The Lipstick Connection

As I've mentioned before, I get lots of email from PR people. Mostly, they neither bother me nor really attract much of my attention. One from this morning, however, did.

First, the pitch:

Dear Carrie,

It’s no surprise that most women wear makeup, but what drives the desire to wear bright red lips on a trip to the grocery store or a face full of foundation to the gym, beach or pool? And how does wearing makeup influence a woman’s self image? I thought you might be interested in covering this on your blog.

The Renfrew Center Foundation, a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to advancing the education, prevention, research and treatment of eating disorders, recently conducted a survey which revealed that nearly half of all women have negative feelings about their image when not wearing makeup and equate a “bare face” with feeling unattractive and insecure. Additionally, more than a quarter of the women surveyed began wearing makeup before age 13.

We’d love to work with you on a story revealing the results of this survey and are happy to provide nationally renowned body image expert, Adrienne Ressler of The Renfrew Center Foundation, to discuss the findings.

If interested, I’d be happy to send a full press release on The Renfrew Center Foundation’s survey on women’s attitudes towards makeup. The release also provides information regarding The Renfrew Center Foundation’s Barefaced & Beautiful, Without & Within campaign, a national call to action for women to go without makeup on February 27th in conjunction with National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 26- March 3).

Let me know if this is of interest.

The only thing I can think is: what the HELL does makeup have to do with eating disorders?!?

I know that body image obsessions are common in EDs, and I know that makeup can be part of that. But I almost never wear makeup, and I still got an eating disorder. So I'm just wondering how going without makeup is related to Eating Disorders Awareness Week. It's kinda maybe tangentially related, maybe, if you lump body image distress in with eating disorders.

But really? Makeup doesn't cause eating disorders.

posted under , , |



LOL - sorry, I shouldn't laugh but WTF?

lisa said...

Carrie, my theory is the a job created for everyone out there and they found a way to create one here The focus continues to move away from the things that actually are the cusp of new research. Behavioral changes to create new functioning pathways for Ed related abnormalities. Full nutritional restoration and maintainence. Education and concrete plan for relapse prevention. Make up really. Body image distortions are not socially acquired. They brain circuitry disfunction. I know this is not all researched fact but that's where the science is pointing. Renfrew, unfortunately remains big business.

Bev Mattocks Osborne said...

Well I'm not sure it led to my son's eating disorder, either, although he did once wear makeup in the school play... (like Charlotte I shouldn't laugh but, hey, if I didn't I'd probably cry...)

Anonymous said...

I don't know whether to laugh or cry... This is one reason why I am so aversed to discussing 'body image' in the context of eating disorders (EDs) - i.e. that people 'get the wrong end of the stick' and assume that EDs are 'about' vanity, femininity and/or culturally-related constructs of 'beauty'.

Not everyone with an ED has 'body image' issues, but even in those that do, the issue relates more to distorted (brain) processing of visual cues and disturbed interoceptive awareness. EDs are not a mere extension of normal concerns about physical appearance that ALL people have and are relatively harmless. Neither do EDs bear any relation to culture-bound, fashionable trends.

Sometimes I wish that the construct of 'body image' had never been invented (in the 1930s - i.e. long after reported cases of AN). This survey is a result of what happens when people studying 'women's issues' and 'feminist theory' decide to study EDs. These medical illnesses turn into social constructions.

hm said...

I think makeup is a blast. I love decorating my face- I love stylish clothes- I hope my love of these things doesn't suddenly disappear if I recover- because I think they're FUN! I do not wear makeup because I am embarrassed of my bare face- just like I don't hang pictures on my walls because I am embarrassed of the paint! I think it's royally annoying to assume that wearing makeup is related to low self-esteem.

And anyway, like you said, what on earth does that have to do with ED awareness week??? That seems a disturbing DISTRACTION from ED awareness. It minimizes the one week a year people actually might tune in and find some good information. Ugh.

Catherine said...

It does seem odd that Renfrew would be interested in publishing such a study. I can only think that it would a story more in the vein of female cultural attitudes towards their looks and how they can affect a person who is struggling or may be vulnerable to an eating disorder. I really did start dieting because I felt like I needed to be thinner to be prettier. I was eight. Obviously, I was susceptible to AN and here I am, 17 years later, still struggling.

