Could you go a week without makeup? While some women avoid it altogether, others have developed an inexplicable need for the stuff over the years. What started out as a casual relationship with flavored gloss transformed into a need for foundation, mascara and my mother would kill me if I forgot blush!
Analyzing the relationship between feminism and cosmetics may not be new, but Chicago writer Rachel Rabbit White decided to swear off makeup for seven days--letting the readers of her popular sex journalism blog in on the challenge. The result: No Makeup Week. More than 300 people pledged to take the challenge on Facebook--and others sent photos of their nude faces to White, which she posted on her site.
HuffPost Chicago spoke (via email) with White about what inspired No Makeup Week. Curious? Check out the gorgeous gallery of bare-faced ladies here. And feel free to submit your own!
HP: What inspired you to start No Makeup Week?
RRW: I am freelance writer, so I don't normally wear make-up during the day. But if a friend dropped by, or if I went to the coffee shop with a neighbor, or had a quick meeting I would find myself scrambling to put some on. And it didn't feel fun, it didn't feel like a choice. It was like this robotic motion that I was compelled to do. I felt silly about it and kind of embarrassed. So on one of those "hang on let me go put on some foundation" days I turned to my friend and said, "what if I just didn't wear make-up for a month?" That's how the idea was born. I originally wanted to do a No Make-up month, but it seemed like too long of a time-frame to get other people on board.
HP: How much makeup do you usually wear?
RRW: I want to answer this question by saying, oh but I don't wear much! I've heard this from other women too and I think that is an internal voice worth exploring, questioning. There is some defensiveness to that answer. Anyway, in college, I drew on my eyebrows, wore false lashes, lined my lips to look bigger and wore and 3 different shades of lipstick. Now I wear about 5 make-up products when I do my face up. Probably goes up to 10 if I am being really fancy.
HP: I saw on Jezebel that some women were offended by No Makeup Week--saying that wearing makeup is a personal choice and shouldn't be judged. How would you respond to them?
RRW: I agree make-up is a choice. And while it's probably the most common and most generalized statement about feminism ever made, I agree that feminism is about choice. I'm not telling anyone with No Make-up Week that they should do away with make-up or that make-up is right or wrong. It's just about exploring your relationship to make-up, whether it's through writing or taking a photo or going a day or a week without it. But, for me, wearing make-up didn't feel like a choice. It became a "have to".
HP: Do you think that feminism and makeup are mutually exclusive?
RRW: When I was a teenager, and was first really getting into feminism, I identified as "pro-make-up-feminist" I even had a 'zine that was largely about cosmetics. Make-up is feminist and great because it can be about getting in touch with your sexuality, it can be a bonding experience between women. Often in feminism, we explore the historical whys, like why make-up was a tool of patriarchy historically, or something like that... then once we know the historical why, we can reclaim it-- call red lipstick a feminist act.
But to me, feminism is about exploring the personal whys. Make-up is often problematic in how each of us personally absorbs the messages about it--whether they are from family, friends or culture. So to be fully aware of how make-up is problematic, to be a pro make-up feminist, you need to know how it effects you personally, which means digging into old wounds. I think you can be a feminist and wear make-up, but it seems like that would mean you are shooting for a healthy relationship to make-up. And for most of us, I'm not sure that a healthy relationship to make-up is a given. It's something we need to explore, to work toward. My hope is that by taking a week away from make-up we can all do that a little more clearly.
HP: What is your favorite and least favorite thing about wearing makeup?
RRW: I love the art form of make-up. I love the transformation process--blending and shading and making my face into a canvas. I also love the sexuality of make-up. In the book "Why Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," Jenna Pincott cites evolutionary psychology research about why we wear make-up. In one study, men rated photos of women with and without make-up. The men consistently rated the women with make-up as more beautiful, except when the women were ovulating (able to get pregnant). Then the men rated them as the same. Ovulation apparently makes us more "beautiful" it's our bodies trying to trick is into getting pregnant. But humans don't need to be "in heat" to a have sex. So make-up is like our way of tricking nature, of tricking the eyes of could be lovers. I really like that about make-up.
What I don't like about make-up is how we are expected to wear it, how toxic most of it is, and personally, that voice inside that tells me I look bad without it. And No Make-up Week is about getting curious to all of these things, even that voice! Where does this voice come from? What is it trying to do?
HP: I saw on your blog that a lot of women have participated in No Makeup Week. What have they been saying about the experiment?
RRW: It's been positive, but not an easy experiment for most. Everyone seems really excited and upbeat, but then they will share these heart-wrenching stories about how they felt about their faces as teens and the messages they got from friends and family. I think it's been therapeutic and freeing for many.
HP: Do you think this experiment will change how frequently you wear makeup in the future?
RRW: Absolutely. The one thing I was scared of with this experiment was going sans eye brow pencil. This week, I've realized it's okay. There isn't actually something wrong with my eyebrows. After these first three days I feel a lot more free. And actually, more attractive. Something hit me today, and it was this realization that not wearing make-up is a form of self-care. I am doing something nice for my face by not slathering it with chemicals. And with that knowledge I can look at my naked-face in the mirror and think, self-love, self-care, this is good. Rather than "argh I look awful."