The Renfrew Response

As I mentioned in the Lipstick post, I received an email about a study conducted about women and makeup use by the Renfrew Center Foundation.

I emailed the PR rep, Jennifer, with the following:

I have a question for you, Renfrew, and Dr. Ressler: I'm curious why an eating disorder organization is studying makeup use in women. I don't see the connection, nor do I see what going without makeup has to do with eating disorders awareness week.

I have a blog post here:

I really am interested in hearing a response from you guys. Thanks so much.

Jennifer's response:

Thank you for your response, Carrie.  Attached please find a copy of the full press release which further explains the survey that we conducted as well as our campaign, Barefaced & Beautiful, Without & Within. 

Barefaced & Beautiful, Without & Within is a call to action - an opportunity for women to join together and go without makeup in order to celebrate their natural beauty and start a healthy dialogue about body image, self-confidence and self-esteem.  

It is our goal that through this campaign, we will get people talking in broader terms. For many, negative feelings about one's self-image can set the stage for destructive behaviors, such as addictions or disordered eating.  It is our hope that Barefaced & Beautiful - a community of supporters sharing natural photos of themselves - will promote a greater understanding of how beauty and confidence come from within.

Upon your review, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions or if you would like to schedule a time to speak with our expert.

The press release was a Word document, which I've copied here:


In response to study, The Renfrew Center Foundation launches national campaign, “Barefaced & Beautiful, Without & Within,” during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

PHILADELPHIA, PA (January 23, 2012) — The Renfrew Center Foundation, a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to advancing the education, prevention, research and treatment of eating disorders, today announced survey results which revealed that nearly half of all women have negative feelings about their image when not wearing makeup and associate a “bare face” with feeling unattractive and insecure. Additionally, one quarter of the women surveyed began wearing makeup at age 13 or earlier. 

This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of The Renfrew Center Foundation, from December 20-22, 2011—among 1,292 women 18 years of age and older. Highlights from the survey include: 

·         Almost Half of Women Have Negative Feelings When They Don’t Wear Makeup
Forty-four percent of women have negative feelings when they are not wearing makeup, reporting feeling unattractive (16%), self-conscious (14%) and naked/as though something is missing (14%). Only three percent of women said going without makeup made them feel more attractive.

·         Women Wear Makeup for Both Physical and Psychological Reasons
Almost half (44%) of women wear makeup to hide flaws in their skin. They also cited emotional responses, with 48 percent noting that they wear makeup because they like the way they look with it and 32 percent agreeing that it makes them feel good. Eleven percent said they wear makeup because it is a societal norm.

·         Wearing Makeup is Not Just for Adults
Of women who wear makeup, almost half started wearing it between the ages of 14 and 16 (51%), yet more than a quarter of women began using it between the ages of 11 and 13 (27%).

“Wearing makeup to enhance one’s appearance is normal in our society and often a right of passage for young women,” said Adrienne Ressler, National Training Director for the Renfrew Center Foundation and a renowned body image expert. “There is concern, however, when makeup no longer becomes a tool for enhancement but, rather, a security blanket that conceals negative feelings about one’s self-image and self-esteem. For many individuals, these feelings may set the stage for addictions or patterns of disordered eating to develop.”

During National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 26 – March 3), The Renfrew Center Foundation is sponsoring a national campaign, titled Barefaced & Beautiful, Without & Within ( Through the campaign, Renfrew will encourage women nationwide to go without makeup for a day in order to start a dialogue about healthy body image and inner beauty.

“In this age of toddler beauty pageants, digital retouching, celebrity worship, and other unrealistic cultural messages about beauty, there are definite challenges to developing a positive body image; challenges that put women at risk for eating disorders and other self destructive behaviors,” said Ressler. “Our hope is that through Barefaced & Beautiful, Without & Within, we will promote greater understanding that real beauty and self-esteem truly begins from within.”

To show your support for Barefaced & Beautiful, Without & Within, The Renfrew Center Foundation is asking for women to go without makeup on Monday, February 27th and promote their participation through their social media networks by tweeting a photo or changing their Facebook profile picture to one of their natural self. To learn about participating in Barefaced & Beautiful, Without & Within, please go to

The Renfrew Center Foundation
The Renfrew Center Foundation, founded in 1990, is a non-profit, charitable organization dedicated to advancing the education, prevention, research and treatment of eating disorders. The Renfrew Center Foundation is supported financially by private donations and funding from The Renfrew Center, the nation’s first and largest network of eating disorder treatment facilities. The Renfrew Center now operates eleven facilities in nine states. Through its programs, the Foundation aims to increase awareness of eating disorders as a public health issue and research the pathology and recovery patterns of people with eating disorders. The Foundation also seeks to educate professionals in the assessment, treatment and prevention of behavioral and emotional disorders by sponsoring an annual conference, as well as numerous seminars throughout the country. To date, the Foundation has trained nearly 25,000 professionals. For information about The Renfrew Center Foundation, please call toll-free 1-877-367-3383 or visit

Survey Methodology                                                                                                         
This survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Interactive on behalf of The Renfrew Center Foundation from December 20-22, 2011 among 1,292 women ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and, therefore, no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact Holly Dean at 215.875.4365.

