All posts by michanna

Q: What do race, class, and gender have to do with the beauty industry? A: Everything

Kings of Thrones

male mua

It seems like if you want to have any major success in the beauty industry you have to be two things, male and gay. This has been true it seems since time began! Think about it, most “celebrity MUA’s” that are catapulted to major success are men! Sam Fine, Scott Barnes, the late great Kevin Aucoin, Francois Nars, Reggie Wells, A.J. Crimson, Nick Barose, and new comers Renny Vasquez, Patrick Star, and Angel Merino all represent just a few of the men who have all had the amazing opportunities to touch the faces of many of the most influential women in television, film, music, and sports. When you enter the department stores and look at each specific cosmetic brand, they are all lead artistically and creatively by gay men as well. In my own personal experience, I have witnessed women unknowingly promote this dichotomy.nick barose sam finekevin aucoin

After years of trying to understand why gay males seem to have major advantages in the world of beauty, I have come to a few conclusions. My first theory is simple. We live in a patriarchal society where men are at the top of the food chain. While the beauty business is marketed towards women mostly, it is not exempt from a patriarchal norm. My other theory which still is linked to the first one is the “Lean In” initiative, or in most women’s cases the lack there of. Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In discusses how women lack the ability to take initiative in order to become leaders and decision makers in corporate America. Where women fall short, men succeed assuming that they always have a “seat at the table”, giving them the confidence needed to “lean in” and do whatever they please. With this theory (supported by tons of evidence) there is no wonder that in a  industry marketed towards mostly women, men reign supreme.sheryl sandberg

Another personal theory that I have is that women allow their insecurities to hinder them from receiving help from the same sex. The one thing that I have seen on a weekly and sometimes daily basis for the ten years that I have been a professional make up artist are the observations of women choosing men over women when it comes to doing their makeup- most of the time having absolutely no clue what their skill set is.

In 2006 I was working for a company who at the time, prided itself in hiring good/experienced make up aritsts. A part time retail MUA position was open and needed to be filled. An extremely charming, articulate, and well dressed openly gay man interviewed for the position. Not only did he charm the false eyeslashes off of the hiring managers, but he also charmed the whole staff including me! The staff agreed that if he could charm the pants off of us, he could sell makeup to anyone! While that assumption was true, there was one major problem. He did not know how to do makeup to save his life! His first day came, and of course he was his up beat, well dressed, articulate, and charming self. The women streamed in and like clock work, repeatedly told me and the other female staff members who greeted them and were ready to help that they were “waiting for him”. Whenever I greeted a women and received that response, I would smile and burst out laughing in my head because the new guy and I had an agreement. Because I was experienced and he was not, he would destroy their faces, and then call me over to fix all of the things that he did wrong. He and I had become friends, and so I had no problem helping him out. The look on the women’s faces when little ole makeup peasant me would have to come over and save the day was priceless and unforgettable. Fast forward to the present day and still like clock work if there are men and women behind the counter nine times out of ten, the female clients will go to the male makeup artists.

It seems like women, straight women at least have decided that since it is men they desire sexually that even if the MUA’s are openly and obviously gay they must be able to provide advice that may be helpful in aiding these “straight” women in finding a mate. Ive noticed women become complete putty in a male’s makeup chair allowing them to sell the women anything. I have even witnessed women be uncomfortable with the mans selling style because it is super aggressive, but still agree to spend hundreds of dollars.

Moral to this story? Don’t judge a makeup artist by their sex or gender! Some women are amazing and some men are terrible.

Class in Session

classroom photoToday was an interesting day.  My experiences  reaffirmed my ideas about class and working in the service industry.  For the earlier part of my shift working as a freelance mua, I had to do some “tap dancing”.  By tap dancing I mean, providing service to people who made it very obvious that they assumed that I was beneath them and that my sole existence in the store was to provide them with whatever they wanted, quick, fast, and in a hurry, with no regard shown to me for providing them the service.

Image used in reference to the term "shucking and jiving"

Im sure folks at this point are asking themselves ” Well how in the hell can she make those assumptions/statements?” Its easy, I have worked in the service industry for long enough in one of the worlds most class conscious, pretentious, educated cities.  With those things come a whole lot of class jockeying based on your race/ethnicity, education, number of degrees, occupation, job title, designer handbags, number of designer handbags, circle of friends, neighborhood, wedding or engagement ring, size of the stones, hair style, plastic surgery, etc… Disgusting I know!

