The Naked Face Project: What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

Okay…so I’ve just got to say it.

I’m 49 days into the Naked Face Project and I currently feel happier and more comfortable with WHO I am, than I ever have.  Sure, it look a leap to get over the first two weeks, but once I’d done that the benefits of being my full, vulnerable and naked-faced self have just been amazing.  Whether or not I return to any of these beauty habits still remains to be seen…but I do know that should I add any of them back into my life…it will be because I choose to…not because I feel I need fixing…that I am broken…that I HAVE to.

I also believe I’ve “unraveled” from the years of what feels like “brainwashing” I’ve encountered as a woman in our American culture.  Admittedly, as I have shared before, I was born in a very Southern, very-need-to-be-pretty culture.  Let me reiterate, the way I see it, being pretty or even wanting to be pretty is just fine.  There is nothing the least bit wrong with either. There is also nothing  wrong with being fashionable, wearing cosmetics, pampering, primping or dressing up…even “glamming it up” as some of my friends describe it!

But where things get iffy for me, is when the fashion/cosmetic advertising or marketing companies as well as the content of  pop culture magazines and “news” shows suggest that how I am (as well as women in general) and how my body, face, hair and skin (as well as the bodies, faces and figures of  women in general) show up in the world needs fixing, is ugly, is wrong or is all she’s got.  The language is everything from blatantly critical to the insidious.  It’s the insidious messaging that gets me.  Something about this project has helped me to see how sneaky this messages have been relayed across the airwaves or the publications.

I gotta say…I’m just over it.  This is my body after all and it’s the one I got!

Caitlin and I have received queries from more radio and television stations than we can recall…skyped in on talks shows in Florida, California and Australia.  We’ve talked on radio shows in New Zealand, Ireland and all across the United States.  Yes…a chord has been touched and I think I realize just which one it is.

It’s the shame chord.

It’s the one we got when we were 8 years old.  When someone called us fat or skinny, or made fun of our hair, or the gap between our teeth…when someone said something about our acne, or the texture of our hair.  It’s the one we got when we developed breasts too early or too late.  It’s the one we got when we couldn’t afford the clothes with name brands.  It’s the one we got for not fitting in…or so it seemed. This is also  the one that keeps getting played anytime an advertisement (or the company which creates it) suggests we aren’t “okay,”  “need fixing,” “don’t fit in” or are somehow “wrong for looking and/or being different.”

(I received a link to this article…which came out just yesterday on the bullying side of fat talk.

I’ve received literally hundreds of emails from women who have battled their entire lives with the hurt of those years.  We all cope with it in our own way.  I know for me I tried a number of mechanisms to put it away.  I’m the first to admit that not all of them have been healthy.

I’m not going to judge or shame myself for the choices I have made over my lifetime…that just creates more of the same.  After all it was those “routes” to reveal the joy of just being myself in my own complicated and wonderfully unique way…that have made me the complicated and wonderfully unique woman I am.

It’s who you are too.  Complicated and wonderfully unique.

I have loved every email, conversation, story shared because they all lead back to the fact that we all…every one of us…just want to be connected, loved and aware of our worth.

It’s a difficult task trying to find the line between the priority appearance plays in our lives and the world’s work we have to do  We get so many conflicting messages.  Those started when we were just little girls.  That line has shifted numerous times in my life and will shift again.  Of that I am absolutely certain.  I also know that I can’t  (nor will I choose to) determine where that line is for a woman…that is hers to determine.  For me to suggest otherwise would be a lack of respect for her.  I have faith in my sisters and know that in the overall scheme of things…your journey is yours…each divinely orchestrated to move you toward peace in your own way and at our your own pace, just as mine has been.

But the awareness I am coming to for myself…as a result of this project is fueling my passion for why the work I do with Girls on the Run is so important.  I just want to be the “boss of my own brain.”  To shift MY mindset so that the girls I serve don’t ever have to shift theirs…to know from very early on…that who they are matters more than their appearance…and what they bring to the world is important, powerful and valued.

I recently  came across this letter.  It was an exercise I undertook as a way to not only heal, but accept myself…the choices I have made…the woman I am deep within and the various ways she has shown up in the world.  It’s a letter I wrote to my younger self, my thirteen year old self.  I think it’s currently very relevant to this conversation and so now is as good a time to share it as any.  I like the kindness of its words and the tenderness in its carry…loving, gentle and accepting. So here goes.

Dear Molly,

You are quite remarkable, you know. Everyone around you sees it. That sparkle in your eye…it was there the day you were born and is irrefutably the most beautiful part of you. I know, though, that at such a young age it might be hard for you to see it. As bright as your spirit is, the world tells girls, especially girls with a wild and wonderful side, that how you look is more important than who you are.

