An Exploration of Difficult Beauty: Redefining Beauty Beyond the Male Gaze

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 the things that make us uncomfortable and to 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 phrases “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 inherent worthiness and feeling whole.