it to match my skin tone, but of course, my skin tone doesn’t have a matte finish or a consistent combination of color—it’s human and can be scratched, scarred, bruised, hairy, sunburned…so it always looked fake. “I decided that since it looked like a fake leg, I might as well get creative with it. I picked out a floral linen upholstery fabric that I adored and had it laminated to the fiberglass shell. The result: A stunning accessory that looks like a hand-painted work of art and is part of my body. And while there’s nothing ‘natural’ about it, it’s an integral part of my mobility, my identity, and simply part of what makes me whole.” Christa Couture, 39 Toronto, Canada
Natural beauty surprises you.
“When I think of embracing natural beauty, I immediately think of wearing my natural hair. Throughout elementary school and middle school, my mom blow dried and straightened my hair for me every single day. I didn’t even know that I had curly hair until I was in ninth grade and I let my hair air-dry one day. Even after I discovered my curls, I still felt the need to straighten my hair to feel ‘presentable.’ Four years later, my curly hair has become one of my favorite features about myself because it’s something that I didn’t know I had growing up. I think any characteristic that accentuates someone’s diversity is a marker of natural beauty.” Nisha Sweet, 17 Ithaca, New York
Natural beauty promotes self-love.
“Natural beauty means unconditional self-love and acceptance. Black female beauty is often denigrated, overlooked, and stereotyped. We come in all shades of black and brown, all of which are naturally beautiful. Black women are left out of the mainstream beauty industry and it’s a shame. What about our gorgeous full lips, high cheekbones, big eyes, our hourglass shapes, and sexy bodies? I embrace my natural beauty through positive self-talk and extreme self-love for what is reflected back in the mirror. I take a lot of selfies and remind myself each day that black is beautiful and I’m amazing.” Lucie Lindner, 51 Stockholm, Sweden
Natural beauty puts you in control.
“When I was diagnosed with Graves’ disease 13 years ago, I lost a lot of weight really unevenly. I also dealt with eating disorders, so I really struggled with my appearance in general. College was particularly hard—I’d see my friends getting ready, going out. How beautiful they looked made me feel both appreciative and envious. Here they were having this amazing college experience, and I didn’t feel well enough to get to class or even out of bed. “It’s weird to be sick but not look sick. Over the past year, I’ve gained weight from having a desk job. I look like this normal, fit, healthy, happy person, but my chronic illness makes everything 50 percent harder. But I’ve learned that natural beauty means that my chronic illness isn’t controlling me, and that carries over into how much effort I put in as I get ready in the morning. Wearing a nice shirt or my favorite dress requires a level of energy that I don’t have some days. But being able to look fluid when I dance is important to me. I try to be fully present when I’m practicing or performing, going full force without worrying about wearing myself out or hurting myself, and it feels awesome.” Jessica Cameron, 29 Boston, Massachusetts
Natural beauty needs context.
“When I moved from Iran to the U.S., I learned that culture plays a strong role in our appearance. In Iran, I was basically considered a blonde. I’m not blonde, but my hair and skin were lighter than the average there. My girlfriends spent a lot of time waxing their facial hair, but I left mine alone. “That changed when I moved to the U.S. and I quickly learned it was no longer acceptable to leave my facial hair alone, and I did not have the lightest skin in the room. A lot of what I learned about beauty here was loaded with racial conflict (a history that we don’t really have in Iran). People look down at non-white girls, and while my lighter skin afforded me some privileges, people can tell I’m not Caucasian and I’m not American. “All of that gave me an identity crisis. I had to rethink what I considered natural beauty and how I dress myself, how I do my hair and my makeup. I now get rid of my facial hair. And while I had to wear a hijab on a daily basis in Iran, I’ve changed my relationship with it here. I mostly wear it as a fashion statement or a way to cover up a bad hair day or even a political statement sometimes (like the day Trump was elected). As soon as I put a scarf on my head, people start treating me differently, turning their heads as I walk down the street. It identifies women as Muslim and leaves them more vulnerable to attacks, but I wear it in solidarity sometimes. There’s a delicacy in this choice. “If I moved back to Iran, I would stop waxing my facial hair, and I would have to wear the hijab when I go out. Natural beauty means being able to accept myself fully and all of the variations that come with that, depending on culture and place. I want to feel beautiful when I have facial hair and when I don’t. We can’t live without context. There’s something really beautiful in having strength in those choices we make.” Homa Sarabi-Daunais, 26 Boston, Massachusetts
Natural beauty knows no harm.
