What’s the deal with make- up?
I mean I get it. It covers over blemishes, spots & wrinkles. It adds colour, pizzazz and brings attention to the areas of a woman’s face that we’re drawn to. Eye shadow leads to eyes. Lipstick leads to lips. These are the two parts of a face that we find most attractive, right?
I’m no expert with make-up (……no, really), and it’s never been a big thing I’ve fussed about (left the lippy after a Scary Spice gig at Uni), but I think I’ve got it down: people wear make-up to look beautiful? That right ladies? (Sorry for asking the obvious. Make-up is a little like the handbag thing. #Mysterious).
So why then do I find the no make up selfies on Facebook the last few days incredibly beautiful? For those of you who haven’t seen it, or live oversees, it’s been a unique selfies craze. Natural, celebrated and completely beautiful faces, void of make-up, being posted to raise money for Cancer.
It’s turned into a bit of a buzz. Friends are talking about it online and offline. And I love it.
Closer magazine explain the history of it. The Evening Standard reports on men posting pictures of themselves in make-up to show their support. In the last 24 hours, over £1m has been raised, so however sceptical you may be of it, you can’t argue with that.
Please go text BEAT to 70099 to donate £3 to the cause.
There’s something so profound about these no make up selfies, that I’ve found myself punching the air each time a friends non painted face appears in my feed. I know for some it’s been easy – no big deal. For many it’s been a vulnerable and courageous thing to do: we’re judged on our appearances, we don’t want to let our guard down and what happens if we look ugly without make-up on? And then there’s my beautiful friend Jo. I don’t fully know how hard she found it. But it will have stretched her.
Jo’s had a tough year and developed Bells Palsy when she was 8 months pregnant; a paralysis of the facial nerve causing muscular weakness in one side of the face. She posted a no make up selfie and I lost it. I welled up. And some hours later, I had to write. More of that in a minute.
Women. You are incredible. You are gorgeous. You are stunning.
I know you don’t need me telling you this, and I’m risking sounding naff but I want to say a few things to you. I’m speaking as a happily married man, communicating to you with the heart of an older or younger brother.
Without doubt, women for me, are the ‘eighth’ wonder of the world. There’s something so incredible about you. I’ve been married to my gorgeous wife, Kerry for 6 years, and her very presence reminds me of one thing… that you’re beauty is vast and I can’t work you out. Whatever it is that you’ve got, you’ve got it. Your strength, passion, gentleness. Your power, fragility, warmth. Your fire, softness, kindness. You’ve got it. Looks are a part of that, but it’s a tiny part in comparison to all the strands that make up your beauty. You are beautiful. I’m not into worshipping you, (you’re also flawed and have your own challenges, and I prefer my God to be a little more consistent), but your heart and capacity to love and be loved is contagious. You’re ways, your love, your presence. It’s precious.
You put up with us and our shortcomings. Demonstrative expressions of passion (like the above) when the dog still hasn’t been washed (sorry my love). You celebrate the positive bits and you’re straight talking about the negative bits…. in only ways women can be.
Womanhood is something I find astounding; if not a little mysterious. Films capture it, books share it, but you show it. In all of it’s Glory.
So beautiful strong woman, I write to you because I’ve two things to say to you that were inspired by today’s Selfies.
Firstly, I’m sorry. And secondly, please can you let your guard down.
Speaking as a man, can I say we’ve been out of order. We’ve put so much emphasis on the ways that you look and in the process we’ve demeaned and objectivised you. Culturally we’ve stated that beauty looks a certain way. Media, society and celebrities all influence how beauty is seen.
But so do us men.
What we gawk at. What we buy. What we celebrate.
Women. Some would say it’s always been there. But as a dad to my gorgeous three year old girl Iona, I’m aware of how much younger the pressures start, and there’s a lot that needs critiquing and changing. And that’s more likely to be done if questions are asked by people who aren’t going to be financially impacted by the decision.
Women, as men we’ve bought into this message and increased the pressure for you to look a certain way. Feeling good about yourself is great. Admiring something beautiful is great. But subconsciously or sometimes blatantly, we’ve put so much focus on your appearance that it’s been out of kilter with everything else. We’ve not valued the fullness of you. We’ve not celebrated your essence. And I’m sorry that this has been the case.
Secondly, and this needs to be said gently, because as men we’ve been and are such a big part of the problem…… can you please let your guard down? You’re more beautiful when you’re not always ‘on it’ and needing to look ‘good.’ And it’s not just your romantic partners that think that. We your friends think it too.
Ok. Before you slam me:
– I’m not going to go all simplistically idealistic, stating no one should ever wear make up and everyone should do a no make up selfie. I get that.