But Molly, I’ve got a wonderful and powerful secret for you. Anytime, you feel less than, ugly or somehow unworthy, you can (and I know this is hard to believe right now), listen to the inner voice inside of you that knows better.

I know, I know. It’s easy for me to say that because I’m 51…and it looks like I’ve got it so together. But truthfully, in many ways, I’m no different than you. I have fears and doubts just like you. Sometimes I get so angry and frustrated that I scream and shout and cry so hard I think my heart will burst, but the beauty of growing older and living a rich and often troubled life is the perspective it provides. “This too shall pass” was an expression your mom used to always say, and I didn’t quite understand what it meant until I got older and realized that the goal in life wasn’t always to be happy, but to be content.

Yeah…I’ve got news for you. Life isn’t always easy or fun. Sometimes it hurts so much you will feel like you want to scream and shout and run away. The pain sometimes will be unbearable. But you will survive, because that little inner voice is never fully gone. She is just waiting for you when you are ready to rediscover her.

Boys? Oh my God. In several years you’ll discover the power of your own sexuality and how easy it is to use it to get the attention the outside world tells you, you need to be pretty, popular and happy. But truth is, you already have everything you need to be whole. Oh, but I forgot you already know…that inner voice reminds you of that every morning when you head out the door for your morning run. When you are alone with the sunrise, the chilled morning air and the sound of your footsteps on autumn leaves, you hear her, talk to her and love her. But once the school day starts and the noise of the ”should and ought to” voices take over, she gets tucked away. That’s okay. Running will be your sanctuary, the window in your day, when you hear her and your power, beauty and strength are celebrated.

There is much irony in writing this letter to you. I want to tell you that you will be okay and that all the pain, fear and self-doubt you will feel and that will challenge who you are and at times in your life actually challenge your willingness to live, are going to lead you to your life’s calling, the wonder of parenthood and even your serving as role model to many, many girls your age now. But I can’t. No matter how much I want to protect you, warn you and tell you that you are beautiful, whole and powerful, this is something you will have to realize in your own time and in your own language.

Just know, Molly, that in those darkest moments, those most vulnerable moments, those moments when it’s hard to breathe and the ability to see outside the moment is blinded by self-doubt, you are not alone. I’m waiting on the other side…the powerful you. The woman you have become. Empowered, beautiful and overwhelmingly grateful that the life you are creating is mine.

I love you, Molly.

If you are having trouble remember how brave you were (and still are) promise me you will check this out.  Ladies…We rock, every last one of us… and that’s all I know about that!

16 thoughts on “The Naked Face Project: What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

  1. Pretty is subjective. It’s what you get used to. In the ’80s it was blue eyeshadow and pink blush and feathered hair. That’s not pretty now, it’s cartoonish. I went down south around that time and remember thinking that of the women for the type of makeup *they* wore — ironic. Anyway, despite the fear I had of not being accepted — not thought pretty, attractive, worth being friends with — and mind you, that fear still manifests, just in different ways now — I decided to go no-makeup cold-turkey. Partly because I hate the smell and feel of makeup and don’t believe it’s good for my skin. So it was a comfort issue for me. (Not to mention expensive!) But even more than that I hated the idea that my real face wasn’t acceptable. (And how unfair that mens’ faces are!) I had become angry enough about it that I didn’t care if people rejected me for it. Good riddance, I thought. That didn’t happen, though. Oh, as with anything, following along with the current fashion gets you more positive feedback. But after a while you figure out that it’s a hollow kind of approval and it turns out that it counts for a lot less than you thought it did anyway. Interestingly (and helpfully,) I now live in an area and amongst a sub-culture where women wearing makeup are in the minority, and my perceptions of what constitutes “pretty” have changed. The same has happened for me with size/weight. This real-life evidence of the arbitrariness and fluidity of attraction has done wonders for my own body image. It makes me SO happy. And sad for all those who are stuck with a narrow ideal.

  2. I hope you think about putting this into book form someday. And if you do, remember there’s someone here in Michigan that would love to be a part of it. What you teach girls through real life is Awesome!

  3. Hi Molly! I just came across your project from twitter, and wanted to thank you for the humble, objective tone you and Caitlin have adopted during your journey. It’s really refreshing to come across a project like this without an ‘agenda’; not to disparage those who do have an agenda, as they fulfil urgent needs in the world too, but it’s lovely to find a couple of bloggers who are genuinely just ‘seeing how it feels’.

    Really loved the letter you wrote to yourself too; it’s an exercise I did last year and boy did it throw up some subjects to be tackled!

