Beyond skin deep

As a fashion photographer who is now embarking on his 14th season as a judge on the primetime series "America's Next Top Model," a reality show in which aspiring young models compete to launch a career in the modeling industry, Nigel Barker's idea of beauty may appear only skin-deep.

Barker will make a special appearance at 5 p.m. Sept.18 at Laguna Beach Books, 1200 S. Coast Hwy., where he will sign copies and discuss topics from his new book, "Nigel Barker's Beauty Equation."

In the book, the former model turned photographer and filmmaker rejects many Western ideals and says that true beauty undoubtedly begins on the inside, as he aims to help women uncover a better and more beautiful version of themselves by examining 10 key elements that he devised throughout years of shooting various subjects.

"Behind the lens, I was always looking for what it is that makes a photo so captivating and memorable," Barker said. "Over time, I realized it's not a stunning façade, but a 'smile' with the eyes, natural warmth and allure about a person that achieve this. When you feel beautiful, you look beautiful."

And "feeling" beautiful, Barker says, stems from something much deeper than our outward appearance. In the book, he lists attributes including compassion, spontaneity, honesty and humor as the essential elements to achieving overall beauty.

Comprised of personal anecdotes and photographs, words of wisdom from inspirational people Barker has met (or studied) along the way and advice from celebrities and fashion, beauty and health experts, each chapter illustrates the essence of these attributes and provides the reader with tools to attain them.

In this "workbook" of sorts, Barker also presents women with challenges such as identifying our best traits, tackling self-defeatist demons and tapping into special talents that serve to enhance our own beauty and help make the world a beautiful place.

The challenges conclude with a self-portrait or video, to document personal transformation throughout this introspective journey. Women can keep journeys private, or share them and inspire others through the book's interactive website,

Conveying the importance of also looking our best to make a good impression, the pages are also filled with an array of beauty and fashion tips from how to play up your prettiest features, embrace the locks you were born with, and look your best in photos.

"The focus is really on personality and who you are as a person. It's not your body, but how you 'walk' that matters," he said. "I hope this book will inspire women to find their best self, be authentic and not follow ideals of beauty that can't even be achieved by the [airbrushed models] who portray them."

Now a father of two small children (whom he shares with model and wife, Christen), Barker said the book was partly inspired by his desire to raise his children in a world that has a "real and healthy" idea of beauty.

Thrust into the fashion world in early adulthood, Barker said his own concept of beauty really changed when he later began shooting campaigns and filming documentaries for charities like the Human Society of the United States, Make-A-Wish and Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundations.

Projects including "A Sealed Fate?" which exposed the brutal hunting of seals in Canada, "Generation Free," which followed efforts in Tanzania to create a generation free of HIV and "Haiti: Hunger and Hope," which helped feed and educate impoverished children in Haiti served to further develop the way Barker perceived beauty.

"To see peoples' strength in the face of enormous difficulties was a huge dawning on what's beautiful and important to me," he said. "To take pictures of a pretty girl is one thing, but to see the joy in someone's eyes because they now have clean water, or to capture a picture of someone in Africa that shows hope and sends a message that you're making a difference – it doesn't get more beautiful than that."

Through these experiences, he also developed a fondness for something many women pay thousands of dollars to correct – wrinkles.

"Here, women are so concerned with aging, but wrinkles tell the story about who you are. And that can be a beautiful thing if you're a happy person who smiles a lot."

A complimentary ticket to the signing will be given for each book that is purchased at Laguna Beach Books, which must be presented at the event. To reserve a copy of the book, call (949) 494-4779.

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