Category Archives: freelance artist life

Slaying your dues

 

 

Today after a long day of work, I came home, lit some candles, and checked out what was happening on Instagram.  While scrolling down my timeline I could not help but wonder where all of the wonderful and fabulous “mua’s” came from.  I remember working for MAC cosmetics in 2006, and being able to tell other “mua’s” simply by the way they looked!  We were few and far in between, and we always were decked out in all black with cool hair styles, cuts, colors, tattoos, etc… The slogan if you worked for MAC was “once a MAC girl, always a MAC girl.” The significance of being a “MAC girl”in the nineties and early two thousands was that if you worked for that brand, it was assumed that you were a pretty good artist.

Before 2010 most cosmetic brands hired people to sell first, and apply makeup second.  In fact, just last Thursday I had a conversation with a few artists from a well known cosmetic brand where they all agreed that they were sales people first, and artists second. I am well aware that cosmetic companies cannot thrive on artistry alone, which is why social media is so important, but I cannot help but ask one question.  What makes a person an experienced, knowledgeable, talented make up artist?

Now companies like MAC cosmetics hire people from Craigslist, Toys R Us, Starbucks, and Chipotle with no previous make up artistry experience.  Social media platforms like youtube and instagram make women who do only their make up and post their looks daily millionaires. Cosmetic companies send hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of products to self proclaimed “beauty bloggers“, “beauty guru‘s”, “celebrity mua’s“, etc…  Everyday I look at my phone or turn on my computer another person has decided whether they have just finished eighth grade or had a traditional 9-5 for ten years that they too want to be a make up artist.

Unlike doctors who go to school for 20 years before they can really practice medicine or engineers who attend college for four and often times five years before they can call themselves engineers, mua’s can wake up one day and call themselves an mua.

Should there be standards set for people to meet before they call themselves professional mua’s?

How many years should a person have to practice before they are allowed to charge for make up application services?

Should an aspiring make up artist have to work for one or more cosmetics brands before calling themselves an artist?

Should your popularity on social media be allowed to validate you as an mua? Beauty blogger? Beauty guru? Brand ambassador?

Should you have to take certification classes on different genre’s of make up before you are allowed to apply make up on people professionally?

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.

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.