– I understand that some of you will feel the need to tell me ‘you don’t dress for men, you dress for yourselves and you will wear exactly what you want and no-one is going to tell you otherwise.’ Sure, sure – I get that too.
– I hear you when you say it’s essential to look good to move forward in life. Survival of the fittest and all that…. I’ve got a few issues about this, but lets not split hairs over it.
– And absolutely- it’s good to be healthy. ‘Cut down on your pork life mate. Get some exercise.’ Yep Yep Yep. Fully agree. And as a recovering ill-disciplined fatty, I’m all over this. (Lost 2 stone, doing second Triathlon in 2 months, Tough Mudder in my diary, regular exercise and in a rhythm of juicing and eating the good stuff. Get in….. Humblebrag over).
But in today’s culture, if you’re so used to make-up, it takes courage not to wear it. There’s vulnerability, purity and openness in sharing pictures devoid of a mask. And this for me is why these no make up selfies have been so much more beautiful than the faces I normally see in my Facebook feed.
I know from talking to you that many of you will find this hard to do, and seeing these selfies will have been painful for you as you’d feel unable to do it. I just want to tell you – you’re all right. It’s OK. If it’s pigeon steps you need to take, take them, but start from a place of knowing you’re accepted and loved.
Vulnerability and confidence is beautiful. I admire both, but often it takes one to find the other. The journey from confidence to vulnerability takes humility and weakness. The journey from vulnerability to confidence takes courage and self belief. Both are hard.
And that’s why I cried today. Because that’s what I saw in my friend Jo.
Moving from vulnerability to confidence. I think she’s got more of an idea, that she’s beautiful. In scenes that would be similar to Stand By Me, we’d spent hours of our childhood talking about this. This scene in the film today, was not one I’d witnessed. And that makes me happy.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Jo’s a happily married woman aged 35. They’ve got beautiful kids, their own London house, a successful career, and they’re secure and settled.
When she was a teenager at school she was smart, attractive and very funny. Every day after school, like brothers and sisters, she’d hop on the back of my push bike, come sun or rain, and we’d laugh swerving and farting all the way home.
She was a girl that many of the boys fancied.
As many a teenager did, and especially those who were constantly getting attention from blokes, she was very aware of how she looked and what others thought of her. And boys being boys, meant they noticed and talked about things that (some) adults tend to be more discreet about. She had big boobs long before anyone else and an attractive figure.
And often boys (and men), in our self absorbed ways, aren’t aware of the impact our comments, looks and actions can have on others. I’ve seen how attention from boys when un-balanced with healthy rounded messages, messes with girl’s heads. I felt it was my gift of friendship to give Jo the healthy balanced messages, and be an uncomplicated brother.
From my childhood I watched this happen to lots of my pretty friends. They’d get lots of ‘conquesting’ attention: ‘She’s well fit’, ‘I’d give her one’ ‘You seen her tits?’ They’d also receive close analysis from jealous girls and jilted boys, ‘She’s getting a bit fat’, ‘Don’t think THAT looks good on her.’
Most girls have a hard time of it. Pretty girls have a harder time of it. It impacts them more as boys can be so unkind. All kids can be. And self worth can end up being closely linked to appearance.
Jo was and is a pretty girl. She bought into this culture of pressure and self worth based on the views of others. Not entirely, by any means, but it was in her mix. After all, most people in that situation do. Find me a western pretty girl who hasn’t had some of these hang-ups.
Bell’s palsy is a form of temporary facial paralysis resulting from damage or trauma to the facial nerves. It’s like one side of your face has had a stroke. People looked and stared at her, and not for the same reasons they did when she was in the playground as a teenager.
Having not seen her for a while, living 250 miles away, we moved back to London and I had a coffee with her to catch up one afternoon.
She looked different.
I’ve always had an open friendship with her so I felt able to listen without ignoring the elephant in the room. At first I didn’t know where to look but when we both became accustomed to the situation, she knew my empathy. ‘Jo- what happened?’ My heart went out to her. 80% of people recover after 3- 6 months. Jo was well beyond that timeframe. I was so impressed with how she was handling herself.
If I’d been asked as a 16 year old, who would most struggle with being diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy, Jo would have been up there at the top of my list. I’ve watched her be so courageous this last year. I’ve longed for her to be healed. And I’ve mourned what I know she’ll feel she’s lost. But she’s always remained beautiful. Throughout.
So today, when I saw her no make up selfie pop up on my screen, I was moved. Not because she wasn’t wearing make-up, (she rarely wears much), but because I knew that this was a brave step for her. And in the midst of it all, I also sensed a different tone. I sensed she was becoming comfortable with herself. Accepting herself more. Recognising her wholehearted beauty. Taking more steps forwards than backwards. Choosing to ignore the lies and voices buzzing around her head.
