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Is Makeup Bad For Our Body Image? Q&A With Adrienne Ressler

Can you leave the house without wearing makeup? If you can, do you still feel good about yourself — or not so much?

What role has makeup played in your life? Is it a  tool to enhance your features, a fun way to experiment or a security blanket?

According to a 2011 survey conducted by The Renfrew Center Foundation, almost half of their female sample reported having negative feelings when they don’t wear makeup. They either feel unattractive, self-conscious or like something is missing.

Can you relate?

(In high school, I felt naked without makeup, and honestly, not very pretty. Now, I don’t feel like I need to wear it, but I like to some days; just depends.)


Just 3 percent actually felt more attractive going out without makeup. And over a quarter of women started wearing makeup between 11 and 13 years old.

Did you start early, too? (My parents didn’t let me wear makeup ’til I was 15 or 16.)

Below, Adrienne Ressler, MA, LMSW, CEDS, the National Training Director for The Renfrew Center Foundation, discusses when wearing makeup becomes a problem, the meaning of true beauty and tips to improve your body image.

She also talks about their upcoming campaign called “Barefaced & Beautiful, Without & Within.” The campaign is dedicated to promoting positive body image and the idea that beauty comes from within. That’s why they’re encouraging readers to avoid wearing makeup for one day. Learn more about the campaign here

Q: For many women wearing makeup is a fun way to express themselves and helps to boost their confidence. When does wearing makeup become problematic?  

A: Like anything else, the use of makeup becomes problematic the more extreme it gets. Extreme exercise can do the body more harm than good, extreme concern about calories can become obsessional thinking, extreme devotion in a relationship can feel smothering to one’s partner, and extreme thriftiness may blossom into hoarding behavior. With makeup, the extremes often involve its use in order to create a “false self.”

In our culture many young girls are sexualized or made up to look older through the use of makeup. When this happens, there is a loss of innocence as well as expectations that they conform to standards inappropriate for their age. Women who fear that they won’t be accepted for themselves become dependent on makeup in order to camouflage their feelings of insecurity.

Q: Isn’t it natural for women to feel insecure when not having any makeup on? For some women, wearing makeup is just good grooming and going without makeup akin to wearing pj’s outside the house.  

A: There is a big difference between good grooming (like brushing your teeth and using deodorant) and wearing makeup.  Feeling uncomfortable without makeup is not particularly extreme and assumes that the person can function and still feel OK.  Those individuals who will not risk leaving the house without makeup or be seen in public are the ones who really are dealing with more serious issues regarding self-acceptance.

Q: How can women improve their self-confidence without relying on outside factors — like makeup — to make them feel pretty?  

A: I’m not sure that feeling “pretty” is the issue.  Many of the women that we treat at The Renfrew Center are viewed by the outside world as pretty.  Also, many of them will never be conventionally pretty according to a “Barbie meter.”

Some of the most beautiful women in the world are beautiful in spirit, in passion, in curiosity — and that glow transforms them and is incredibly attractive to others and, even more important, it fills them up.

I just wish that instead of advertisements for how to re-create ourselves, we had advertisements for creating those elements in ourselves. I would love to see an advertisement for obtaining “intellectual curiosity” or “love of life!”

Q: What does true beauty mean to you?  

A: Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines beauty as “that quality or aggregate of qualities in a thing which gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit; physical, moral or spiritual loveliness.” I like that definition.  It has absolutely nothing to do with how flawless your skin is or how much you weigh.

Q: What do you hope the Barefaced & Beautiful, Without & Within campaign will accomplish?  

The campaign comes under the auspices of The Renfrew Center Foundation and is part of a prevention and education effort. Many women with body image problems rely so much on conforming to what the advertising and media hold up as a beauty standard.

We hope to raise awareness among all women that each of us is unique and that self-acceptance is the key to self-esteem.  We want to remind women that balance is important — enhancement is one thing, covering up who you are is another.

Q: What are several of your favorite strategies to improve body image?  

A: I enjoy helping women learn to look at them selves differently; to literally “soften” their eyes so that instead of narrowing their eyes and looking for flaws, they relax their eyes and look at their face or body with acceptance and even love.

I also like working with photographs. I ask women to find a favorite photo taken of them before the age of 10 and make copies of it to put in places where they will be sure to see it (taped to the mirror, in your underwear drawer).

I remind them that this little girl is really you so when you see the photo, tell her something positive. You’ll be surprised at how quickly reinforcing and familiar this message becomes and how you will begin to incorporate this message with your “grown up” self.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about the campaign, body image or a related topic?  

A: Body image is actually very complex. It involves perception — how we view ourselves, how we believe others perceive us and how we actually feel “living” in our bodies. It develops very early in life and changes and is modified by our experiences as we age. Body image is extremely important and is essential to our identity.

Do you use makeup as an enhancement tool or security blanket? What are your thoughts on makeup overall? Can you go a day without wearing it? 

P.S., Caitlin, who writes the blogs Health Tipping Point and Operation Beautiful, along with Molly Barker, founder of Girls on the Run, started “The Naked Face Project.” Caitlin has written several great, thought-provoking posts about it. Check them out here and here.

Is Makeup Bad For Our Body Image? Q&A With Adrienne Ressler

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2012). Is Makeup Bad For Our Body Image? Q&A With Adrienne Ressler. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 19, 2018, from


Last updated: 22 Feb 2012
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Feb 2012
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