Today I stood in front of my classroom of 93 college students and taught my lecture on nonverbal communication wearing no make-up.
An act worthy of a Congressional Badge of Bravery or just another day at the office? I guess that depends…
To many women, the mere idea of being in the spotlight wearing no make-up might instigate sensations not entirely unlike a panic attack.
To others, fewer in number likely, the idea of going au naturel is not out of the ordinary at all but an embraced way of life.
And to the men — well, they have never had to contemplate whether they could walk about the world make-up free, have they? Because men are “good enough,” as is. Or, at least, their eyelashes, skin tone and cheek color are good enough, as is. Ahhh… the double standard – a rich topic worthy of many an hour of discussion! I would love nothing other than to have that conversation over lattes with The Beauty Myth author, Naomi Wolf, herself! Someday perhaps …
But back to today:
Why did I choose to appear in public sans make-up?
This week (Feb 26- Mar 3) is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and today marked the start of “Barefaced and Beautiful, Within and Without,” a national campaign dedicated to promoting healthy body image. This campaign is sponsored by The Renfrew Center, a leader in the field of eating disorder treatment since 1985.
This campaign invites women everywhere to join together for one day and go make-up free to “promote a greater understanding that real beauty and self-esteem truly begin within.”
A noble goal, sure, but what does make-up have to do with eating disorder awareness?
Susan Kleinman, a board-certified dance/movement therapist with decades of experience treating individuals with eating disorders, speaks to this connection at length in the article, “The Connection Between Make-up and Mental Health.”
In a nutshell, people who suffer from an eating disorder also contend with a negative body image. A recent survey done by the Renfrew Center showed that almost half of women polled voiced negative feelings about themselves when they go without make-up. Kleinman distinguished between make-up worn as an accessory and makeup worn as a mask, perhaps concealing underlying feelings of inadequacy and shame.
There can be a connection and Kleinman connects the dots articulately in the article.
I’ll fess up. I was a bit anxious as this day approached. But just a little. My husband laughed at me lovingly as I did “not” get ready for work and told me I was beautiful. I told him he was very smart.
When I actually walked into my classroom today, make-up free, I had more confidence than when I walked in on the first day of the semester all dolled up to make a good first impression. On this day, at this point in my life, addressing my students bare-faced didn’t faze me.
But had I been sitting in one of those chairs as my 20 year old self, I don’t think I could have participated in the campaign. I certainly could not have when I was a teenager. High school and college were the years that I, myself, was battling my own eating disorder, bulimia. Those were the days when I would actually miss mandatory classes because I perceived myself “too fat” to be in front of other people – a dock to my permanent grade was excruciating but somehow less painful than letting others see me when I “knew” I looked disgusting.
When I remember that young woman, I wish I could go back in time and hug her. I wish I could look her in the eyes and convey to her that there is a way out of the cage. I wish I could tell her that she will someday be me, a woman who loves her body just as it is and loves herself, just as she is.
As I walked to my car after the class ended today I had a spring to my step. It was cold and windy and the rain had just stopped – the clouds hid any ray of sunshine. But I was invigorated. I felt light and the world around me looked glorious. I felt glorious.
Everyone across the country who participated today will have a unique and emotionally complex experience to reflect upon, undoubtedly. But my experience on this day was one of victory. Knowing on an embodied level, at long last, that I am enough because of WHO I AM rather than WHAT I look like is a triumph. It has been a long time coming.
I teach again tomorrow. I think I’ll forego the makeup one more day and enjoy 15 more minutes of sleep.
You know what, L’ Oréal? I’m worth it.