Most women have image hang-ups, and of course, most don't have eating disorders. I will say though, that recovery is all that much harder because we live in a culture where it is normal to feel insecure about our appearances. In fact, it's often seen as weird if someone isn't. For example, I have been met with surprise more than once when I told people that actually, I was trying to gain weight. My response defied expectation of what a woman should want.

I have anorexia and I don't particularly care for the way I look without makeup. Many days I don't care for the way I look with makeup. I think the two things-- the AN and the makeup--are both tied to my perfectionism and self-criticism. My appearance is something I am really perfectionistic about, and I never leave the house without doing my hair/makeup, etc. Going without makeup for me would be really hard because I am such a perfectionist about my appearance and I feel ugly without makeup. Phantom uglies, I suppose, kind of like phantom fat, because I know a lot of people think I look better without makeup.

But AN is a stronger compulsion than perfectionism, because I know that it makes me uglier and I still can't make much headway.

Sidenote--Carrie, I just discovered your blog a few days ago and it has been really helpful for me. I have been in treatment for ten years, and I am so tired of hearing about "just wanting it enough" and "using my willpower for recovery." I don't think you can will yourself out of AN, because I've tried many times. It wasn't until I read a lot of the studies you've posted that I was able to accept that I have a biologically based brain illness and keeping that perspective has made me think about my recovery in a much different (and hopefully more effective way)

Katie said...

I'll see Charlotte's WTF LOL and raise her a ROFLMAO!

The last time I wore lipstick was probably my 21st birthday (I'm 27 now...). Geeks get eating disorders too, people.

Katie said...

...and for extra lols, my word verification was "tubby". LOLOMGWTFBBQ etc (okay, that's quite enough text speak fro one day).

Unknown said...



Now, let me go back to my job helping families understand their children have a life-threatening treatable mental illness and why there is so little money for important research.

Anonymous said...

Well, way to trivialize the issue, Renfrew.

Emily said...

I can see the connection. I think it all comes down to self esteem. In addition to making myself be thin, it's one of those things that I (and perhaps others) do to create a version of myself that I perhaps look like the women on magazine covers. In the same way that one might fear how the world would react if he/she gaines weight, the same fear could come with the idea of going without makeup.

I definitely don't think that body image has everything to do with eating disorders, but I can see the makeup connection.

Jennifer said...

Renfrew conducted a survey on women's attitudes towards make-up. Gosh. I can think of at least one person who could have used those funds towards a scholarship to get treatment at Renfrew, given that the Foundation is non-profit. Anyway, I am curious to know how many people were surveyed (statistical data). And I think I was more "impressed" if that's the word to read this morning that another survey found only 22 percent of women were happy with the breasts that they have.

Angela Elain Gambrel said...

I love to wear makeup, but it doesn't have a damn thing to do with my eating disorder.

Renfrew - FAIL


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Again, Ugh! I developed BED at age 10. Was clinical by age 16, and, gravitated towards bulima in my early 30s. I wore make up for a total of ONE YEAR in high school, around age 15. Haven't since, and, guess what? Still am struggling to recover from this train wreck that is my ED.

Carrie Arnold said...

Jennifer, thanks for saying what I was thinking!

HungryMac said...

Did you reply to them directly? I'd love to hear what they say when asked how they feel the results of their study pertain specifically to eating disorders. It seems like they should "know better" for lack of a better phrase, right? It's frustrating to see an advocacy group miss the mark by so far specifically because linking people not liking how they look without makeup to eating disorders only really serves to reinforce the stereotype that eating disorders are all about vanity. *sigh* Maybe it's just a misinformed marketing person from Renfrew. I hope.

Carrie Arnold said...

I think I'm going to send them this blog post with everyone's comments--I think that will drive home the point far better than just one cranky blogger writing back.

The Dandelion Girl said...

I'm confused too.

