The Naked Face Project: Two Women Give Up Makeup for Inner Beauty

Mar 19, 2012 7:20am
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Molly Barker, left, and Caitlin Boyle give up make-up for two months to call attention to inner beauty. (Image credit: Courtesy Molly Barker; Caitlin Boyle)

I still remember the fight over makeup when I was in seventh grade.  I wanted to go to school with mascara on and my mother would have none of it.  And what young girl doesn’t recall staring in wonderment at their mom or older sister as they were getting all made up for a party?  Our fascination with cosmetics starts early and for many, if not most women, applying foundation, blush, powder, eye shadow, liner and mascara becomes a life-long ritual.

So what would it be like to go without?  Not just for an afternoon, but for weeks on end?  Molly Barker and Caitlin Boyle decided to find out.  Six weeks ago the women, who both run   organizations designed to boost girls’ self-esteem, went cold turkey.  They gave up their makeup, hair supplies, nail polish, anti-wrinkle cream, razors and even deodorant.  Calling their experiment The Naked Face Project, they’re blogging about it www.thenakedfaceproject.com , and encouraging others to join in.

Barker, 51, a former triathlete, is the founder of Girls on the Run, www.girlsontherun.org, an organization that, she said, “uses running to help girls tap into their worth and their internal power.”

Questions from some of the girls in the program got her thinking about makeup and images of beauty.  Barker told ABC News the girls would ask, “If you tell me I’m beautiful just the way I am, then why do you wear makeup and why do you color your hair?” Barker found she didn’t have a ready answer and was worried she was giving the girls a mixed message.

So she and Boyle, 27, who volunteers with Girls on the Run and has her own self-esteem project called Operation Beautiful www.operationbeautiful.com , decided to give up their beauty supplies. “How could we figure out a real answer to discover why we did these beauty rituals?” said Boyle. “We figured the real way to find the answer was to give them up for 60 days.”

“It’s not that we think any of these inherently are bad,” said Boyle, “The project is about figuring out our intention in engaging in this product.  Most people wear heels and makeup and dye their hair because women are supposed to do these things.”

Barker agreed, “I was just using it (beauty products),” she said, “and I did ask or question why.” Barker, a mother of two, said she also noticed she was relying more on makeup as she aged.

“It snuck up on me,” said Barker, “It became increasingly more important to me.  I can only speak for myself, I want to be so clear, and there is no judgment of others.  For me, what began to happen was that insidious belief that being old made me less valuable and that looking old made me less heard.”

They are now three-quarters of the way through their project, and both Baker and Boyle say they’ve learned a lot about themselves, and the trappings of beauty.

Boyle, who is pregnant with her first child, said one thing that surprised her is how quickly her natural look became her new normal. “We really think we need all these things,” said Boyle, “and all these things make us the woman that we are. But really if you give them up for two weeks, you’d be surprised how easy life is without them.”

It’s been a revelation, said, Boyle. “I really learned that I am the same person either way.  I’m the same person if I have hairy underarms or hairy legs or you can see the circles under my eyes.”

Barker, too, said she feels comfortable with the new look. “I do feel more youthful and more beautiful,” she said, “I think that’s my perception.  I just feel really comfortable with where I am.  Where I felt uncomfortable was the first two weeks of being without it.”

American consumers spend about $60 billion dollars a year on beauty products, according to the Personal Care Products Council.  They point to a study last year that asked participants to look at photographs of the same women with varying amounts of makeup, from the natural look to glamorous.  The women with makeup were judged to be more competent, attractive and likeable than those who had no makeup on.

Deborah Rhode, a professor of law at Stanford University, and the author of “The Beauty Bias,” said the study’s findings aren’t surprising, but are unfortunate. “Men’s unadorned faces are perfectly acceptable,” she said, “I’d like to see us in a world where women’s are the same.”

Rhode said she’s not a “beauty basher” or against the use of makeup, but she hopes The Naked Face Project “draws attention to these issues.” She conceded that “a couple of bloggers are not going to revolutionize attitudes towards beauty overnight,” but said that anything that gets women “to question it at all, it’s a good thing.”

For Barker and Boyle, the official experiment ends on March 31. So what happens on the first day of April?  Both have already gone back to deodorant, deciding it really is a personal hygiene product and not a beauty add-on.   And both say they’ll shave off all that leg and underarm hair.   As for makeup, they expect they’ll be using less of it, and using it a lot less.

“The deal is owning it, not feeling we have to (use beauty products), you know what, this is my choice,” said Barker. “On a bigger scale, it’s the have-to’s that keep women feeling like victims. When we switch our perspective to choices is when we get empowered.”

For Boyle, “one of the biggest changes that I will take away from this project is just the feeling that I don’t have to wear makeup every day.”  She’s even discovered a benefit to the natural look. “My skin has never looked better than after 45 days of not wearing makeup.”

Watching all this unfold has been Barker’s 13-year-old daughter, Helen.  I asked her if Helen had decided to join in and give up makeup for two months.  She laughed.   “What do you think?” she said. Remembering my 13-year-old self, I knew the answer.

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