Though beauty pageants have become increasingly progressive within the past decade, the overarching purpose has remained consistent: Beauty, of course. Gorgeous girls dawn sparkling gowns with hair coifffed to the nines, and makeup so flawless, it might as well be airbrushed. Perfection.
But unfortunately, that expectation for perfection isn’t bounded to beauty pageants — it’s everywhere. In fact, it’s so deeply ingrained in society that many people have become desensitized to the falsity of it. Just look to the countless filtered faces and altered bodies that populate Instagram and TikTok.
Miss England beauty pageant finalist Melisa Raouf is unsubscribing to all of it — not just on social media, but in real life, too. In fall 2022, she became the first contestant to go makeup-free during the Miss England pageant, a 94-year-long tradition of perfection. But for Raouf, and so many more, it’s just the beginning.
What inspired you to compete without makeup? When I took part in Miss England, there were a variety of rounds that we had to participate in, one being the Bare Face Top Model round. Each girl posts a picture of herself with no makeup and no filter on at all. Participating in this round made me realize that I don't need makeup or filters to feel or look beautiful. I wanted to take that to the next level and walk the whole competition makeup-free, and I hoped to inspire and empower as many women as I could.
Your decision to go makeup-free really has resonated with women all over the world. How have you felt about the public’s reaction? I never really expected it to go worldwide. I’ve had women from of all ages, all across the globe saying, “Thank you for doing this, for all of us, to show that we don't need to uphold society standards to be beautiful.”
We do live in a society that perpetuates an unrealistic standard of beauty. How did you break out of that mindset to feel good in your own skin? Growing up, I’ve always been very insecure. I felt like I had to look like everyone else. But I’ve realized, it’s ultimately my choice on how I present myself. I have nothing against makeup. Makeup’s a form of art; it's a form of creativity; and I still may continue to wear it. But if I don’t want to wear makeup, I won’t.
Over the past decade, beauty pageants have received backlash for objectifying women. Was the decision to not wear makeup a way of taking your power back? Absolutely. When you think of beauty pageants, everyone thinks, it’s just pretty girls walking, parading their looks. But this is the first beauty pageant I’ve ever competed in, and I’ve realized it’s so much more than that. It's about celebrating femininity, charitable skills, talents. It’s all about inner beauty.
You also started the #BareFaceTrendMovement. Tell us about that. Basically, it’s a movement where every woman posts a picture of themselves with no makeup and no filter on. It's promoting that body confidence and natural beauty, which has been forgotten for so long.
Why was it so important for you to get others involved in this no-makeup mission? So many young girls are battling mental health issues, such as body dysmorphia, due to the unrealistic beauty standards set out by social media. It would be great to just see more girls of different races, different backgrounds, different ages, feeling comfortable with who they are. And I would love to be able to inspire that.
Becoming confident is definitely a process — it doesn’t just happen overnight. Do you have any tips for readers on how they can feel good, just as they are? One thing I would say is beauty lies within being yourself. That inner confidence will radiate much more than your outer appearance will. Don’t be afraid of what others may think about you. What matters is what you think about yourself. And never forget that you have a choice on how you present yourself to society. You are beautiful the way you are.
Interview by Sonia Baghdady and Cara Glass. To watch the full episode of Advocate Now with Melisa Raouf, visit advocatechannel.com.