28 Photos That Show What It Means To Be A Woman

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”


“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”

Simone de Beauvoir


There is no such thing as a fixed self. What we understand as our identity is nothing but an ever-changing process within ourselves, a constant adaptation to our environment, our beliefs, dreams, and emotions. We’re like a glass that’s constantly emptying and filling itself with new water. We change, and yet we remain. So, when someone asks, “what does it mean for you to be a woman?” I can’t help but remain silent at first, wondering, what makes a woman a woman?

Photo by Sei Katori

Photo by Yagazie Emezi

Photo by Lily Zoumpouli

Until the twentieth century, it was thought that being a woman meant being born with a specific set of genes, an XX combination with which Nature, an artist, signed you, its finest masterpiece. It meant being born with a uterus, a vagina, and a vulva. However, nowadays our perspective has changed (or improved, I'd say!), so even if you weren't born with these biological features, if you feel you identify as a woman, you are a woman. Depending on the social context, for some people womanhood will be an easier experience, a process of flourishing into the person you know you are. But for others, it is a long journey of self-discovery, standing up for your own identity, showing yourself as you are, and fighting against social condemnation, because even nowadays there are people who believe biology determines your womanhood, and that those physiological features also determine your behavior and your role in life.

Photo by Alejandra Leyva


Photo by Lily Zoumpouli

Photo by Anne-Sophie Landou

Centuries ago, society thought that being a woman meant being fragile, staying home, being naïve, an eternal child, a baby producer and caretaker, a gift, a prize, a sex doll. It meant being silent, cast aside, a needful pariah in a male-dominated society. It meant wearing certain kinds of clothes, being concerned about certain stuff, behaving in certain ways, and expecting little from life. It meant having others choose for you. I must confess, it sounds a lot easier than having to make decisions and do everything by yourself, but that's boring, predictable, smothering, and so against Nature’s greatest gift: that free will and mind we were all born with.

Sadly, if a woman somehow dared to question these limitations, she’d be punished because it was also thought that identity is fixed, that a woman's life should be still, that we’re glasses filled with motionless water, and that we’ll remain as such until those glasses shatter. But when water doesn't flow, it becomes murky, dirty, and even poisonous. Fortunately, many people realized that, and started asking the question: What does it mean to be a woman? Is that motionlessness and passivity proper of womanhood? Things have changed –they keep changing–, and if we were to give it a definition, I’d say being a woman in the twenty-first century implies a set of experiences. Maybe we don't all have the same ones, but there are some shared aspects that make us part of what we call “womanhood.”


Photo by Viola di Sante

Photo by Ahmed Hayman

Photo by Olya R. Shapiro

For most of us, it meant a childhood of pink realms, where we would play with dolls and other toys that are the legacy of those days when women were taught to stay home and take care of their babies. But it was also getting our knees and hands dirty when we went out to play, walking barefoot on the grass, imagining wonderful worlds and stories where we would play at being adults or pretend to be those TV characters we loved, all of which somehow helped shape us into the women we are now. Sometimes, it meant being divided into teams (“boys vs girls”), in a low-key competition to see who was better. In the end, though, we realized that competitiveness was unnecessary, and that the only thing that mattered was that we were all playing together.

Photo by Alejandro Gutiérrez Mora

Photo by Anas Kamal

Photo by Mohammad Safarpour

At some point, you start becoming aware of the biological differences, the XX and XY, and its implications. It was the time of “uncomfortable” questions. How are babies made and born? Why is my body changing? Why am I bleeding? Why am I attracted to that person? Why do I want to kiss and touch them? Why is that man looking at me as I walk on the street? Why should I cover my body? Why should I dress this way? Why shouldn’t I be a prude? Why shouldn’t I be a slut? Why? Why? Why? Eventually, you get tired of asking and others get tired of answering, because deep down we know the answer. Nothing is fixed. Once you realize that, you start embracing your true self, and to do so, you need of a set of experiences.

Photo by Marija Mandic

Photo by Alicia Vera

Photo by Watsamon Tri-Yasakda

One of those experiences is love. You'll meet great people, fall in love, let them touch your heart, and touch theirs. You’ll open yourself, but with that comes the risk of getting your heart broken or breaking the other person's heart. When that happens, you’ll feel shattered, you’ll make mistakes, but you’ll see you aren’t really broken. You’ll learn to glue those parts of you back together. You’ll also see that there are people around you, people that love you, friends you’ve made along the way that really care, and they’ll help you mend yourself as many times as you need it.

Photo by Mithila Jariwala

Photo by Mahmoud Abo Eldahab

Being a woman also means being taught to hate the body you were born with. How ironic, isn’t it? Some people tell you to behave in certain ways because your biology determines it, but at the same time, the media tells you that your body is wrong. That it's ugly, and that you need to change it, but not in a good way. It’s a change based on self-doubt and insecurity, not on your comfort, your tastes, or even your health. Many claim that health equals beauty, but that’s not necessarily true because beauty is subjective.


Photo by Anne-Sophie Landou

Photo by Nana Kofi Acquah

Photo by Alonso Castillo

However, at some point you’ll realize that those are unhealthy obsessions, and that you need to be comfortable in your own skin. You’ll start wearing the makeup and clothes you want, not those you’re told to wear. You’ll decide whether you get a full Brazilian wax every month or grow out your bush whenever you feel like it. You’ll stop wearing heels when they hurt your feet, and wear those cute flats you bought because it was love at first sight. You’ll do your hair just how you like it, cover it, if that's what you want, cut it short for a change, or paint it purple because you like to fill your life with color. You’ll be okay with wrinkles, stretch marks, grey hairs, and you’ll call them your personal beauty marks. The media won’t shape your image of what a woman looks like. You’ll do it.

Photo by Yagazie Emezi


Photo by Anne-Sophie Landou

Photo by Emilio Espejel

You’ll see that being a woman is also about pursuing your dreams, and challenging outdated ideas about what your dreams should be. It’s also about working with valuable allies, other women, other men, other people. It is a struggle to make things right, to show that it’s okay to do whatever you want with your life, that you deserve to be treated right, that others who had it worse than you also deserve a good life. It is following the beliefs that inspire you. Perhaps you’ll find them in a religion, in a philosophy, or even in a group of friends. In the end, you'll be embracing Nature's greatest gift, the ability to decide, to be both sculptor and masterpiece of your own life.

Photo by Chloe Sharrock

Photo by Nayeli Cruz

Photo by Azeema

Being a woman is a matter of identity and experiences. These aren't fixed, but ever-changing. And that’s the most beautiful part of it.



The photographs you’ve seen throughout this article belong to the 30 under 30 project of Artpil, as well as many other young photographers from all over the world. All of them have managed to capture the different sides of womanhood, showing that there isn't a single category that fits all, and that diversity is what makes being a woman a beautiful experience.

If you want to see other amazing photographic projects, don't miss these articles:

An Intimate Look At Arvida Byström: The Artist Who Was Banned For Revealing Her Body's Beauty

The Photographer That Is Constantly Silenced And Censored By Instagram


Cover image by Azeema