Last year I worked at a super popular cosmetics counter located in downtown DC for both the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus. Both of those week long events are for anyone and everyone involved in politics who is hispanic or black or conducts a lot of business with hispanic and/or blacks to come to DC and discuss challenges, changes, and progress affecting those two communities across the country. It is also where folks network, party, network, and did I mention network?
Of course one of the major priorities with the women flocking to DC representing their various organizations including corporations, non profits, law firms, and political parties, etc… is to look good! With that being said, these professional educated women flock to counters and stores to make them look awesome for panels, hosting responsibilities, Gala’s, parties, and meetings. I had the wonderful opportunity of doing several ‘important‘ women’s makeup for both CHC and CBC weeks and on each occasion both my clients and I learned valuable lessons.
The first person I had the pleasure of working with was a young African American women who was a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood out of New York. She seemed extremely ambitious, driven, and also passionate about her work. While I was doing her makeup, she was very direct in what she wanted, and seemed to be slightly nervous because she was used to having her makeup done by our counter manager. I was a ‘new‘ face. I totally understood her concern and convinced her to have faith in my skills. After all, I had been doing makeup for myself and others for about twenty years at that point, and doing a simple “day face” wasn’t an issue. After we established that I would be able to complete her makeup to her liking, I started up a general conversation about her organization, Planned Parenthood. I opened up about equating Planned Parenthood with the young college grads that stand outside of popular retail stores downtown soliciting money and support! We both laughed, and she explained that she was surprised because most people associate Planned Parenthood with birth control and abortions. I left that alone, because given the history of the organization with black women in particular, I knew that the conversation could have taken a turn for the worse.
She expressed her concern and challenges with trying to expose the general public to all of the other services that the org on the non profit side provides including sexual education, research, and other stuff. I had an “aha moment“. I suggested that the organization seek out smaller non profits that provide sex ed through mentorship, performing arts, etc to partner with to help re brand Planned Parenthood. If those partnerships were made, and the smaller non profits worked under the umbrella of her organization, they could help change people’s opinion because then people would associate Planned Parenthood with other services which would be a far stretch from birth control and abortions.
After providing my suggestion, my client looked at me as if she had seen a ghost! I had recieved that look a gazillion times before, and I knew exactly what she was thinking. “I never in a million years would have expected a makeup artist to give me a great suggestion dealing with my job!” Of course she had no way of knowing that I was a thesis paper away from having a MA in African Studies, that many of my friends outside of the cosmetics industry had started or work for non profits, or that I as a teen was part of a non profit that hired performing artists to act, sing, and dance all the while creating a show that would educate young adults about safe sex, gender, Aids and HIV, STI’s, teen pregnancy, and the proper use of male and female condoms. Either way she put me in the “MUA Box” forgetting that I had the capabilitiy to be multidemensional and think beyond blending eyeshadow and perfecting brows.
In the city where people ask you “What do you do for a living?” and “What school do you attend?” before asking what your name is, it is difficult to be an artist let alone a make up artist. The assumption that goes along with working in the beauty industry in “ugly hollywood” is that you are not the most intelligent, are uneducated, are in articulate, and have no clue about the world outside of makeup. People are often shocked at my intelligence, level of education, and general knowledge of the world. My peers get the same reactions here in the nations capitol, and it is annoying. I do my best not to believe the negative stereotypes that surround government employees and other nine to fivers that work in DC, Maryland, and Virginia, and it would be awesome if they did the same with my peers and I, and artists in general.