By Hilary Matheson
Daily Inter Lake, Kalispell, Mont.
The familiar adage, “Beauty is only skin deep,” took on a literal meaning for a group of high school girls from Flathead, Glacier and Whitefish high schools.
In a time of heavily retouched photos to fit beauty ideals and tons of social media platforms to post them, wearing no makeup instills a fear of dread in many women.
Retouching a personal photo is routine for many girls before they upload photos to the Internet where the world is looking, evaluating and judging the carefully curated “selfies.”
Kalispell photographer Shannon Hollman is more than familiar with clients who point out perceived flaws and imperfections. Women would point out what body parts they hated or how they took bad pictures, Hollman said.
“I hear, ‘Can I fix this;’ ‘Can you fix me;’ ‘You’re going to slim this;’ ‘You’re going to Photoshop this, right?'” Hollman said. “Well, I’m not. Your beauty shines through your eyes; it shines through your smile.”
When Hollman came up with the business slogan “Your Beautiful is Beautiful,” she wanted to do a photo shoot that focused on positive body image, self-confidence, worth and natural beauty.
She decided to do a makeup free photo shoot.
Hollman put the word out asking high school girls to participate yet didn’t say it entailed no makeup until two days before.
“One, I didn’t think they would sign up. Two, I thought I would only get girls who were super-comfortable with themselves,” Hollman said, which wasn’t the point.
The purpose was not to vilify makeup-wearers or label makeup as good or bad, but to challenge the girls’ idea of beauty, and through the process see their own natural beauty.
“It was just a point to step back, strip everything off and take a moment to really look at themselves and say, ‘I am beautiful. I’m not perfect, I may not look like what I see in a magazine as beautiful, but I am,” Hollman said. “Because that’s what I see when I take their pictures.”
Hollman put 27 girls to the test, which blew Hollman away. She thought once the girls found out no makeup was allowed, participants would drop out.
On the day of the photo shoot, each girl stood before the camera makeup-free, accessory free, hair down, wearing T-shirts and jeans.
Two of those girls were Kelsey Alexander and Hope Wardensky, both juniors at Glacier. The thought of no makeup was daunting at first. Their faces would be the focal point.
Alexander and Wardensky read the email containing details of the photo shoot while on the phone with each other and in Alexander’s words, were “freaking out.”
“I was really nervous about it at first,” Wardensky said. “The more I talked to people about it and my friends who were doing it, too, the more I realized that instead of this being something that’s scary or [thinking] I’m going to look bad, it was more of presenting yourself to everyone [and saying] look, I can do it and so can you. It’s such an important message and I feel like so many girls that were involved helped spread that.”
So why are so many women uncomfortable to appear to the world without makeup?
“Looking through all the magazines, it’s a scandal when somebody famous goes out without makeup,” Alexander said. “Society has set all these standards on what ‘beautiful’ is.”
In the movie “Mean Girls,” there is a scene familiar to high school girls. In the scene, a group of popular high school girls ritualistically stand before a mirror studying their bodies and picking apart what they don’t like.
“There is always something they’re wanting to change or be like someone else,” Wardensky said about her personal experiences with her own friends.
Wardensky said makeup is a way to highlight beauty along with covering up imperfections, but with or without, women should embrace their own beauty. She said the project drives home this message.
With the photo shoot over, there was still another step the girls had to mentally prepare for: Posting the images online.
“People were like, ‘Wow, you look really good without makeup,'” Alexander said. “I was really scared and I didn’t know if I wanted to post it.”
Wardensky added: “Part of the reason I was scared to post them was the negative things people might have to say about me, but I think I can realize the negative things people can say, or I can focus on the positive things everyone else said too. I think it’s also a choice of who you want to listen to and who you want to believe.”
Visit shannonhollman.com/blog to view images from the photo shoot.