Maybe they're thinking just a correlate between self loathing/self esteem issues and makeup... which thinking about it there could be a link... Women that are more apt to buy makeup probably are more susceptible to the ads we see on television... ads that tell us we're flawed individuals in order to sell products (that is how it works - common sensically - how very Zora Neale Hurston to make up a word -- ... and advertisers have admitted it)

Maybe that increased susceptibility is caused by low self esteem and then it fuels it at the same time?

Why was Renfrew doing that study though?


and I don't wear makeup... I used to model and that would be the only time pretty much it ever graced my face (oh and when I played roller derby) and I've had an eating disorder for 11-12 years now?

hm said...

It also disturbs me that they are feeding into the stereotype that ed sufferers are all women, by using ed awareness week to highlight women and makeup. It just leaves me shaking my head. This will not help. This will not educate. It will not give tools to sufferers or their loved ones, in the fight against eds.

Carrie- I think it's a great idea to forward them your post!

Anonymous said...

"But I almost never wear makeup, and I still got an eating disorder."

Well that's you. I'm sure there are millions out there who do wear makeup and who do have an eating disorder. You may not see the connection, but using anecdotal experience as to why there could be no connection is hardly wise.

There are studies conducted about nearly everything, why not makeup and eating disorders? A simple survey is not expensive research, so arguing that the funds could have been better used elsewhere is kind of silly. I don't see why there is such outrage about this. I don't think they were implying that needing to wear makeup CAUSES EDs or anything so drastic or crazy. Sometimes I think there is such unnecessarily heated reactions to seemingly innocent things. Until Renfrew declares that wearing makeup leads to a direct increase in eating disorders, I really don't think there's need for *such* alarm.

That said, this made me wonder how you feel about the current petition to get LEGO to stop producing the new girly Legos? The petition was started by Carolyn Costin, who tried to claim playing with these Legos "makes people feel bad about themselves" and made reference to the bodies of the Lego characters and how they "promote negative body image." You can see one version of the petition here: , along with the letter from Carolyn Costin, eating disorder professional. I'll admit, even I thought the eating disorder connection to the Legos was a bit of a (huge) stretch. And to say a toy can "make" anyone feel bad about themselves made me laugh. I'm hoping it was jut poor wording. Interested to hear your views on it...

Jessie said...

WOW. Renfrew- FAIL.
Although I can kind of see their point, if you want bring the bad body image and body image obbsession part of eating disorders into the equation. But that's hardly all there is to it. It goes so much deeper than simple body image. I'm sure we all wish that's as far as it went- it would make recovery a f*cking lot easier.
Great job as always Carrie!

Carrie Arnold said...


You're right--my anecdote about not wearing makeup doesn't prove or disprove anything.

I don't object to the study being done. To some extent, what the Renfrew Center Foundation does with their money is their business. In the grand scheme of things, you're right- surveys aren't fairly cheap and easy to carry out in terms of research. But I don't know how many people didn't respond, and whether that would have biased the results.

My objection is that this research is being done by an organization that describes itself as being "a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to advancing the education, prevention, research and treatment of eating disorders." Because I'm not seeing the link between makeup and eating disorders. And I don't see any hard evidence that this is the case, either. EDs exist in rural Africa, even in the Mennonite/Amish community, where I'm guessing makeup (at least how Americans use it) isn't exactly commonplace.

My problem is that this research inherently *links* makeup and eating disorders. The Renfrew Foundation isn't doing research about astronomy or quantum chemistry. They're studying makeup, and the implication is that this has something to do with eating disorders. They don't appear to say so directly, but the overtones are there.

That's my objection.

And as to the Lego thing, I think the product is appalling. I think Carolyn Costin has every right to protest it. And the toys could very well promote negative body image--I have no idea about that. I'm skeptical, but still. The connection with eating disorders is so far afield as to be essentially ludicrous. But I hope someone would slap me if I ever bought those things for my (non-existent) spawn.

NS said...

