We’ve all been there. That bold lip or sexy smoky eye we planned with the best of intentions doesn’t quite turn out the way we would have liked, and the only saving grace comes via the swipe of a saturated cotton ball.Some of us will give it another go (and pull it off), while others may throw their hands up at the idea of ever attempting the trend again. But 38-year-old Phoebe Baker Hyde had a far more radical reaction of her own.When a red party dress failed to live up to expectations, the cultural anthropology Ivy Leaguer decided she had enough of trying to meet an impossible standard she had self-admittedly set for herself. She swore off all beauty enhancements for a year, including makeup, hair products, jewelry and new clothes. The extreme beauty cleanse serves as the basis for her recently launched book, “The Beauty Experiment: How I Skipped Lipstick, Ditched Fashion, Faced the World Without Concealer, and Learned to Love the Real Me.”MORE: Why Wearing Makeup is The NormNow as someone who would wear lip gloss for a run, I couldn’t imagine giving up all beauty products for an entire year. To find out how the experiment went for Baker Hyde, I tracked her down and got the inside scoop.
Q: When you say you gave up “beauty,” what exactly are we talking here?A: I tossed or gave away my makeup. I cut off my long hair, and I let some, but not all, body hair grow. The hair maintenance question was actually a tricky one—in fact, I spend a whole chapter on it in the book! I based my new routine on my husband’s routine: shower, deodorant, teeth brushing and combing hair. I did use sunscreen because I’m a redhead, and I wasn’t willing to risk skin cancer. I also stopped buying new clothes and shoes, and packed away my jewelry except for my wedding rings, a watch and tiny gold hoops.Q: In your year without beauty, what didn’t you miss?A: I didn’t miss foundation, or makeup removal late at night and raccoon eyes in the morning. I also didn’t miss shopping in a panic before big events or being late because I had changed my earrings and outfit four times before I went out.MORE: How Makeup Can Anti-Age YouQ: What DID you miss?A: I missed concealer a lot at first, but soon realized a more lasting cure for my undereye circles was paying attention to my diet and getting more sleep. I didn’t miss applying mascara, but I did miss its effect! I also missed the delight of trying new things. The experience helped me come up with some very useful new shopping guidelines in the book that bring back that fun.Q: Did people treat you differently when you didn’t use beauty products?A: Those who didn’t treat me differently made me trust humanity, and myself, a little more. Those who did treat me differently helped me understand that physical beauty is still very much a tool that gives women power in social and professional realms, but can also sometimes hold them back. There’s a lot of controversy out there about beauty’s double-edged sword and the compromises it can force women to make: Time or beauty? Budget or beauty? Beauty or professional respect? Beauty or being passed over for a job?Q: Your year without beauty was “inspired” by a meltdown, when a dress failed to live up to your expectations of how you would look and feel in it. Some of us have experienced similar feelings of disappointment, whether it’s been with beauty products or fashion. What do you think is behind it?A: Sometimes we use beauty enhancements as a quick-fix for other things in our lives that are not so great: professional or relationship insecurity, poor eating habits or sleep deprivation, stress, or grief. People who are happy and fulfilled often look terrific, but when you’re having a personal crisis—or even just a moment of self-doubt—a new lipstick can’t solve it. It’s fun to play-act and say, “Maybe I’ll be a cat-eye person or ruby-lip person today,” but this only lifts the pressure for a few hours, and it doesn’t address deeper issues. I think the let-down happens then. It’s almost subconscious.MORE: Makeup Color Theory, ExplainedQ: In the book, you say that you’re a woman “who finally knows how to respond with wisdom and compassion to the voice of beauty craziness in her head.” What do you mean?A: During my experiment, my inner voice was part insecure teenager, part fashion police, part mean piano teacher. It was her criticism that I call “beauty craziness.” Today, because I’ve investigated where this voice came from and what she’s really afraid of, I’ve been able to separate her mania (OMG you need a new product right now!) from genuinely useful advice (You know, you might want to think about what you’re going to wear on the Katie Couric show a little in advance).Q: How do you feel about beauty products now?A: I truly enjoy the age-old tradition of adornment, and today I do it from a place of joy, not fear. I use green personal care products. For special occasions, I wear makeup that is good for me and the planet, though often go more natural and feel equally at ease. I proudly wear jewelry that was given to me by people I love, and when I genuinely need new clothes I am a far more skillful and happy shopper. You can’t beat that!MORE: Does Makeup Make You More Likeable?