‘Honest You’ is a photography project that I created this summer to discuss female recognition of makeup and self-acceptance. The idea occurred to me in June this year, when I was reading a Chinese newspaper over breakfast. Everything was as usual until one headline caught my eyes, that a Hong Kong actress, Sheree Lo had died at the age of 47 and that the tragedy was reportedly caused by heart attack due to weight-loss. I wasn’t really aware of her much, but I still remember her performance, in the sensationally successful ‘Happy Ghost’ comedic movie series in the 1980s, around the same time as I was born. Compounding this is the fact that another actress in the same film, Fennie Yuen, was then diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa in 1994.
Looking back to my reality, my entire social life with other girls was filled with the topics of losing weight, wearing makeup, and a increasingly popular one, plastic surgery. Certainly, these are personal choices, after all, and I am not advocating a boycott of makeup. I, myself, do wear makeup on occasions. However, I would like to discuss about the trend of standardization of people’s appreciation of beauty. That is to say, some people, either consciously or unconsciously, define beauty in a single way. It seems to me that the biggest problem of a narrow perspective of beauty is its negative impacts on self-acceptance. As a result, I am not opposed to wearing makeup, but the pressure that makes girls think that they must need makeup. To me, there is no need to set these two choices against each other. We surely have the right to put on makeup if we would like to enjoy some colour on our faces, and we have the right to appreciate our natural beauty as well.
Soon after I realized that I should do something to explore my reflections, I started a photography project called ‘Honest You’, in which I take portrait photos of participants without makeup and interview them on their thoughts about this topic. So far, I have worked with a number of women coming from various industries in London, but the one thing they have in common is that they all believe in the free rights of women around the world. I feel that they are the most beautiful and wise women that I have ever met in my life, and their faith encourages me to keep moving on with the project.
More delightfully, I heard that one of my favorite singers, Alicia Keys, has started a no-makeup movement in recent months. It is really inspiring to know that more and more people are sharing the same view. However, I have also heard about some different voices. In an article called ‘Here’s why people are annoyed at Alicia Keys’ by Nicole Bitette on New York Daily News, the author listed a few reasons why the no-makeup idea is not welcomed and cited several studies with statistics representing how people judge females in terms of appearance and whether they wear makeup or not. However, I personally think women should not feel unconfident to go out or take photos without makeup, nor should they feel ashamed when they see the so-called ‘perfect body’ or ‘perfect face’ in the media. More importantly, women should not be judged by their appearance or makeup instead of their skills or experiences in professional spheres, as the Bitette article claimed, because those references are not the proof, they are actually the problems that should be tackled.
When I searched similar projects online, I found a U.S.-based photographer called Steve Osemwekhae has created the ‘No Makeup Series’ in 2010 to “not only showcase natural beauty through mediums that included photos and videos, but to also tell the stories surrounding makeup”. I am very glad that someone has already taken actions and I believe that there are other people in other countries who are making the same efforts. I would like to be one of them and to try my best to develop this on-going project and I hope that one day people’s attitudes towards makeup or no makeup will be more tolerant and diverse.
Please get in touch via email or social media if you would like to take part in or share your thoughts about my project.