Interview with Maura Sheedy
We couldn't be more excited to present our latest interview. The interviewee? Maura Sheedy! Maura is the oh-so-inspiring founder of Make Muse, an organization that works to promote girls and women - plus fight gender inequality. And get this: in her junior year of high school, she created a year-long experiment to ditch makeup in an effort to raise awareness around the "societal beauty standards imposed on women." Inspired yet? We know we are.
Before we get started, make sure to follow follow follow Make Muse on Instagram - not to mention check out their website.
Aaaaalso: a big big thank you to Aditi Anand from our Editorial Team for conducting this interview!
We heard about your year-long experiment to not wear any makeup at all! Could you tell us a bit about what inspired that?
Yes! A week into my junior year of high school (5 years ago), I was walking home from school with friends, and our conversation solely revolved around our outfits, hair, and makeup for whatever we were attending that night. I remember having an “aha” moment that this conversation wasn’t a one-off— this was a common conversation that we seemed to have all. the. time. Why did we spend so much talking, thinking, and obsessing over what we looked like?
I blurted out without thinking, “What if I went a year without wearing makeup?!”
Every single one of my friends doubted that I could actually do it. I’m the type of person who gets excited by a challenge — plus I always like to prove people wrong!
That night, I did wear makeup, but the following Monday, I launched an Instagram account called @makeuplessmaura where I would document every day of a makeup-free year. That account was one of the first public platforms that I used to speak out against something that bothered me— the societal beauty standards imposed on young women. Through the account, I shared updates on my experience, thoughts on the beauty industry, and thoughts that I had on real beauty, self-love, and body confidence. You can still check out the posts via #makeuplessmaura on Instagram.
The experience was so defining for me as person and really established the confidence that I carry with me today. By the end, I knew I wanted to do some sort of cumulative project. During the next couple of years, I continued to think about societal standards imposed on young women. I knew that I wanted to continue and expand this conversation to cover more topics and more voices. Make Muse was born because of this!
What were some of the challenges and difficulties you faced with #makeuplessmaura as a teen girl when the norm is to wear makeup often?
I wouldn’t say there were many challenges. People were shocked to hear that I went to a homecoming dance and formal and took my senior photos for the yearbook without makeup. Sure, there were days when I woke up hating how I looked. Oftentimes, I wish I had a mask of eyeliner and foundation to hide behind. I wouldn’t necessarily call these a challenge.
What I would say is a challenge is figuring how out to feel confident in the way you look, love yourself unconditionally, and have the determination to do something for a long period of time.
After you finished your challenge, we understood that you decided to expand your range of activism past challenging social norms. Did you continue to not wear any makeup? And how did your focus change?
Today, I do wear makeup occasionally, but it’s not an every day or even most days thing. I’ve taken away from the experience that however you choose to portray yourself- makeup or no makeup, in a certain style of clothes, showing a little or a lot of skin, being any size body- shouldn’t impact how you or others think about you.
I like the concept of body neutrality.
I don’t think that negative effects of beauty standards are the biggest problem we need to solve right now (not to undermine it- their significance can negatively impact the lives of so many, including myself, as I’ve been dealing with an eating disorder since around the time when I started my makeupless year). Currently, I’m especially passionate about issues relating to climate change, racial justice, and economic inequality, as I feel these are the issues that will impact the lives of most people.
Could you tell us a bit about Make Muse, your organization? You said on your site that you work on propelling your audience to challenge norms and take action. How does Make Muse initiate that and how does it make an impactful difference?
Make Muse is a media organization. This means that we produce content that you can view online (think things like personal experiences, poetry, artwork, and more) as well as a semi-annual print magazine that you can buy on our website and in stores both nationally and internationally. We also do things like posting on social media, writing a weekly newsletter, and selling apparel on our e-commerce platform.
All of the things that we produce are for and by smart and creative young womxn. Our content focuses on challenging gender roles and encouraging our readers to be daring, action-oriented, and most importantly, who they are, despite whatever society says they should be like. We value authenticity, inclusivity, community, and equality, echoing these values in all that we produce.
As we continue to grow, we hope to help young people find what they’re passionate about and then turn that into a career. Whether you’re a budding creative, a wannabe entrepreneur, a rising activist, or any person with an idea, Make Muse will be the guide, community, and platform for you to do so.
Ever since your makeup-less year, how has your life and focus changed? Also, a big part of a teen's life is their friends, family and social circle. How did the people you love react to it? Were they supportive?
My friends were extremely supportive - my friends at age 16 are still some of my closest because they’re amazing people (hiiiiii pals if you’re reading this). I was extremely lucky to have good friends and hung out with the type of people who didn’t care what I looked like!
Still to this day, I swear my parents and my sister roll their eyes when I come up with another project or business or idea I want to pursue. Since I’m an ideas person with a new concept every other week, they understandably thought this was just one of my many “phases.” I think that they’ve finally been impressed with some of the work that I’ve been able to accomplish with Make Muse- my mom was surprised when brands were sponsoring our launch party and my dad was shocked to hear that the magazine was sold in a national bookstore.
I think the biggest change in myself was the growth in my self-confidence. The project has been instrumental in showing me that I could do anything I set my mind to. I definitely wouldn’t have done so many of the things that I’ve done- including start Make Muse- if I hadn’t done it!
Makeupless and Make Muse have definitely influenced my education and career prospects. I actually wrote my college essay about spending a year makeup-free! Through these projects, I’ve found that I love writing, social media, web design- really anything creative! I work primarily in communications, partnerships, and marketing, and do quite a bit of freelance work where I help individuals and companies set up websites, social media accounts, and publications like I do for Make Muse!
Make Muse is a feminist organization focused on uplifting girls and women. Does it include fundraisers? How does its impact reach out?
At Make Muse, we recognize that being a female, non-binary, or femme individual comes with unfair societal standards and expectations. Our goal is to be a place to find the muse to make a change to gender-based societal standards by voicing experiences and propelling action. We do so by creating content that informs readers on these issues, gives creators an outlet to share work, and amplifies the experiences of womxn.
Finally, how do you think young teens and adults can help with the many problems we face daily? We all dream of making a difference. How do you think we can actually implement and make our dreams come true?
First of all, the world does not give enough credit to teenagers- you’re the ones suffering through intense classes, getting up early, working until late hours of the night, working, playing sports, going to activities, writing, creating, organizing— even saving the world. I loved my high school experience, but I don’t think I’d go back.
My world opened up when I realized that I could speak out about a topic and do a year-long project and be in control of my own “activity.” The biggest thing I encourage people to do is to do things for you. Find something that you’re passionate about and literally talking about it- whether that be on social media, on a blog, with friends, on a video, through writing, through art, etc.
There’s no right way to start something! I still have the voice in my head that tells me that I need to have it all figured out or I need more time or I’m tired of this- ignore that voice and do it anyway. Who cares if you’re protesting by yourself? (Look at Greta Thunberg). Who cares if you have 1 follower on Instagram. What matters is that you’re doing it.