On Thursday, 19 women, including Olympian Aly Raisman, plus-size model Denise Bidot, makeup blogger Jackie Aina, and disability activist and model Mama Cax, walked the runway for the last show of New York Fashion Week. But rather than showing off the latest styles or sparking a bold new beauty trend, this presentation was meant to highlight them — which is why the models didn't wear a stitch of makeup.
"A lot of what happens at New York Fashion Week is a show," Bidot explains. "It's a designer's creative vision and it's a spectacle. There's nothing wrong with that, but very few times [do] people allow models to shine in a way that this does."
To make it all the more dramatic, each model walked out draped in fabric that contained millions of microscopic glass beads, effectively turning the garments invisible so their bare faces — which included things like acne, wrinkles, and dark circles — would be the real focus.
The message that the show's sponsor, Olay, aimed to send was that it's about more than just being confident in your skin, but also being confident in yourself. Hoping to inspire all women to be unapologetically true to themselves, each model's walk was accompanied by a video that featured them speaking about how they've been labelled "too" something — too emotional (Bidot), too confident (Cax and Aina), too strong (Raisman), the list goes on. Now, these women are reclaiming those "negative" descriptions, and wearing them as a source of pride.
For the women involved, the idea of walking a runway sans makeup, with so many cameras and lights pointed your way, was admittedly a little daunting. "Makeup-free was so scary when they threw it at me," Bidot says, before explaining that Olay challenged each model to follow a three-step regimen for one month prior to the show. "With the 28-day challenge it was like, Well I really hope this works! When you wake up with a pimple, let's be real, your confidence dips. Even for me, I feel like I have to cake it on to even be me."
Adds influencer and YouTuber Maya Washington, "I'm used to not wearing makeup, but I'm not used to not wearing makeup for such a formal event. I do think it's helped motivate me to not wear makeup as much."
You couldn't help but leave Olay's fashion show feeling inspired. But it wasn't just about the lack of makeup — plenty of women go makeup-free every day, and there's nothing wrong with wearing makeup to express who you are, either. What really stood out is the way these models fearlessly shared their stories so that millions of women would feel like they weren't alone.
"I just really hope the message people come away with is, 'Don't allow labels to define you,'" Washington says. "Don't be ashamed. Celebrate who you are."