Hair we go again

Annoyed with the pressure to look good 24/7, two female friends went ‘au naturel’ for 60 days, writes Jonathan deBurca Butler

WHEN Galway girl Emer O’Toole raised her arms on breakfast TV to reveal her hairy armpits, she started a debate about ‘natural’ beauty.

Ms O’Toole is not the first woman to become embroiled in such a ‘hairy’ debate or make us question what is, or isn’t, ‘real’ beauty.

As 51-year-old mother-of-two, Molly Barker, and her 27-year-old friend and colleague, Caitlin Boyle, met for a coffee in their home town of Charlotte, North Carolina, they stumbled upon a question neither of them could answer.

“Molly is the founder of a self-esteem-boosting programme for elementary school girls, called ‘girls on the run,’ and I’m the founder of a site called,” says Caitlin.

“One day, we were having coffee when I asked Molly, ‘what do you say to the girls when they ask you, “Molly, you say inner beauty is the most important thing, but you wear make-up and wear high heels and dye your hair. What does this mean”?’

“Both of us were stumped for a truly authentic answer, because we had always engaged in those habits and didn’t really know why we did them.”

By the end of their discussion, the pair had decided that the best way to find out about those habits and their motivations was to desist from doing them.

For sixty days, Molly and Caitlin went to what they call ‘the beauty desert’.

They wore no make-up. They did not remove a single body hair. They refrained from altering the hair on their heads and they did not dye, curl or straighten it under any circumstances.

They did not wear what they classed as ‘uncomfortable feminine clothing’, such as high heels and tight skirts, and jewellery, with the exception of wedding rings, was not permitted.

They could not paint their nails, use anti-wrinkle or anti-acne lotions and deodorant was out of bounds.

“We thought 60 days would be enough time to really get into the project and get what we needed out of it,” says Caitlin. “We were not trying to comment on anyone else’s habits or on the habits themselves. It’s not that I think make-up is inherently bad. I was more curious about my intention behind daily make-up use.

“I really didn’t know what the end result of the project would be when I went into it.”

Caitlin, who is expecting her first child, says she did feel uncomfortable at first. But it soon became apparent there were major benefits to going without make-up and its associated paraphernalia.

“It took a while to get used to not looking the way that I was accustomed to,” she says. “But, after two weeks, I realised that my naked face was just my normal face, and it felt free to not feel like I had to wear make-up and shave. And my skin began to clear up, too. I always thought I had bad skin that needed to be covered up with make-up, but it turns out that the make-up was making my skin bad. That’s one of the reasons that I haven’t gone back to regular make-up since ending the project.”

Apart from getting a few sideways glances at the gym because of armpit hair, people’s reactions during the ‘naked face project’ were positive.

Caitlin was pleasantly surprised by the numbers of women who were doing the same thing on a daily basis. They are, however, in the minority, and, says Caitlin, society has largely fallen into the trap of valuing people based on their appearance, thus burdening them with unachievable and superficial goals that end up masking their true potential value to society

“There is too much pressure on girls and women to look good and more grown-up than they actually are,” she says. “Our society teaches women, girls, and men too, that our most important asset is our appearance. It says that it’s the primary thing we bring to the table, above our intellect, kindness and everything else. And that’s a shame.”

“I do not believe appearance is the primary asset,” she says. “And it’s dangerous for me and the girls to fall into the trap of believing we’re not good enough if we don’t wear make-up, dye our hair, have a certain body type, or fulfil some particular expectation of what we should look and act like.”

There is a multi-billion dollar industry that would disagree and it is unlikely that they are going to stop their advertising bombardment any time soon. For Caitlin, the experience has been an eye-opener and she hopes that the project will encourage others to take a more balanced view of how they value themselves.

She is under no illusions, however.

“I entered into this project wondering what to tell little girls at ‘girls on the run’ when they asked about beauty,” she says. “I realise, now, that when I told them inner beauty is the only thing that matters, I was sugarcoating the truth. In our society, quite frankly, people do care about appearance, although I have learned that they care less than we think they do.

“But I still believe that we hold ourselves up to an impossible physical standard, and this isn’t right. But I’m doing a disservice when I tell the girls that what you look like doesn’t matter at all; they can see through that lie in their everyday experiences. The purpose of this project was to find a deeper and more authentic answer for the girls.”

Was there anything she missed in particular?

“I did immediately shave when the whole thing was over,” she says. “I missed that a lot. But I haven’t returned to daily make-up. I do know that I wore it because I felt like it was a socially expected part of womanhood. I just think I realised that I didn’t need it anymore.

“If I want to wear it for special occasions, that’s fine, but on a day-to-day basis, it’s more than OK to just skip.”

No wax please, we’re celebrities

Brandishing hairy armpits like a badge of honour is nothing new. Who can forget the gasps of horror when 80s German popstar Nena,, bounded across the Top of the Pops stage singing 99 Red Balloons, with her follicles-in-your-face routine? Or when Julia Roberts, more than a decade later, unveiled her furry armpits for the cameras on the red carpet at the Notting Hill premiere?

Even perfectly groomed wag Danielle Lloyd, below, fell victim to razor deficit in 2007, and held her hands high for snappers to get a eye-full of her pit tresses. But she had a good excuse — they were glued-on ‘wigs’ for a Channel 5 experiment!


* Today 60% of Irish adults think it is important to be attractive to the opposite sex. That’s up from 40% in 2000, according to the latest data from researchers TGI Ireland.

* The same survey, which was carried out in 2011, reveals that the proportion of adults who think it’s important to keep young looking is up from 40% to 49% over the same period.

* The average woman spends €14 a month on skincare and a similar amount on cosmetics.

* Since 2000 the number of women using cleansing creams, wipes and toners has gone up from 68% to 83% today. The proportion using body creams and lotions has increased from 66% to 85%, and the proportion using eye make-up has increased from 54% to 77%.

* The number of women visiting beauty salons has also risen, from 760,000 in 2008 to 830,000 in 2011.

* Statistics from the data specialists Euromonitor, show people living in Ireland spent €92.8m on colour cosmetics (make-up), €7.4m on depilatories and some €109.5m on skincare in 2010. In 2005 the same figures were €78.8m, €5.9m and €88.2m.

* Interestingly, the same period has seen spend on men’s grooming go from €78.7m to €108.1. Good news for the women of Ireland?


Retail withdrawal symptoms can be quelled with thoughtful online purchases for birthday gifts, to elevate our spirits and help small local and family run businesses, writes Carol O’CallaghanPoster boys: Guide to wall art you can source from local businesses online

Make everlasting mementoes and gifts by growing and drying your own flowers, with help from expert floral artist Bex Partridge.How to dry home-grown blooms

I went to Hanford high school in the US, there is a joke that we all glow in the dark.This Much I Know: Dr Cara Augustenborg, environmental scientist

My girlfriend and I live in a shared house, and she's excited by the idea of having sex during the day, while there are other people in the next room.Sex File: I don't like being spontaneous

More From The Irish Examiner