Courtesy Sarah Bunton

I Didn’t Wear Any Makeup To Work For A Week To See How My Co-Workers Would Treat Me, & This Is What Happened

by Sarah Bunton

Makeup has been around since the time of the Ancient Egyptians and shows no signs of going away. From Cleopatra to the Kardashians, the standards of beauty have evolved and trends continue to come and go. As much as I adore pop culture and reading about whatever is the latest and greatest, I feel like I can’t keep up. Somewhere in between wondering if “strobing” is the new contouring, trying to figure out what the hell “hangover beauty” is, and the stress and attention-sucking nature of raising another human, I felt the sudden urge to detox.

Makeup is time consuming. It takes effort and energy. It's an added chore to my already jam-packed morning routine. When trying to get out the door with a toddler in tow, I need simplicity. I need something that's easy and quick and effortless. And taking a break from my makeup routine would offer just that. Not to mention, my skin would get a break, too. Plus, I was interested to see how many people would take note if I suddenly stopped wearing makeup, and if they did, would they say anything?

The Experiment

For one week, I combated my system overload to take it back to the basics. One fad I didn’t have a problem hopping on board with was the no-makeup trend. Although it’d be quite the detour from my involved beauty routine, the change was welcome. I like to give my skin a little break, though I usually just do so in the comfort of my own home. For this, I’d have to step outside of my safety bubble and face the world naked — from the neck up. 

Day 1: Are My Pores Really That Big?

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First off, please ignore all the laundry in the background. Actually, you know what? Don’t ignore it. That’s part of parenthood. Sometimes there is just too much going on to care about putting clean laundry away. Getting rid of my insecurities about appearances and the status quo was a large part of why I wanted to do this experiment, so on day one I tried to embrace the realness. But a funny thing happened only a few hours in: I couldn’t stop checking my reflection.

My co-workers and people around me actually didn’t make any comments about my makeup-free face on the first day; interestingly enough, I was my harshest critic. Every glance and reflection caught in the mirror revealed a new flaw, and each one seemed more glaring than the last. Are my pores really that big? Am I really this pasty? Where did these bags under my eyes come from? Was I just reacting in hyperbole to the newness or had I just kept these flaws hidden under foundation?

Day 2: Kids = Brutal Honesty

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I’d made baby steps with my laundry (putting it in the basket counts, right?), and I was beginning to make progress by starting a dialogue at work. Although I do have co-workers who are adults, my job is primarily with kids. By day, I’m a Cognitive Skills Trainer, working with children who face behavioral, developmental, and/or cognitive challenges. It’s a rewarding job, but, man, can kids be blunt!

Perhaps my co-workers and students both thought my makeup-free day was just a fluke and didn’t bother to comment. But day two signaled, to one student at least, that something was different. “Miss Sarah, are you OK?” she asked, her brows knit together in concern. “Yes I am. Why?” A question I would somewhat regret in a few seconds. “You look so sick. Your eyes, they’re sad and sleepy.”

I reassured her I was just fine, though my ego would need some time to recover.

Day 3: Regina George

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With the laundry and brutal honesty of yesterday behind me, I was determined to be more optimistic. The fact that I didn’t receive any real comments from my co-workers was a good thing in my book. But then my insecurities got the best of me. I wondered if maybe people really did share the opinion of my student and were just too polite to say anything to my face. Did they think I looked tired, too? Why was I so hung up on hypotheticals?

One co-worker, let’s call her Regina George, pulled me out of the realm of what-ifs. I was setting up my station for a student when she said, “I love how you’re always changing up your look!” I was caught off guard by what seemed to be a compliment. “Oh, thanks! I guess I get bored easily.” Then she Regina George-d me. “New hair color, no makeup, whatever. I think it’s just great you don’t care about how you look.”

Now, maybe she didn’t mean that as a passive-aggressive dig. Maybe she just sucks at compliments. Maybe I should hope she doesn’t read this article. But if she does, I want her to remember: whether you’re 18 or 28, words have power and words can hurt. It felt like she was implying two things: one, that I don’t fit in the standard definition of beauty, and two, that I’m either lazy or woefully inept at looking like a put-together adult. It may be my insecurities, but having worked with this particular woman for over a year, it hurt that she had such a surface level view of me.

Day 4: Almost There?

