February 5: Observing the Naked Face Project

I am only a few days in…and am trying to determine a rhythm, if you will…a way to organize these posts in a way that makes sense.

Several things are becoming quite apparent:

The bigger question of WHY we wear make up is truly THE experiment.  This struck me yesterday in a very personal way.  I spoke at Converse College on the topic of Social Entrepreneurship and toward the end of my presentation briefly touched on the questions around beauty and gender being asked by the Naked Face Project.  I shared that this was the first time IN MY LIFE, I had every been in a professional setting without make up. The room went totally silent.  One young man in the back…Andrew…raised his hand and said, “So you’re tellin’ me…this is the first time you’ve ever stood up in front of a group of people in a professional setting without make up.  Ever.”

“Yes,” I responded. He paused…the entire room was looking at him and then he said.

“That says something.”

For several minutes after that…I lost my audience.  They were all mulling around in their own minds…what that said or meant.  Honestly, the further I get into this…I realize that it will take some time for me to figure out what that means.

I do know that it means I’ve been mindlessly applying make-up…without ever asking WHY?  I’ve just done it…and for someone “in the business” of teaching girls to follow their own hearts and minds and not give into peer pressure…I think maybe, I have been, inadvertently giving in to peer pressure when it comes to these beauty rituals…my whole life.  I’m not suggesting these are bad.  I’m just trying to determine whether I have done them by choice or “just because that’s what a woman does.”

Now understand…I’m not judging myself.  I’m just noticing.  My mother did it…my sisters did it.  I remember fondly one time when my sister “did my make up” and “did my hair Farrah Fawcett style” for a middle school dance I was going to…I didn’t like it and so removed it before I went.  It just didn’t feel like me…but the ritual of going through these motions…her tender touch and attention to my face…the laughs we shared as she gently rolled my hair up into the heated curlers…I do remember this as being something special.

I was always fascinated with my mom’s beauty rituals.  Mary was the most authentic woman I knew…and even though she has passed away…I consider her still to be the most authentic woman I’ve ever known. And funny…I have very strong memories of her in the bathroom, applying her make up.

I used to always marvel at how she would, in public, pull out her mirror compact and her bright red lipstick…and with what appeared to be a great deal of force and detail…paint her lips with the red stuff…particularly after a meal.  She was very public about this.  The waiter might walk over to the table…as she would be going through that process and I remember her hands moving from her mouth to either side, her wrists slightly bent, compact in one hand and lipstick in the other and her responding to his query…”Thank you, but no dessert.  We will just have the check now.”  And then she would return to the task at hand.  Liptstick to lips.

I do know that there have been a number of things that have come up for me and that ARE coming up for me that frankly…I’m embarrassed to write about.  I know I eventually will, but currently it’s hard for me to admit that I am vain in certain areas when it comes to my body, my face and my hair.  I worry that I will be seen as shallow somehow…but I also know that I’m not a shallow person…so again we circle back around to perception and being concerned with what others think.  This is how peer pressure works.

Social norms are necessary for a society to survive.  We can’t ALL be doing what we want ALL the time.  We must have rules and laws that determine many of our actions.  We also have many indirect social norms which determine how we navigate life…with the people around us.  I spoke yesterday at my speaking engagement with a woman who is VERY involved and connected in her community at a high professional level.  For her to fall outside the social norms for dress, make up and hair, would be a much larger statement than the one I am making and could potentially lead to her professional demise.  Women in television or in the entertainment industry…what would happen if they “opted out” of  participating in their make-up rituals.  Might they be passed over for someone who did wear it?

I’m just observing now…not coming to ANY conclusions.  Yesterday someone asked me what I hoped to create from or DO with “The Naked Face Project.”  I told him that I simply have no expectation.  This is just an experiment for me to see what comes up, when I buck the social norms…what might reveal itself…what “other side” is there waiting for me to find when I quesiton the status quo.

Maybe when this is all over, I will color my hair pink…I don’t know!  I just know that for now…I’m trying to stay very, very present.

Yesterday at my speaking engagement I told a poignant story about a little girl named Emily.  I realized yesterday AS I told the story that I think it was EMILY who got me thinking about all of the why’s when it comes to fashion, make-up and my other beauty rituals.  I recently shared it at a Charlotte TEDx Presentation…and will share it with you here now.


