"The first thing I think of when I hear the word beautiful would be confidence," says one winner

By Alison Schwartz
April 24, 2013 02:45 PM

Gwyneth Paltrow has the looks and the do-good lifestyle to wear the title of PEOPLE’s 2013 Most Beautiful Woman.

But we encountered no shortage of lookers when we put the call out online for women who represent real beauty, inside and out and at every age.

More than 20,000 women submitted their photos to PEOPLE for our second-annual contest, and readers voted for their favorites in four age categories (20s, 30s, 40s and 50s). Meet your winners: Mercedez McDowell, 23, Melissa Fisher, 31, Sunita Param-Olazébal, 42, and Beth Buczkowski, 51.

Each of the Real Beauty victors defined what it means to be beautiful on their own terms. (Hear what they have to say in the video below.)

“The first thing I think of when I hear the word beautiful would be confidence,” Fisher, the Chicago native who snagged honors in the 30s category, tells PEOPLE. “Being happy. Being just your true self.” Adds 20s winner McDowell: “When I think of someone who’s beautiful, it just makes me think of someone who loves others through their actions.”

For the real beauties, a true glow comes from looking beyond their own mirror. “Usually I feel most beautiful actually with my girlfriends because we all get sort of dressed up for each other and the compliments come,” says Param-Olazébal, a Los Angeles transplant with a 5-year-old daughter. “You know, it’s kind of fun.”

And Buczkowski, a Endicott, N.Y., native, doesn’t need to look further than her own home. “When I hear the word ‘beautiful,’ as corny as it sounds, I think of my family.”

Click here to see all of the real beauties.

For more from your winners in our Real Beauty contest, pick up this week’s special issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday