Wearing makeup is a personal choice, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with loving it, owning it and applying it like a badass beauty ninja. But for those who feel obligated to wear makeup, who feel pressured to “cover up” or “perfect” their faces with products, the makeup-free movement has been an awakening. Thanks to social media hashtags like #makeupfree (and in no small part, Amy Schumer) women are proudly flaunting their product-free faces to remind the world that wearing makeup is a choice, not an obligation—and that beauty doesn’t require beauty products.
With all of that in mind, photographer Steve Osemwenkhae has taken the concept to the next level by capturing the natural beauty of over 100 women in his No Makeup Series—a stunning series of makeup-free portraits.
“The idea for this series came to me on the MBTA’s commuter rail one morning,” Osemwenkhae, who is based in Boston, told HelloGiggles. “A woman was tussling through her bag as I was trying to get a quick nap. With all the commotion, I looked up and saw she was applying makeup. I couldn’t understand it as it is something I am not familiar with. As she layered her face with lotion and foundation, I started to think about how to showcase natural beauty. At that moment, I decided to take on the no makeup project with a few friends.”
Osemwenkhae’s intention isn’t to judge anyone who wears makeup—but rather to capture something we rarely see in magazines and in the media: the beauty that shines through without products or retouching.
“This project started as an idea to celebrate beauty and now it has become something bigger than myself and my art,” he explained. “It’s a vehicle to showcase natural beauty, but also to change the narrative on how we define beauty as a whole.”
Accompanying each of his 100-plus portraits, Osemwenkhae has included quotes from his subjects on the topic of beauty, and what it feels like to be captured on camera without makeup. Each subject’s commentary is thought-provoking, honest and valuable in exploring what beauty means to us as women and as individuals. Here are some that inspired us:
“I think that makeup should be an option for people who want to wear it, but not a requirement. As a woman and a college student living with four other females, I feel pressure to wear it from the people around me, and often get comments pointing out that I do not regularly wear makeup. I think everyone should feel beautiful in their own skin and not self-conscious of imperfections that we all have. Instead, I think we should embrace the beauty that we were given and use makeup more as a highlight of that beauty than as a mask to create society’s idea of beauty.” – Lydia Lee
“Makeup is expensive and takes away from the natural beauty that we have been blessed with and given. But there are so many different things you can do with makeup. So many different aspects to it and many different styles. The power of makeup is truly amazing, especially when it comes to photos. You can cover up anything, but also create beautiful masterpieces with it as well.” – Raha
“When I was growing up, makeup was a way to change who I was and emulate those I admired. Nowadays, it’s more about being comfortable and owning my own skin … It shouldn’t be about changing or hiding things, but about enhancing the features you love and what makes you unique.” – Elissa Garza
“I like what I see when I look in the mirror. It took me years to be able to actually say that out loud. Makeup, for me, is a tool to enhance what’s already there. I enjoy experimenting with different eyeshadow colors and shades of lipstick to make me more beautiful, but I realize that I can be just as beautiful without all of that.” – Aisha Lomax
“I don’t hate makeup, but I’m not in love with it either! I’m for whatever makes a woman look and feel wonderful! When I’m not at work, a little lipstick and mascara are enough for me.” – Vivian Terzian
“I don’t necessarily ‘love’ makeup, but I have also just started wearing makeup about one year ago. I’ve always been a plain jane for most of my life and only wore makeup for special occasions … I still do not go full-on five layers of makeup. My makeup consists of just eye color and lip gloss. No foundation for me, even though I have tons of blemishes. I love my plain jane JLo as much as done-up JLo.” – Jennifer “JLo” Lopez
“Growing up a ballerina made some of my fondest memories associated with stage makeup and performing, but I don’t think anyone should be judged or deemed less beautiful because they choose to show off their natural beauty.” – Camille N’Diaye-Mulle
“I wear makeup to the degree that it pleases me; I always think about who I am doing it for and what it does for me.” – Halah Ahmad
“I have an unconditional love for makeup. My profession is Makeup. It is my business, it is my passion, it is my livelihood. However, I’m a believer that makeup is not something that every woman NEEDS. It’s a tool to help enhance all the natural beauty that all woman already possess. Or for an expression of creativity. I wear makeup almost every day as I am a representation of my craft, but I also wear it for ME.” – Lisa Roche
“I love makeup as an art, I’m just too lazy to do art on my face every morning.” – Miranda Tyson
“I definitely have a love/hate relationship with makeup. Being an actress/model, makeup is a regular part of the job and my life. You have to wear makeup on most shoots, even if just going for a natural look. I LOVE getting my makeup done professionally by someone else, but I do not necessarily enjoy doing it myself for auditions or shoots where you are required to do your own makeup.” – Tre Alexander
“There is something transforming about makeup. There’s nothing like the feeling that a pair of fake eyelashes and a swipe of red lipstick gives me; I feel empowered, ready to take on the world … The disadvantage of makeup is how the ads that sell it portray perfection. In a world of airbrushing and Photoshop, I’m concerned about the images that we are showing to the girls of the next generation.” – Jesse