This photo essay celebrates women—just as they are.

Would you ever tell a 13-year-old girl that she needed to wear eye-shadow to school? Would you ever think an 82-year-old woman needed to wear foundation to cover her wrinkles? We hope the answer here is so obvious that we don’t need to say it aloud.

So, ladies, why are we devastatingly critical of ourselves during those in between ages, aka most of our lives? Why do women in general feel like we need makeup for any sort of public occasion when a man can throw on a nice outfit and be good to go?

These heavy questions have percolated throughout my career as a professional photographer.

When I ask a male client how they feel about their portraits, the general response is “What do you mean? This is my face?” Women, on the other hand, tend to be far more self-critical.

A broken nail, a stray hair or a small blemish is perceived as an aesthetic disaster, which in turn massively reduces her confidence.

And again, I wonder why?

We all begin our journey in this world with the same fresh-faced approach to life, yet somewhere along the way half of us (women) feel the pressure to cover up with makeup. What would the world be like if we decided to refute that expectation and instead show up
as we were?

This is the concept that Gooseberry Studios is exploring in a new on-going portrait series called As You Were. The campaign is an effort to show women a stylish, powerful and natural way to embrace their face exactly as it is.

In partnership with wardrobe stylist Alex Billard of Gotham + Grace,
As You Were is a fashion-forward portraiture series of real women designed to explore natural faces and beauty. Each portrait is designed with an elevated wardrobe and sleek studio location, as any high-end photoshoot would be. The only difference is that each photo subject does not wear
any makeup.

The goal of the series is to celebrate a new female narrative, one that recognizes a woman’s presence rooted in confidence, inner strength and defiance of expectation.

It’s my hope that As You Were will inspire an acceptance and celebration of self among women from all walks of life. Here, we talk to four women about their experience of being photographed without makeup and how they view themselves as a result.

Note: This is not a campaign against makeup or against women who genuinely love makeup. The purpose of this portrait project is to challenge the societal belief that women in general need makeup. We’re not saying, “Never wear makeup.” We’re saying that we can still be professional, put together, and gorgeous without anything on our natural faces, if we so choose.

Photo Essay of Natural Women

Leanne Sedentopf
Age 40 (and proud of it!)
Project management for online businesses

Q: Why did you volunteer to participate in the As You Were No Makeup Portrait project?

A: I had known Laura through work and loved working with her and
her approach. I volunteered for this because I support the body positive movement that is happening online.
I have been doing work personally to see myself as I am and love what I see, whether or not it fits in with what I think it “should” look like.

When I’ve had photos taken of me in the past I often recognize that what
I see when I look in the mirror is not likely what others are seeing. I’m looking up close at my pores or puffy eyes. But when I take a step back and see myself the way the camera and others do, I can see me in
a more loving and appreciative way.

Also, working from home I notice I generally live in a small, safe bubble. I’m trying to say yes to things that scare me and push me out of my typical comfort zone, because that is where the good stuff is.

Q: How did you feel when you arrived for the photoshoot with no makeup on?

A: I felt more nervous than I expected. I often go out without any makeup and a messy ponytail, so I didn’t expect it to bother me at all to pose for photos without makeup.

But I felt quite nervous leading up to the day and at the beginning of the photo shoot.

“I’m trying to say YES to things that scare me.”

Leanne Sedentopf

Q: What was your biggest fear about stepping on camera without any makeup?

A: As I get older I’m becoming more aware of my fine lines and tired eyes.
I think my biggest fear was that the camera would confirm some of the things I’m most self-conscious of this time around. Spinning and dancing
in front of a camera is way out of my comfort zone. I get very self-conscious and assume everyone is judging me.

Q: How did you feel after the photoshoot when you were shown your portraits on the back of the camera?

A: I cried when Laura showed me some of the shots. I think it was relief mixed with a bit of sadness. Relief that I wasn’t looking like a complete loser doing as Laura was asking. Sadness that I had been so anxious and worried going in, instead of allowing myself to enjoy the experience more from the beginning.

Laura made me feel so comfortable. Although I’m turning 40, I find I
often walk through life feeling like an awkward teenager. Seeing the photos helped to remind me that I’m a strong, capable woman.

Q: How did this portrait series effect your self-confidence, your relationship with makeup and your view of your natural reflection?

A: It helped my self-confidence for sure. Each time I do something that scares me and I don’t die, I remind myself I am capable of more than

I think. I don’t often wear makeup anyway, but it was a reminder that no one is looking at me as closely as I look at myself in the mirror.

I know I’m beautiful but it also often feels like a Catch-22. We spend so much time judging and doubting ourselves. But in those moments
when we do feel beautiful, we’re not supposed to acknowledge that either because then we are conceited or full of ourselves. We’re stuck in such a weird spot as women — be confident but don’t tell anyone about it if you are!