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As superficial as it may seem, it bummed me out that the two reactions I got on my makeup-free face weren’t exactly glowing, body-pos affirmations. Instead of wallowing, I tried to focus on the fact that I had made it past the halfway point. I pride myself on sticking with things even when things get uncomfortable -- and this was no different. In fact, I’ve found that my most difficult experiences have yielded the most insight and consequently the most personal growth. Even though I’ve never really worn makeup or changed my looks for anyone else but me, it was eye-opening to find that people's’ reactions to my appearance really did have an impact on me.

I was waiting to be treated differently, ostracized, applauded, something. Yet nothing happened. I was actually relieved when day four came and went without a single comment. While I was busy anticipating some kind of reaction from others, I forgot to keep up with my reflection in the mirror. It wasn’t until I checked the rearview on the ride home from work when I realized it was the first time since brushing my teeth in the morning that I’d consciously looked at my appearance. I was cool with that.

Day 5: Kids Aren’t All Bad

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The same student from day two who innocuously cut deep into my heart with her remarks reminded me that brutal honesty isn’t always a bad thing. Children have a way of speaking exactly what is on their mind without any sort of ulterior motive, good or bad. They observe and report, plain and simple. She had thought on the second day my tired eyes might mean I was sick. A perfectly reasonable assumption to make. When I should have been warmed by the fact she was concerned for my health, I was busy taking it personally. Day five showed me I shouldn’t have been so quick to judge.

“Oh wow! Miss Sarah did you know that?” She was beaming with excitement. “Did I know what?” I was puzzled but also nervous since the last time I asked her a question, I didn’t get the answer I expected. “Did you know that smiling means you’re happy?” Working with children on the Autism spectrum, we focus on connecting body language and facial expressions to emotions. “You’re very right! Smiling can mean you’re happy.” She grinned at me and said, “You must be super happy ‘cause you smile a lot!”

Turns out I didn’t need lipstick and a full face of makeup to make people think I look happy.

Day 6: In The Groove

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It had taken me a few days, but I’d gotten out of my old makeup routine and into the habit of, well, nothing. And “nothing” felt good. In the morning, I didn’t need to stop myself from reaching for my cosmetics bag. I wasn’t focused on the mirror, looking for errant eyebrow hairs or zits. I simply woke up, brushed my teeth, washed my face, and checked to see what just made that crashing sound in my toddler’s room. You know, a typical morning. My lack of a beauty routine made me feel like I had one less thing to cross off my to-do-list.

This relief translated to my work, too. Not only did I have little concern about my appearance, but I didn’t really bother with other people’s drama either. I just didn’t have time for that. Sure, Regina George and I didn’t really exchange any more words than were necessary, but now I didn’t let my nerves get the best of me. Perhaps she was almost right before. It’s not that I didn’t care about how I looked. It’s that I didn’t care what other people thought about how I looked. And I liked that.

Day 7: Is This The End?

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As with other experiments, day seven is the goal. The experiment ends and I’m free to go back to my old routine. Something was different this time around, though. I wasn’t as eager to say goodbye to this experience as I thought I would be. My feelings of nakedness had transformed into contentment, a new and broader comfort zone.

My co-workers and students didn’t have some grand revelation of their own about my week-long experiment with going makeup-free. Or if they did, they weren’t telling me. Either way, their overall lack of reaction was still a statement, in my opinion. I wondered if they, too, felt that makeup and appearance don’t mean as much the media might have us believe. So this experiment might have ended quietly, but the silence spoke volumes.

Did I Like Not Wearing Makeup?

Will I maintain the makeup-free trend? Yes, and no. I still like makeup and how it makes me feel. In a way, it can be an artful form of self-expression. I’ll continue to wear it only for myself. The main thing that has changed, however, is that I go without makeup just for myself now, too. Some days it’s easier to skip the cosmetics and just go. Other days I enjoy the little bit of “me time” putting on my face can provide me.

I may have gotten some responses that stung, but it taught me that I’m the one who controls the impact of words. I can choose to let an innocent remark from a child roll off my back or I can let it fester and breed insecurity. I can ignore pettiness or I can engage where a negative result is pretty much guaranteed. I decide both how I present myself to the world and how much I let the reflection matter. Lipstick or not, I can still show the world I’m happy with only my smile.