Why I’m Not Impressed with a Pledge to Go Makeup-Free for a Year


In the news recently, Annie Garau, a 20 year-old college student, made headlines for her feminist photography project called “Born With It” in which she has pledged to ditch makeup for an entire year. In her blog post, Annie explains that her inspiration for taking on the challenge was inspired by her own desire to get rid of a personal insecurity: “I am not trying to get rid of makeup. I am trying to get rid of the feeling that I need to change myself to feel adequate. If it takes not wearing makeup to do that, then I’m willing to try.”

I applaud Annie’s efforts and for raising awareness about body and beauty image issues, especially in our celebrity-crazed, tabloid-obsessed, air-brushed and high-glossed culture. But I can’t quite wrap my head around the attention this story has garnered. A 20-year-old isn’t wearing makeup for a year to prove it’s unnecessary? Well yeah … it’s not. Not for Annie or the other women involved in this project.

At 20 years old, I’m pretty sure I felt the same way about makeup, especially since I was a women’s studies minor. At 33 years old, I have a very different view on makeup. I have had a child, have had the experience of gaining 100 pounds and losing enough pounds to be very underweight and bouncing back again to a happy and healthy weight. I have had to work as a professional for 12 years and the truth is that while I have found makeup does have the power to make me feel better about my appearance, more often than not it has an even greater power to make others treat me better. I’m not saying that it is right. But it is the truth. Just as anyone in the work force can tell you – while women earning less than men is a gross inequality, there is an abundance of all sorts of inequalities and discriminations from age discrimination to HIV discrimination to LGBT discrimination to obesity discrimination to discrimination just because the other candidate was better looking than you.

I’m not unlike Annie. I’m light skinned, light eyed, light haired, and fit in a neat box for those looking to offer up privilege based on a few bits of DNA. But in searching for a photography project with a feminist message, I’m just not sure that taking pictures of pretty white girls without makeup is a statement that warrants airtime or news articles or even this blog post. What does warrant the kind of attention and support are any of the number of discriminations faced by women who don’t have the genetic disposition of being naturally thin with flawless skin (white skin to be even more specific) or even privileged enough to be able to afford makeup, or even those who have the beauty of youth on their side. The real feminist message is not through those who are “Born With It” but in the realities of so many born without it.

To Garau’s credit, she takes care to separate her pledge from the real atrocities being inflicted on women around the globe such as women in Yemen who are “’not recognized as a full person’ in a court of law” or “in Kenya where girls are often prevented from going to school.” However, she does suggest that perhaps the abysmal 19% of female representatives in Congress and only “16.6% of Fortune 500’s board seats” being held by women is a result of a greater problem – lack of confidence. What do you think? Is makeup hurting our ability to love ourselves?

Image courtesy of ThinkStock

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