The Powerful Reason Actresses Are Wearing Less Makeup Than Ever On-Screen

When Oscar Wilde said, "Life imitates art far more than art imitates life," he clearly hadn't seen how different I, and everyone else who hasn't trained themselves to sleep perfectly on their back so as not to disturb their makeup, look in the morning compared to Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's. And yet for decades in Hollywood, filmmakers have chosen a more idealistic (read: unattainable) approach with women when it comes to beauty.

But slowly, the tide is turning. Alicia Keys' choice to skip makeup last year launched a welcome ripple event within the industry. Thought pieces were written. Stars began posting their bare faces proudly. On the big screen, more and more directors started to realise that looking perfect in scenes where your long-lost sister spontaneously appears no longer makes sense.

What's real? Teenagers experience acne. People get wrinkles. And the actresses in the slides ahead didn't cover up these truths in their films — they drew inspiration from them. It's about damn time.

Photo: Courtesy of A24 Films.
Saoirse Ronan

The New York Times described the characters in 2017's Lady Bird as "real people, honestly portrayed" — and Ronan's performance as Greta proved just that. As the actress told Racked, the acne smattered across her face was real, and the choice to leave it uncovered was intentional.

"Luckily, I didn’t feel insecure about it," she said. "I just felt like it was a great opportunity to show someone as they really are at that age. Because most young people do get bad skin! And I don’t think that’s something you get to see much. Growing up, a lot of of the teenage girls I saw in movies and TV shows were played by these fully formed 30-year-olds with great skin. I hope it helps young people — and anyone who struggles with their skin — to connect with the character."
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Mary J. Blige

For her character Florence in Mudbound, Blige was asked to strip away all traces of makeup and hairpieces — a move that challenged her confidence at first, then felt beyond freeing. She told Variety, "I didn’t really realise that I was hanging onto so many things of the world that made me feel beautiful. I was fighting for fingernails, and fighting for wigs and things like that. And I just didn’t wanna strip down, because I just was afraid.

"Once I trusted [director Dee Rees] and let Florence live, she really liberated me. She really opened me up to my own inner beauty for real. Not what I thought I’d learn, but really truly who I am. And that none of this matters, you know?"
Photo: L.Terrell/Bron Studios/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.
Salma Hayek

In the same Variety piece, Hayek explained that she too skipped makeup and wore an unflattering wig for her character in Beatriz at Dinner. "I was so excited not to look good," the actress said. "Because for me, it was liberating not to have to look good. This woman has nothing to do with the way she looks. And I just loved it. I just felt really comfortable and happy to not have this burden that most women have to have, of having to look good. There’s nothing sexier in this world than talent. And that can last forever."
Viola Davis

Annalise Keaton — the polished defence lawyer on How To Get Away With Murder — is the kind of character for whom the phrase "not a hair out of place" was probably created. Which is why it was especially powerful to hear Davis, who plays her, demanded she strip off her wig and makeup in one particularly vulnerable (and widely praised) scene.

"When I signed onto this show, one of the stipulations was that I wanted to show a real woman," the actress recently told Refinery29. "I didn’t want to show an extension of male fantasy... I wanted people to be let into a real woman’s world. Even if it made them feel uncomfortable. And I did feel like it was making a larger statement."
Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock.
Jennifer Aniston

Preparing for arguably the least glamorous role of her career, Aniston has described filming Cake with no makeup as "so dreamy and empowering and liberating." She explained to Vanity Fair further, adding, "As women, we do feel that we have to live up to an expectation whether it is on camera or going to the market or whatever it is. The truth of the matter is that that is not always the way it is. We don’t always have our high heels on. We don’t always have our hair and makeup on. And this character is basically someone who had just given up, just on even waking up sometimes."
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