May 082012

Jessica Alba - Left Original, Right Retouched. Photo Courtesy Campari.

In the midst of the extreme Photoshopping, CGI, and robot models, there has been a quiet rebellion that has recently gotten louder.  The inevitable backlash against the fake perfection afforded by available technology has also found its home on the web, and one of the biggest up and coming advocates is 14-year-old, Julia Bluhm.

Julia is at the age when most girls are really starting to get into makeup, fashion, and boys; the age when a girl really starts caring about her looks and her body image. Unfortunately, most girls look to the models in their favorite magazines as a guide for what they should look like, instead of real women that they already know. And even more unfortunately, those women that they see in magazines, on top of being in the top tier of typical beauty standards, are also heavily makeup-ed, airbrushed, and Photoshopped.

So, she decided to do something about it, and started a petition on asking Seventeen Magazine to include one real, unaltered spread in their magazine each month. The petition has gotten over 55,000 signatures in 18 days, and has received attention on websites such as The editor-in-chief has asked to see the petition, and there is a scheduled protest, but no real response from Seventeen yet.

Even 15 years ago, when I was in Julia’s shoes, Seventeen Magazine was full of impossibly pretty girls that definitely made my awkward stage that much worse.  My parents saw that, and bought me magazines with real girls in them, but they were not the mainstream magazines that my friends were reading, so unfortunately, they didn’t have the same impact that the same real spreads would have had in Seventeen, Teen Magazine, or any of the other mainstream magazines.  What would it have been like to see a normal girl who had blemishes and a real figure.  Would I have respected her as much as I did the spreads with models, or would I have discounted her the way I did the girls in the off-brand magazines my parents bought me?

Cate Blanchett without makeup. Photo Courtesy of Intelligent Life Magazine

One thing I would have respected would have been if a celebrity would have dared do a photo shoot without makeup and Photoshop.  Luckily, in the last several years, a few celebrities, such as Jessica Simpson, Cate Blanchett, and Zooey Deschanel have posed in magazines sans makeup. And even more have tweeted pictures of themselves without makeup, with generally positive results.

Some of the “no makeup” celebrity pictures have been contested.  Jessica Simpson’s Marie Claire cover was highly contested (she at least wore mascara), but I don’t mind that much. I wish she would have been honest about what she was and was not wearing, but at least she was willing to get on the cover of a magazine not hugely dolled up, and you can definitely see some wrinkles and blemishes that are not normally there.

Contested or not, I don’t know if “no makeup” pictures are going to make a huge difference in a society saturated with the fake beauty that modern technology can create, but I know these pictures can certainly make a big difference in individuals’ lives, and help young girls as well as grown women (and men) realize that Hollywood stars are real people too. They just have the advantage of great makeup, lighting, and editing before their pictures make it out to the public.

Celebrities are not the only ones taking the no-makeup challenge and putting it online for the world to see. A couple of running/self esteem coaches, Molly Barker and Caitlin Boyle, recently ended a 60-Day challenge that they called “The Naked Face Project,” where they not only went makeup-free, but they also eschewed hair styling, uncomfortable feminine clothing, jewelry, shaving, and even deodorant all in the name of practicing what they preach. The challenge ended up getting a lot of press, and several women participated in it with them.

I found it interesting that  both women became more extroverted and expressive during the experiment, but what was more interesting was that after the experiment was over, one went to the extreme adopting brightly colored high-heels and jewelry, while the other decided to only go back to makeup part time. The challenge helped them examine who they were on the inside, and helped them express it more confidently on the outside.

At the end of the challenge, reflecting over the previous 60 days,  Molly wrote,

“…unraveling from our culture’s overemphasis on appearance and leaning into what beautiful REALLY is…has empowered me more than I ever thought it would.  I’m not going au naturel, burning bras or getting hairy for some cause.  Nope.  I’m marveling in my fabulosity, your fabulosity OUR fabulosity.”

In a world where it’s easy to take a million pictures until you get it just right, then filter and edit pictures right from your phone, in seconds before posting them online, it is refreshing to see the backlash, the movement for realism using those same outlets to remind the world what real women look like, and that we are beautiful just as we are.

  2 Responses to “Going Au Naturel”

  1. Clothing is an extension of oneself and what Mary has described here – is why not let that be the only extension – and be natural? Unfortunately we see this not only in the clothes we wear – but also in everyday life and how we react in different situations. I couldn’t help while reading this post to think about how FEAR of not being respected or backlash of others really does play a part in almost every aspect of life. Plain and simple – we just want acceptance!

    How many times did your parents say to you – “be nice” or “say the right thing” which ultimately made (or in my case attempted) us more apt to shy away from a stressful situation or decide not to pursue an idea or a goal? Well, guess what – that’s betrayal to ourselves – we deny who we are and for others to have the chance to learn about us. Some people only allow others to see those aspects of oneself that one perceives, as “good”, or what is thought of as “strength”.

    Life would look quite a bit different if every part was “au naturel”?