Would You Wear No Makeup?

After Alicia Keys’ song about going without makeup and Adele’s candid camera moment, more people are thinking seriously about scrapping the slap


Alicia Keys at the MTV VMAs 2016. Picture / Getty.

Would you dare to bare all in public? We’re not talking nudity here – nothing so crass, but the idea of sharing photos of yourself without the benefit of complexion-enhancing foundation, eye-framing mascara and a pop of colour on your lips and cheeks. Your face, in all its naked glory, staring out from your friends’ Facebook timelines and strangers’ Instagram feeds. Would you? I confess, I wouldn’t do it. There is a part of me that simply doesn’t relish the prospect of being publicly “exposed” without a little cosmetic enhancement.

But many, it seems, are more than happy to embrace bare-faced chic. Search the hashtag #nomakeup on Instagram and you’ll be greeted with more than 12.3 million images of women of all ages, in various states of facial undress. Going without makeup is the latest social status symbol, inspired by an increasing number of high-profile celebrities prepared to discard their cosmetic facade.

Just last week, Adele, whose signature feline flick of eyeliner and pale porcelain complexion are a key component of her personal brand, shared a video on Instagram to apologise to fans for cancelling a concert. Explaining her voice “was not in working order”, the singer attracted attention because she confidently and nonchalantly revealed the real Adele: the face she sees each morning before makeup artist Michael Ashton sets to work creating her public persona.

READ: Why Adele's Rolling Stone Cover Is Important

She’s not alone: Gwyneth Paltrow, Beyoncé, Cameron Diaz, Madonna, Holly Willoughby, Fearne Cotton, Davina McCall, Kelly Brook, Sharon Stone, Lily Allen and Lady Gaga are just some of the stars confidently offering their followers a glimpse of their makeup-free faces. The concept of a usually highly polished celebrity – who would have a retinue of stylists on hand to primp and preen – without her gloss is somewhat refreshing in an image-conscious world.

“There is a certain way that women on TV and in entertainment have to look as part of their jobs,” says Guardian beauty columnist Sali Hughes. “I love the idea that they are demonstrating a different facet to their personality and their life, by letting us see how they look without makeup. I think the no-makeup selfie is great, because it demonstrates the level of artifice that goes in to creating celebrities’ public image, and it’s reassuring for many women to see the real person, away from the cameras.”

One such celebrity has taken the concept further, by shaking off the shackles of makeup completely. In a bid to simplify her life and find her “true self” amid the multitude of identities she created in the public eye, Alicia Keys penned a poignant song, When a Girl Can’t Be Herself, that includes the words: “In the morning from the minute that I wake up / What if I don’t want to put on all that makeup / Who says I must conceal what I’m made of / Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem.”

After much soul-searching, the singer has now pledged “to approach things differently (this time), regarding my image and allow my real self, as is, to come through”.

In a new trailer for the US edition of reality show The Voice, Keys appears with her complexion bereft of cosmetics, revealing the kind of bare-faced, raw beauty rarely seen in a world of highly contrived, over-styled personalities. She will be one of four judges on the show next month, and will spend the whole series makeup-free. Some might say it’s a brave stance against female submission to traditional stereotypes; others simply celebrate such a move away from mask-like makeup.

“I think this growing movement for no makeup is fantastic,” says celebrity makeup artist Mary Greenwell, renowned for her portfolio of glossy magazine covers and red-carpet makeovers. “In a world where some really influential women are over-contouring, with really heavily made-up eyes morning, noon and night, we have lost perspective on what makeup is for – to make you feel a bit better when you need it. When you wear too much makeup, it adds years to your face, and seeing women without it shows how gorgeous they can look: natural, healthy and 10 years younger.”

“I hate to see young women addicted to makeup as a mask,” continues Greenwell, whose clientele has included the likes of Kate Moss, Cate Blanchett, Victoria Beckham, Gisele Bündchen and the late Diana, Princess of Wales. “I see 14-year-old girls made up with layers of caked-on foundation, contouring shaders and highlighters, smokey eyes, the works – at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon.

“It’s not about enhancing their own looks, but about striving to emulate celebrities whose lifestyles they admire and aspire to. Adopting the same makeup techniques brings them one step closer, but they are projecting someone else’s look on to themselves, and hiding from their true identity. So I love the idea of celebrities going makeup-free and inspiring us all to be confident in who we are, pushing the idea of a great skincare regime to get a healthy, glowing complexion.”

However, even in our enlightened age of female empowerment and supposed equality, the very thought of capturing ourselves on camera, free of face-flattering cosmetics, is enough to send the most confident of women over the edge.

My own reticence largely stems from my pre-teen and teenage years, when a trio of spiteful female classmates taunted me relentlessly about my acne-ridden skin. A $1.50 stick of Rimmel concealer was clumsily applied in a bid to cover the onslaught of hormonal blemishes, but almost certainly drew more unwanted attention to my pubescent, spotty skin.

Yet I felt reassured by the presence of makeup, and gradually sought further solace in its confidence-boosting powers. As I slowly learned the tricks of the cosmetics trade, my self-consciousness seeped away and my self-esteem grew. I associated the contents of my makeup bag with the ability to walk tall in public, to head off to fashion college brimming with confidence. As for so many women, cosmetics were as essential a part of my morning routine as cleaning my teeth and brushing my hair.

READ: Why Lena Dunham Is Saying No to Retouching

Later, I went on to work in television, where I’d have studio makeup applied by professional artists wielding an array of brushes, skilfully blending a mask of perfection on to my pitted, scarred skin, creating the illusion of a creamy, porcelain-smooth complexion. They’d shade my lids with smokey hues, creating sultry eyes, and artfully add radiance to my cheeks with rosy-pink blush.

It was empowering and addictive but, today, as a middle-aged, home-based freelance journalist and mum of one, I spend the majority of my days bare-faced, and largely liberated from the makeup mask I clung to in my youth. I’ll open the door au naturel to couriers but I’m not about to pollute social media with my naked face – more a common courtesy to the wider public than vanity on my part. Yet, I still love being able to morph into a more glamorous being with considered application of corrector and concealer, a dewy foundation and a sweep of eyeliner and mascara.

For years, I’ve witnessed firsthand the incredible effort that goes into making models and celebrities look the way they do, and am better versed than most in the “magic’” of the makeover. It’s encouraging to see many models and actresses sharing the “before” shots in their social media output, so other women can see the reality behind the artistry. Surely, that can only restore our own self-esteem, shattered by a proliferation of “perfection” portrayed by amateur Photoshoppers and over-enthusiastic photographic filter users?

Journalist and TV presenter Ginny Buckley says that social media has been very liberating, allowing her to have the ultimate say in the way she is portrayed in public. “The only time I felt my image was controlled was when I’ve been photographed for the press or been on television but, on Instagram, I show who I truly am, in all areas of my life. Of course, there are images I’m not comfortable sharing but, ultimately, I’m not so obsessed with my image that I won’t show the reality of life. If I’m filming and have some makeup on, that’s what I post, but if I’m camping in a field with my seven-year-old son, I’m equally confident to share that side of me. I love the positive message Adele sent out with her makeup-free selfie: it can only be a good thing for young women to see the effort that goes into creating so-called “perfection” and that being true to yourself is just as beautiful.”

— The Observer

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