The #nomakeupselfie is still a beauty contest. And I’m not playing.

I was nominated three or four times for the #nomakeupselfie. The women who nominated me are wonderful people (this has nothing to do with them), but I have to be honest: for the first time in a long time, I felt insecure about my face. 

This was weird for me. I like my face–it’s not perfect, but it’s mine. I like sometimes dressing it up with makeup. I like washing it off before bed. And I’m usually on board with the idea that “everyone is beautiful just the way they are.”

But suddenly, uncomfortably, my face needed to “get naked” to prove it.

What’s worse, I would have to “get naked” online, plastered alongside everyone else. They looked so pretty in their well-posed no makeup selfies–good lighting, good angle, right time of day. Meanwhile, I was sleep deprived and had a couple massive chin breakouts. If I supported “natural beauty” (and cancer research, apparently?), I needed to find a way to take an attractive looking picture of myself without makeup. In fact, I needed to do it within 24 hours. My typical confidence, my knowledge that skin clears up, my comfort with and without makeup–it all buckled once the expectation hit me.

Just like that, a well-intended “natural beauty” project quickly became an intimidating unofficial “natural beauty” contest.

Being free of makeup doesn’t free us of our desire to be beautiful on society’s terms–if it did, we wouldn’t care about the “likes” on our #nomakeupselfies. We wouldn’t be complimenting each other’s naked faces, we wouldn’t have taken 40 snapshots before finding a so-called natural photo that makes us feel pretty. Creating a “go naked or go home” regulation doesn’t really do much but suggest that if you don’t look and feel good without makeup, something is wrong with you and your self-perception. It doesn’t remove expectations of “beauty,” but adds to them: now you have to achieve these standards au naturel or you’re not “real.”

That seems wrong to me.

It’s easy for a healthy, attractive 20-something girl with flowing hair to take a #nomakeupselfie and claim that she’s promoting natural beauty. But we’re totally kidding ourselves if we think that posting pictures of these women being beautiful without any “aids” will in any way encourage those who are truly overwhelmed by society’s expectations.

Like, say, the transgendered woman who uses makeup to express her identity. Or the burn victim who prefers to cover up scars. Or even the cancer patients so unwittingly tied up in this trend–cancer patients whose treatments radically change their appearance, and who are often helped astronomically in the morale department by tools like wigs, makeovers, spa treatments, and friendships in the “beauty” community.  People shouldn’t be demeaned for finding comfort in these therapies. Who decided that beauty is only “real” if it’s “natural”?

I call bullshit. Beauty is “real” if you say it is. If, for you, that involves walking around with no makeup on, completely embracing physical signs and symptoms of whatever you have going on, then mad respect. But if that involves a little lipstick, or a post-chemo wig…who am I to judge that?

Perhaps my friend Niki said it best in her post on the subject: “The challenge we should be issuing isn’t “Real women” or “no make-up” (because that also assumes that only women face appearance pressures), the challenge we should be issuing is “What Makes You Happy.” Nevermind changing society, change you – do what makes you happy.”

A high majority of women (upwards of 97%) say that looking good makes them feel good. I’m not going to argue that this is wrong or bad, and I’m certainly not going to deny this to people who are struggling with their health. It is not up to us to judge or police how someone looks or feels good. People should be allowed to reject or conform to “normalized” concepts of beauty and gender if they so choose.

And either way, I don’t see how the #nomakeupselfie challenges any of those conceptions by replacing lipstick with good lighting and suggesting that it is “different” or “abnormal” to take a picture of yourself without makeup. As an example, here’s a selfie I took on a completely unrelated occassion:



If this is beautifulit’s probably partially because I was happy/excited/exhausted…but also because the angle was good, because my hair was styled in a messy ponytail, and because I took like 20 pictures before finding one I liked. There are other pictures that could be considered “beautiful” because I decided to use my face as canvas, and still others which aren’t particularly “beautiful” at all, depending on your definition. That’s okay. My pictures aren’t me. They are 2 dimensional pieces of art that I create to capture a moment. They don’t define my worth.

And I won’t be entering them in any beauty contest.