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Tammy Swift, Published March 01 2014

Swift: Finding courage to go ‘naked’ for a day

My mom is a well-groomed lady.

When I go home to visit, I feel a bit like a slouch. I’m schlumping around the house with crazy-cat-lady hair and pajama pants at noon, while my mother can be found cooking breakfast at 8 a.m. in full makeup, a well-matched outfit and carefully coiffed hair. (I sometimes wonder if she goes to bed this way the night before so she can get up looking fabulous.)

When we were in high school, she would run after us, imploring us “to put on a little lipstick. You look pale.” We were told to never part our hair in the middle because it made our noses look big. We developed a family joke about “The Swifts’ 71 Steps to Natural Beauty.”

One of my favorite things to do was to browse the makeup aisle at Target, in search of the lipstick or face powder that would most effectively transform me into Kelly LeBrock. I began carrying around a makeup kit that looked like a portable chemistry set.

In college, I sometimes dragged myself to class in sweatpants, but even then I always wore “light” makeup (translation: foundation, mascara and lip color). In this pre-goth era, Ally Sheedy could only be redeemed by being transformed into a pastel-clad prepster in “The Breakfast Club.”

But here’s the irony: I was young. I had good skin. People told me I was cute, but I really didn’t believe them. I would look in a mirror and constantly pick apart what I didn’t like about myself. My teeth were too big. My chin was too weak. And why couldn’t I have beautiful, straight hair that didn’t need to be tamed with a blow-dryer and curling iron?

Even worse, I developed a self-deprecating humor about my looks. If others might make fun of me, I would beat them to the punch. I joked that I had Ichabod Crane’s nose (I didn’t) or that my thighs looked like they had hail damage (they didn’t). I talked about using a “light spackle” for foundation. Today, it makes my heart hurt to think of it.

Oddly, as time passed, this seemed to change. Even though I gained weight and developed wrinkles, I grew a teensy bit more accepting of myself. Other things seemed more important. My return to singlehood seemed to be the biggest confidence-booster of all. I lost weight and took more pride in my appearance. I no longer felt invisible. At last, I felt like I was “enough.”

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I saw a promo for the “Today” show’s “No Makeup Monday.” The show’s glossy, seemingly perfect anchors were going before the camera – that unforgiving, all-seeing eye – sans cosmetics. (What? Al Roker without eyeliner?) They also encouraged women across the country to post makeup-free selfies on social media as a way to accept ourselves as we really are.

Publicity stunt? Perhaps. But I also loved the message. After a lifetime battle with my looks, it seemed like a way to finally express self-acceptance. So much so that I scrunched up all my courage and posted my own au natural snap on Facebook. (Nakedfacebook?)

Almost as soon as I hit “post,” I panicked. What would people think? Would they be horrified? Would I scare the horses? Where was “delete”?

But almost immediately, people responded. Most of them were women; all of them were encouraging. A handful posted their own selfies. Several men also commented. My friend Tom, wrote: “You and your friends are too hard on yourselves. Natural beauty is still beautiful.”

My friend Jodi observed: “Love being at an age that I really don’t care so much about this stuff anymore. I will walk the streets naked faced today. Thanks for the inspiration!”

And my friend Darcy said: “I think there is something ‘prettier’ about women w/o makeup. You can see ‘them’ better, or something.”

In the end, it really was a freeing experience. But don’t be too impressed. After exposing my naked face to 1,200 of my closest Facebook friends, I immediately showered and put on “light makeup” for a yoga class.

Oh well.

Brave wasn’t built in a day.


Tammy Swift writes a lifestyle column every Sunday in Variety. Readers can reach her at tswiftsletten@gmail.com.