When I read this post, my first instinct was to respond with something funny. After all, "WTF" about sums it up..... But anything I tried to write just made me uncomfortable. Because really, my feelings about this are sadness and anger. An organization with the multi-site, high-profile clout of Renfrew could do so much good with its research dollars and marketing machine. This study reinforces the impression I got when I turned to Renfrew for information on alternatives for my daughter - of an inflexible and cumbersome institution too vested in past methods to even discuss - much less provide - evidence-based treatment options that are salvaging lives at a rate (and at a lower cost) once thought impossible. I hope for news in the future that changes this impression. In the meantime - WTF?

Anonymous said...

This is funny because I was inpatient at Renfrew many years ago. My therapist actually asked why I never put on make up and especially since my mom was always made up. This was something she wanted to explore. To me it was a waste of $ time. I was low maintenance at that time and 20. I still took care of myself,showered,and was clean.
Maybe Renfrew could do a better study and it is called following up with the people who have been ip. They state success rates based on discharge but not on years after.

HikerRD said...

I read the Renfrew request. I had a reaction. I read the comments. I had another reaction. Then I reread the Renfrew piece. Here's my conclusion:

They never suggest or imply that wearing makeup is the cause of eating disorders, nor do they minimize the biological predisposition to eating disorders, nor brain chemistry/biochemical determinants of eating disorders. Yet many of the comments seem to make this jump.
In fairness, can't they simply be studying the drive or overfocus on physical appearance (perhaps as a marker for another characteristic?)

I've seen many an eating disorder patient who've had an abnormal need to look tan, investing much time and energy in this pursuit. Do I think tanning caused or lead to their eating disorders? Certainly not. Yet the degree of this pursuit has always struck me.
So who am I to say that the overfocus on appearance to others, may have a link somehow, contributing to an eating disorder.
Would we have had the same reaction if they had studied body checking?

Carrie Arnold said...


They could, yes. But I don't think it's an unfair or unfounded assumption that since an eating disorder organization is investigating makeup use, that they're making a connection. And they're also encouraging women to go without makeup specifically during Eating Disorders Awareness Week. They didn't specifically say makeup causes eating disorders, no, but they did imply a connection.

Even if they aren't--even if they are looking into the issue completely separately--I'm frustrated that it's assumed that such things are generally thought to be in the same purview as eating disorders.

As for the body checking, I probably would have had a different reaction depending on how it was phrased. Body checking, body dysmorphic disorder, and eating disorders are known in the literature to be linked. If they were comparing body checking behaviors in ED and non-clinical patients, or comparing body checking in ED patients with and without OCD/BDD, then I would think that's legit. Even if they were studying makeup use and BDD in people with EDs, that's also very reasonable. But an eating disorder organization studying makeup use just doesn't quite sit right with me.

Carrie Arnold said...

I emailed the PR rep back and asked her why an eating disorders organization was researching makeup use in women, and why their go without makeup day was being hosted in conjunction with Eating Disorders Awareness Week. I will let you guys know what responses I get.

HikerRD said...

I appreciate your response.
Perhaps we should all wear makeup during EDAW? I think I could did up some lipstick...

NS said...

True, the press query does not state directly that makeup causes eating disorders. But it does seem to be making an eating disorder connection with the facts that:

a) women who are accustomed to wearing makeup in public (apparently most of us) feel that something is missing when they go without it.

b) more than 25% of makeup wearers started in adolescence.

Gosh. Who knew?

A bit of anthropology and psychology here: women - and men - have been adorning themselves since time immemorial. Young people often start adopting adult practices in their early teenage years. Folks generally feel more socially acceptable when their appearance meets the norms of the immediate culture - whether it involves neckties, head scarves, high heels, crewcuts,torn jeans, turbans or makeup. You know, when in Rome......

Yes, eating disorders - again, in men as well as women - often are accompanied by anxieties about appearance that are on the pathological end of the spectrum. But this study does not seem to be exploring why some people suffer from anxieties. A survey of the Makeup-Wearing Practices of the Western American Woman reveals only what is common in the culture. Renfrew's premise that this will in turn reveal anything about eating disorders - and that a day without the nefarious practice of facial adornment shows what you think of the bastards - implies a forgone conclusion on their part that eds are connected to the widespread use of makeup.

I respectfully disagree with that conclusion, and will join HikerRD in wearing lipstick on February 27.

