Why Beauty Isn't About Being Perfect

By Gabrielle Korn, Refinery29

It's no secret that beauty is overrun with impossible-to-attain standards of perfection. However, we're often drawn to women because they do not look like what everyone expects. Unconventional beauty is far more compelling than cookie-cutter features.

So, in that spirit, we're paying tribute to three women who make us do double and triple takes, thanks to their unique and stunning looks. They all have certain physical characteristics that are out of the ordinary, but in fact, it's these supposed imperfections that caught our attention and made us want to know more.

If you've ever looked in the mirror and felt that something about your appearance was less than "perfect," you'll find their stories as moving as we did. Yes, they're all beautiful, but above all else, it's their attitudes that we find most attractive. Read on for their interviews and portraits.

Refinery29Diandra Forrest is a full-time fashion model, signed to agencies in Paris and Berlin. She's also albino. While some people view albinism as a genetic defect, Forrest's albinism - and confidence - gets her noticed in an industry where sameness runs rampant.

How do you define beauty?

"Beauty is the ability to have strength, character, confidence, and a strong presence while still being humble. I truly believe that beauty comes from within. There are many pretty faces, but beauty is a total package."

What do you find beautiful about yourself?
"I'd like to think that I am the total package of beauty, from my spirits to my exterior. I love bringing good energy and positivity to whoever I am around, and in all situations."

How did you become a model?
"I was scouted by the photographer Shameer Khan, who worked with me on some photo shoots, and then placed me with one of the top agencies. Being a model with albinism is great because there are very few other models who I can be compared to. Fashion loves striking beauties."

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What's it like to have albinism?
"Well, that's all I've ever known. I love who I am! At times, I've gotten teased or looked at strangely because of it, but I've always felt like that's ridiculous. I shouldn't have to change who I am to be socially acceptable. Yes, you can make alterations to your exterior, but if you aren't fully secure in who you are as a person, none of that matters. People should embrace their flaws, because everyone has them. Some are just more visible than others, and by speaking out about your flaw you can boost someone else's confidence and inspire them to do the same."

Refinery29Imagine if patches of your skin suddenly lost pigmentation. The spots feel like the rest of your skin, but they're devoid of color. That's what happened to Telisha Gibson, who developed vitiligo as a child. She's now the founder of the Telisha D. Gibson Project, Inc., a nonprofit currently working on a campaign called Perfectly Flawed. The project works to build a network of people with vitiligo and other similar conditions, to increase visibility and promote self-esteem.

How do you define beauty?

"Beauty is differences - the differences in size, shape, color."

What has your experience with vitiligo been like?
"I developed my first spot at the age of nine. At first, it was extremely hard to deal with, especially in my teens. But, today, I would scream from the highest mountain that I am an African American woman with vitiligo - and proud."

Have you ever been teased or criticized for it?
"One day, I was coming home from school on the train, not wearing sleeves. An elderly woman approached me and told me to stop bleaching my skin. The stares from other people cut even deeper. I had to hold back tears. It felt like the longest train ride ever. But, the crazy thing is, at my stop, this middle-aged woman approached me. She said, 'Baby, you are beautiful. Don't allow someone's opinion to be fact.'"

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What's the goal of your activism?

"The idea of Perfectly Flawed is to encourage people to embrace the aspects of life that you may or may not have control over. For example, vitiligo can be seen as an uncontrollable condition because it spreads and moves as fast or slow as it wants. But, it doesn't control me, and I won't allow it to control the way I think or feel. So far, we have been able to create a network of people worldwide to embrace this campaign, but we still want to reach and inspire the masses."

Refinery29Sarah Gerard is a true survivor: She's lived through an eating disorder, as well as an accident which left a scar that runs down her face. She's currently a writer, and her work has appeared in the New York Times, New York, The Paris Review Daily, and more.

What do you find beautiful?

"Health, to me, is beautiful. In 2007, I went to rehab for an eating disorder and spent two months there learning how to eat again and be a semi-functional human being. So, I used to think very differently about beauty than I do now. I don't own a full-length mirror, nor do I own a scale. I haven't known how much I weigh for six years, and I've never been happier."

How did you get your scar?
"Two months after I left rehab, I ran away with a boyfriend to hop freight trains. One afternoon, as we approached a yard in Buffalo, New York, we decided we really needed to get off. We were delirious from exhaustion, and still pretty new at train-hopping - so jumping off before we entered the yard while the train was still slowing seemed like a good idea. I tripped on the gravel and landed on the railroad tracks, on my face. I lost a tooth and received about 150 stitches."

What's it like to live with?

"My life has changed a lot since the accident, especially considering my history with body dysmorphia. Suffice it to say that it has been extremely humbling. People ask about my scar a lot, which seems to suggest that it's changed the way people view me, but (even if I say that I'm sick of talking about it) I welcome the questions. It lets me talk about something that I think is pretty important."

Have you ever felt the need to cover it up with makeup?
"I feel pretty much the same way about cosmetics as I do about plastic surgery: They cost too much money, cause far too much psychic pain, often have negative side effects, and most of the time, end up looking kind of strange. It seems to me that a much healthier route, and the one with (therefore) better results, would be to work on feeling comfortable with my face the way it is already. I tend to attract the right kind of people this way, anyway."

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