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Erin Treloar, founder of Raw Beauty Talks, and photographer Chris Thorn are putting their model at ease. They start with a joke.
“What did the yogi say when his friend asked him to get off his couch?”
“Nah. Ah ‘ma stay.”
Brittany Law, today’s subject, chuckles. “I’m not sure what’s worse,” she says. “That joke or the fact that I laughed at it.” Law, founder of online magazine Style Republic, is nervous because posing for this photo means appearing without makeup. Midway she asks to see the images, and Thorn is happy to oblige. When he turns the screen her way, all she can say at first is “Oh.”
Treloar launched Raw Beauty Talks in January. The site features unretouched images of cosmetic-free women. It’s intended to facilitate discussion about beauty, confidence, and the ideals women feel forced to strive for. A Q&A accompanies each portrait: subjects speak about cosmetics, their insecurities, and the moments when they feel beautiful. In her interview, Alexandra Grant, founder of the style blog To Vogue or Bust, says she was surprised by the rush she felt after her Raw shoot. “It was like I’d done something I wasn’t supposed to.”
Before she started Raw, Treloar, who runs a Pilates studio near City Hall, would go into Starbucks first thing, hood up, and barely be able to look people in the eye. “I wanted to see more women without them being done up and without Photoshop. Maybe to make myself feel better about how I look in the morning,” she jokes.
The #NoMakeup trend started as a cancer fundraising initiative, and has seen celebrities like Rosamund Pike and Scarlett Johansson appear barefaced on magazine covers. The movement is having its moment, but Treloar’s project has its critics. On Facebook, Parksville photographer Gordon Lafleur commented, “I’m sure this is a great idea, however, all the women I see here are young and gorgeous. I suspect that most of the women who are brave enough to post just happen to be blessed with outstanding natural beauty. This site still focuses on physical beauty, ‘Look how great I look without make-up or Photoshop.’ ” Treloar takes the feedback in stride. “In every movement, there are people waiting to shoot you down,” she says. “I’m just glad I don’t live in the head of those people.”
Thorn has shot about two-thirds of Raw’s subjects; he calls the site “the perfect cause.” Creating images with only the camera has forced him to reevaluate his other work. “I don’t need to hide every little blemish,” he says. “It’s a process of letting go.”
Treloar agrees. “Ultimately, this isn’t about taking off makeup,” she says. “It’s about finding a place where we feel confident in ourselves.”
By the end of the shoot, Law seems to have embraced that philosophy. Thorn asks her to lift her chin and straighten her shoulders. She looks into the lens and smiles, her face her own.
MORE: Natural Beauty: Q&A with ILIA Founder Sasha Plavsic