  4. I see the world a little differently since this project started Molly…thank you! A couple of observations. I was in Target yesterday and almost became sick of all the airbrushed advertising I saw all around me. I see it in such a different light. I also saw this beautiful young woman walking through the store. She had a super short skirt on. A man walked by and looked her up and down and couldn’t stop looking at her backside. It creeped me out.

    Another thing I realized as my husband and daughter were walking home from dinner at a neighbor’s house last Sunday I was smiling. My husband said “you just glow after good conversation, you know that?”. Who needs the latest make-up trick to glow?

  5. Molly, this post is amazing, and has so much truth to it! Thanks to your project, I have been naked faced for weeks, and, in addition to an uncomfortable transition, I too have been feeling wonderfully positive effects. It is sad how much women rely on products for confidence and especially sad how much the media and marketing facilitate that. Thanks, as always, for being an inspiration 🙂

  6. Molly, as always, you are such an inspiration. I love that you are so open in sharing your thoughts, feelings, ponderings on life-you generate a strength of spirit in women everywhere-that deep kernel of truth we carry within gets awakened with your gentle stirrings, your fiery flames…It resonates so deep, calling to be heard. Thank you…

  7. I love this project. And have been following and thinking. I still evolve with this issue of worth and my value and beauty every year -day- I live, in my 43rd now. And know it will be so every day I am here.

    I took a HUGE leap when I was in my 20’s to find my real beauty –which I learned was a CHOICE inside of me. Not one from outside.

    And as a side-note before I get to the “ah-ha” moment,–I never felt attractive ENOUGH growing up, my body was never good enough–I was not overweight– I was an attractive girl. But I would diet as a teenager- and I was not overweight! Felt my body was out of proportion. Criticized it endlessly. I would wear looser tops to balance out my figure. I was blown away one day years later when my closest girlfriend said to me that many thought me the prettiest in the class. I was shocked. I suffered from such low self esteem I had no idea of my value or worth. Not that looks establishes worth– what are we talking about here anyway – but I was just never good enough to know that I was even physically attractive ENOUGH. I felt less than in ALL ways.

    When I was 21 I fell from a ladder and as a result sustained a spinal cord injury at T7/8- essentially right below my breasts – and now would use a wheelchair to get around the world.

    I remember the day in rehab when after a couple months I was finally able to sit up, transfer to a bench and take a real shower and I looked down at my stomach– which no longer had any muscle tone– and saw it extended out and it looked like I was 5 months pregnant and I just cried. I still struggle with that stomach. (And many parts of this body that have been in a wheelchair for 22 years–as I said above it is an evolving constant thing) And it is no lie but when I write it, for it seems unbelievable, but for three years following that injury I did not look at my body fully naked in a long mirror.

    I have no idea how, but somewhere along the way in my 20s, I suddenly realized (or incrementally day after day) that beauty was a choice I made inside BY ME. I was never going to be standing up again and to face day after day, that the idea of beauty was only allowed by those walking standing people–well that would be a lifetime of terrible. And was I going to spend that lifetime of terrible or a different one?

    I am not kidding you either when I tell you the day I made that decision—oh my goodness – all around me–which I had never received before in my entire life standing or sitting- people would say to me all over the place –the grocery store, at work, passing by on the street- you are beautiful. It continues to this day. I would think inside, in the most humble way, “of course you do, because I do.” Men would ask me out – counter to a lot of mainstream ideas of a girl you want to ask out, I mean–a girl in a wheelchair– after all? Why would one bother? –One of my favorites was after leaving a store a man ran after me in the rain saying he never does this, but he wants to give me his number and hopes I will call him someday.

    But that decision was not just about my beauty. But my worth as human being that is living here as a woman using a wheelchair. And my value no matter the form. And it changed everything in my life. Thank goodness I “sat” down to contemplate it!!

  8. Elaine. I am speechless. You are such an amazing human being…you are so “being human” and it just opens my heart so big and so wide when we share ourselves with each other.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    You rock this world…

  9. Wow that letter is so wonderful, especially the last paragraph! Amazing!

    As you know I’ve been following your journey with this project & think it’s all wonderful. I’ve loved reading about your progress & experiences through it. You’ve said a couple of times that you’re not sure yet what you’d go back to once it’s over – if you don’t mind, when you’ve made those decisions, I’d love to hear the reasons. I get that it will be you choosing to go back to it rather than feeling like you have to, but if you do choose to go back to certain things, I’d be interested to know why you made those choices 🙂

    & Elaine you are AMAZING! Thank you for sharing that!

    1. Absolutely. It will be a day at a time…maybe even a moment at a time. What I do know is whatever I add back…will be a celebration and a manifestation of who I am from within. I want ALL of me to be me. Does this make sense?

      1. Yes, absolutely! I’d just be interested to hear how you come to decide which bits are a part of you being you/why you might decide to go back to some things but not others.

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