Carrie Arnold said...

NS, thanks so much for your detailed analysis of the press release--much appreciated.

I don't wear lipstick (I don't like the taste, yick), but I will join you in wearing my tinted lip balm. ;)

Alba said...

I would be very interested to hear what their response to you was. I have not had the concentration to read all of these replies so I am sorry if I am repeating anything, however I definitely agree with what extralongtail said; 'This is one reason why I am so aversed to discussing 'body image' in the context of eating disorders (EDs) - i.e. that people 'get the wrong end of the stick' and assume that EDs are 'about' vanity, femininity and/or culturally-related constructs of 'beauty'.

Not everyone with an ED has 'body image' issues, but even in those that do, the issue relates more to distorted (brain) processing of visual cues and disturbed interoceptive awareness. EDs are not a mere extension of normal concerns about physical appearance that ALL people have and are relatively harmless. Neither do EDs bear any relation to culture-bound, fashionable trends.

Sometimes I wish that the construct of 'body image' had never been invented (in the 1930s - i.e. long after reported cases of AN). This survey is a result of what happens when people studying 'women's issues' and 'feminist theory' decide to study EDs. These medical illnesses turn into social constructions.' - Very well put!

To add some of my own words to that; Although I appreciate that some people with eating disorders may rest their whole self esteem on the way they look, and this is a very serious issue sometimes to the extremity of being life threatening, I do think that including the usage of make-up in Eating disorder awareness week is not the appropriate time to bring those theories up, and it is not going to help the public be more understanding about these disorders.

When a particular friend I have hears that I am still struggling with an eating disorder, he always says 'but you look fine, you look healthy, you look great!', and I want to strangle him. You know, I do have body hang-ups and I do want to look good, of course I do, just like the average person without an eating disorder would. But if I woke up tomorrow in the body of some gorgeous celebrity and was told that I could stay like that for the rest of my life, I would look in the mirror just as sad as I am in my own body, because the eating disorder would still be there.

I've gone slightly off-topic, and I know my experience of an ED won't apply to everyone, but yeah... Thanks for sharing this with us.

P.s. I hardly ever wear make-up either, but I have wondered about wearing it more just to feel like I'm treating myself which I find it hard to do, and try to be a bit more creative, you know. Then I feel bad because then I'm worried people will think 'omg she's trying to cover up her face! Low self-esteem alert!' Lol. But it helped to read what someone said above about make-up being fun :)

Emily said...

I find that to be a waste of renfrew's time... aren't there better things that a foundation like that can do?

But anyways -

For me, I wear makeup a lot more now that I'm doing well in recovery. When I was sick, it really had nothing to do with how I looked. I knew that I looked terrible. That's why I wore gigantic sweatshirts, gigantic t-shirts. I still have one of those shirts as pjs, and can't believe I once wore it out for the evening! Back then, I didn't wear makeup. I also rarely brushed my hair, and there was one month in which I only showered twice. I really didn't give a flying f*ck about how I looked.

Now that I'm doing better, I get a shower in every other day, I wear clothes that I think I look good in, most of which are in the colours I adore. And while I went out last night without makeup, I often enjoy playing around with it and seeing what I can do - like painting or knitting, it can be relaxing.

So, renfrew foundation, my attitudes towards wearing makeup were probably the opposite of what your survey hoped I'd say. I have better body image and self-esteem, so I do wear makeup; I didn't wear it when I was sick because I couldn't care less.

And, as somebody before mentioned... eating disorders existed long before makeup did. I did an independent reading course in which I researched anorexia in literature from the 1600s onwards. Back then, it was supposedly because women were trying to become closer to god. now we're supposedly trying to become closer to barbie, or something. eventually, people will realize that that's got nothing to do with it.

Post a Comment

Newer Post Older Post Home

ED Bites on Facebook!

ED Bites is on Twitter!

Search ED Bites

People's HealthBlogger Awards 2009
People's HealthBlogger Awards 2009 - Best 100 Winner!

About Me

My photo
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.

Drop me a line!

Have any questions or comments about this blog? Feel free to email me at

nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


Popular Posts


Recent Comments