New Film Shows People With Physical Differences Aren’t Just ‘Beautiful on the Inside’

Rick Guidotti was working as a high-profile fashion photographer in New York when he started to question the industry’s narrow standard of beauty.

“I never only saw beauty on the covers on magazines,” Guidotti told The Mighty. “I saw it everywhere.”

So Guidotti left the fashion industry to work with children with disabilities and visible health conditions like albinism, Marfan syndrome and ichthyosis. In 1998, he founded Positive Exposure, a nonprofit organization that works to change public perceptions of people living with physical and intellectual differences. He hasn’t looked back since.

screenshot from film of Guidotti photographing a young woman
Screenshot from “On Beauty” trailer below

Around five years after photographing his last fashion model, Guidotti is the subject of a new documentary that showcases the beauty in difference and dispels negative stereotypes around disabilities and physical differences. Directed by Joanna Rudnick, “On Beauty” follows Guidotti and tells many of his subjects’ personal stories.

One of the women featured, Sarah Kanney, is from upstate New York and lives with Sturge-Weber syndrome, a congenital disorder characterized by neurological complications and a facial birthmark. Because of the large birthmark on her face, Kanney was bullied so badly she left public school for home school when she was in eighth grade.

photograph of Sarah Kanney, young woman with Sturge-Weber Syndrome
Sarah Kanney. Photo credit Rick Guidotti, Positive Exposure

Jayne Waithera, another woman featured in the film, has albinism, a defect where the body is unable the produce melanin, the substance that gives skin, eyes and hair their color. In Kenya where she lives, people with albinism are misunderstood and heavily discriminated against, Guidotti told The Mighty.

Guidotti photographs young woman with albinism
Guidotti with Waithera. Screenshot from “On Beauty” trailer below
photograph of Jayne Waithera
Jayne Waithera. Photo credit Rick Guidotti, Positive Exposure

Working with Guidotti helped both women grow more comfortable their differences and, in turn, feel at home in their communities.

“[The film] shows how empowered a family and a community become when they’re allowed to see beauty in difference,” Guidotti told The Mighty.

“On Beauty” sends the message that beauty is everywhere — that we just need to understand how to see it, and, more important, find it in who we see in the mirror. Guidotti told The Mighty that once he began working with people with physical differences, he started noticing huge changes in their self-esteem.

“The first girl I worked with walked into studio with her eyes and her face down. [She] was stunning, but she had no self-esteem because of how society treated her,” Guidotti told The Mighty. “I showed her the photographs and I said, ‘Look at yourself. You’re stunning.’ Her smile lit up all of New York City. She needed to change the way she saw herself, and the community needed to change the way they saw her.”

Guidotti loves that he’s helped change how people with physical disabilities and health conditions see themselves. But he also works every day to change the way society views people who are different.

“Often when I’m photographing someone with a difference, someone will come and see the photographs say, ’You’re really capturing their inner beauty,’” Guidotti says in the trailer below. “And I’m like, ‘F–k inner beauty, these kids are gorgeous!’”

Take a look at more of Guidotti’s stunning photos and watch the trailer for “On Beauty” below.

photograph of young boy swimming in a pool
Photo credit Rick Guidotti, Positive Exposure
close-up photograph of young girl wearing glasses
Photo credit Rick Guidotti, Positive Exposure
photograph of young girl in a pink shirt
Photo credit Rick Guidotti, Positive Exposure
photograph of a baby boy
Photo credit Rick Guidotti, Positive Exposure

To learn more about Positive Exposure and see more of Guidotti’s photos, visit the organization’s website. For more information about “On Beauty” including screening information, head here.

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