Why do we bother with make-up free campaigns?

"Seeing [models] without make up has zero impact on how I look at my own face."

"Seeing [models] without make up has zero impact on how I look at my own face."

Recently, there’s been some discussion about body image campaigns which involve women not just embracing their bare, brave faces but sharing them with the rest of the world so that they too can embrace them in all their brave braveness. This August 30, The Butterfly Foundation’s Makeup Free Me campaign asks women not just to bin the slap but to seek sponsorship for it. The aim is to raise funds for an organisation that supports Australians experiencing eating disorder - an honourable endeavour, no questions. 

Except for this one: what benefit can it possibly serve for women’s self esteem to replace one beauty standard for another even less achievable one?

When I was at university, I went through a brief period of dressing sans brassiere. I'd just discovered feminism and while I wasn't quite embracing the idea of an ideological uniform, I did find myself attracted to the devil-may-care brazenness of stepping out without a chest sling. I'd like to say it was driven by a desire to reject your oppressive feminine constraints man, but the truth is much less political than that. Rather, it was the possibility that someone might see my freewheeling breasts and confuse me for a sexually adventurous sophisticate. That girl isn't wearing a bra! I imagined them thinking. How marvellously free-spirited she must be. I shall attempt to have sex with her immediately. 

A bare-faced Megan Gale took to Twitter in support of the make-up free movement this month.

A bare-faced Megan Gale took to Twitter in support of the make-up free movement this month. Photo: Megan Gale/Twitter

I've felt the same way every time I've attempted to grow out my armpit hair, swapping the New York ingenue aesthetic for the French. I admire those who sport little tufts under their arms that can best be described as 'cheeky’. My own grows like weeds over a large unkempt garden. It is neither cute nor coquettish, but messy and (I think) unattractive. Gazing on it doesn't give one the imagined whiff of recently dishevelled bedsheets but of a woman who's lost the will to bathe. In my attempts to emulate the former, I've occasionally resorted to the trickery of growing a thatch in the middle and shaving around the outside - but like all beauty regimes, it ended up seeming like a lot of work that was also vaguely embarrassing in its subterfuge. Over time, I've questioned if my desire to cultivate small gardens beneath the shade of my arms is a statement that I want to make about the freedom of all women's bodies or just the freedom of my own. If it's not politics that leads me to want to embrace the hair on my body, what is it? 


The short answer must be pure, unbridled vanity. I want to appear to stand before the world having overtly rejected all its expectations - the hair removal, the corsets, even the make up - and revel in the knowledge that in its barest state, my body won't betray me with its untidy flaws but glow like one blessed from birth. Oh, you're so beautiful without make up! So perky, so fresh! Your hair is so fine that you don't even need to shave! Stripped of sanctioned artifice, I could stand there, unshaven but still smooth. Unmade up but still pretty. Unshackled but still winsome, my pert breasts bouncing beneath a figure hugging tee shirt declaring THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE.

Far easier to turn your back on the tropes of femininity when you know that what lurks underneath conforms already. 

Alas, like many women, my body doesn't conform to these ideals. And so I shave and choose appropriate underwear. I wear make up (although general laziness means it's the kind that takes less than two minutes to apply). I style my hair and attempt to wear flattering clothes. And while doing these things sometimes makes me feel better about myself, more confident and vivacious, I don't really think that not doing them makes me feel significantly worse. I’m at a loss to understand how a body image campaign, however well intentioned it might be, can tackle the complex issue of women’s relationships with their appearance by asking women to focus on their appearance - particularly when it just creates another standard of comparison between those participating. 

Having experienced some form of an eating disorder for the past 20 years, I know that the issues of esteem and body image are far more complicated than airbrushed photos of models or the advertising for beauty products. Neither of those things are what inspire me to sometimes stand before the mirror, pinching and groaning and yearning for a body that isn’t mine. Seeing Megan Gale with or without make up has zero impact on how I look at my own face, which is with a mixture of familiarity, occasional satisfaction and sometimes merely boredom.  

I empathise with women who struggle to accept themselves, because I know what it feels like. But there has to be a better, sounder, more intelligent way to move beyond these essentially vanity driven, privilege ridden exercises and prioritise a value in ourselves that has nothing at all to do with how we look. 

In the end, perhaps what we’re all trying to do is figure out a way to be liberated from our very selves. To take up as little space as possible, both physically and visually. To exist unshackled from the burden of the body, whether it’s primped and preened to within an inch of its life or alternatively allowed to grow like wild like a bramble bush. Although they surely do no great harm, the exhaustion of thinking about ourselves all the time cannot be solved by hosting make-up free days or campaigns that focus on rejecting beauty regimes. The problems we might have with ourselves burrow far deeper than the outer epidermis of our skin, and we will not be unburdened of this weight simply by wiping our faces clean.



  • I've recently given up makeup, not because I'm trying to be a feminist or support a cause, but because -something- in a product I've used has given me awful dermatitis. Essentially I've given up everything but a single face wash and moisturiser I was told to use, and it's been one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I'm 19, I've just changed universities so I'm meeting a lot of new people and trying to make new friends, and not a single speck can touch my face for it will return to its inflamed, itchy red state. (Looks an awful lot like somebody has punched my face and I've been crying about it...)