About Harris Interactive                                                                                
Harris Interactive is one of the world’s leading custom market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for the Harris Poll and for pioneering innovative research methodologies, Harris offers expertise in a wide range of industries including healthcare, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer package goods. Serving clients in over 215 countries and territories through our North American, European, and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help us – and our clients – stay ahead of what’s next.  For more information, please visit

So, to some extent, Renfrew isn't trying to deliberately link lipstick and eating disorders. They mentioned disordered eating, not eating disorders, which is very good. But it still rubs me the wrong way for some reason. I guess what I really want to know is why the Renfrew Center is studying makeup use. It just doesn't compute.

Jennifer's email ended with an invitation to speak with Dr. Ressler. I would like to ask her directly the question in the above paragraph. And since I'm going to be sending her the question via email, there's plenty of room to add other questions.

What other questions would you like to ask Dr. Ressler? Feel free to suggest away! I may edit your question slightly for clarity, brevity, or to combine several questions into one. I can't promise that I will submit every question asked, either, but I will do my best to make something comprehensive but not overwhelming.

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The Dandelion Girl said...

So it's sort of the reasoning I assumed they were using... basically the society whose advertisements are based upon a "self-loathing" sell more principle... so convince women they're flawed to sell them more beauty products... diet aids... etc... however, I do worry that studies such as this will perpetuate the myth that there is a degree of vanity involved in eating disorders...

Anonymous said...

I think this is very interesting and never thought of makeup use this way. I think what Renfrew is trying to show is that women go to great lengths to try to "fix" something about themselves -- typically physical appearance -- when they really usually have inner feelings and issues that need attention.

With EDs, it's common for people to focus on losing weight because it's something they can see "positive" benefits from, and if losing weight wasn't even the initial goal, EDs make it so that weight ends up being all the person can really think about. "If I eat this, I will gain X amount of weight, and I'm going to be a fat f*cking slob. I hate myself."

hm said...

As I read Renfrew's full explanation and goal, my stomach sank deeper and deeper. I feel devastated. As someone trying to understand my own ed, and terrified that other people will judge me for it- think I am selfish, bratty, self-obsessed because of it- to hear them saying women should go without makeup during ed awareness week makes me feel sick and distressed. Because they are IMPLYING that eds ARE about body image, and learning to accept how you look. They are so, so not.

It's not that this is a bad study. Not at all! I think it's a good study- I think anything aimed at increasing the appreciation of the natural woman, in whatever shape she comes in, with or without makeup, is a GOOD thing. Why would I dislike something that honors my gender?

But why, why, WHY during ED awareness week??? Why??? So much of society already judges anorexics (while watching them on tv with unabashed voyeuristic intrigue) as self-consumed brats who want to look like models. Putting the focus on "beauty" and "self-esteem" reinforces the idea that people with eds are CHOOSING them in order to try to LOOK BETTER! What????

Renfrew, launch your damn campaign. I actually think it might do some women some good. But MY question is- WHY do it during ed awareness week???

This feels to me like Renfrew capitalizing on ed awareness week as a launching pad for their campaign- it feels like them using eds as a publicity stunt. It just... hurts.

Kind of like it would hurt if I was having a baby shower and felt awkward about having the attention on me, but then my friend walked in late with a huge diamond engagement ring and piles of photographs to show off and stole all the attention. (No, this didn't happen to me- but it did happen to a friend of mine- and this Renfrew thing feels like, I think, how she might have felt.) It's not wrong to be engaged, or to be excited about it and to want to share it. But NOT DURING SOMEONE ELSE'S BABY SHOWER.

Their study is good- but NOT DURING ED AWARENESS WEEK.

Sorry if I wrote too much- I am having quite the visceral reactions here.