One woman that I helped today came in with a child in a super tricked out stroller, lulu lemon attire, and a list of things that she needed.  She is what we call the typical stroller mom. She resembled pretty much every other woman that has a child who lives and shops in the area where I worked.  That area is considered an expensive  area to live and also where “old money” dwells.   Any who, the woman was helped by two other people in the store first, and I was not able to pay much attention to her interactions with them.  When it came to me, I paid attention like the millions of folks who watch the Kardashian clan’s moves every day.  Our interaction was brief, but impactful.  I was standing by my brand, and she came over to my unit.  I smiled at her, and she asked me if I worked for the brand to which I replied yes.  After that, she picked up a pencil eyeliner, then placed it back on the unit.  After that she paused.  There was a brief moment of awkward silence, then I realized that her picking up the pencil was her way of asking “Excuse me ma’am would you mind grabbing this pencil for me to purchase?”(Ok minus the “excuse me” and the “would you mind” part)  Once I translated her language of privilege and class, I asked ” ma’am did you want me to grab that pencil for you?”  Of course she replied “yes”, and I had to get myself together. I was disgusted!

I think it is safe for me to say that the reason she felt that she could just point to items or grab items and assume that the people in the store would know exactly what she wanted with them without communicating verbally was because of an assumed class and privilege.  I am pretty sure that it was demonstrated to her that when she goes into stores for  beauty products, baby products, yoga wear that the people who work there are not human beings but rather robot servants that don’t need to be communicated verbally to.  The most unfortunate thing is that she is not alone.  I deal with people like her everyday that refuse to speak to me when I greet them and later motion for me to “come here”, and pick up products and tell me to get them, and rush me to get them quickly because they are “in a hurry”.

The truth in all of this is that this behavior happens because many of us “robot servants” need our jobs and often cannot correct the disrespectful behavior displayed by our privileged customers, another truth is that I personally am treated like a “robot servant” because of my race, sex, and gender, and all of the assumptions that go along with the stereotypes associated with those social and biological constructs.  I know that these topics are very ugly to face in an industry that is supposed to be so pretty, but these topics deserve to be discussed because race, class, and gender affect everything in this industry whether we discuss these things or not.

The Invisible Woman

woc image

Within the past few months, articles have popped up discussing the rise of a globalized world, women of color, and their noticeable increase in spending power in the world of cosmetics. Beauty Inc magazine, a publication that provides a behind the scenes look at all things beauty in the U.S and other countries, fastcompany.com and bloomberg.com both, publications focused on  business, technology, and design have all published these articles to name a few.  Fast Company’s article, “The L’Oreal Chemist Who’s Changing The Face Of Makeup”, and Bloomberg Business’s article, “The World’s Biggest Cosmetics Brands Are Finally Courting Minorities” both mention that in 2014 the “multicultural beauty products market grew 3.7 percent in the U.S., outpacing the growth of the overall market for cosmetics and toiletries.  This data means what exactly?  About ten years ago, I remember reading an article in Essence magazine, a publication that caters to women of color and especially black women, that provided some very similar statistical data.  The article stated that women of color out spent every other demographic in the cosmetics industry by large margins. Lets take it back even more.

Madam CJ Walker

In 1905, Madam C. J. Walker went down in history as arguabley the first female millionaire in America.  She made her fortune off of you guessed it, the cosmetic industry.  Recently I learned that before she made her millions, she had a mentor who also was African American, and also, was a self made millionaire.   Both of these women made their fortunes off of creating, manufacturing, and selling hair care products to women of African descent.  For those of us who remember high school history class, we remember that on those two pages that covered black history in our American history books, that black folks were not doing so well economically in the early 1900’s.  I mean, there was the “discovering of America” by Christopher Columbus, a strange “disappearance” of Native Americans, which left none of the Native American women to buy cosmetics, and then us.  When I say us, I mean Africans brought over as slaves to “help out” on plantations and in urban settings leaving us strapped for cash to say the least.  Even given those circumstances, shortly after slavery, somehow black women all over the U.S were able to make not one but two black women millionaires and several of their employees financially “comforatable” by purchasing their beauty products.