    It's been really hard to accept that this is who I must be for now. I don't want to be judged as a feminist or a girl doing a noble cause, I just want to be a girl full stop. We place so much emphasis on beauty and perfection that I've had days where I just don't want to leave the house because my pimples are the size of Mt Everest and my eyes swollen and red, but I don't have a choice. This is just what i look like and I need to accept it. It's not going to change who I am as a person, but what I perceive about myself from others sure does.

    Date and time
    August 26, 2013, 7:39AM
    • Two words...Turia Pitt. She is my pin up girl...she epitomises the meaning of "inner beauty". I'd rather look like her and have her inner beauty than be one of the beautiful but empty narcissists that society seems to adulate.

      Turia fan
      Date and time
      August 26, 2013, 10:37AM
    • @Ellie: Just wanting to be accepted and respected as a PERSON (girl or boy) without judgement is one of the main foundations of feminism. It saddens me that whilst you evidently want to be freed from the constraints of current beauty tropes, you distance yourself from feminism. If you believe you are equal to men, should be able to express yourself freely and be respected simply because you are human, you are a feminist! It's a strange and outdated view that feminism involves hating all men or even liking all other women...Respect without gender constraints is really all it is! Anyway, best wishes with your skin :)

      Date and time
      August 26, 2013, 10:38AM
    • It might also be an age thing.... I also sometimes get “flare ups” of a type of dermatitis that makes my face look red and blotchy. Nothing I can do about it really, except analyse what brings it on, and try and minimise the outbreak (I’ve noticed sugary unhealthy diet and stress are the big instigators.. who’d have thought it?).

      But you touched on something that is important.. you are who you are. This is me now, and I can cry (not really, lol) and fret about it until the cows come home, spend a fortune on medicines trying to “fix” me, worry about how I look in public, OR, the path of least resistance is to change my attitude and say “who cares”. If someone is going to judge me on what I look like, then good on them. They’re not the sort of person I want in my life anyway, as they’d probably judge my friends and family over superficial things to. The acceptance of my body image is only something I came to feel after I hit 28. And yes, us blokes have the same worries you gals do.

      So chin up, and accept who you are. There’s no one else in the world like you.

      in your base
      Date and time
      August 26, 2013, 10:44AM
    • "Just wanting to be accepted and respected as a PERSON (girl or boy) without judgement is one of the main foundations of feminism."
      Nobody in this world is free from judgement, and no person is inherently worthy of respect on the basis of their gender or their humanity. Nor should they be.

      Demanding that a person respect everybody regardless of their actions or beliefs is thought policing.

      Date and time
      August 26, 2013, 1:39PM
  • You are spot on here! When I see those models, seeing how gorgeous they are without makeup doesn't make me feel better. I don't possess their youth nor flowing hair nor their bone structure, and now attention is being drawn to the fact they can look much better than me without any effort, yet I am supposed to simulataneously go makeup free and I will feel even better about my external appearance? I wish... PS. Feeling better about one's appearance is not about comparing oneself with other women, that breeds insecurity and envy and criticism of self and others. Sadly, this campaign appears to focus upon looking at other women for comparison.

    Date and time
    August 26, 2013, 7:45AM
    • This.

      I saw a similar article to this in which they talked about the fact that the 'makeup free' pics are still inevitably beautifully shot and posed, creating a version of the truth in a slightly different way to makeup.

      The infamous Katy Perry picture snapped by Russell Brand, compared with later 'makeup free' pics of the star looking radiant sans-slap, and the Sunrise hosts' attemps to go 'barefaced' (albeit with perfect hair, lip gloss and some sort of light base) show how false and unnecessary this movement really is.

      Date and time
      August 26, 2013, 9:35AM
  • Deep down... we all want to look good naked! Simple.

    The looking good part sounds so selfish and shallow but in fact (for a lot of people) is the opposite. It is the result of a heap of self control. The self control at EVERY meal time and in between.
    The motivation to exercise often.
    The abstinence of drinking....

    All of the above will achieve you feeling damn good, looking damn good and being in an awesome head space. I agree with this article (for once).... wiping your face clean will achieve diddly squat.

    Date and time
    August 26, 2013, 8:40AM
    • Sigh. Everytime there is at least one person who misses the point and feels the need to make some comment on 'self-control, exercise, sacrifice and discipline’. Not everyone wants to look good naked. Some of us have battled the ‘self image’ demons. And that hard won battle means we embrace ourselves, as we are. It takes more discipline to love yourself then it does to starve yourself.

      Thank you Clem for another truthful commentry.

      Every Time
      Date and time
      August 26, 2013, 11:07AM
    • "Not everyone wants to look good naked. Some of us have battled the ‘self image’ demons. And that hard won battle means we embrace ourselves, as we are. "

      So what you're saying is that you would still like to look good naked if you could, but you've come to the point of self-acceptance that you probably never will, and you're ok with that.

      I think that's perfectly valid, but it still sounds like the OP was spot-on to me.

      Date and time
      August 26, 2013, 11:19AM

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