Her vulnerable actions were carving out space that gave room for others to follow through. You always see the big inspirational stories of other people, you don’t know sharing their painful stories, but this was Jo.
She pointed out that she didn’t feel comfortable doing a smiley teeth face, as this showed the changed shape in her face more visibly. But even her writing this, seemed a little bit of an invitation for others to nudge her, so I texted the encouragement. She’s hoping to do this in a few weeks, when she reaches her years anniversary of having Bell’s Palsy. I’m so proud of her.
And where others will put make-up on after their no makeup selfie, Jo can’t put her face back to how it was. She can’t hide if she wants to. She doesn’t know if it will ever change. And she has to come to terms with that.
And that’s why hers is the most beautiful no make up selfie I’ve seen.
And truth is, I see beauty and courage in all those no make up selfies. I know there will be different stories behind each one. And I know there will be stories behind those who aren’t in a place to post there face.
And it brought me to this thought.
Why have we allowed others to determine whether we are beautiful?
Why do we put so much confidence in the thoughts of those who don’t have our best interests at heart, and are more often than not profiting from our insecurities and fears?
Why do we judge people based on their appearances?
You are beautiful. Period. Full Stop. Beautiful!
And as always the challenge came back to me.
What do I celebrate?
I love it when my wife doesn’t have to be on it and she can chill out with her jammies and just flop. And yes, she looks amazing dressed up with her beautiful hair, gorgeous face and incredible figure… but I love her make up free. El natural. And I don’t think I tell her this enough.
I always presume that she wears make up because she wants to, but maybe an invitation every now and again would give her the space to enjoy going out without it more.
Perhaps we don’t celebrate the quirky and the natural enough.
I can say without doubt the most beautiful site in the world, is when I see, what I call Kerry’s ‘giddy goofy teeth.’ This comes at different times she’s excited, but is at it’s most glorious when she’s jumps into the sea. Overcoming her fears of sharks (she watched Jaws too much as a kid), there’s a flash of excitement, childlike innocence and boldness in those eyes and teeth. I find it so beautiful. It’s in this vulnerability and confidence that I’m instantly smitten. Again and again.
Nowadays, they’d have put a brace on her. She’d have been more ‘beautiful.’ But that would have been a tragedy – her teeth are the most beautiful thing on this planet. She’d have just been like everybody else. No-one has ‘giddy goofys’ like Kerry does.
It’s hard to explain…. Or perhaps it’s not.
Maybe, you recognise this element of your partner that you adore? I’ve not spoken to Jo’s husband about it, but my guess is, he sees beauty in the ‘imperfection’. Maybe you see it in your friend?
I could run off a list of friends I know with such beauty, and none of these things that make me grin from ear to ear, are the stereotypical beautiful things that we see in magazines. We like the natural. We like the honesty. The approachability. The trust. They often represent something bigger. A more significant and wholehearted story.
Should we share those stories? Absolutely we should.
Do people know you love their quirks?
I know I’m not alone in this. I’ve had too many conversations to know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and we’re not one size fits all…however hard people try and push us.
Beautiful, magnificent, strong women.
If you want to be ‘on it’ be ‘on it.’ We’ll appreciate your effort, your style, your glamour and we’ll admire you. But if sometimes, you just want to let go. Please do. We’ll love you all the more. Because you’re then soft enough to receive the imprint of our love.
I for one, love it when you’re vulnerable.
I love these no make up selfies.
And perhaps, you can draw strength from these and put more energy into letting your guard down a further. I want to join the tribe of people who celebrate you for who you are. Make up or not. Beautiful in the eyes of magazines or not. Bells Palsy or not. Straight attractive teeth, or smiling giddy goofy teeth jumping with excitement into the sea.
I believe if we take the time and get away from our own self-obsession, we know what we want. We want to be known by others and we want to know others. Deeply. To be accepted and loved. To know the essence of someone.
And perhaps, we get closer to that, when every now and again, when the mask comes down, and the L’Oreal bottle stays on the dresser.
And yes, please keep nominating people for their no-make up selfies. Nudges always get us thinking. But go one step further. Nominate and celebrate people for their beauty; quirkiness and all. That may help them takes the steps they want to take. And perhaps, people need to hear a little more, what you love about them.
Thank you women, for sharing your essence. Thank you Jo, for showing your bravery. Thank you Kerry, for teaching me beauty.
Thank you everyone, for listening.
P.S If you’ve read all the way to the bottom of this mammoth post, you’ve clearly got some thoughts on this subject. Take a risk – jump in and share them. I’d love to hear from you.
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