In the last couple of weeks the #NoMakeupSelfie has gone viral. Thousands of women have taken pictures of themselves without any makeup and posted them on Facebook, then nominating their friends to do the same.
The craze quickly became an incredibly successful fundraising campaign as people also donated to Cancer Research, raising to date over £8 million.
Relationship with make-up
The whole thing has made me reflect on my own relationship with makeup.
There was a time a few years ago when I pretty much stopped wearing it altogether. I was feeling particularly healthy at the time, following a military style fitness regime. I was loving the feeling that I could run from a wild boar and jump over a fence if I needed to. I felt strong and my body felt strong too – Hunger Games strong.
So I stopped wearing makeup for a while but I remember my mum persuading me to put on a bit of mascara for my graduation pictures. And when I saw the photos I remember thinking I didn’t look quite like me that I’d grown to love, the one with freckles and eyes that showed how I really felt, tired or bright.
The re-lapse phase
Fast forward a few years and I would describe myself in the ‘re-lapse’ phase. A move to London has meant being confronted with seemingly a much more ‘groomed’ peers – ones, which make my frayed edges, unmatching socks and hair that hasn’t been cut for over two years feel like I want to hide under the nearest rock. And so, as I sit on the tube and people-watch the faces around me; shaded, defined, smoothed, refined, lifted, plumped, glossed and balanced – I have started wearing makeup again. As in, properly.
As in, I carry a small bag full of make up with me in my rucksack. And I replenish it when it’s getting low. And I spend money, time, effort and energy on shading, defining, smoothing, refining, lifting, plumping, glossing and balancing my face into acceptability.
Because, let’s be honest, that’s what this is really about – being acceptable.
An acceptable face
A made-up female face, is a normal-looking face, is an acceptable face. I wouldn’t dream of going to a work meeting without makeup on – I would feel ‘unfinished’ even ‘unprofessional.’
And that’s where the ‘makeup free selfie’ comes in. Because it is a sure-fire sign that it requires bravery to be bare-faced in the daily external world. To show to peers, colleagues and friends the realities of your own face, your ‘blotches’, ‘imperfections’ – or, just more simply, your ‘self’ is just not done.
So, when the inevitable notification popped up informing me that I had been ‘nominated’ for the #NoMakeupSelfie, I stopped. I stopped because it came from someone I love and admire – as a professional, as a parent, as a woman. I stopped because I’m proud of her and I’m proud of all my female friends and relatives who care enough to do something brave in aid of others. I stopped because I knew in that instant, that I simply could not do it.
I couldn’t do it because it made me sad that I was being reminded again of the small and daily oppression that we are under, that spending time, energy and money in order to make our faces acceptable is so completely normal, that NOT wearing it is seen as brave.
I couldn’t do it because it made me angry that the men who share photos of themselves in make up are celebrating an oppression that they couldn’t begin to understand (see this useful deconstruction of male privilege here).
So, I write this and I’m sad and I’m angry and if I were to cry, my mascara would run down my face, and I’d be covered in product that is unnatural.
Dangerous and unhealthy
It’s just yet another reminder of how much pressure women are under to appear acceptable, how little difference is truly appreciated. Emma Watson flagged this when she tweeted recently, ‘I did NOT wake up like this’ with a pic of her flawlessness before her latest film premiere. Later she said:
“With airbrushing and digital manipulation, fashion can project an unobtainable image that’s dangerously unhealthy.”
She’s right. It is dangerous. It is unhealthy. It’s the commodification of our very selves in action.
So you know what? I nominate you.
I nominate you to see your face without makeup as completely acceptable. I nominate you to resist any pressure to buy into a culture which primarily functions to make you feel unworthy. I nominate you to express yourself, your true self in whatever way you choose. And if you want to donate to charity while doing that, please go right ahead.
Hannah Martin lives in Brixton and tweets @Hannah_RM