9 Women who are breaking "what beauty looks like" stereotypes

Jul 2, 2014 at 8:00 a.m. ET
Image: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

These women know that beauty isn't a one-size-fits-all endeavor.

1. Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai
Photo credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Yousafzai is only 16 years old, but you'd never know it by her beautiful resilience and diplomacy. In 2012, Taliban militants shot her in the head at point-blank range in order to punish her for her outspoken stance on education for girls. Thankfully, Yousafzai survived and continues her activism to this day, although part of her skull was removed and she temporarily lost her hearing. She defies conventional beauty standards by wearing the traditional garments of her Sunni Muslim faith.

2. Lizzie Velasquez

Lizzie Velasquez

Photo credit: Tommaso Boddi/WireImage/Getty Images

Once dubbed the "world's ugliest woman" by detractors, Velasquez has faced her bullies head on by speaking out about inner beauty and bullying. Velasquez suffers from a rare disorder that prevents her from gaining weight, and her appearance is jolting at first glance. But in a moving 2013 TED talk, Lizzie implored women to define themselves rather than letting others define them, just like she did to reach her goals.

3. Stacey McKenzie

Stacey McKenzie

Photo credit: George Pimentel/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images for IMG

McKenzie describes her appearance as quirky and peculiar, but that didn't stop her from landing a career as a supermodel. When she first tried to model, McKenzie spent her energy trying to tame her locks of hair and cover her freckles, but she didn't gain success until she learned to embrace her interesting appearance as the cornerstone of her appeal.

4. Carmen Carrera

Carmen Carrera

Photo credit: Monika Fellner/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The beautiful Carrera is a quintessential glamour girl: curvy, voluptuous and exotic. She was, however, born a male. That hasn't stopped Carrera from pursuing a gender transition and embracing a career as a lingerie and fashion model. She might even make it into next year's Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.

5. Tilda Swinton

Tilda Swinson

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It's hard to put a finger on what is so unique about Swinton — she is a striking mixture of stark, aloof and yet utterly interesting beauty. Swinton's unique look has served her well in a variety of challenging roles that have carried her acting career into her 50s, which is a lot more than many classically gorgeous actresses can say.

6. Lupita Nyong'o

Lupita Nyong'o

Photo credit: Jeff Vespa/WireImage/Getty Images

Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong'o is open about her youthful hatred of her dark black skin. She changed her opinion about her skin as a teenager when she saw the success of black supermodel Alek Wek, and was invited by her mother to embrace the beauty of compassion and say goodbye to "the seduction of inadequacy." She is an outspoken proponent of self-acceptance and a model for young black women who wish for lighter, "whiter" features.

7. Padma Lakshmi

Padma Lakshmi

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Model and actress Lakshmi is stunning, but she struggled for years with acceptance of a long, jagged scar on her arm from a car wreck as a teenager. She initially tried to hide the scar, but learned that the mark was distinctive and set her apart from her modeling peers. It wasn't long before her scar became her brand, and Lakshmi embraced photography of what she once perceived as imperfection.

8. Sharny Kieser

Bikini mom proudly bares post-natal stretch marks

Photo credit: Sharny Kieser

Personal trainer Kieser has an absolutely rocking post-baby body, but her abs and thighs are criss-crossed by long stretch marks from her pregnancy. But guess what: Kieser doesn't care. She doesn't hide the fact that her body changed during pregnancy, nor does she feel that babies are an excuse to not pursue fitness. She wears her bikini with pride, and never asks for her photos to be retouched.

9. Taryn Brumfitt

Embrace the documentary by Taryn Brumfitt

Photo credit: Taryn Brumfitt

In 2012, Brumfitt contemplated a breast lift and tummy tuck that would "fix" her mommy body. Instead, though, she asked herself, "If I go through with this, what am I saying to my daughter about body image? How will I teach her to love her body?" She cancelled her surgery and founded the Body Image Movement, which promotes the concept that women can love the skin they're in, even if it's been changed by pregnancy, childbirth and age.

Tell us: Which beauty do you most identify with?

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