Bare-Faced Cheek

For about six months now, I’ve been conducting an experiment with myself. It consists of a simple thing, that will be normal to many women, but it’s not normal for me – going out into the world with as little makeup on as possible, if any.

A few years ago, I saw a counsellor who set me a challenge – think of something that would take me out of my comfort zone and do it, one day a week, for a month. I thought of the worst thing possible for me – going out without makeup on – and chose to set myself that task. I remember going to work, cringing inside, head bowed low … and finding that nothing happened. I had to ask someone – a woman who always commented on everything I wore or my hairstyle – if she’d noticed anything different about me. She just said I looked a little paler than normal (that’s something for me, as my default shade is white), but she had to be prompted to say so.

I immediately went back to wearing the makeup but felt really pleased that I’d completed the challenge. It made me question why I felt the need to wear makeup all the time and why I felt ashamed without it. Why I felt I looked hideous. I questioned it but I carried on ‘using’ – some habits are hard to break. I’d been wearing makeup since I was 14 –  I was fascinated by my mum’s beauty routine and loved trying things from the basket of goodies on her dressing table. I distinctly remember being told off by the deputy headmistress to take off my blue Rimmel eyeliner with Pond’s Cold Cream in the girls’ loos. And the matching nail varnish.

Years later, I remember telling that counsellor that I felt ‘exhausted being me’. I didn’t know quite what I meant at the time but it had less to do with all the challenges of a burgeoning career and more to do with the ‘lady maintenance’ that came with it. I felt I had to be perfect at everything – brilliant at my job, at looking good, at fitness, at home life. Of course, no one can be, and the strain had started to show. The daily armour of clothes and makeup were just a fact of life for me, and the ex-husband who had to wait for me to don it, even for a trip to B&Q at the weekend. While most people ‘upgrade’ their lives on holiday – staying at nice hotels, taking their best outfits with them for glamorous cocktail evenings – I began to love our ‘roughing it’ holidays, where I wore (almost) no makeup and ‘outdoor’ clothing the whole time and went to bed when it went dark. This, for me, was relaxation. No more armour – just me.

When the ‘No Makeup Selfie’ craze started last year, I posted a defiant ‘NEVER’ on Facebook, and then immediately wondered why I felt so strongly about not doing it. I often think my friends look more beautiful without makeup, and their selfies showed it. Why not me? I genuinely thought I looked hideous and it took me until this summer to take one of myself, where I thought, ‘actually, I look ok’. But I didn’t post it.

I only decided to pull back on wearing so much makeup when I watched the movie Boyhood this summer, starring Patricia Arquette. In it, she plays a mother around my age, and the action is filmed in real time over the course of ten years. I was fascinated at how beautiful she looked, with minimal makeup and fresh-faced maturity, year after year. I thought I’d give it a try the next day and then didn’t stop. I went to bars and clubs with just mascara and myself. Nothing changed. Same reaction from women and men, the world continued to turn, I felt more authentically me. I suppose that bit was the real change. I didn’t need a ‘smoky eye’ to attract attention – confidence is the key.

Part of the reason for writing this blog is about presenting an authentic self – look at me from any angle and you get the same person. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, blog, real life – it’s all the same version of me, seen from different camera angles. If I’m going to be honest on here, then I’m going to reflect that in real life. Here I am. Unadorned, unfiltered. And I like it.

It made me so sad to see the furore surrounding Renee Zellweger and her radical face change. She appeared at a Women in Hollywood event this week and has faced a barrage of criticism over apparent ‘work’ she’s had done to stave off ageing. Beautiful, cute Renee – years of maintaining that facade has carried forward into a desperate need to change her amazing face at 45. The face that’s been key to her career, that has never been ‘classically’ beautiful but able to assume characters so easily, that has made us all love her.

Like many actresses in her forties, Renee’s scrabbled around to salvage something from her youthful image and in the process lost something of herself. She’s been trolled mercilessly about it by the same people who would criticise her for having the temerity to appear in public looking her actual age. If I was her, or Courtney, Jennifer, Cameron or Sarah Jessica, I’d have buckled under the pressure and had the work done too. And look at Claudia Winkleman – a woman I admire greatly, forced to retreat behind her fringe and heavy eye makeup just for daring to go without both for one night when presenting Strictly. Shame on you, Twitter. I thought she looked amazing as we saw her as she really was, for one brief moment.

