Through whose gaze do you define your beauty?

What is Difficult Beauty?

A beautiful landscape, colorful flowers in full bloom, a stunning sunset, a ‘model perfect’ woman…

Easy beauty exists in the things that look beautiful without any effort on our part and fits easily into commonly held narratives about worthiness. This is especially true for women whose beauty is defined by patriarchy and typically viewed through the male gaze.

What if we were to examine our beauty outside of the male gaze? What would that look like? A practice in difficult beauty requires us to look beyond the surface, beyond the patriarchal norms and beliefs we’ve internalized, to look at the hard things and recognize that beauty isn’t skin deep.

RAW explores our difficult beauty through portraits created outside of the male gaze. The women are unsmiling, have no makeup or hairstyling and are wearing simple tops. Each participant was asked to write about her beauty in a standardized format using the terms “I am beautiful because…” and “Being RAW means…”

Difficult beauty requires us to look at the very real complexity of who we are, from light to shadow and everything in between, and to confront the things in us that we may not like. Once we look at these messy parts of ourselves, the parts society deems “ugly,” and recognize the beauty in them, we can experience transformation and that can help us connect to our worthiness and feel whole.

“Once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand. You can't become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

Margery Williams, Velveteen Rabbit


I am beautiful because…

I am wounded and messy and fragile.
I feel pain, the pain of others, the pain in myself.
I believe in beauty and want to share the beauty and goodness I see in the world.

Being raw means I open up, I want to be seen and I want others to see me.


I am beautiful because…

The darkness of my past isn’t an anchor,
but the spark to ignite the fire of who I really am.
I show up as my real self
without all the layers I’ve hidden behind in the past.

Being raw means I fully embrace my darkness to find my light and joy.


I am beautiful because…

I am willing to look at hard times as lessons that will eventually fill my heart and soul with more happiness.
I’m trying to find the balance between accepting myself fully and allowing myself to grieve when I cannot.

Being raw means I am becoming proud of the woman I am today because I am queer, I am a woman and I am me.


I am beautiful because…

I am open, honest and willing to learn.
I’m a survivor who bravely chooses to lean into softness.

Being raw means apologizing when I’m wrong, crying when I’m feeling, and standing up for what’s right.


I am beautiful because…

My mother almost died and I found appreciation.
I was raped and I found gratitude.
I lost myself to others and I rediscovered my true self.

Being raw means finding the beauty in both the light and the dark.


I am beautiful because…

I am soft and sweet.
I am hard and protective.
My heart has been ripped from my chest.
I embody pure joy.

Being raw means embracing the vastness of the in between, knowing it makes me who I am.


I am beautiful because…

I am stardust and sea water.
The iron in my blood comes from the supernovas before me,
whereas the salt and water from the oceans beside me.
I am part of this magnificent universe and the love and light in me chooses to see the love and light in you.

Being raw means choosing a life where my faith is greater than my fear.


I am beautiful because…

I felt powerless from sexual assault.
I believed I was weak, unlovable and not good enough.
I reclaimed my body and my power.
I am strong, lovable, capable and worthy.

Being raw means letting my inside shine outside.


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