Last season at Girls on the Run, I sat cross-legged in front of 15 little girls and held up an advertisement for women’s shaving cream. The ad showed the model’s disembodied legs up in the air, smooth and shiny. “What do you think this ad is trying to say?” I asked. The girls carefully studied the image, and then one piped up, “That we should buy that shaving cream because pretty girls shave their legs.”
“That’s definitely the goal of the advertisement,” I replied. “Do you all think that women have to shave this legs?” Instantly, all of the girls squealed back, “YES,” clearly pleased that they had gotten the question ‘right’ on the first try. “Wait, wait, wait!” I said. “Women don’t have to shave their legs!” Fifteen pairs of eyeballs fixed on me like I was an idiot. “Yes, they do,” one girl said, pointing at my crossed legs. “You shave.”
“But I don’t have to,” I said slowly. “I shave because I want to. When you’re older, shaving is fun.” The girls all nodded, like what I had said was perfectly acceptable, but to be honest, I thought my response sounded completely fake. I started to shave when I was 11 because I wanted to be a ‘pretty girl’ and seem older and more attractive. Shaving isn’t fun – it’s a chore. Sometimes, I cut myself and bleed all over the bathtub. And I don’t continue to shave because I want to – I do it because it’s expected of me as a woman. That moment with the girls rolled around in my brain for weeks. Something about the exchange really nagged at me, but I couldn’t put my finger on what, exactly. After all, I had given the girls the politically correct answer – they don’t need to shave now, and if they don’t want to shave later, they don’t have to. But I knew that all fifteen girls would inevitably grow up and shave their legs. Because in our society, that is what women do.
About a month ago, I woke up after a horrible night’s sleep, stumbled into the shower, got out and dried off, and looked at my face in the mirror. And than I actually said out loud to my reflection: “Thank God for makeup.” I meant it, too. There’s no way I would’ve wanted to go out in public with my naked face that day. I had dark circles and a pimple on my chin. Without makeup on, I looked dead. But my remark caught my attention – Thank God for makeup? Like my naked face was really so horrible?
Like the vast majority of women, I wake up every day and engage in Beauty Habits designed to improve my outside appearance – I wear makeup nearly everywhere; I get my hair professionally cut and dyed hair (about $160 every three months!); I shave my armpits, bikini line, and legs; I get my eyebrows waxed (for $40 a month!); I do my nails; I wear uncomfortable clothing. In short, I spend a lot of time, energy, and money on ‘improving’ my looks (I’ll write more about this in the future, but I think a lot of this has to do with where I was raised).
Suddenly, I remembered the shaving conversation at Girls on the Run and realized why it – and the makeup moment – had made me feel so uneasy. It all felt really… inauthentic. After all, my work with Operation Beautiful and my experiences with Girls on the Run is about being comfortable with yourself, embracing your inner beauty, and focusing on what really matters – who you are, not what you look like. Heck, I’ve written two books about this very topic, including one geared towards children (which is now available for pre-order!). I believe this message with every fiber in my body, but in my life, I don’t fully walk the walk. I don’t know if there is something inherently wrong or contradictory with my Beauty Habits, but I feel so dependent on the intention behind them, like if I don’t wear makeup or shave, I’m not a ‘real’ woman. It has gotten to the point that I am not sure why I do it at all – or who I am doing it for. And trust me, I don’t wear makeup, shave, pluck, and wax because it’s ‘fun.’
I recently had coffee with Molly Barker, the founder of Girls on the Run (you can read her Wikipedia page here), and I asked her, “What do you say when a little girl asks you why you wear makeup?” She replied, “I say because it’s fun.” I asked her if that was the truth, and she paused uncomfortably and admitted, “No, it’s because I feel like I have to wear makeup.” I felt so much relief that another woman who works in the same ‘field’ as I do experiences this strange contradiction, too. As we opened up to one another about this complex issue, Molly and I found the difference between what we preach and how we choose to act on a day-to-day basis troubling… so we decided to do something about it. And thus… The Naked Face Project was born.