I hope you enjoy it…Thanks for stopping by.  (To hear where my friend Caitlin is in all of this please stop in at her blog at www.healthytippingpoint.com.)

Please feel free to leave your comments.  I enjoy spirited conversation on any topic.

11 thoughts on “February 5: Observing the Naked Face Project

  1. I wore makeup and used other “beauty” products from the time that I was a teenager in the ’80s (blue eye shadow!) to my late twenties. In that time period it went from being something empowering (I was no longer invisible) to something I resented deeply. I was tired of the regimen, yet could not leave the house without being made up. When my brother asked why, I accused him bitterly: “You wouldn’t be seen with me without it.” He was offended, because the perception of reality I’d built up in my own mind (granted, heavily fueled and supported by the culture around me,) was not his. This got me thinking about the relativity of that perception and the strange burden I’d come to think of as necessary in order to be socially acceptable, and what it said about me that I’d accepted it. Now, having been almost entirely beauty-product free for about 15 years, it feels like I escaped a minor prison. I no longer need it to feel attractive, the money I used to spend on it no longer feels like it was sucked into a big black hole, I don’t have to deal with allergic reactions and discomfort (my god, just being able to rub my eyes is huge,) and I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing my integrity and comfort for a gender construct.

    1. Linda…you are an empowered woman…who is making her own decisions from the constructs of her own core values…at least that’s my take away from your words. They gave me chillbumps.

      I’m having the same reaction from ALL (not just a few but ALL) of my male friends. They have all indicated that the makeup doesn’t matter to them. Not one bit. Interesting and again…lots and lots to observe.

      I really appreciate your taking the time to write this comment. Rock on girl!

      1. I’ve been watching all these fascinating responses and keep seeing a prevailing idea of many women “needing” makeup to feel “pulled together” or “complete.” Wow. There’s a lot there to think about. Would reactions be similar if you walked in the bathroom and saw your fathers, husbands or sons leaned into the mirror applying a little mascara or blush before work just to filled “pulled together?” We could obviate the gender-construct issue if most males joined in the makeup thing. Does anyone advocate for that?

  2. Recently, my 9-year-old daughter performed a dance routine with her best friend at the annual school talent show. They called themselves “THE DANCING DIAMONDS.” They rehearsed every day for 3 weeks, making sure their big debut on stage would be a perfect one. The night they had been waiting for finally arrived. As the girls were getting ready for the big event, we decided it would be a great idea to apply make-up. “I want a stage face mommy so everyone can see me!” my daughter says. Okay, not a bad idea, I thought. The stage is big and the lights are bright. Let’s do it! So, we began the transformation. I carefully began applying eyeliner, mascara and blush to their young, beautiful faces. When we were done, the girls ran to the bathroom and looked at themselves in amazement. They were mesmerized. Their beautiful little girl faces had been successfully transformed to the “stage face.”

    Later that evening, I watched proudly as the girls skipped confidently up onto the stage. The Dancing Diamonds were AMAZING, SPECTACULAR and proceeded to WOW the audience with their well-rehearsed dance moves. Their act was all of 1 minute and 29 seconds. To them, it felt like forever. They were front and center, capturing the attention of every human being in the room. It was the best feeling in the world. After the show, I overheard my daughter say to her best friend. “We put the POP in POPULAR with our act! Did you hear everyone clapping during our dance?!”

    The next day, we couldn’t wait to relive the moment through photos and video excerpts. We slowly flipped through the pre-event pictures. Those pictures that were taken of the girls sharing the beautifully made “Dancing Diamond” cake that my daughter’s friends mother had carefully made with love, the photos of the matching outfits, complete with sparkly diamonds on black, turquoise tutus, and NEON YELLOW shoes that they selected together during our shopping trip to Target, then moving on to the pictures that showed the complete and final get-up before the show. They were ready to perform. The outfits were on, stage-faces on and the glitter spray in the hair.

