Sunday, February 26, 2012

Barefaced and Beautiful Campaign, a Lame Distraction

Today kicks off National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Certainly eating disorders are a point of concern for many western parents, especially if they have daughters. I have known three young women who suffered from rather severe eating disorders for a time, and have suspected it of quite a few other friends and acquaintances. I am abundantly aware that anorexia and bulimia can lead to serious health problems, including death. (No doubt I know this because of past awareness campaigns.) So continuing to raise public awareness for upcoming generations of body-conscious young people seems like a wise and reasonable idea.

What I don't get it what this has to do with makeup.

The Renfrew Center Foundation which treats and conducts research about eating disorders is using this week to present "Barefaced and Beautiful", a campaign where they encourage women to go without wearing makeup Monday, March 27, 2012, post pictures of their naked faces on Twitter and Facebook, and spread the word to family and friends.

This campaign is in response to a survey of women conducted by the Foundation that revealed that 44% of women experience negative feelings without their makeup on, such as insecurity or self-consciousness. Almost half use makeup to hide flaws in their skin. Also, more than a quarter of women who wear makeup began doing so between the ages of 11 and 13.

I read this and I think, ummm, so?

Makeup, like clothing and jewelry, is adornment, not disguise. I imagine lots of women would feel uncomfortable and less attractive walking around in public with bed head or without a bra, but that hardly means they think their hair or breasts are ugly. Of course women use makeup to hide flaws in the skin. I remember desperately trying to find the right color to conceal that occasional mega-zit in high school. It had no reflection on my sense of self worth. And of course girls often start trying on makeup around the age of 12; that's when puberty kicks in. They're getting breasts, their first period, and developing crushes.  It is obvious that girls going through such transformation will be interested in picking up some of the habits and rituals of grown women. What exactly is harmful about dabbling in makeup?

Nowhere in any press coverage of this campaign can I find mention (much less evidence) of how makeup is directly connected with unhealthy body image issues or eating disorders.

Whether a woman wears makeup or not is largely a choice of personal style, similar to deciding what sort of shoes to wear or purse to carry. Also, as with clothing and jewelry, makeup is highly personalized expression. Through its use a woman can choose to blend in with convention, but she can also rebel or align herself with a particular subculture (think Goth), or make a bold and memorable impression (think Tammy Faye.) A woman can choose to make a certain shade of lipstick her signature in the same way some women exclusively wear a certain scent.

On top of that, the social pressure to wear makeup isn't all that strong or overt. I write this as a woman who hasn't worn makeup since high school (and even then only a handful of times), and no one has ever said anything to me about it, or even seemed to notice. The women I know who wear makeup seems to relish "putting on their faces" in the same way I enjoy picking out a pair of earrings and a necklace to wear for the day.

This campaign suggests that women who wear makeup are both insecure and victimized by a culture that pressures them to not be themselves. It also suggests that women like me who don't wear makeup are somehow rebels, throwing off convention even if the consequence is that we'll be perceived as less beautiful by most people. This bothers me.

What bothers me more is that I fail to see any meaningful connection between wearing makeup and having an eating disorder. Of the three women I've known with diagnosed eating disorders, two didn't wear makeup. In both cases, they associated with a subculture of women who didn't wear makeup (one was the sort of hippie-vegan type, the other was a butch bisexual.) And finally, this campaign places the focus exclusively on women since men conventionally don't wear make up. However, many men do have body image issues and eating disorders. This whole Barefaced and Beautiful campaign strikes me as a distraction from the real problems women and men with eating disorders deal with, and that's a shame.