For the next 60 days, Molly and I will give up all traditional feminine Beauty Habits – including wearing any makeup, removing any body hair, altering our hair from its natural state (dying, curling, straightening), wearing uncomfortable feminine clothing (high heels, tight skirts), wearing jewelry (with the exception of wedding bands), painting our nails, using anti-wrinkle or anti-acne lotions, wearing deodorant, or styling or cutting our hair for reasons other than function. We plan to blow dry our hair (because it’s the winter), brush our teeth, wear sunscreen, and dress appropriately – but comfortably – for the occasion.
This is our journey to explore what happens when we start living in complete alignment with the message we encourage others to live by. We do not know where The Naked Face Project will take us. We do not have a hypothesis we hope to prove or know how we will feel at the end of 60 days. We’re not trying to make a specific political or feminist statement. I’m definitely not saying makeup or shaving is evil – it’s just that I’ve never tried to go without it, so I don’t know how I really feel about my Beauty Habits. Molly and I simply want to live in our own space of natural beauty and be more intentional in our actions. That’s why we’ve chosen to completely commit ourselves to the Project for 60 days. It is only through this total immersion that we believe we will come to a more authentic answer for the hard questions little girls ask.
What might reveal itself when we give ourselves the opportunity to experience life – and womanhood – in another way?
To answer some inevitable questions…
Are you seriously not going to wear makeup or shave for 60 days? Yes. Seriously. And trust me, since committing myself to this idea three weeks ago, I have really wanted to back out on multiple occasions. After all, I have to work! Swim at a public pool! Go to parties! Do yoga! Stand in front of hundreds of people and give Operation Beautiful presentations! And, on top of all this, by the time the Project is over, I will 7 1/2 months pregnant. But my uncomfortableness and trepidation with the Project has only further convinced me that I need to do this. I think I’ll discover something very interesting about myself.
What does the Husband think? Once Molly and I came up with the idea, we approached many women and men in our lives to discuss the concept and get feedback. We were very surprised that all the men thought it was a great idea. The Husband was immediately and completely on board with the Project. He’s down with the whole ‘personal/social experiment’ aspect of it and thinks it’s not that big of a deal for me to give up Beauty Habits for 60 days.
Why you? Why Molly? We feel like we offer a unique perspective on beauty, confidence, sexuality, and gender-related issues because of our careers, as well as our ages (Molly is 51, and I’m 27) and life stages (Molly is a mother of two teenagers and single, and I’m currently pregnant and married).
What are you trying to prove? As we state on The Naked Face Project website, we’re trying to prove… Nothing! We really have no idea how The Naked Face Project will turn out. We are questioning ourselves and our actions, not those of other people. We are hoping that, though this journey, we will come to a more authentic and genuine understanding of our individual definitions of beauty and how this definition may or may not relate to our concepts of self-worth, power, and sexuality.
What will The Naked Face Project look like? The Project begins on this Wednesday, February 1, and will last 60 days. Molly and I will be blogging about our experiences on our respective blogs (you can follow Molly at MollyBarker.com); I’m going post a summary of my thoughts on HTP once a week, on Thursdays. We’re also on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Can I participate? I would LOVE for other bloggers and readers to participate. The Naked Face Project might look different for different people. You can follow our rules and terms or create your own to fit your own needs and experiences (no makeup for a month, for example). If you want to participate on any level, shoot us an email at TheNakedFaceProject@gmail.com, and we’ll link to your blog on our website or post a summary of your journey.
All in all, I am very excited – and very nervous – about The Naked Face Project. I really do not know where this journey will take me. I do hope that, regardless of what Beauty Habits I return to after 60 days, the experience will help me give more authentic answers to the hard questions that little girls ask. And I hope you enjoy reading as Molly and I go through this journey together!