Makeup-free Miss England finalist defies ‘unrealistic beauty standards’
Melisa Raouf used to spend three hours perfecting her makeup because she didn’t feel confident in her natural beauty. But as other contestants put on theirs in preparation for the Miss England pageant this week, Raouf faced the competition without it.
In doing so, Raouf, 20, became the first makeup-free participant in the Miss England competition’s 94-year history, making her a face of a bare-face movement that has resonated with women around the world. It was a challenge to herself, Raouf said, after years of feeling shy and insecure, discouraged by a social media ecosystem overrun by meticulously edited and filtered pictures.
“Women are pressured to look a certain way because of society’s narrow perception of beauty and perfection, and they’re often scrutinized for not conforming to them,” she said in an interview. “I wanted to challenge these unrealistic beauty standards by taking that bare-face round to the next level.”
Skin-positivity activists have criticized the beauty industry’s role in marketing their products with photoshopped images and profiting off women’s insecurities. Raouf, a political science student at King’s College London, said she wanted to inspire girls who, like her, felt they couldn’t measure up.
Contestants qualified for the Miss England finals, held Sunday and Monday in Birmingham, in one of several ways, including by winning a special title (such as “publicity queen”) or a regional competition. Raouf made it after winning June’s Miss London Bare Face Top Model competition, an optional round added in 2019 that invites contestants to post a photo of themselves without makeup on their social media accounts, and then claiming the same title at the Miss England semifinals in August.