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How I showed my true colours and gave up makeup for a week

Courtney Shea decided to try going makeup free after the press fuss over HillaryClinton’s daring move.


The Weekly Challenge is a column that tackles self-improvement seven days at a time.

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Hillary Clinton made major headlines a few weeks ago during a political visit to Bangladesh. Not because of some shocking policy announcement or even an etiquette gaffe, but because she dared to appear in public without makeup. Or perhaps little makeup. (Ms. Clinton herself has yet to weigh in on the earth-shattering matter.)

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Of course it's all ridiculous, offensive and just one of about a bazillion double standards that make you wonder how anyone can say that we live in an era of gender equality with a straight face. It also got me thinking about my own relationship with makeup, which is why I took on this week's challenge to spend seven days with zero cosmetic enhancement. To expose my natural self, warts (or at least splotchy red skin) and all.

This task, pardon the pun, does not come naturally. My own tastes are less dramatic than, say, RuPaul or Lady Gaga, but like so many women, my semi-elaborate routine (foundation, concealer, blush, bronzer, two shades of eye shadow, eye liner, eyebrow pencil, lip liner and some additional form of lip colour) is a second skin that I apply almost without consideration.

It's not the flu, it's just my face

In terms of cosmetic reliance, I fall somewhere in the middle of the pack: I do wear makeup to any sort of social engagement, I don't to the grocery store, unless it's a grocery store owned by an ex-crush. I don't work in an office any more, but when I did, putting on "the mask" was a part of my daily routine (a good move, according to a study in the American Economic Review, which found that women who wear makeup out-earn non-wearers by 30 per cent). On super rushed days where I don't have time to paint my face, someone will inevitably ask me if I am a) tired or b) sick. Nope, just natural.

For evening one of Operation Fresh Face, I went to one of those boozy launch events that media people often attend in the name of free hooch. It's the sort of thing where you run into a lot of people that you sort of know, and also where there is likely to be a roving photographer. Getting dressed, I considered what colour of shirt might best complement a complexion the colour of undercooked pancakes.

Instead, I opted for a dark bra under a semi-transparent shirt in the hopes that people might focus on my boobs instead of my face. (You're welcome, feminist movement.) When I spoke with people, I felt less inclined to make eye contact and just less extroverted over all. At one point I flung myself over to the other side of the patio to avoid a guy I knew from high school.

Out for dinner later that night, I discussed the challenge with a friend who confessed that she has her regular makeup and also a separate stash of "purse makeup" should an unforeseen cosmetics-related emergency arise. When I spoke with other gal pals about my task, responses ranged from, "No problem, I never wear makeup" to "Oh God. Never. That sounds like my worst nightmare."

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A girl without makeup walks into a bar…

A study conducted a few years ago in Paris found that wearing makeup to a bar makes you 33-per-cent more likely to get approached by a man. Only that much?! I felt like my own desirability had taken a far more drastic nosedive. I wasn't hit on once.

On the plus side, there is a liberation factor in skipping all that primping. I did feel less attractive, and no, I didn't like it, but of course I got over it because (cue the soft, moral-of-the-story music) there are a lot more important things than the hope that people think you're somewhat hot. I asked some of my friends if they'd noticed. They said yes, they had … and that's about it. What did I expect? Jeering? Disownment? A catty headline in the British press?

Unlike Ms. Clinton, the narrative of my makeup-free experiment was almost entirely internal. There were times when I considered having my sunglasses surgically attached to my face and times when I was so preoccupied with my own sub-par appearance I didn't hear what someone was saying to me. (For the record: That second admission is a million times more embarrassing than going a week without makeup.)

Ultimately I realized that I feel more like my natural self with makeup than without which is both nonsensical and a little scary. I have no plans to hang up the mascara any time soon, but will attempt to show my true colours a little more frequently.


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Are you insane? I'm twice the age of all my co-workers. Without makeup I look four times their age! No chance!

- Alison Armstrong Goldman

I've been doing this for the last year. Having twins kinda gave me a great priority check. I do enjoy using makeup for special occasions but definitely not every day.

- Fabienne Chang-Duffet

It's a guy writing this, correct? No woman in her right mind would ask to do that … unless of course it is a week with the flu.

- Debi Cockerton

Going with would be a challenge – I hate makeup.

- Doris Weiss


Talk to strangers. Try to say hello to anyone you have eye contact with, ask the cashier at the grocery store if they're having a nice day. Do you feel happier or do you feel like you're turning into your great aunt? Sign up at to tell us how it went.

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