For some, a lipstick is just a lipstick. For others, it's a source of strength, creativity and expression. In our series Power Faces, we'll explore the relationship between strong women and the makeup they choose to wear — or not.
For this special edition in partnership with Colgate Max White Ultimate, whose #PoutFree campaign is focused on feeling confident in your smile, our subject is model, author and body positivity activist Charli Howard. This story was told to Rhea Cartwright and has been edited for length and clarity.
I wouldn’t say I was a particularly cool teenager. At boarding school, I put all my hopes and dreams into becoming a model, thinking it’d land me a boyfriend, loads of friends and lots of money so I could break away from my boring world. I started to put so much importance on being considered beautiful and looking a certain way, thinking it’d fix all my problems.
I used to get scouted quite a bit as a teenager but agencies would always tell me the same thing: that I wasn’t losing weight fast enough. So I gave up on that idea. But the model thing sort of followed me around. When I was at university, people would ask me if I wanted to shoot their lookbooks. It was actually my best friend who sent my Facebook pictures to agencies and they suddenly wanted to take me on. I was 20 by this point, which is typically later than normal to sign, so I lied and said I was younger.
Of course, the pressure didn’t magically ease as soon as I was signed. My early agencies in New York pushed me to be ‘straight size’ for the runway but I had a completely different body shape. They wanted me to be a size zero with boobs, which was just impossible. Not knowing anyone in the city, I felt incredibly lonely, but I remember discovering those old Hollywood pinup posters when I was there. These glamorous women from the ‘50s gave me confidence, showing me it was okay to have a tummy and squishy bits. After a while, I got a new agent who told me to relax and be myself.
The Beauty of Imperfections
I look back at the amount of pressure that not only I but so many other women felt. Every magazine I picked up back then championed skinny, tall white girls and nothing else. To this day, the images we see on social media have such a major impact on how we view ourselves, so it’s really important to me that I show a healthy body image as that’s what I’d want my daughter to see.
I try to stand by this with my own brand, which really celebrates flaws. None of our images is photoshopped, which was really important to me, and we hire girls that have acne, cellulite or whatever society deems unacceptable. I love that Gen Z are so open to sharing themselves and really championing positivity and diversity online.
Evolving Beauty Icons
As a kid, all I wanted was the bleach blonde, ‘90s strips at the front and red hair like Ginger Spice and used to beg my mum to buy me an at-home kit. Seeing her talk about girl power, she seemed to represent feminism and being powerful as a woman. It was also popular to have diamonds on your face – like stick-on earrings – and to this day I’m drawn to shimmery things.
I still gravitate to the ‘50s style I saw in those pinup posters as I love things that show off my curves and accentuate them rather than hiding them away. I love the makeup of that era, too. I’m always wearing a cat eyeliner flick or a bold red lip because they remind me of old black and white movies. But I also like Princess Diana’s electric blue eyeshadow so it’s a bit of a mix!
Now I’m 30, my beauty icons are defined by what they represent rather than an aesthetic. They aren’t necessarily famous but rather women I see on Instagram, or girls who have overcome hardship to not just survive but thrive. I’m hugely inspired by these women who use their voices for good.
The Power of a Smile
Truth be told, I’m still learning to love my smile. My teeth were one of the things that I was really insecure about growing up. When I was in America, people would say that I needed to have them done to be successful and even now, I sometimes catch myself covering my mouth. But I’m so glad I didn’t cave because I think my teeth have personality. Plus, it’s apparently lucky to have a gap in the middle!
I smile my biggest #PoutFree smile when I’m complimented for non-physical attributes, like things I’ve accomplished or things I’m going to do. I no longer need someone to tell me that I look great because I don't put importance on that anymore. I'm really proud of my books because I had to do it alone. My skincare line is another thing that fills me with pride, as I had to learn so much to make it happen.
Learning To Love Yourself
Even when I’m super busy, self-care and taking time for myself is really important. Everyone has their different ways of doing that but as an introvert, I love to recharge in silence. I’m very into meditation and journalling, even if it's just a couple of sentences. Writing down how I’m feeling, what I’m grateful for or what I’m looking forward to makes me more grounded and aware of how far I’ve come, putting an instant smile on my face.
When people ask me when I feel most beautiful, it’s always tricky because it varies. My confidence changes daily but I learned to stop putting importance on how I look. For me, beauty isn’t just about makeup and clothes but the happiness I feel when I’m with my friends, family and those I can be myself around. It’s liberating not having to change myself or be different and I can just speak my truth. I figure, not everyone is going to like you so you might as well just be yourself.