“Natural beauty means working with what I have, not trying to be or look any other way, but rather highlighting what makes me, me—flaws and all. No contouring away this pointy nose or Spanx-ing myself into a stomachache (though I’m not opposed to filling in my brows). Natural beauty just means being authentic, and that also includes supporting brands that align with personal values, which for me means buying products and items that cause no harm to animals. Cosmetic testing on animals and using animal-derived ingredients is unnecessary and unethical. I would feel ugly wearing cruel makeup or fashion. Facing the world each day with cruelty-free cosmetics on my face and vegan clothing on my back helps me feel naturally beautiful.” Jessica Scott-Reid, 34 Montreal, Canada
Natural beauty means following mom’s advice.
“My mother defined natural beauty for me at a young age. I grew up believing she was the most naturally beautiful woman in the world. She never did anything fancy—no heavy makeup or wigs, just slapped on some lipstick and said to me, ‘When you’re as naturally beautiful as me, it doesn’t take you long to get dressed.’ It was just about making sure you took care of your hair, had clear skin, and ultimately looked like yourself. What else did you need? “I’ve carried those lessons throughout my life. There’s a lot of pressure out there to look like other people, like celebrities, and buying stuff to fix your imperfections. But I’ve never felt that pressure, since I thought being a natural beauty was the norm from a young age. And it’s more than how you look—it’s also how you behave. I have no problem getting older because I have a young, kind spirit that shines through. I get up in the morning, make sure my hair and skin look clean and clear, and I put on some lipstick—just like my mom.” Robyn Mancell, 59 Rancho Cucamonga, California
With natural beauty, less is more.
“We take our natural beauty for granted when we’re young. As we get older, we realize the value of being healthy and being naturally beautiful from the inside out. Natural beauty comes from the soul, and it’s something you feel within, not just on the surface, not just skin deep, but much deeper than that. We don’t need to have a ton of things on our faces to cover us up. What we need to have is our beauty shine through, and that only happens if you have a young spirit, a healthy outlook, and a positive persona. You have to take care of yourself, consistently, and work to be happy, feel good, have a childlike attitude, and a peaceful soul.” Irene Michaels, 72 Chicago, Illinois
Natural beauty balances strength and vulnerability.
“I grew up as a feminine tomboy with an athletic style. I was constantly told I should try modeling because I was so tall. The glamour of that world appealed to me, but when people in the industry looked at me, they told me I could only be a plus-size model, and it crushed my self-image. I threw myself into the world of sports and eventually tried fitness modeling years later, but my body still wasn’t right. This time, they told me my muscles were too big—that girls don’t want to see that. It hurt, but I didn’t let it crush me, and I kept pushing my body. Three years later, everyone saw me in a Vogue magazine piece on self-defense workouts. They thought I was unstoppable. “People, especially my fitness clients, see me as a superwoman. That feels good, but I remind them how much I’ve cried, how many times I’ve fallen—people need to see that I’m human. Natural beauty finds balance between being strong and vulnerable. I dye my hair purple to match my strong personality, and I work out in booty shorts not to be sexy, but to show the people I’m training that I’m comfortable in my own skin. What’s beautiful is not your appearance, but being able to persevere through adversity with strength and humanity. I’m grateful to be a leader who can show people another side of natural beauty: the side that embraces physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual strength to conquer anything.” Courtney Roselle, 29 Jersey City, New Jersey