Each week our no-holds-barred contributor Grace Gold picks apart a hot beauty topic. It’s our version of an op-ed—with hair, eyeliner and lipstick.
We've all been there. That bold lip or sexy smoky eye we planned with the best of intentions doesn't quite turn out the way we would have liked, and the only saving grace comes via the swipe of a saturated cotton ball. Some of us will give it another go (and pull it off), while others may throw their hands up at the idea of ever attempting the trend again. But 38-year-old Phoebe Baker Hyde had a far more radical reaction of her own.
When a red party dress failed to live up to expectations, she decided she had had enough of trying to meet the standard she had set for herself. She swore off all beauty enhancements, including makeup, hair products, jewelry and new clothes, for a year. The extreme beauty cleanse serves as the basis for her recently launched book, The Beauty Experiment: How I Skipped Lipstick, Ditched Fashion, Faced the World Without Concealer, and Learned to Love the Real Me.
As someone who would wear lip gloss for a run, I couldn't imagine giving up all beauty products for an entire year. To find out how the experiment went for Baker Hyde, I tracked her down and got the inside scoop, including how she rediscovered the fun that can be found in wearing makeup.
When you say you gave up beauty, what exactly did that mean?
I tossed or gave away my makeup. I cut off my long hair, and I let some, but not all, body hair grow. I based my new routine on my husband's routine: shower, deodorant, teeth brushing and combing hair. I did use sunscreen because I’m a redhead, and I wasn't willing to risk skin cancer. I also stopped buying new clothes and shoes, and packed away my jewelry, except for my wedding rings, a watch and tiny gold hoops.
What was your greatest fear when starting this experiment?
I didn’t know where I’d end up. At the beginning I saw everything in black and white, and I couldn’t imagine a middle ground. Now I live there, and am much happier for it.
In your year without beauty, what didn't you miss?
I didn’t miss foundation, or makeup removal late at night and raccoon eyes in the morning. I also didn’t miss shopping in a panic before big events or being late because I had changed my earrings and outfit four times before I went out.
What did you miss?
I missed concealer a lot at first. I also missed the delight of trying new things.
How did your husband feel about your beauty product cleanse?
He was supportive, because he was tired of seeing me get angry and upset with myself over my looks. I think the “beauty craziness” I mention in the book is something that confuses and upsets a lot of men, especially when they see it negatively affecting the women they love. Full disclosure: he didn’t want me to shave my head so I didn’t, and I think that was the right choice!
Did people treat you differently when you didn't use beauty products?
Those who didn’t treat me differently made me trust humanity, and myself, a little more. Those who did treat me differently helped me understand that physical beauty is still very much a tool that gives women power in social and professional realms, but can also sometimes hold them back. There’s a lot of controversy out there about beauty’s double-edged sword and the compromises it can force women to make : Time or beauty? Budget or beauty? Beauty or professional respect? Beauty or being passed over for a job?
Your year without beauty was inspired by a meltdown, when a dress failed to live up to your expectations of how you would look and feel in it. What do you think is behind a reaction like that?
Sometimes we use beauty enhancements as a quick fix for other things in our lives that are not so great: professional or relationship insecurity; poor eating habits or sleep deprivation; stress or grief. But when you’re having a personal crisis—or even just a moment of self-doubt—a new lipstick can’t solve it. It lifts the pressure for a few hours, but doesn’t address deeper issues. I think the letdown happens then. It’s almost subconscious.
In the book, you say that you're a woman “who finally knows how to respond with wisdom and compassion to the voice of beauty craziness in her head.” Can you elaborate?
During my experiment, my inner voice was part insecure teenager, part fashion police, part mean piano teacher. It was her criticism that I call “beauty craziness.” Today, because I’ve investigated where this voice came from and what she’s really afraid of, I’ve been able to separate her mania (OMG, you need a new product right now!) from genuinely useful advice (You know, you might want to think about what you’re going to wear on the Katie Couric show a little in advance.).
How do you feel about beauty products now?
I truly enjoy the age-old tradition of adornment, and today I do it from a place of joy, not fear. For special occasions, I wear makeup that is good for me and the planet, though often go more natural and feel equally at ease. I proudly wear jewelry that was given to me by people I love, and when I genuinely need new clothes, I am a far more skillful and happy shopper. You can’t beat that!