When you are at the center of self criticism it’s pretty hard to ignore the facts. As the sketch artist for the Real Beauty Sketches (RBS) campaign I was charged with sketching the details about how these real women saw themselves and how others saw them. As I heard the descriptions of the real women (I could not see them) I could sense the history behind some of the hurtful comments. Some of the real women told me their families and friends had scared them with their ignorant comments , while the others focused on boyfriends that highlighted their imperfections. From large noses to jutting jaws; from wrinkled foreheads to small lips; these distinct features were used to describe these real women and it made them all think twice about their real beauty.
The two days of sketching were filled with the back-and-forth of self criticism from the real women, and the kindness of strangers as they described the same person with complimentary lenses. The contrast in perceptions were revealed in the sketches on the day of the reveal, and it was truly powerful. The emotion and honesty thrust forward in this social experiment could never have been imagined—that’s why, for me, it felt so real. It reminds me of the thousands of intense sketch interviews I’ve conducted over the last 25 years.
I came across an interesting story on the web yesterday, by Lilit Marcus, she wrote about a college senior at UC Davis, Brinton Parker. Brinton documented her reactions by students who saw her in three disctinct versions of herself: without make-up; light make-up; and lots of make-up. The comments were revealing and paid notice to the fact that men and women can be highly critical about someone’s appearance. More importantly, I like that Brinton decided to turn the criticism into inspiration. She said she decided to be more confident about herself regardless of how she presented her face.
Maybe if men had to put on make-up everyday, we might be empathetic to the women in our lives. I know that the Real Beauty Sketches experience reminded me of how important it is to let the women in my life know how I appreciate their beauty. I know that I received many emails from fathers, husbands, and brothers, that told me that they would be more open to telling their loved ones that they were more beautiful. Many of them told me that they felt these women were beautiful, but they realized that they didn’t tell them enough.
At the end of the RBS social experiment the women would tell me how hard they were on themselves and how they would try to be more confident in the future. Some of them had daughters and knew that breaking this cycle of harsh criticism would benefit them greatly. They also knew that letting go of these negative feelings would bring them more confidence in all that they sought to accomplish. As Brinton put it, “It’s my perception of myself that’s important.” I agree with Brinton. I would add, if we work on lifting the perception of others we might be able to let go of building our own ideal self perception.