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The Connection Between Makeup and Mental Health

By HERWriter
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Mental Health related image Photo: Getty Images

Would you be caught out in public with no makeup on? A large number of women feel uneasy by the idea, which could indicate some major body image issues.

A new survey from The Renfrew Center Foundation found even more surprising results that show how makeup goes more than skin deep for many women.

The survey, which included data for 1,292 women 18 and older, stated that “almost half of women have negative feelings when they don’t wear makeup,” according to a news release sent from the foundation through email.

To be specific, 44 percent of women surveyed suffer from negative emotions when they go natural. For example, 16 percent of women felt unattractive, 14 percent felt self-conscious, and 14 percent felt like without wearing makeup they were “naked/as though something is missing.”

A small minority of 3 percent actually felt more attractive when they decided to go natural.

Wearing makeup is more than a physical experience for many women. Beyond positive or negative emotions, there is more of a psychological response to makeup.

The survey stated that 48 percent of the women surveyed “wear makeup because they like the way they look with it,” and 32 percent went as far to say that it “makes them feel good.”

Another 11 percent of the women wear it out of duty, and 44 percent use makeup to cover up skin imperfections.

The desire to wear makeup starts young. According to the survey, “of women who wear makeup, almost half started wearing it between the ages of 14 and 16, yet more than a quarter of women began using it between the ages of 11 and 13.”

The survey is the first of its type conducted by Harris Interactive for The Renfrew Center Foundation, and the Center also decided to do a campaign linked to the survey.

The survey’s purpose was to “identify if there is a link between wearing makeup and a positive or negative body image,” said Susan Kleinman, a dance and movement therapist for The Renfrew Center of Florida.

The campaign is called “Barefaced & Beautiful, Without and Within,” and it urges women to go without makeup for one day on Feb. 27. Go to http://www.renfrew.org/news-events/news/barefacedandbeautiful.html/

This day coincides with National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which is held from Feb. 26 to March 3. Body image can be linked to both makeup and eating disorders, which is why the center decided to hold the day during the same week.

“A healthy body image requires a balance within our whole self. If an individual is using makeup as a ‘mask,’ rather then an ‘accessory,’ her feelings of vulnerability may remain buried inside of her, unspoken and unaddressed, but festering and growing,” Kleinman said in an email.

“She may then turn toward body dissatisfaction to problem solve. Establishing a pattern of avoiding inner feelings and sensations often leads to overwhelming stress and tension. An eating disorder, in those most vulnerable, can become a reality as underlying emotional issues are ignored and fearful feelings and thoughts are set aside.”

Like the survey suggested, makeup does have a noticeable connection to mental health and body image.

“Turning to makeup to repair a lack of inner peace or sense of well being can lead to feeling ‘ill at ease’ — a signal that something is bothering the individual,” Kleinman said. “These ‘cues’ when not addressed, can affect one’s overall mental health. This is because when makeup is used to cover up emotions rather than to enhance one’s appearance, the emotions remain locked inside of an individual, growing in intensity but not being solved.”

“Body image has to do with perceptions of how an individual sees herself, believes others see her and feels living in her body,” Kleinman said. “Applying and using makeup to mask feelings and thoughts can cause an illusion of well being that is short lived because important body signals perceived as ‘uncomfortable’ that need her attention may be avoided.”

She believes it is an issue when women are afraid to go out in public without wearing makeup, and she has some tips for women to improve their body images:

1) “Start each day with a positive statement that compliments attributes other than size, weight, shape or physical appearance.”
2) “Minimize diet and weight talk, allowing more time to focus on positive, meaningful aspects of life.”
3) “Remove the focus off of physical appearance, allowing one to more fully reflect on their thoughts, feelings and words of self acceptance.”

Michelle Phillips, a celebrity makeup artist, life coach and author of “The Beauty Blueprint: 8 Steps to Building the Life and Look of Your Dreams,” said in an email that she believes makeup can be a positive experience for women.

“I feel that putting on a little bit of makeup can immediately make people feel better about themselves when they look in the mirror,” Phillips said.

