The Naked Face Project: Shame Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

When I speak of the Naked Face Project with women, both friends and strangers, 99 percent of the conversations go like this.

Molly: Yep…I’m going 60 days without using any beauty products or performing any of my beauty habits. No shaving, No primping. No makeup. Basically, I’m down to a bar of soap, a brush, some shampoo and conditioner and a toothbrush and toothpaste. (I then tell a little bit of the background…the girl in Girls on the Run who inevitably asks the question, “If you say beauty is within and that I am beautiful just the way I am, why do you wear makeup? Why do you color your hair? Why do you shave?)

Other Person: I could never do that….(and then one of the following statements occurs):

That’s easy for you because you are young.

That’s easy for you because you are, well because of how you look.

My skin is awful.  Just awful.. Years of acne when I was a kid left it looking all rough and ugly. I have to smooth that out.

I don’t want to draw anymore attention to my legs than I have to.

I wouldn’t look good without it.

I wouldn’t look right without it.

I’d look old without it. (Please insert a very “downing” tone here.)

I would look awful without it.

I don’t like my natural hair color. It’s drab..

My face is too round.

My hair is too thin.

I have too many wrinkles  (Insert downing tone here.)

This list goes on and on and on and everyone of the comments is derogatory in some way shape or form toward the body or appearance..

In the first two weeks of participating in this project, I had the same conversation, but with myself. I would look in the mirror and see an old woman. An old haggard woman. An old 51 year old, unattractive, asexual, short, frail, flat-chested, bony, and too thin woman.

Interestingly, in the first two weeks I was embarrassed to admit that this negative body-shaming language still existed in my head. I thought as the Founder of a Girl’s Empowerment program I should (note the word should…a favorite word of shame) be past all that. But the further I go down this path, the more I realize I’m not alone. Many women laugh uncomfortably when I mention this project. Insert in any one of those response statements a kind of uncomfortable chuckle or even a “I could never do that nor what I ever want to” kind of hand gesturing wave that tucks it neatly back to bed…there is almost a hidden anger there.

I get it. I would never have seen the significance of this small action nor would I have WANTED to examine these things. They were just too scary.

Shame works like that. I’m beginning to realize that shame is the deep and dark unspoken in this conversation around the Naked Face Project.

I asked my Facebook friends to share with me how shame makes them feel and the responses I got were both profound AND richly felt by every single person who responded. Everyone knows shame. The problem with shame, however, is its cunning way of suggesting that you and you alone feel it. That is, of course, how it keeps us captive. Not only do we feel the shame, but the sense of being uniquely broken that comes with it, keeps us from being honest, vulnerable, open about it’s living here, in our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits.

John Tillet, my wise and responsive Facebook friend, wrote this: “When I dig down beneath the shame, I find that there is a core, closely-held and tenacious belief that I just flat out am unlovable/unacceptable. Upon further review, I find that this belief was generated by a young boy who was just trying to make sense of things that he didn’t have the ability to totally comprehend. So, my growth lies in growing out of this little boy’s belief.”

David Ingle writes: “Shame is about the self not being good enough whereas guilt is the feeling of having violated a principle or rule.”

My own sister Emily Wilmer, writes. “Guilt is rooted in sadness/remorse over the effect of our behavior. It is specific and concrete. Shame is rooted in anger directed on ourselves. It is also global as in everything about who we are…about us. Shame is rooted in a lie, Humility is rooted in the truth.”

I remember when i was in sixth grade. My friend Frances developed breasts. I didn’t and never have, frankly. Not much of them, anyway. The attention I had previously received on the playground from the boys, began to wane (from my perspective)…at least in comparison to the attention Frances was getting. Popping bras was the activity of the hour and because I wasn’t wearing one…I was rarely chased, chosen, “liked.”.I can recall now feeling so left out. “Unloveable” as John put it. I think it was about then that I began to correlate my body, my appearance with ME, Molly, being somehow unloveable, unacceptable.”  My guess is shame found its way into my life long before THIS particular incident, but as John said, when we are children…we are just trying to make sense of things around us.

What’s really interesting, as I even write those words on this page, I’m afraid to write that…I’m afraid because that’s how shame works. It wants us to believe it is right…and so it keeps itself secret inside of us. It’s the small dark box we tuck away under the bed and pretend isn’t there. We dust around it for years, tuck it further back under the bed. The box grows under there and expands out into many other realms of our lives. That sense of not being good enough or somehow being uniquely broken shows up in all sorts of other ways. For me I spent years trying to hide the shame box through overacheiving and numbing myself out. Straight A’s, President of the Student Government, drinking too much and training for Ironman Triathlons. Joy did not live here. I was living from one quick fix to the next…anything to prove that I…the big me…the Molly who lives here isn’t broken.