EvilGenius said...

honestly I found this response very satisfactory. talking about disordered eating not EDs was definitely the right choice, but personally I've always seen the value in campaigning for prevention of disordered eating along with EDs as long as the message is coherent. I wonder whether the problems it causes are due to the fact that disordered eating (and particularly that linked to societal/feminist issues) is only ONE potential trigger for EDs, and others are often not mentioned or discussed. that omission is obviously a huge issue and difficult for those who never felt the influence of sociological factors on their eating. but I don't think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. glad you wrote to them Carrie, that was an interesting one.

Anonymous said...

I never interpreted the study as linking EDs with wearing lipstick (or not). I saw it for what it is: another wibbly-wobbly study on women's attitude towards their physical appearance.

Fine if Adrienne Ressler wishes to conduct this sort of survey... Just don't link it to a biologically based illness.

Anonymous said...

As for a question to Adrienne Ressler:

1. Do you believe that EDs can be prevented or treated by altering people's attitudes towards their physical appearance?

On a personal level, I started to over-exercise and (later) restrict food because I was anxious - about many things in my life. I had no interest in fashion or glamour. As a 12-year old diagnssed with AN, I didn't view my physical appearance as playing any role in the development or maintenance of compulsive restricting and over-exercising.

So yes, Ressler's survey rubs me up the wrong way too. I would have developed an ED even if I had been 100% satisfied with my physical appearance.

Anonymous said...

I have a reaction similiar to HM, here. I firmly believe that EDs (all of them!) are triggered by biology rather than the environment, I think the enviromental factors help to sustain an ED, but, I don't think they cause it. Anyway, focusing on the makeup connection only focuses on a symptom of an ED; but NOT the cause. Therefore, it's wasted data. I really believe Renfrew could have found better ways to put the money spent on that study to better use!

As for any questions: Please ask her if any thought was given to the biological causes of ED rather than environmental suppositions.

Thank you, Carrie!

Anonymous said...

I'd say the relation between makeup and ED is pretty far-fetched, but obviously it can be related within the grander scheme of things. Though it sounds simplistic to write "body image issues" as the cause for eating disorders, I don't think I can buy the idea of an ED being totally unrelated to one's relationship with one's body. I agree that it isn't about looking pretty, but it is definitely about exercising some kind of control over one's physical being--also what makeup is about (only a minority of makeup-wearing people are actually better-looking for it; it's clearly a psychological comfort first and foremost).

I also have a hard time agreeing with the fact that someone who'd be entirely happy about who they are (including, but not limited to how they look, as "beauty comes from within" evidently states) would go on developing an ED. Anxiety? Well, that's certainly not a synonym for "happiness" in my book. Quoting one of your recent posts (When bad body image isn't about the body): "Our brains are just trying to make sense of something we can't explain, so we do the best we can with the vocabulary we have. My own vocabulary happens to be marinated in the larger culture of diet obsessions." Exactly so. Why do you think most women wear makeup? Because their vocabulary happens to be marinated in the larger culture of looks obsessions.

I knew a guy who wore makeup, too. CLEARLY, 100% anxiety-related. He couldn't even be said to have body image issues in the usual, widespread meaning of the term. As in, he rather liked the way he looked as far as I could tell. But tell him you wouldn't go out with him if he wore makeup, and he would straight out panic.

I don't think Renfrew is treating makeup as a *cause* of ED's. At least that's not how I personally perceive it. I think they're trying to raise awareness of our general culture of making our bodies bear the brunt of our psychological shortcomings. At last, regarding the biological causes of ED... I know I experienced mine purely and simply as an addiction. Can we treat addictions on a purely biological level, though? When it comes to rehab, environment and mindset is key if you don't want to fall back into the same dangerous habits all over again. I don't know. Just my take. ED's shouldn't be simplified to body image issues, but then, neither should it be simplified to anorexia nervosa and losing weight. Binge eating is also considered an ED, and it's not exactly about being thin and conforming to beauty standards, is it? It is, however, about finding comfort and stress release in doing something ritual to your body. Like putting on makeup. (Of course, it isn't the case for *everyone*... But it definitely was for me, as well as for my male friend.)

Anonymous said...

Gasp! Many grammar mistakes in the comment above. :| Sorry, I got a little carried away...

Anonymous said...

Did anyone notice that the press release uses the words Disordered Eating and the flyer located on the website uses the words EATING DISORDER?

"Go without makeup to start a dialogue about eating disorders..."

Can you please ask him to look over my intended dialogue:

I was anorexic for 6 years. I passed out, took laxatives, diet pills, and my cheeks were sunken in. I did not have to contour conture my cheek bones! I lost my job and friends. I even had to buy make up from the dollar bin:(

Then, I crossed over to bulima for 2 years. I was so sad because makeup could not cover my blood shot eyes or the cuts on my hands. One time I passed out and needed stitches. The concealer did not work! I would have cried, but then I remembered I was not wearing waterproof mascara.

