Would We Feel Better Without Makeup? One Woman’s Modesty Experiment
Writer Lauren Shields shunned makeup and stylish clothing and covered hair for nine months as part of a project to reject conventional beauty standards and discover her true self-worth. Currently writing a book called “The Modesty Experiment,” she chronicled her “frightening and liberating” journey this week on Salon.
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Shields is not the first woman to go to lengths in the pursuit of self-esteem. In March 2011, as a way to overcome her “obsession” with her appearance, writer Kjerstin Gruys didn’t look in the mirror for the entire year leading up to her wedding. Through the process, Gruys learned to trust people when they said she was beautiful andrealized that she was her own biggest critic.
It’s no surprise that a great number of women grapple with their appearance. Research conducted by the Renfrew Center Foundation found that 44 percent of women experience negative emotions when not wearing cosmetics and report feeling self-conscious, unattractive, and naked. 32 percent said they wear makeup to feel good and 11 percent because it’s a societal norm. It’s difficult to blame them—one Harvard study revealed that women who wear makeup are perceived as more trustworthy, competent, and likeable.
According to self-esteem expert Susan Vernicek, while experiments such as Shields’s are extreme, the lessons to be learned are significant. “For many women, it’s a daily challenge to feel beautiful and confident. There’s nothing wrong with wearing makeup and looking nice, but if it’s difficult to leave the house without getting dressed up, it’s worth discovering why,” she says.
And that’s what Shields set out to do. Back in 2010, she was like any other fashion-forward woman living and working in New York City. Every morning she made the trek from her apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to her office in Manhattan and was struck by how nicely the women on the train dressed. “It was an army of ladies sporting fitted waistlines, toned arms, blown-out hair, full faces of makeup, and heels (which was incredible, considering all the walking we all had to do). Everyone looked good, no one was phoning it in, and we were all stylish,” she wrote.
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