“It doesn't have to be much however, a bit of lip gloss and a tinted moisturizer can provide a healthy glow and boost of self-confidence that resonates with both the wearer and those she comes in contact with. Anything that boosts self-esteem or self-confidence can have a radiating effect throughout every aspect of your life. If you feel better about how you look through makeup it may make you less critical of yourself in other areas such as body image.”

However, she does support a day without makeup.

“A day without makeup could give many women the opportunity to be free of the ‘enhancements’ they hide behind and build real self-esteem,” Phillips said. “It could provide an opportunity for ourselves, and those around us, to appreciate what makes us uniquely beautiful. We should use this ‘makeup free’ time ... [to] focus on who we are inside. We may even come out of the experience with a new makeup strategy that is more in alignment with who we are, using makeup to enhance our beautiful attributes and as less of a cover up.”

She said it can be a problem if women feel unhappy when they don’t wear makeup, and at that point they should take the time to go over their best inner and outer qualities, in order to avoid just focusing on physical characteristics.

“I feel there is a strong connection between mental health and body/self-esteem issues and much of it stems from the images we are bombarded with in the media,” Phillips said. “Thanks to perfect lighting, stylists, and computer enhancements, women are given unobtainable images to live up to. I can tell you from years of professional experience that these images are NOT true and the more we take time to focus on the beauty in ourselves the better we will start to feel.”

Angela Huntley, the author of “Call It What It Is ... Truth at the Core of Eating Disorders,” and a writer for a women’s Christian online magazine called “Destiny in Bloom,” said in an email that she suffered from an eating disorder for 28 years. She has devoted the rest of her life to helping those who suffered just like she did, and recognizes a definite connection between mental health and makeup.

“I believe make-up was, for me, and is for many, a way of hiding who we are,” Huntley said. “It serves as a mask: a false way of representing. It can actually give women a sense of becoming someone different and that can become a crutch when you don't like who you are. It gives the message that who you are naturally just isn't good enough. You must be tweaked, covered up, somehow adjusted or added to, to fit our world's definition of beautiful, or at the very worst: acceptable.”

She thinks it could be a relief for many women to go a day without makeup.

“A day without make-up is a step in the right direction for women to face the truth about their looks,” Huntley said. “The fact is, we really don't look that different without make-up, yet we live under the deception that we are. When I don't wear make-up, I'm refreshed and surprised to see how many people don't even notice. You are you, with or without a painted face.”

She added that it’s telling of issues of our society that women fear going outside without makeup.

“It's heart breaking to me that we have a whole culture of women who are not comfortable with themselves,” Huntley said. “We have set a standard of telling women the key to happiness is achieving perfection, no matter the cost. As a result, we have insecure women who are so discontent with themselves, always looking for an extreme way to cover-up, hide, and change, instead of becoming empowered to be the woman God created them to be. Isn't it revealing that we even call foundation ‘cover-up.’”

She said makeup added more negativity to her experience with an eating disorder.

“There is a common deception rampant in people with eating disorders. As odd as it sounds, there is a belief that our looks can change drastically from hour to hour,” Huntely said.

“There are times when someone with an eating disorder or body-image issue will perceive themself one way in the morning, and by afternoon, feel that they are seeing something completely different in the mirror. Make-up added to this deception for me. I can remember in high school, checking my make-up many many times per day. If it wasn't just right I believed I looked ugly. If the make-up was alright, I felt at peace. I would go back and forth and back and forth about this.”

“Of course, I was in the midst of an extreme eating disorder, so this was just one of many behaviors that were a result of deception and fed into the deceptions I lived by,” Huntley said. “I had mastered ways to alter myself, and make-up was just one of the ways.”

Overall, she said that it’s a matter of balance with makeup.

“There is a healthy balance to achieve. I don't think make-up is evil or bad,” huntley said. “It's important to be okay in your own skin with or without make-up. There's something special about trying to look our absolute best and adding make-up to accentuate our features. There's also something equally as special in being confident enough with yourself to not ‘need’ make-up.”


The Renfew Center Foundation. Email interview. Feb. 7, 2012.
Kleinman, Susan. Email interview. Feb. 15, 2012.
Phillips, Michelle. Email interview. Feb. 15, 2012.
Huntley, Angela. Email interview. Feb. 14, 2012.

Reviewed February 16, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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