Also, why did he choose a campaign that excludes men and boys?

Anonymous said...

From Charlotte Bevan (Carrie's website has gone all funny on me like Laura's did and I can't sign in!)


I think the response is worse than the original letter. My questions to Renfrew are:

Wouldn't the money be better spent on talking about brain circuitry and disassociating eating disorders from the implication that they are self induced as a result of body image issues?

Time for someone like Renfrew to stop stigmatising ed patients as a group of people who are starving, bingeing, purging because they want to live up to an idealised version of perfection. Time for Renfrew to talk about biology, genetics, brain disorders, neurodevelopmental disorders, brain circuitry, anxiety, OCD, perfectionism traits, set shifting, etc etc and not about make-up.

Time for Renfrew to grow up and drag themselves out of Hilde's Golden Cage?

Angela Elain Gambrel said... Renfrew! Yes I love looking like a walking skelton. I felt so beautiful with dark circles under my eyes and arms stripped to the bone. I loved being cold all the time and beating myself up because I was too fat! Brother!

I plan on wearin makeup just to subvert this ridculous campaign!

Angela Elain Gambrel said...

Sorry for the typos!

Anonymous said...

The Renfrew Center saved my life. I am still there as an outpatient and I think that their campaign is perfectly appropriate. While eating disorders are not rooted in body image, no one can deny that body image is a huge part of the disease, however superficial a symptom. (And by superficial I mean on the surface, a layer we must penetrate to get to the root of the problem.) Rather than berate The Renfrew Center (and trust me, I do take serious issue with some of the things they do)and try to make a statement which no one will notice by doing the exact opposite of what they ask, do something proactive in your own community or workplace and help garner attention to ED awareness.

Anonymous said...

TO: January 29, 2012 8:51 AM Anonymous,

I plan to volunteer 600 hours at my local counseling center. Last semester, I volunteered 200 hours. (It was a 90 minute drive daily and I paid gas out of pocket.)

When I come home, I reply to posts on somethingfishy and another online support forum daily.

If someone posts something inaccurate about EDs, I direct them to reputable sites.

I keep current on ED research weekly (I don't just read the abstract).

I have participated in campaigns like the post it and mask project that were designed to raise awareness at my college.

In all of my 6 years of having the disorder and talking to various people at all stages of recovery, the subject of makeup has not come up.

We only get one week to shine (at best, a couple of minutes on the morning talk shows) and talking about not wearing makeup just seems so superficial.

The Dandelion Girl said...

RE:Jan 29 - 8:51 AM Anon

I have no issues with how I look. Truly, I don't. I don't think I'm heavy. Do I want to change my weight at the present? Yes, but because I don't feel healthy physically (or mentally - my cognitive abilities become impaired - noticeably) at this low weight.

My issues with food (and the reason I've had an eating disorder) stem from issues of self-worth. Not issues with my appearance. I'm not saying I think I look like a supermodel, but I think I look just fine.

I think the study, as I said earlier, is trying to show a link between makeup and a self-loathing society, but I think it's presumptuous to extend that study towards eating disorders as if there's a causal (albeit casual) link...

Poor health habits... or disordered eating? You'd have me sold... but eating disorders? No. If they wanted to look at that self loathing and eating disorders that would be different, but to try to link all three at once is ambitious and, once again, presumptuous.

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Anonymous said...

My main question for Renfrew is not related to the makeup issue, but here it is anyway.....
With so much evidence for the success of family-based treatment (e.g. Maudsley, Lock & LeGrange) and the fact that families are scouring the internet, travelling thousands of miles and skyping to get trained, professional fbt support, does Renfrew have any plans to add this type treatment to its programs? If so - where & when; if not - why not?

Anonymous said...

^^ I hope not. FBT does not work for everyone and it's important to have a variety of treatment approaches available for those in need. My parents tried FBT with me and I relapsed every time. They paid a lot of money to get trained in it too. Renfrew saved my life and I have been recovered ever since going there.

Unknown said...

there is absolutely NO REASON to spend money on such a research project. BUT, i shall admit that after i effectively inhibited my bulimic tendencies for several months, i also stopped wearing makeup. i now love my natural face, and i do see a relationship between the "eating disorder and face, with or without makeup" concept, but i think that a formal, scientific study is freaking ridiculous. xxx

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Anonymous said...

Renfrew may have supported a campaign that supported not wearing make-up, unfortunately those working at Renfrew continued to wear make-up. Strange, huh?

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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