In summation, I would love to give a great big You can’t be serious shout out to all of these publications and cosmetic giants that have finally decided to stop ignoring me and women who look like me.  It has been proven by a ton of geologists and archeologists and anthropologists that we all originated from Africa.  It has also been proven that the remains of the oldest human belong to an African woman.  What does that suggest L’Oreal and Estee Lauder? It suggests that when Cleopatra, also African, was busy enticing Ceasar we had incredible spending power. It suggests that when the queen of Sheba was busy running an empire, she might have wanted to even out her skin with some clay that matched her complexion.  It suggests that Madam C.J. Walker knew that if she created hair care products that worked on her self that she could probably sell them to other women whose hair texture was similar. It means that Lupita, Taraji, Traci Ross, Jennifer Lopez, Coretta King, Assata Shakur, Pocahontas, YoNasDa Lonewolf, Vera Wang, etc … all deserve to not be ignored!!

Last question, since our spending power is proving to be the main catalyst for major cosmetic companies to finally see us, does that mean that money trumps race in the world of cosmetics?

Am I really just a Stupid Makeup Artist?

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.

The Devil Wears Ruby Woo

The past three years of my make up artistry career, I have freelanced for several cosmetic companies including a very popular brand, and witnessed tenured artists jump ship from the company like it was the Titanic. There are many reasons why it was and is happening. I plan to explore many of those reasons in other posts, but one is upper management.

Prior to the most recent district manager there was one who had an industry wide reputation for being an aggressive unrelenting tyrant. Apparently people feared her so much they would lose their appetite,  feel nauseous around her, and try to avoid her like the plague. My first encounter with her was interesting. I was on my third or fourth interview (which was a surprise to me because I thought I was hired after my second) and I had to complete  one more with the store manager at the location where I would start if I were to get the job. I go in for my interview, and to my surprise there are two people instead of one. This second person is tiny in stature, and has a very monochromatic look with a very angular haircut. She looks a bit androgynous and very severe. At any rate I greet her and the store manager and anticipate doing well on what I hope to be my last and final interview.

The questions start, and one of them was in regards to customer service. I used the company where I was currently working as a reference, described my approach to customer service using my current companies guidelines, and before I could finish my thoughts, the “Tyrant” interrupted. She said, “Well I have visited that store several times, and I have never experienced that customer service that you speak of.” True to her nickname she was nasty and inappropriate. Here I was trying to do well on an interview and answer a question properly and truthfully, I mean I had gotten promoted from a part time seasonal employee to full time assistant store manager, so I must have been doing something right, and here she was trying to throw a curve ball in my interview! Luckily I ignored her rude outburst, and kept answering questions like a champ eventually landing the job. While I witnessed many other people cry, quit, get fired, lose their appetite, and curse her name, I never had another negative run in with “the Tyrant.” Unfortunately for her, her reputation finally made its way to corporate and before she could get the ax, she quit.

The ‘lesson’ in this story is that retail is hard enough on every one involved.  You work long hours, deal with tons of different people and personalities, and have responsibilities and goals to reach that at times seem unachievable.  Even with all of that to carry, you are expected to always be on your ‘a game’, leave your personal problems at the door, and deliver.  In a perfect world cosmetic companies would recognize these things and would provide checks and balances for upper management to insure that they know how to properly and effectively communicate to their staff without using intimidation, profanity, discrimination, favoritism, and out right disrespect to meet their bottom lines.

Makeup in Black and White; An introduction, Sort Of

For the last year, many of my peers, have suggested that I start a blog! (Oh what a surprise)  I had a blog in like 2009 when I was really into Janelle Monae and her Cindy Mayweather movement. My monicker was “Judy 5000” and the purpose was to “Save One Black Girl at a Time”. I guess I thought that by saving  black women I could also save myself. I wrote product reviews, discussed fashion trends, and also gave my two cents, well maybe twelve cents on culture, gender, and race. All in all, I had a good time writing it, but grew impatient with the outcome that I expected to come from my blog mainly because I had unrealistic expectations. I also forgot about the rule of consistency in being successful in the game of social media.

Fast forward to 2014, I’m freelancing full time as a makeup artist, I’m working for MAC cosmetics, Chanel, Anastasia, Laura Mercier, and myself. In my free time I taught private dance classes, studied cosmetic ingredients, became obsessed with perfume oils, buying them, and researching them, and became super determined to understand social media, and more specifically why I had ten plus years of experience in the beauty biz, a bachelors, a MA (almost), and was poor, and why some other “MUA’s” with 6-12 months in the game were cashing out! I also continued to use my job/art form to study people, brands, and the cosmetics industry.

I started writing a book with the same name as this Blog where I recount tales of my experiences working for brands where I discuss race, class, and gender at length.From then until now, I have loved discovering the intersections between race, class, and gender in the world of cosmetics.