11 distinctly different faces lock eyes with the camera in sharp defiance of the idea that beauty comes in an archaic, little box. Say hello to every scar, smile, and silhouette that spells the word 'beauty'.
Styled by Samar Rajput; Photographs: Ashish Shah; Text: Saumyaa Vohra
Abhina Aher, Transgender Activist
"To me, beauty is so intrinsically allied with sensitivity and intelligence. The minute an anatomically perfect person opens their mouth and, well, they're not the brightest, they stop being beautiful. Trans-women in this country have been subject to all kinds of harassment, treated like objects and thrown away. When you have that struggle inherently ingrained in you, beauty takes on a whole new power dynamic. That being said, I believe that a person should definitely dress up for themselves. Looking beautiful physically (in any way you choose), putting on some lipstick and eyeliner always picks me up—a way of looking at yourself and going, 'Goddamn, you're gorgeous'.
Priyanka Bose, Actor
"As a child, I was a big girl—incredibly boyish (think big-thighs, forever found scampering around in crop tops and short-shorts, and totally impervious to how I looked). In my head, I'm still that big girl—I dress for it, and compliments about how I look make me incredibly awkward. My looks made me terribly unhappy, when I was younger. All my life, I've just wanted to be fit, and to be noticed for my inner wildness. But I learnt a fantastic formula from one of my sisters-from-another-mister—fake it, until you make it. If you're not confident, act like it. Works like a charm!"
Justine Rae Mellocastro, Hairstylist
"Apparently, my smile is my physical USP. I actually disagree—I feel like my USP (anyone's, really) is their energy, and how raw and authentic it is. Nothing, in my opinion, is as off-putting as a fake smile. I feel like I've really made my peace with the way I look—the same scars I doused with make-up are now things I show off proudly—I feel like they add character. Also, looking good is so in your power that you can't complain that you aren't! Hate your hair? Cut it! Not happy with your body? Style it well! If you don't think you were born beautiful, become it!" Jacket, Roberto Cavalli
Kayaan Contractor, Blogger
"I've always felt, the better you know yourself, the more beautiful you'll be. There's truly nothing more unattractive than discomfort. I think of my beauty philosophy as most classically defined by the Goddess of grace herself, Coco Chanel—'Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself'. I've never tried to hide anything about my body, or my face, and that sense of total comfort about who I am has bred the confidence I have today. In my opinion, it's a perfect, calibrated equipoise between self-confidence and humility that makes someone beautiful. Everything else is incidental."
Tania Fadte, Stylist and Designer
"I'll admit, I'm not always super-confident about how I look. Are there people who are always confident? Count me out of that club, please! In fact, as a teenager, I was so flustered by my birthmark (which looks like a line of warts, on only one side of my body, that I thought was hideous). People would shoot strange glances at it, and ask if I had 'dirt stuck between my legs'. I spent a lot of my adolescence trying to camouflage it. But, over time, I've learnt to appreciate it for being a distinct marker of who I was—it was something only I had. It wasn't glamorous or arresting, but it was 'me' regardless."
Reeyaa Nair, Model
"My parents raised me to battle the traditional archetypes of beauty that are so seeped into the Indian idea of what makes a woman attractive (you know, that dark-skinned women aren't beautiful, and all that). Every fairness cream ad is a testament to this awful mindset. It was this constant faith that my folks and my family instilled in me that upped the ante on my self-confidence—enough to last me all the way through to adulthood. I think my colour isn't a hindrance, it's my star quality, and it gives me pleasure to stand up for women of colour all around the world."
Sobhita Dhulipala, Actor
"Figuring out I was beautiful was an arduous task to me. I grew up with a truly miserable sense of self-esteem, and coming into my own required laying the foundation pretty brick-by-brick. Indians have an undeniable fairness fetish, and it's such a beauty diktat that dusky (or really, any other) skin tones are devalued. The body image 'ideal' we hold as the gold standard doesn't help either—westernisation has hooked its claws onto our perception, and dictates that we aspire to a body form that doesn't even tie into our natural structure. I think the idea of beauty is something we can—and should—teach. If we create an environment where confidence reigns supreme, we won't ever to have to seek validation ever again."
Nishat Fatima, Photographer
"People always notice my hair first (flecked with grey as it is), and I don't deny I've tried to make it look its best (there isn't a volumising haircut I haven't tried). My nose is something people bring up, too, because I've met so many people fixated on noses. But I don't think a piecemeal impression really exists—people respond to an image. I don't like to think about the way I look—it fills me with negativity and self-consciousness. I always think of it with the same detachment as I think of the way other people look. I mean, sure, they have a pimple or thinning hair—but is that what you're having a conversation with?"
Dessidre Fleming, Writer
"I can safely vouch for the fact that people notice my smile (or lack thereof) straight off the bat, because I'm always grinning. Nothing is more beautiful than a smile—it is the most powerful (even intimidating) thing a person can do. I love how I look when I smile, how one-of-a-kind it is—I've always loved how I look, and I accentuate as many of my features every single day as I possibly can. It's very easy to get down about the way you look (the haters don't help), but as long as you develop a wall, you're golden. Then, trust me, you won't need a single cosmetic to make you feel like a rockstar!"
Teesta Dalvi, Model
"I think beauty is an acquired quality—and I don't mean with the right lipstick. For instance, I've always hated my left profile—I can't explain why. I went through a pre-pubescent phase of rabbit teeth and frizzy-AF hair, fantasising about the perfect set of pearly-whites, and shampoo-commercial straight hair. I think feeling beautiful came with realising that my teeth and hair set me apart, and kept me from looking like a cookie-cutter version of everyone else. I don't think 'generic' is ever really 'beautiful'. As for the left profile thing? Easily remedied. Just turn to the right and say 'cheese'!"
Ardahun Pinky Passah, Owner, Yeti The Himalayan Kitchen
"I've always been the most jealous of people who don't give a sh*t. I see these people, wearing whatever the hell they want, zero make-up, way too much make-up, in a barely-there bikini or covered head-to-toe, and they just exude this self-love that makes them such ballers. I was a kid covered in issues—too skinny, too short, brows too thick, forehead too big—all things that would plague me. The most upsetting? The gap in my teeth! But, then, I chose to fix it at age 28. It was horribly painful, but it taught me that you're never too old to look the way you want!"