By Pia Guerrero, Co-Founder/Editor
My step-mother, Maria, and my dad have had a 20+ year running joke. Somehow or other the subject of beauty and make-up arises over the dinner table every time I visit. My dad in all the flamboyant words and gestures that the Spanish language allows exclaims how he would rather die than ‘let’ his wife leave the house without wearing make-up. She lovingly agrees and shakes her head with a knowing smile. In the face of this play, they both know the truth. A) She wears the pants and B) While Maria has always been an exceptionally beautiful woman, she’s the one that must be ‘arreglada‘ or put together all time. She chooses not to leave the bathroom, let along the house, without her hair and make-up done and a carefully crafted, exquisitely styled outfit on. She also carries herself with incredible confidence. Even in her 60s she gets stopped and asked, “Are you an actress? A Flamenco dancer?” My dad once a handsome man with jet black hair and clear blue eyes. Now he’s pretty bald with white hair, has a stocky frame, and is two inches shorter than Maria. They both know that the joke’s on him and always has been.
While to some, I was also a beautiful young woman with dark red hair that cast a magenta sheen and deep blue eyes, I was no Maria. I didn’t have the outgoing personality, always ready to share the first smile. As I’ve aged, my hair color has faded into an ordinary teak colored copper and my fresh and clean freckled face begs for foundation after years of sun damage. So, it wasn’t easy for me to go barefaced this week in allegiance with The Renfrew Center Foundation’s national campaign, Barefaced & Beautiful, Without & Within honoring National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 26 – March 3). I never leave the house without make-up even though it is created to look like I’m not wearing anything at all. I always put on foundation even if only to run out and get coffee, my ruddy skin calls for no less. For as we all know being naked in reality is very different than wearing “natural” looking make-up. As I’ve aged, I’ve lost the thickness and dark color of my eye-brows and lashes. I also had to have half of my eye-lid removed, including all upper lashes on one eye due to a skin cancer removal. Entering the world without eye-defining liner leaves me feeling like I look like a blind mole with nothing but a pink nose and mouth to define what part of my face is up or down.
It’s a week later and I’m still alive. I’m make-up-less and with a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.
I’ve always known that make-up doesn’t define me, but it has certainly made me feel more comfortable in my skin. As an artist I know that make-up is paint used to create curves and shadows, and if done with skill it can camouflage any perceived imperfection (notice I said ‘perceived’). I’ve relied on my artistic knowledge to mask what I’ve deemed to be an effed up eye. The same eye that was once part of a long lashed set that solicited numerous compliments with frequency. Once upon a time, my eyes were called everything from “bedroom” to “Marilyn Monroe” to “bright” eyes. When those comments disappeared I decided my eyes no longer looked as ‘sexy’.
Last week I braced myself for my friends to notice that I wasn’t wearing make-up or to ask if something was different about my eyes. Seven days later, I’ve only received one comment about my eyes. A friend noted how blue they are, just as blue as the male friend we were hanging out with. It just so happens he’s got amazing eyes and wasn’t wearing any make-up either.
Living in West Los Angeles, I’m surrounded by people who make their livings and lifestyles looking good. I’ve never subscribed to that culture, but have certainly felt pressure to not go out with a naked face. So, as fate would dictate, a quick trip to get coffee Monday morning left me completely mortified. There I am a full load of 2 coffees in one hand, wallet and keys in the other and I turn around to leave when I come face-to-face with a guy I thought was pretty darn cute in high-school. I say hi and he says hi and I promptly head out to make my escape. Guess what? He won’t let me leave! Turns out through Facebook he’s followed my work and is genuinely interested in finding out what I’m up to. In fact, his intellectual and professional curiosity about our work in common leaves us talking for 15 minutes. As the minutes pass, I think less about the red zit on my face and became interested and engaged in what he is up to. I leave the conversation feeling like I’ve made a new friend and completely forget that I’m not wearing any make-up.
After that it’s been pretty much smooth sailing for the rest of the week. Mostly because I got present to the why of the exercise. When I really thought about why I committed to not wearing make-up in the first place, something became clear. It wasn’t about me. It was about those suffering from eating disorders and those who die from the disease every year. Every time I felt insecure, I remembered my commitment, which served as an instant, “Get over yourself.” From that came wonder. I began noticing how beautiful women without make-up are–at the market, picking up mail, in meetings. These were women who I thought were beautiful before. Women that I never noticed went commando faced until now. I saw that it was their intelligence, smiles, hard work and humor that impressed me and what came across as attractive. It wasn’t the make-up on their faces. In fact, it was as if lacking make up allowed their true selves to shine through. (They don’t call it mask-ara that for nothing).
After a lot of hard work, I’ve known in my heart that it is who I am that’s valued and not what I look like. But I never put that belief to the test. I was too scared. A week later I have survived. It was embarrassing (once), but it wasn’t painful and it wasn’t a problem. In fact I was actually present to the compliments I received that weren’t related to my looks. I was acknowledged for my hard work, for my friendship, and for my leadership. I got that while my looks have changed, so has the confidence and belief in myself.
Now, will I go out once this week is over without out make-up in the future? Hmmm. Always? No. A lot more than before? Yes. I like wearing make-up. I like the ritual, the before and after, the artistry, and even the sigh of relief that comes from covering a bright red zit up. Except for a zit cover stick, I do feel pretty good not wearing make-up. Nothing’s wrong with me and it kinda makes wearing make-up more special. Who knows, next time you see me, I may or may not have my ‘face’ on. One thing’s for sure, I’m certainly leaving the house without make-up whenever I feel like it.