Website wants women to embrace their beauty

Norwich - The mood at Saturday's launch party for the website bareboldbeautiful.com was festive - the DJ paused between songs to ask guests to strip a mannequin of her bustier of buttons bearing the site's logo, exhorting them to "make her bare by the end of the evening" - but its message comes from a more serious place.

It began as a Facebook group almost exactly a year ago. Shakia Seabrook, 26, who works at Noank Group Homes and Safe Futures, said she became personally aware of media-perpetuated standards for female beauty while in New York for her master's degree in social work.

"You have girls who move to New York to become supermodels," she said.

The effect these women had on her was "consuming," Seabrook said. Perfectly made-up women became competition. But the makeup she felt compelled to wear every day was alienating. She recalls thinking, "This isn't even me."

So when she moved back to the area two years ago, she decided to experiment with wearing no makeup at all, embracing this as her new, natural normal.

Originally called "Barely Beautiful," Seabrook asked members of the group - now 1,300 girls and women - to join her by posting photos of themselves, including for a feature called "No-Makeup Thursday," exchanging advice, compliments, and encouragement along the way.

"When you strip yourself down to who you are, you're barely beautiful," she said of the original name.

The group grew with church friends, family friends, co-workers, word of mouth. By the time her followers were asking for T-shirts, she decided to play around with the wording to make the message clear.

"Bare. Bold. & Beautiful" - the version Seabrook settled on - adorned the basement of the United Congregational Church Saturday in buttons, banners and stickers. Amid bunches of pink balloons and strings of lights, tiny paper squares clothes-pinned to twine offered snippets of praise - "You have amazing eyes" and "I love your smile;" above them, a sign instructed viewers to take what they needed and give one to someone.

Mingling with her guests, Seabrook posed for a photo with Telisha Gibson, 25, in front of a black backdrop patterned with the website's logo, holding up a blue polka-dot mustache while Gibson donned a cutout of sparkly pink sunglasses.

Gibson was one of the night's speakers, representing the theme of "bold." Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., she and Seabrook found each other through Facebook after Seabrook read an article online about her and two other girls learning to embrace their "imperfections."

One had albinism; another had scars on her face. Gibson has the skin condition vitiligo, with patches of lighter skin on her arms and legs, which she proudly displayed Saturday in heels and a short skirt.

"It's definitely been an uphill battle," she said. "I've come to embrace it."

Beyond the raffles, silent auction and festivities of Saturday night, Seabrook said she isn't sure where the website will take her next. She and some friends are thinking of doing a cross-country road trip this summer, finally meeting in person - and perhaps making a documentary film of - some of the girls who have told her their intensely personal stories.

This has been the most moving part of her journey, Seabrook said - watching strangers share their flaws, imperfections they've never mentioned to anyone before, and seeing them come out of their shells.

"It just blows my mind," she said.

a.isaacs@theday.com

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