In December 2011, The Renfrew Center Foundation – a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to advancing the education, prevention, research and treatment of eating disorders – commissioned a study of nearly 1,300 women ages 18 and up. Their goal was to capture women’s feelings about and motivations behind wearing makeup. Some highlights from the survey results include:
- Almost half of women have negative feelings when they don’t wear makeup. About a third of that group reported feeling unattractive, another third self-conscious, and the last third “naked/as though something is missing.” Only three percent of women said going without makeup made them feel more attractive.
- Women wear makeup for both physical and psychological reasons. Almost half (44%) of women wear makeup to hide flaws in their skin. They also cited emotional responses: 48 percent noted that they wear makeup because they like the way they look with it and 32 percent agree that wearing it makes them feel good. Eleven percent said they wear makeup because it is a societal norm.
- Wearing makeup isn’t just for grown-ups. Half of women who wear making started doing so between ages 14-16, and more than a quarter of women began using it by ages 11-13.
“Wearing makeup to enhance one’s appearance is normal in our society and often a right of passage for young women. There is concern, however, when makeup no longer becomes a tool for enhancement but, rather, a security blanket that conceals negative feelings about one’s self-image and self-esteem. For many individuals these feelings may set the stage for addictions or patterns of disordered eating to develop.”
– Adrienne Ressler, renowned body image expert and National Training Director for the Renfrew Center Foundation
During National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 26 – March 3), The Renfrew Center Foundation is sponsoring a national campaign, Barefaced & Beautiful, Without & Within, which encourages women nationwide to go without makeup for a day (Monday, Feb. 27) in order to start a dialogue about healthy body image and inner beauty.
Adrienne kindly answered some additional questions I had about the campaign and the connection between makeup, body image, and eating disorders – check out our conversation below.
VK: A lot of young girls wear makeup as a form of self-expression, while others may wear it as a “security blanket” (as you note) and still others wear it just because all their peers are. How are parents supposed to know when to be worried, especially if their daughter won’t talk straight with them?
AR: I believe that parents need to be on the lookout for changes in their daughter’s range of “regular” behavior and mood. Anything carried to an extreme can be a red flag – an increase in deprecating self-talk, an over-reliance on others’ opinions, a refusal to attend events without perfect makeup or wardrobe, isolation, and an overall sense of sadness or anger. Worrying is not a useful behavior for parents. The emphasis should be on open communication. Whether or not the child is available to respond, the parents need to be authentic about what they are seeing or feeling. For example, “You seem more concerned about your appearance lately. Can you help me understand what that’s about?”
VK: Thanks, that sounds like a very sensible way to confront that situation. Also, do you think that wearing makeup at a young age can contribute to the premature sexualization of girls?
AR: Yes. Whether it is makeup, provocative clothing or activities that are not age-appropriate, girls are thrust into a realm that puts them at risk for experiences they have not been prepared to handle. Many parents do not realize that growing up too fast takes a toll on girls and leaves them unprotected. Society at large is promoting the idea that little girls are really small adults, but it is a very harmful message.
VK: I agree completely. I personally think it’s possible for girls to wear makeup as a form of self-expression as I mentioned earlier, but parents have to be very aware of what’s going on and if their child is being inappropriately sexualized too young.
Now let’s talk about the idea behind this campaign of not wearing makeup. Many women have been wearing it for so many years that doing otherwise may feel completely foreign to them. Is there a way that they could almost “phase out” on relying on it for confidence, without making a change that is too uncomfortable? I imagine some people are resistant to the no-makeup idea, so perhaps all-or-nothing isn’t the best option for all women.
AR: All or nothing is not for everyone. Some women might like the idea, but the idea of the Barefaced and Beautiful campaign is certainly not to cause anyone acute distress. Several ways to participate in the campaign and be comfortable include:
- Over a few days, gradually begin to leave out just one aspect of your make-up (e.g. eye shadow) or begin to use less of one of your usual applications (less mascara).
- Inform your friends or colleagues who see you everyday that you are making some changes in your appearance so that they are not taken by surprise when you do.
- Be prepared that some people might comment negatively about the changes you make. Positive comments might make you feel that you looked “bad” before – try not to worry about that and just take the compliment.
- Inform a family member or friend that what you are doing is a risk and you might need their support.
- Know yourself and your limits.
- Remember why you decided to do this – to be authentic and to not cover up your true self, inside and out.
VK: Great tips, Adrienne. Okay, here’s one that I’ve heard a few times recently from friends: It’s not uncommon for a woman who regularly wears makeup and goes out au natural to hear, “Are you feeling okay?” or “You look tired.” What is an appropriate response to insensitive encounters like this?
AR: Keep in mind that you don’t owe anyone an explanation – tell them what you are doing and the rationale behind it only if you want to. Otherwise, just say “No, actually I feel great!”
VK: Okay, one last question. This circles back a bit to the question about reluctance earlier, and it’s something I’ve been confronted a lot with recently in my counseling work. With people for whom their appearance is so intertwined with their self-worth, what do you see as a good first step they can take to begin to see their worth more holistically, instead of being based on something that’s conditional and constantly changing like outward appearance? Is it learning to make appearance less important to them?
AR: No one thing makes up self-esteem, but many aspects of who we are contribute to it. A first step would be to try something from the list of tips I mentioned earlier. Along with that is the need to remember all the things that make you unique. Look at a photo of yourself when you were a kid and remind yourself what you were passionate about, what you loved to do, what made you smile. Perhaps making a created appearance less important and allowing your energy, your spirit, the brightness in your eyes, and your openness to others to be more important is a good way to conceptualize your beauty and attractiveness.
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The Barefaced & Beautiful, Without & Within campaign is challenging women to go without makeup on Monday, February 27th, and promote their participation through their social media networks by tweeting a photo or changing their Facebook profile picture to one of their natural self.