It feels odd to finally like your face after forty-seven years on the planet, when undoubtedly it was much more pleasing to look at about twenty-five years ago. I remember liking my reflection when I was 14/15 then suddenly hating it at 17/18. Something happened to make me switch and I wonder if it was the realisation that there was a set of ‘lady rules’ I was meant to abide by. I realised with horror that I’d been caught not following them and scrabbled around to catch up. For heaven’s sake, I’d been out in the world with nothing but lipgloss , a sweatshirt and stretch jeans – what was I thinking?! Give me my armour now.

I’ve not completely given up on makeup and nice clothes – I love fashion and beauty and will never stop loving them. What’s changed is that I don’t feel I have to do them. It’s a choice. If I want to have a smoky eye, I’ll have it – I just don’t feel it’s absolutely necessary to cover up my shrinking fortysomething eyes. If anything, it calls attention to them. I will look people in the eye with only mascara for cover and not flinch, but more importantly, I’ll look at myself in the mirror and smile.

Hello you.


My Year Without Makeup:

On ageing and plastic surgery:

Published by


Fifty-five-year-old woman flying solo since 2010. Freelance writer, editor, hiker, traveller, yoga teacher. Alcohol-, child-, and hair-dye-free.

79 thoughts on “Bare-Faced Cheek”

  1. Ok that’s awesome that you completed the challenge and I like the concept of authentic self. That being said do you truly think that anyone do going to comment on your NOT wearing Makeup when you ask? What are they going to say
    ” yeah I noticed your not wearing any makeup today” which clearly would lead into another discussion and most people in my experience, do not like confrontational or out if the box conversation especially when it comes to cosmetic appearance.
    I wear makeup because if makes me feel better. I dont always wear it ( like on Sundays to the grocery store etc.) but let’s be honest. Expecting to get an honest response about your looks from a co worker or anyone other then a close friend who is ok with taking a risk with being honest, is just not realistic. Nice write up 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow! I loved this post. It made me realize just how much time I spend per day looking at myself in the mirror wondering if I look “acceptable”. I think I may even have a go at a makeup-less year! Thank you for the inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So good to see you are coming to know the real person you are! I am 52 and in those joyous decades I have worn the mask proclaimed by society on rare occasions and hated it with a passion. Never again will paint my face, color my graying hair nor lament the freckles, moles and scars. This is me the way God made me and I am happy in my own skin!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for this post! I have a Minimal Makeup Mondays tag I’m trying to get the word out about…perhaps you can help, or would be interested in joining in! My blog is http://www.milk


  5. Leonard Cohen wrote about searching for a woman with lines on her face. Sure it’s grand seeing a woman done up with make up it its a joy to the heart to walk hand in hand with a woman with no make and seeing the beauty of pure skin and majesty of the beauty that is who she is and how she looks . It’s like a lot of things the really beauty of a face has been lost to what the media has designated as beauty . Give me a woman with no make up any day

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love this. I just had a conversation about this concept with my husband’s aunt, who wears very heavy makeup. I wear much less — but even so, I can’t bring myself even to go to a pharmacy to get medicine for some miserable illness, without putting on mascara, blush, and lip gloss. I wish I were brave enough to abandon it altogether. Maybe someday.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Although I’ve worn make-up since I was a young teenager, I was much more concerned about aging at 45 than I am at 65. I’m “officially” retired but have a small consulting firm. I never wear make-up at home or to simply run errands. I occasionally wear it when meeting with a client but not always. Depends on what I feel like that day, but I wear it less and less frequently. A good haircut and being nicely dressed works out just fine. Face it (pun intended) putting on make-up is not going to hide the fact that I have lines in my face or fool anyone into thinking I’m suddenly young and beautiful. During the last decades of my life, I made a conscious decision to spend my time and money in activities that make my life meaningful and peaceful. You’d be surprised if you tally up your make-up (and creams and lotions, etc) costs and the time you spend shopping for them, putting your face on, touching it up during the day/evening and taking it off before bed. The question I asked myself and ask other readers, what would you use that all of that time and money for if we weren’t conditioned to buy and apply it?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on and commented:
    This could be me, hence why I’m reblogging the post. I can’t say I’ve tried the no make up look but I admire the author for trying it.

    I also ignored the whole no make up selfie craze on Facebook. Why would I want to show my colleagues and friends the face that wakes up in morning? My friends all looked beautiful….but when I took a selfie of myself I looked like I’d aged 10 years. Seriously, everyone must have used a filter. I’m afraid my daily relationship with war paint is going to continue for a very long time…👄

    Liked by 1 person

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