    My daughter stopped and paused here to compare herself in two photos. The first was a picture snapped of her fresh-faced, au natural, getting ready to feast on the “Dancing Diamond ” cake. It was a natural pose showing her genuine enthusiasm about diving into that deliciously, gooey cake made especially for the occasion. The other photo was one with her “stage-face” pressed up against her best friends “stage face.” Their cheeks painted pink, lips glossed and eyelashes painted black as night, extending 10 feet long it seemed. They were perfectly poised and posed, with beautiful smiles plastered across their faces. They reminded me of little mannequins or barbie dolls. “Mommy, look how ugly I look in this picture,” she said, as she pointed to the one showing her authentic, fresh-faced self getting ready to chow down on her most favorite thing in the world…CAKE. “And look how pretty I look in this one!” staring admiringly at her “stage-face” picture. Oh boy, The Naked Face Project came front and center in my mind. Molly! Come quick! I thought. I pointed to the exquisitely, beautiful authentic picture of my daughter, ” Honey, this is the REAL you and NOTHING is more beautiful than that… never forget that. ” Your “stage-face” is all a part of the act. It is beautiful but it isn’t REAL. Don’t forget that either.” Wow, my own words sent me spinning into deep thought about what that all meant. Not only for her, but for me too.

    Life is a big stage with bright lights and we are all searching for our 1 minute and 29 seconds worth of fame aren’t we? Secretly, we all want to put the “POP” into POPULAR and be noticed. Do we need a stage face on to do that? Our stage face vs. our authentic face. Which one will you begin to pay more attention too? Thank you Molly for making this a compelling question to ask ourselves and thank you to my daughter for being the best teacher I could ever have.

  3. The question of “Why we _____?” still lingers. The blank line could be “wear makeup” or any other thing we do… or don’t do. So if you had one of those decision flow charts – the ones with circles, squares and diamonds that lead you toward an eventual outcome based on your answers to inputs – what would go in those blocks for this makeup issue?


  4. I’m surprised no one stood up and said “why does that matter?” or “no one noticed.” You were speaking on Social Entrepreneurship, not Modeling. Why did you have to bring it around to your looks at the end? Maybe it’s because I’m up in Massachusetts, but if someone said that at the end of a presentation here, I can’t imagine anyone would care at all. Maybe it’s a regional thing, because this entire project just seems so weird to me.

    1. Bea…I know…I agree. There is something SO weird about this…how can I be so attached to something so silly? I think a lot of it, after conversation with so many women, DOES have to do with being raised in the South…I’m with you Bea. There is just a lot of weird irony. I have had much conversation with many women in their 20’s…who can’t IMAGINE…literally CAN’T fathom going without it.

      Weird. I’m just trying to observe. What is it touching in women? Bea…I appreciate your comments and would LOVE to hear back from you…again.

  5. This is how I see it…we as women are born or lets say ‘wired’ w this innate feeling of nurturing others and being nutured ourselves. It’s fun to play dress up now and then whether you’re 5 or 50 like myself. It’s fun to let your hair down and just flow w the music of life. Personally, I don’t wear a lot of make up and wear high shoes, I like being more earthy and more of a relaxed style. Do I think the ‘industry’ is making young girls and women feel like they have to look or be a certain way, YES! So the question for me is, where can we find the balance of going w what we as women were born w and yet feeling comfortable in our own skin. I love going to 4 day music festivals, where there is no running water, no electricity, it’s just you and nature and music…I love watching the younger generation just being beautiful young women, dancing in their flowing skirts, hair tied or wrapped up, w/out a care in the world as far as how they look. They at the moment are living in the moment and enjoying life. It is a very freeing feeling of not having to ‘look’ a certain way and just allowing yourself to be! However, it’s also a wonderful feeling when I get to take that shower after the festival and ‘freshen’ myself up. Maybe if we as women would just listen to what makes us feel good and truly go w that and not what ‘others’ push on us, eventually the question to all this will be answered. As my husband tells me all the time, women truly do have the power, we just let ‘others’ tell us or make us think we don’t. There are more women in the world then men and maybe it’s time to take a stronger stand and not allow for these ‘industry’s’ to tell us how we should feel, but start telling them how we do feel, with or without makeup! 😉

    1. Molly…I think that definitely has something to do with it for me. Is this a HAVE to or WANT to? Is this the difference between seeing make up as handcuffs or as one woman shared with me today…a treat?

      It isn’t as simple as it looks from the outside is it?

      Happy Birthday you awesome fabtastic woman!

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