I’ve been reading a lot on shame. The process has been both deeply disturbing and wholly uplifting. Shame has been a force utilized for years that has kept women from their full potential. . I could write an entire dissertation about shame and the woman. Shamed for being too sexual, shamed for not being sexual enough. Shamed for being too thin. Shamed for being fat. Shamed for being too pretty. Shamed for being “ugly.” Shamed for being a mother. Shamed for being a working woman. Shamed for aging. Shamed for not being old enough. Shamed for being outspoken. Shame for being too quiet. This isn’t just an American issue. It is a global one.

It’s also not just about women.  Actually shame has been (and continues to be) a force used to keep many non-dominant groups from realizing their full potential.  Interestingly, the more I read about this, the more I realize that shame within those in the dominant group is often what drives them in using it to keep the non-dominant group…just that, non-dominant.  It could be race, economics, geography, religion…but hidden there underneath ALL of it, whether in the dominant or non-dominant group is the fear that we are truly broken…truly unloveable…truly unworthy.  As hard as it is to allow myself to be vulnerable…it is often times even more difficult for me to understand and value the fear of being vulnerable by the dominant group…and yet ironically…we are all the same here.

While I don’t know precisely at what point I let shame live here, neatly tucked under the bed of this life of mine, I know that I did. I also, thanks to this project, realize that I am not alone. Not alone at all. And am finding a great deal of comfort in knowing that this universal, kind of woman-body-beauty-appearance shame can, if brought out into the light be a very beautiful and powerful resource to bring women together. Instead of continuing to tuck it away by projecting my fears onto the apperance or degradation of other women, I can bring it out and see all of us as beautiful and whole.

We can open up that big and beautiful box of shame and examine all the stories we make up about beauty, appearance, aging, our bodies, the way we live our lives so that we can once and for all embrace who we are, peel back the layers and get down to the wonder and beauty of just being ourselves…our most wonderful, glorious, full, rich, whole selves.

I could find an infinite number of historical and current references on how shame was and is used (whether intentionally or not) by the dominant group to keep those in the non-dominant group…just that,,,non-dominant. But as one of the women on my Facebook page simply wrote, “Shame doesn’t live here anymore.” I realize that for whatever reasons shame has been used in the past, the present or somehow woven even into my own DNA, the moment I admit it iis here, it simply loses all its power and I am set free…I am free and no longer bound to or living into anything less than my biggest, most beautiful, most empowered spirit.

“Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.” Jim Morrison.

(Brene Brown has done some absolutely AMAZING work around shame, fear and vulnerability. If you haven’t met her on the internet, or through her books, please consider visiting her in either one of those places. She has also given a fabulous TED talk which I will embed here…she gives us permission to see vulnerability around our “shame” as a strength. Amazing!

How does this blog post “hit’ you? If you want to share, but don’t want to share publicly, please feel free to email me at

13 thoughts on “The Naked Face Project: Shame Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

  1. It hits me and I agree. I love you saying that you won’t allow it to live here anymore. I think its something we should all try, even when it creeps up on us and starts to nestle itself into the tiny ridges of our heart. Go you, I feel a sense of sisterhood with you in the project and love what you are doing and how deep you are taking this.

  2. You are doing fantastic work here. I just want to let you know how much I enjoy and value your writing. It is really groundbreaking and meaningful.

    1. Thank you Kristen. And actually this is hilarious…Just driving my 13 year old daughter to school…she said something that made me have to change it up EVEN MORE. I swear…moment by moment…the onion is being peeled. I appreciate your comment. I have an ebb and a flow with this. Sometimes I’m scared and sometimes I’m empowered. Depends on how much room I give shame to fill (or not fill) the space.

  3. It’s all so crazy to me…
    At one point in my life, all I wanted was to be skinny with small breasts. I developed breasts in grade 7 and yes, the boys looked. I’m not overweight, but I’m curvy and soft, despite hiking and running marathons and lifting weights. I’m “feminine”, I guess, with hips and legs and breasts. And for so long I hated them.
    I never wore push up bras or even tight pants because I didn’t want men to look at me. I told myself it was because I was a tomboy and an athlete, too smart for all the foolishness of trying to bait a mate by anything other than my brains, but really, I just didn’t like how I looked. Which I now realize is because I didn’t really like Me.
    We all wanted to, at some point, be like someone else. Molly, I wished for so long that I looked like you. Long, lean, lanky, elegant. And yet here you were wishing you had breasts and more curves….
    I don’t know if we were all “shamed” into wanting to be someone/something else… but I agree that these boxes we’re expected to fit in end up making us feel out of place, no matter what our body shape is.
    I’ve floated for so long between very confident and horribly self-conscious. I’ve always known that I’m smart and funny and kind, but for so very long, never really thought I was loveable. I thought that for some reason, somewhere deep down, I was worthless. I just covered it so well that it took me 30 years to realize that the problem wasn’t my apparent inability to develop a flat stomach, but that the problem was the fact that I didn’t love myself.
    So I started the slow and painful process of healing. There has been a lot of hiccups along the way, but I’m getting there (I’m nearly there!). To a place without shame.
    Without GUILT (which is my big indulgence).
    Bravo to you for speaking about this (and speaking so loudly!). Keep on keepin’ on!

