As my mother and I scrolled through the photos posted on Molly McCaffrey’s The Real You Project on Tumblr, we felt like we were missing something. According to McCaffrey, who also writes a biweekly healthy lifestyle blog, I Will Not Diet, this photo project features photos people have submitted of themselves. She asks her contributors to send pictures that highlight so-called flaws, rather than hide them. Her hope is that the The Real You Project can teach us that “what is unique about us is what makes us beautiful.” My mom and I weren’t getting it. We studied each photo and kept saying to each other, “I don’t see any flaw there, do you?”
McCaffrey’s project features photos of people involved in everyday activities: there are people holding cats, posing in front of fountains, running marathons, sitting in front of laptops, in restaurants, and at the beach. They look natural. They look real. As we inspected each photo, we tried to determine what feature it was that bothered the contributor. If you looked closely, a woman snuggling her cat had crow’s feet – but it’s the pure joy on her face that jumped out at us. “Do you think she considers those crow’s feet to be the flaw?” my mom asked. “I see them as part of what makes her her.”
McCaffrey wants to make it a priority for people to understand that no one really looks like they do in the media. ‘It’s all really smoke and mirrors,” she said in an email interview. “The crucial thing to do is to find something you love about yourself. There has got to be something about yourself that you think is beautiful.”
Maybe I’m puzzled about this project because I grew up in a family where it was considered okay to be different; actually, it was more than okay – it was encouraged. My brother and I were raised by open-minded parents, and we were constantly urged to question authority. I never bought into the Abercrombie-Hollister-American Eagle mindset that was all the rage in middle school. I preferred to rebel against the uniformity and shop at Goodwill, where I could create outfits that were unique and reflected my personality.
However, I was at Sephora the other day to purchase a gift certificate for a friend. A saleslady pounced on me and insisted I participate in her free makeup consultation. She criticized my eyebrows, said I should straighten my curly hair, and put concealer under my eyes. I walked out of Sephora with my “imperfections” corrected and feeling very unhappy. At first I thought, “Wow! Are my eyebrows really that bad?” And then I thought, “Whoa, wait a minute! Who is she to rip me apart? Are there rules about eyebrows like there are about grammar?” There aren’t. Eyebrows, just like people, come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.
Molly McCaffrey watched her mother, and her friends, “go from one fad diet to the next, without ever keeping any weight off.” As a pre-teen and teen, McCaffrey read magazines like Seventeen and YM religiously and was obsessed with being attractive, but simultaneously, she rejected society’s definitions of beauty. “I wanted to be beautiful. I just wanted to do it on my own terms.”
McCaffrey believes that it is the responsibility of adults to continue challenging young people to reject conformity.
After my Sephora “makeover,” I kind of slunk into the house, hoping to avoid my mother. She got one look at my makeup and snorted, “What happened to you?!”
“Sephora – that’s what happened to me! The lady was so snotty!”
“Ehris, just go wash it off. Who’s she to tell you how you should look?”
McCaffrey encourages people to reject the impossible standards put forth in the media, similarly to the way my mother encouraged me to forget about the Sephora saleslady’s comments.
“I want people to understand that being beautiful is about looking natural and real, and not necessarily about looking flawless,” McCaffrey explained. “I hope that we can reject the notion that there is only one kind of beauty and accept ourselves the way we are.”
Got a photo of yourself, warts and all? Send it to Molly McCaffrey’s The Real You Project at firstname.lastname@example.org.