Q: How would you describe the experience to a friend?

A: It was so much more than a photo shoot. It was personal development and growth. I feel these pictures help represent the real me and what is possible if I can get out of my own way.

Doris Romano
Age 42
Registered nurse and nutritionist

Q: Why did you volunteer to participate in the As You Were No Makeup Portrait project?

A: Secretly, I have always wanted to be a model. It didn’t work out when I was younger. In my late 20s, I seemed to have come to a reconciliation with all the insecurities I used to have regarding my weight, my features, and my confidence in the spotlight. But then as I was nearing my 40’s, I noticed that I became increasingly unhappy with what I saw in the mirror. I didn’t want to be in pictures or videos. I made a commitment to peel back the layers and I started a quest for self-love. When I saw Laura’s call for volunteers, I instantly replied because my soul knew that it would be a way to get out of my comfort zone. That on the other side of that discomfort was healing.

Q: How did you feel when you arrived for the photoshoot with no makeup on?

A: I was excited to get started! I don’t wear makeup anyway so I felt comfortable and in my element.

Q: What was your biggest reservation about stepping on camera without any makeup?

A: I was nervous about the outfit that was chosen for me to wear! I am not into fashion very much and I prefer a neutral palette when it comes to clothes. I figured that I would be asked to wear something with colour and that’s not normally my first choice. (I ended up loving the outfit, BTW!) I was worried that if I didn’t like the outfit, I would let that get in the way of the shoot being a success.

Q: How did you feel after the photoshoot when you were shown your portraits?

A: I felt so giddy and happy! I was stunned that the outfit colours complemented my skin tone and features. Also, I felt proud at what we had accomplished. I will admit there was even a touch of sadness because I saw a light in my eyes and in my smile that has been absent for so long. I felt heavy because this beautiful essence is in there somewhere. She’s not even hiding behind makeup, so where is she?

“I finally saw myself as a whole being.”

Doris Romano

Q: How did this no makeup portrait series effect your self-confidence, your relationship with makeup and your view of your natural reflection?

A: I have had a poor relationship with body image and self-esteem all my
life. In particular over the last several years as my body and health started to change and decline. I actually stopped looking at myself in the mirror because I didn’t like what I saw. This portrait series made me feel beautiful and I haven’t felt that way in forever, even if people tell me I am. I saw confidence, contentment and inner peace in my eyes, in my smile, in my posture that I couldn’t see before. If I ever looked at myself, it was in pieces.

My belly as I suck it in, my eyes to make sure I’m hydrated, my finger when I put my wedding ring on, or my hair if I’m straightening it. I finally saw myself as a whole being.

Q: How would you describe the experience to a friend?

A: The experience is an opportunity for every woman to be reminded that she is beautiful just as she is and to be liberated, even if just for an hour, from all the masks that she wears, so that her true self can come out to play.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: Laura, you have a beautiful gift, as a photographer, but also as a fellow female being. You saw the need for this project because you can see the need among women to feel radiant just as we are.

Snowzei
Age 28
Piano teacher and creative entrepreneur

Q: Why did you volunteer to participate in the As You Were No Makeup Portrait project?

A: To get out of my comfort zone.


Q: How did you feel when you arrived for the photoshoot with no makeup on?

A: Comfortable. I didn’t have to put on a facade. I didn’t have to impress anybody.

Q: What was your biggest reservation about stepping on camera without makeup?

A: I’m usually confident in my own skin, with or without makeup. My reservations weren’t with my bare face, but being in front of the lens instead of behind it. I don’t like seeing my face on camera in general because I worry it’ll amplify all my external insecurities.

Q: How did you feel after the photoshoot when you were shown your portraits?

A: Aww. Day-umm! I’m not a humpback snaggle-tooth, despite what I think on my worst days. Getting out of my comfort zone pays off.

Q: How did this no makeup portrait series effect your self-confidence, and your view of your natural reflection?

A: Each time I get in front of the camera, I realize more and more that everyone looks both good and bad. We all have our good sides, bad sides, yasss-queen days, and days where you scare yourself when you catch a glimpse in the mirror. I’ve never had a strong relationship with makeup. Mainly because I’d rather sleep an extra half hour in the morning, so I’m not exactly your best gal in terms of having a reaction to seeing myself make-up free. However, my confidence has grown from seeing my face in about a hundred different shots. The more I see my face, the more accepting I am of the different ways I can look. Amazing, horrifying, or anything in between.

Shannon Patterson-Bartley

Age 38
Elementary teacher, college women’s basketball coach, personal trainer, owner of She Roars Fitness.

Q: Why did you volunteer to participate in the As You Were No Makeup Portrait project?

