When Caitlin Boyle decided to ditch her beauty routine for 60 days, it was a kind of social experiment. Would people judge her hairy armpits or her uni-brow? Would she feel bad about herself without makeup on? But she also wondered about why her beauty routine had become so habitual. What is societal pressure, self-esteem boosting, or something she occasionally did for fun?
Boyle, now 28, and Molly Barker, 51, created The Naked Face Project, in an attempt to give themselves the space to figure out the “whys” behind their personal beauty routines. For the months of February and March, neither woman shaved, plucked, wore make-up, put on jewelry, wore high heels or styled their hair. Then they blogged about the experience and encouraged other women to join them in the experiment.
Both women are coaches for Girls on the Run, a fitness and self-esteem-building program for girls, which Barker founded in 1996. They were inspired to start the project after they realized their pat “Because it’s fun!” response to questions from young girls about why they primp wasn’t entirely true.
Reading Boyle and Barker’s blog entries about the process is a fascinating look inside a progression of self-contemplation, as both women come to terms with the fact that their “naked face” is just their face.
Early into the process, Boyle, who also edits the self-esteem-boosting site Operation Beautiful, realized her beauty habits had a lot to do with how and where she was raised. While other women wrote in to say they left the house without make-up all the time, Boyle watched her mother, a traditional Southern woman, never leave the house without a full face of make-up – which influenced Boyle’s own routine.
One of Boyle’s biggest fears about the project was how much people would judge her for not shaving, plucking or wearing make-up. But to her surprise she realized people rarely cared or took the time to notice. And by about four weeks into the project, she cared a lot less what they thought, because her naked face had become more normal to her.
“In general you’re just a lot more self-conscious than people are conscious of you,” Boyle said in an interview with VOXXI.
Save for once at the gym when a woman stared at her armpits as she blow dried her hair, there were no long stares, no judgmental questions (though some people did ask if she was tired).
Your complex beauty routine
Boyle realized that her beauty routine was complex: much of it was habitual and had become like “handcuffs,” she wrote in her blog. Some of the primping was fun: she missed giving herself manicures as a reward and the feel of smooth legs. But some of it was also tied up in what women are taught to think is beautiful. After years of listening to advertisements, Boyle wrote, you start to think your naked face is “wrong.”
“When you look at yourself with make-up on, you see another level of you,” Boyle said to VOXXI. “I don’t know if it’s confidence or that we’ve been trained to think we look better. Maybe you don’t perceive your flaws with make-up on.”
Changes in the industry?
Boyle and Barker’s experiment comes at a time when the beauty industry is facing criticism for distorting female bodies, with protesters asking for more “real” images of women in glossy magazines.
Recently, a 14-year-old caused a stir when she collected more than 74,000 signatures asking Seventeen magazine to publish one spread a month with no digital retouching, so women can see the models’ blemishes and true body sizes.
And in its annual “Most Beautiful” issue, People magazine included au naturel photos of stars like Zooey Deschanel, “Mad Men’s” Jessica Paré, and “Modern Family’s” Julie Bowen.
At the end of the project, Boyle thought she’d go back to wearing a full face of make-up every day and getting her eyebrows waxed regularly, but she still hasn’t. Now she just wears make-up for special occasions, like going out to dinner. While she doesn’t, and never thought, make-up is “bad,” she just realized she doesn’t need it to feel confident in public.
“I still think there is a huge difference between my naked face and make-up,” she concluded. “I just don’t care. I thought it really mattered to me, and it really doesn’t.”