In Spring 2011, I started All Natural Day as a way to celebrate our authentic, unaltered selves in the body image classes that I teach at the University of North Carolina-Charotte. Today and tomorrow, October 18-19, are this year’s all natural days. In celebration, I thought I’d share my reflections after the inaugural all natural day as well as the reflection questions my students will complete today in class.
I hear about every insecurity in the course I teach on Body Image in the Women’s and Gender Studies Department at UNC-Charlotte. My students marvel at Jennifer Aniston’s perfect skin, reveal that their poor body image keeps them from speaking up, going out, and trying out for things. If I am not made-up, I can’t go anywhere, several have confessed. Truth be told, my students too often surrender from life because of how they feel they look.
That’s a heartbreaking reality for vibrant college students, yet it echoes a Dove Campaign for Real Beauty finding where 66% of women globally said they had avoided an activity due to feeling badly about the way they looked. Moreover, I’ve seen un-airbrushed pictures of Jennifer Aniston and know that her skin is just like ours, a little bit sun-spotted, a smidge wrinkled and completely reflective of living life with joy, pain, and passion. While many of us intellectually know that, we don’t always live like we do. Too often, we live like the only way to go through life is with a literal façade.
So I issued a challenge: let’s go all natural. No enhancements for a day because our skin is neither perfect nor bad, and showing it in its natural form can be refreshing. They stared back as if they’d misheard. I wasn’t sure who’d take the challenge of using no make-up, hair product, or perfume, but on February 25th, every student walked into class without enhancements. They were absolutely breathtaking, and they began to realize it, too.
As we processed the experience, they shared these observations:
I did not feel like myself without make-up. I was really anxious, but I honestly don’t think I look that bad without it. I don’t always need make-up to feel beautiful.
Everyone is beautiful in his or her own way, and we don’t need materialistic things to be happy or for someone to think we’re beautiful.
I don’t think people really notice make-up or hair products as much as we think they do.
No one really cares if I’m wearing make-up. They have their own problems. My face is fine the way it is, and I’ll save money and time by not trying to “fix” it.
As for me, I don’t believe make-up is bad. I wear it a few days a week. But I worry about using make-up as a crutch or our having a distorted sense of what skin looks like because we are so used to seeing it enhanced. Too many women allow their hair or make-up to inform their choices. Make-up can be fun, and it can be empowering. But I don’t want people to be paralyzed by feeling they need a certain made-up look in order to enjoy their lives. What we need to enjoy our lives, actually, is the desire to enjoy it and the belief that we deserve to do just that.
1. What was your reaction when you first heard about this challenge?
2. How many enhancement products or items do you normally use when you get ready and what are they?
3. Did you forgo all of your products today? If not, why not? If so, how did you feel going without?
4. What was the hardest thing to go without?
5. What was the easiest thing to go without?
6. What did you think when you got ready to leave this morning?
7. How have other people reacted? Were you surprised by that?
8. What have you learned after doing this?
Did you embrace today’s All Natural challenge? How did it go for you? What was the hardest part? What did you learn?