  4. Molly
    I have been thinking about your project a lot recently. Going through cancer and losing my hair, the naked face project hits me in a different spot. I like what you are doing to cultivate beauty in young women. I was blessed to have a strong family and feel like I have been given great self confidence in this matter. I never worried much about what i looked like, and have always been a minimalist. However, losing what one identifies with as their image has been more difficult than I thought. I think I look great without hair, but it’s how other people look at you. It’s so much easier to wear a hat or a wig. And then when you do where wigs, you are always become a little more self conscious. It is this experience that has opened my eyes to a world of what it would be like to doubt your confidence and image. It’s amazing how that moment can create fear and take away from you. I am fully aware of this, and my heart goes out to those less confident for whatever reasons they may have. I hope you instill the kind of energy in young women that gives them self assurance while keeping them so balanced that there hearts remain compassionate. You are doing a great work. Keep it up.

  5. I didn’t wear a bra as have nothing! until I was over 40 and discovered Limited Too for kids. As a runner I was and am so grateful. Gratefull I don’t need breast reduction and NEVER have considered breast enhancement even though many women have asked me. I
    think it comes down to pride, personal choice , presenting yourself as you personally see fit, whether free of makeup or wearing it. If you have yourself esteem and pride , feel empowered to go out in the world as you wish to be! Actions speak louder than appearance and words.

    A smile, a positive attitude backed up by pride in appearance and presentation is not a bad thing.

    Just another point of view. Our actions, reactions and interactions are deemed by our self esteem, self respect and sence of well- being. Choice ! it’s a good thing.

  6. You are welcome- Congrats on all you have done – see the MSNBC pieces daily- it’s about time!

  7. I wanted to thank you. I just found out about your project. It was a news feed. I was so intrigued by the question, why do i wear make up, do this, do that. I got to this pafe, catching up reading the blogs, and could not have hit home more than anything. Not even my therapist got this deep to me.

    Ive been revamping myself, my guy friend through highschool who became my boyfriend in college got cancer almost two years ago. My grandpa, i saw him die in his own bed at home from cancer. I have so much shame and regret for not being there more. I was 14, stupid, ignorant, more absorbed in me and the pressure of society. Now these days when i think about it, all i want to do is go back in time and slap myself. I let fear and shame shape me when my boyfriend and good friend of years was diagonised. I became so focused on not making the same mistake…. That i lost myself. Who i was, everything.

    It was a downward spiral of weight gain leading to depression that i saw myself through what i believed was what other thought of me. Wether it was true or not. I tried every quick fix, every crash diet, feeding off others… It never worked. I became. Quiter.

    My soon to be fiance is cancer free for a year now was the first to say he was disappointed in me. I kept throwing things out there got commited, then came up with an excuse to quit. He said hed never seen me quit before or care so much how others saw me and influenced me. Hearing it from someone else felt like a slap in the face, one i needed!

    So this year ive been making little goals and achieving them. Simple things, like finding an organic beauty line i love. Check. Wearing less makeup and some days not at all, to accept me, check. But yes that is hard, i see beauty and ugly in myself nut i press on, because i am beautiful without, thats what i say, and i see it. I started yoga a month ago. Im tweeking my diet here and there. Even cleaned out and decluttered my apartment. And now i signed up for my first 5k in august.

    Im listening to my body, moving at its pace to adjust and change, instead of forcing it quickly to do things it cant. I feel like im getting back on track with my. I tell very little people im doing these things because i want to do them for me not there opinions.

    Reading this blog has made me think more, feel more, power myself more. And add another goal to my list…

    “Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.” Jim Morrison.

    That. And that is to appear nude in public. Exposed to all, to take away that fear and shame of my own body because for so long i rejected it, alienated it, and tortured it for the ideal of others. No longer. I still feel shame of my body, but i know this year, that will change. I can hear my own body humming to a new rythme ive never felt before. I feel empowered.

    And you helped. This shame thing, facing it, will be my last resolves, my last i can do this, i will do this, and once its done, i can already feel the relief like i did it… Imagining how i will feel when i actually do it!!!

    Last goal post 5k…. Nude white water rafting… Or something like that 🙂

    Thank you for letting me see something i was missing and something i need to face.

    1. Hehe! Told my boyfriend bout the nude white water, he was thrilled then not! So as of now we are opting for a nude weekend until later 😀

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