A: When I turned 38, I redid my vision board and resolutions. I wanted to
go for things this year that scared me or things that I would never do in the past. My very good friend did the photoshoot and when I saw what it was about, I asked her about it and I knew that I wanted to do it. Even though it scared me.

When Laura said “yes” to me doing it, I was instantly like, “what did I sign up for?” I wear makeup to cover acne scars and pigmentation issues. I started to have self-esteem issues with my skin high school. I have relied on makeup, like how I put on shoes when I leave the house. I never left to
go anywhere without it. I felt solely judged by people by how I looked, and that meant a lot to me. The only time I would not wear makeup was on vacation and when I was working out, but I still felt self- conscious.

As a teacher and role model, I felt like I was preaching one thing to my students about beauty and self-love, but I wasn’t living that life. I would tell them about my self-esteem issues, but never was brave enough to come to school or work as I was. I want to continue to be a role model for young girls and women and to walk the walk and talk the talk. Makeup is great, but we don’t need it to be beautiful or to feel beautiful.

Q: How did you feel when you arrived for the photoshoot with no makeup on?

A: I was freaking out for a week before the shoot because I was worried about how my skin would behave. (I have hormonal acne.) I have never even done a photoshoot, and no makeup made it even worse. Because it was winter, my skin is very dry and pale, so I was dreading how the photos would come out. I was more worried about my own attitude to seeing myself on camera without makeup then even outside judgment. When I arrived, I was excited and decided to not be so hard on myself. After I saw my outfit and was there with my big hair, I was ready to let go and be me! I felt like a kid again. Free.

“I was never brave enough to come to school or work as I was.”

Shannon Patterson-Bartley

Q: What was your biggest reservation about stepping on camera without any makeup?

A: That you can see my flaws. I don’t know where I got this notion of wanting to strive for perfection, but without makeup I feel undone. I see my own flaws and feel the effects of aging or not being blessed with perfect smooth skin. It makes me feel less attractive. This is of course not true, but it’s how I feel. Makeup is also a mask, something I can hide behind. Without it, I am just me, and I was worried if I would show up as just me.

Q: How did you feel after the photoshoot when you were shown your portraits?

A: At first, I told Laura I didn’t want to see any of them and to keep them a surprise. I did this because although I was feeling myself and I felt beautiful as she was taking photos, I was scared that when I would look at the photos I wouldn’t see what I felt.

But she convinced me to look at some of the shots. I was like “Wow!” When I saw myself on the camera. I remember that girl, but she has been hidden away for a while. She looked so happy and free and strong. I felt love when I saw myself. It was like a weight had lifted off me. I realized then that so much of this self-conscious beliefs about my looks has become part of who I am. And I need to unlearn things I believe about myself. This photoshoot has helped so much with that.

Q: How did this portrait series affect your self-confidence, your relationship with makeup and your view of your natural reflection?

A: I definitely love myself more now. Regardless if I put makeup on or go natural, I love who I am. My confidence has increased in terms of just knowing that other people’s opinions don’t change how I feel about who I am, especially on the inside.

I know that regardless of if I have makeup on to coach or to teach, I will still do a great job. I know that I don’t need makeup. Yes, I wear it, I like it, I enjoy putting it on, but my relationship with it has changed. I don’t use it to change who I am so the world will accept me. I look in the mirror with more love and kindness. I am not undone with makeup. I am as I am.

Q: How would you describe the experience to a friend?

A: Life changing! Every women should do a photoshoot because it is so fun —and makes you feel unstoppable. It helps you to be vulnerable and let go. To now do it without makeup is powerful. In order to project your beauty to a camera, you have to feel beautiful. Doing it without makeup forces you to go deep and to find that love. That love we all had as young girls, before someone told us we were ugly or flawed. It’s a great reminder that although it was scary, you sometimes have to just go for it. It was a phenomenal experience. One I wish all women could do.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: I just want to thank Laura and her team for this amazing project. In this age of contouring and IG models, selfies, and filters, it brings us back
to the realness I think we all desire to connect with. I feel honoured to be
a part of this project. I think it starts a great conversation about expectations we have of others and ourselves. It’s funny how other people say I look good or beautiful naturally. But yet I choose to believe the lies I tell myself that I don’t look good.

TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHY
BY LAURA BENN | GOOSEBERRY STUDIOS

WARDROBE STYLIST: ALEX BILLARD | GOTHAM + GRACE

Author/Photographer: Laura Benn is the owner of Gooseberry Studios – a Toronto commercial photography and brand management studio. Rarely without a camera in hand, Laura channels her passion for art and storytelling into building brands of all sizes and industries and crafting memorable photoshoots bursting with emotion.

Follow Laurel on Instagram here!

More Inspiration: Check out this cool article on Cynthia Loyst of CTV’s The Social and her thoughts on the pleasure principal.

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