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How Comfortable Are You with Little or No Makeup?

July 11, 2013

Jennifer Lawrence with minimal vs. full makeup

Our culture places great emphasis on makeup in every day life whether a person chooses to wear it on a regular basis or not. Women are bombarded with messages hawking cosmetics to enhance their appearance from a steady stream of beauty product ads, flawlessly made-up celebrities in magazines and Internet articles, and most everyone on TV and in the magical world of movies. The women in our families, on the street, and in the workplace–whether they choose to go “natural” or to wear makeup from sun up to sun down–all live amidst this image-conscious culture. After all, image is a powerful thing: it can affect one’s personal life in important areas like finding a job–or a mate, for that matter. In fact, one Harvard study concluded that women who wear cosmetics are perceived as being more trustworthy, competent, and likable. That can translate to getting better jobs, being promoted more quickly as well as receiving higher pay; likewise, I think it’s probably safe to say, landing more callbacks! Similarly, the Renfrew Center Foundation conducted research, discovering that 44 percent of women experience negative emotions when they are not wearing makeup and indeed reported feeling unattractive, self-conscious and naked. There is a cultural tendency to perceive the women who eschew makeup or who can’t afford cosmetic products as libertines or some sort of resisters, and are deemed as having lower social status than those who do wear makeup. These women can also be judged as not wanting to make an effort.

Writer Lauren Shields was intrigued by the power of makeup and decided to partake in her own scientific experiment to see what would happen if she put aside her expensive cosmetics collection, stylish clothing, and covered her hair for nine months. In rejecting conventional beauty norms, she wanted to explore her own personal beauty and sense of self-worth. She wrote a book about her experiences called The Modesty Experiment.

“I learned that looking good isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when it becomes the cornerstone of your identity — like the advertising industry tries to convince us it is — then you’re doing nothing but damage to yourself,” she writes. “I became visible to a community of women who began to have conversations about just how trapped they felt by the beauty ideal because it demands so much expensive upkeep and such a constant stream of internal criticism.”

As we all know, pursuing a career in acting puts your image front row and center. You’ve heard rules such as to avoid excessive makeup in your headshots and while auditioning to emphasize your natural beauty. Yet with so many women feeling more confident when they are made up–and confidence being a critical element in an actor’s arsenal–it’s important to wear what makes you feel comfortable. But the real question is: In this image-emphasizing field, to what degree do you battle a “constant stream of internal criticism”?–as Shields puts it. And, what steps do you take to maintain a healthy outlook? Would you dare, or have you ever, gone to an audition sans war paint? We’d love to know; please feel free to share.