Removing the Mask: Two Weeks Without Makeup

What changed in my life while going without makeup for two weeks?  Surprisingly little.  Not a single person made a comment to me about looking “tired.”  No one treated me any differently.  People continued to be kind, caring and concerned in the way I know most humans to be on the average day.

The only thing that really changed for me is that when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t love my face. This sounds bad, but I wasn’t like, “Ugh, I hate myself. Why do I look like this?” It was more, “Yeah, I don’t really dig this right now.” And when I walked away from the mirror, the thought didn’t follow me around, didn’t nag me, didn’t even occur to me to be honest.

This is surprising considering that had I never stepped foot in front of a classroom or gone to a professional meeting without my safety blanket- concealer, blush, mascara and eye shadow. I did both of these things five days into the two weeks, and there was literally no difference between that day and any other.


My favorite partner in crime and I going makeup free- mostly at least. (Mel had mascara on I think.) She appropriately noted that “Smiling is like makeup” because all of my makeup-free selfies look so much more like “me” than the ones where I’m not smiling.

There was another more meaningful change that happened, but it was within. I was successful in sloughing off the layer of stuff on my face that masqueraded as me and really wasn’t.

I understood that I didn’t need makeup to be me, and that I often wore it to preserve something that other people had told me was valuable: my appearance.  I didn’t care about being pretty, or even think I was pretty, when I was young. It was when I started hearing other people value it that I started valuing that aspect of myself.

Going without makeup was like saying, “I will not be this for you. I don’t need to fulfill your vision of what I should be.” It felt good.

After the experience, I didn’t decide to give up makeup forever, but I did loosen its grip on me. I can decide not to wear it now, even when I am going out for the day.  I have pushed myself outside of my appearance comfort zone in other ways, too. For example, I have a tube of bright red lipstick from a New Year’s Eve a few years ago; I have never worn it again.  One night while getting ready to go out, I just said, “Why not?  Who cares?”

Interestingly, I felt more uncomfortable on that night than I did all the days I didn’t wear makeup.


Me rocking the “red lip classic” look, to use the words of my favorite artist for family dance parties, T-swift, of course. Photo by Mitchell Kemper

The feeling was, “This is a spectacle. People will look.” Of course, this is a tremendous exaggeration, and no one did.  I will keep thinking about what it means that I felt this way. I will continue to experiment with pushing my appearance outside of my comfort zone.

One thing I want to make clear about this experiment is how limited my perspective is. Not wearing makeup is not changing my skin color. It is not putting on 100 pounds. It is not pushing my appearance outside of gender norms. There are people that live with an appearance that contrasts with the norms of beauty or conformity everyday.  This makes walking through the world very difficult. Not wearing makeup is not comparable to this.

As a point of personal comparison, while no one treated me differently with no makeup, when I shaved my head at age nineteen, I got fired from my job. I was lucky enough to find another position serving tables, but I often got terrible tips and sometimes even got stiffed, which never happened to me when I had hair.

I remember one specific conversation during that time when a group of servers and I were talking about the show “Survivor” and the consensus was that I would definitely kill it on that show….  Ummm…  No.  Anyone who has known me before or after this moment in my life knows that this is way outside of my scope of achievements. Without hair, however, I became G.I. Jane to the casual acquaintance.

Another important limitation to my current social experiment and the decision to dramatically change my appearance in the past is that neither were permanent conditions. I could, and did, decide to grow my hair back and start wearing makeup again, and I therefore entered back into the comfortable conformity of my gender type and the beauty standards inherent.  Not everyone gets to have this privilege.

A friend of mine told me that when she doesn’t wear makeup and dress nicely, she does get treated differently, and it is very clear to her.

“What am I missing then?” I said, “Tell me what I am not getting.”

“You are a normal size.”

This is true.  And size discrimination, among a million other life experience dealing with beauty and otherwise, are just things I will never fully understand.

This being said, I grew from not wearing makeup and thinking more about what it means to wear it. I got a little bit closer to who I really want to be: a person who can separate who she is from her physical appearance and who can appreciate the breadth and depth of her humanity aside from what society states is important.

On this note, here are my final words on female beauty- to myself and to all the women reading this:

Someday we may melt into old age.  

Our faces may crease with the grief and the joy of being alive.  

Our hands may show signs of a thousands days blessed by sunlight and warmth.  

Our stomachs and breasts may swell and sag with the weight of creating the life we love most in the world.

May we all be so lucky.  

This is true beauty.  Not a loss of something, but signs of having lived. 

Makeup Free Selfie

My many makeup free selfies over the two weeks.


This is post three of a series on being mindful of dangerous beauty standards.  In this series,  I attempt to explore the intersections between mindfulness and social justice via my experience as a woman.  Please see the posts Put My Face on: Why I, and Other Women, Wear Makeup and Why “You’re So Pretty Sucks”: Being Mindful of Dangerous Beauty Standards if this topic is of interest to you.     

How is your sense of self evolving to find beauty outside of your physical appearance?  Please share your thoughts.  

2 responses to Removing the Mask: Two Weeks Without Makeup

  1. kodowd3

    An interesting experiment. I have make-up days and gritty cycling days and hot sweaty Zumba days. . . I do feel like a bit of a different person on those days. Going to a work meeting in Zumba clothes would be difficult. Not straightening my hair in a work context is difficult – I don’t think I look professional with my naturally wavy hair, thought I get lots of compliments when I let it air dry.

    • Learning Labs Consulting Post Author

      It is really interesting how our outward appearances change how we feel! I have a friend who has red, wavy hair, and it is beautiful when she doesn’t straighten it. I bet yours is, too! : )

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