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“Just being white, you will win!”

This morning I woke up to a text from my brother with an artice attached where the headline read exactly what the title of this blog post reads.  It was written by Wilfred Chan at CNN and covered a Thai beauty ad promoting a pill that prohibits the production of melanin, a bleaching cream in pill form.  As I write this post, I struggle with how honest I am going to be, and I have decided to be extremely honest.

When I  clicked on this article, I did not feel any anger, or outrage.  I thought it would be great content to use for this blog, and I also thought about how awesome it was that my brother finally understands what it is that I am trying to do, came across an article, and thought enough about me to send it!  Now the disturbing part!!  The article didnt really “shock” me because I know it to be true.

Yesterday I had a lengthy conversation with a   colleague about a woman we know who received a promotion in her company after a history of  calling out at least three times a month (which never can happen in retail), little to no product knowlege of  items  carried in her store, horrific leadership skills, non existent training skills, etc… Each time my colleague and I would discuss her, we would think long and hard about why she was promoted, and the only feasable answer we could  come up with was her skin color.  Let me take it back to my own  college experience.

I went to a big ten university in the  cornfields of the midwest. For my freshman orientation, I had two different ones. I had a ‘regular’ one, and one specifically for students of color.  Once the administrators started passing out pieces of paper with professors names on them with instructions never to enroll in their courses because they would fail us, I knew exactly why the ‘special’ orientation was neccessary.  The truth was that because of the color of our skin, certain professors hated us so much that they would give us a failing grade.  This was only 16 years ago!  It was at that school where I started to hear  constantly from fellow students of color and professors and administrators that we had to be three times as good as white students to even be considered for the privileges, grades, jobs, etc that our white  counterparts received. Now back to the world of beauty.

When I moved to Washington, DC in 2005, I immediately started working in the cosmetics industry.  I worked for a  company that offered a plethora of foundation shades for all women of color and because DC was so diverse at that time, I had the opportunity to work with women from all ethnic backgrounds each and every day.  Coincidently I was in an African Studies graduate program at Howard University at the same time and little did I know that what I was learning in the class room would be played out right in front of my eyes when I went to match 80% of my  clients from colonized countries!  They all would insist day in and day out on me matching them for a much lighter or ‘clearer’ foundation.  This request would come from tons of African and Asian women.

Sometimes West African business men  would come into the store and request all powder foundations in ‘clear’ colors for their wives, mothers,  and daughters back home. I would encounter tons of Indian women complete with  colored  blue or gray  contacts with the same request.  Lastly, I cannot leave out my Asian  clients.  Many women from different countries like China, Korea, and Thailand would come in with eyelid tape pressed on their eyelids to simulate a “double eyelid” which is more ‘western’, looking for porcelain colored foundation too! Sometimes fighting back tears, I would muster up the strength to ask these women why they wanted light  colored foundation, and the answer was always the same. “Just being white, you will win”.

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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?

Pat McGrath the Mother of MUA’s

Today one of the most innovative, consistent, celebrated, and well respected make up artists in the world launched her second batch of products.  Pat McGrath who has served as the creative director for Max Factor and Proctor and Gamble launched a make up bundle, which is currently sold out, and included four colored eyeshadows, a black potted pigment, an eyeshadow brush, and a spatula to depot the items.  The items were not offered as separated pieces, and the whole thing sold for $240.

Pat McGrath 002 launch

While I love and respect Pat McGrath for everything she has done for the fashion and cosmetics industry, I can not help but to question the decisions to produce the products that she is selling currently under her own brand.  Two hundred and forty dollars is a steep price for four foiled eyeshadows, a brush, and some black stuff in a pot.  Not only that, but apart from the shadows looking very pigmented, they are not innovative.  This is really dissappointing considering these products are coming from a brain that has created looks where beads, feathers, pearls, construction paper, etc… have been used on models faces in the most beautiful and avant grade ways the runways and fashion publications have ever seen!

Part of me looks at this product launch, the one before, and the somewhat recent collaboration with Kim Kardashian as a way for McGrath’s team to make Pat more relevant without truly understanding her value in the fashion and cosmetics world.  She is a living make up legend that most serious make up artists respect and look up to.  Her work is amazing, creative, progressive, and consistent, and has been for decades.  I hope that in the future, her and her team decide to push the envelope on the products they create with the same knowledge they have used in the past. Besides because of the reputation and the legacy she has built, people will buy what ever she creates not because of the products but because of who she is and what she has done!

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.