Tag Archives: class and beauty

My Natural Journey…or not!

This past couple days have made me aware of one major thing that I never really put much energy into.  I realize that because of the color of my skin, and the texture of what is on top of my head, my last statement is almost blasphemous!  If you haven’t figured out what “topic” I am speaking about, it is my hair!! I have avoided writing about this topic for a long while, because while I know it is a hot topic for so many women, I give it about five minutes a day!

A few days ago, a random guy came up to my friend and I while we were just walking down the street to congratulate us for being “natural”.  He gave us this long speech about how he loves and values “natural black women”, and how he “would only marry a black woman who was natural”, etc…

The very next day my same friend and I decided to grab a bite to eat for lunch at a popular restaurant and this sweet young black woman asked us in a whisper if we were on a “natural journey”, and wanted to know tons of details about this “journey”.

The last “naturalvention” happened while I was watching a show that I decided to watch mainly because of where the show was filmed.  Several of my friends and clients talk to me about The Housewives of Potomac, so with my two days off I decided to watch the show and see what all of the fuss was about.  As far as the topics of race, ethnicity, culture, and hair texture there were fireworks everywhere honey!! After each episode I found myself asking all types of questions.  Surprisingly, I ended up appreciating this show mainly because it pushed the participants and viewers to grapple with difficult topics like race, ethnicity, culture, and hair texture all based around western ideas. The unfortunate thing in the show which happens too often in real life is that when folks are forced to discuss touchy topics dealing with race, ethnicity, skin color, or hair texture, conversations are dropped and/or swept under the rug instead of hashed out completely.  I have been guilty of avoiding the “Black girl hair” conversation for many reasons, but feel compelled to say my piece.(or is it peace?)

I was super lucky to have been born into a family that never talked about being dark or light, pretty or ugly, or about having good or bad hair.  My grandmother was a hairstylist among many other professions, and always could make anyones hair look great.  As a result, my mom was also great with hair, and ultimately the “do hair gene” was passed down to me!  I honestly think that because we always knew how to “fix” our hair, our opinion on black hair was simple, we knew what to do to have the styles, length, and texture we wanted.  I didn’t learn until fourth or fifth grade that my hair texture was considered “good” because my fellow classmates told me.  I didn’t understand until I was a grown adult that my hair was considered “a good grade” because when I put gel, jam, water, or hair lotion it had an obvious wave/curl pattern depending on the hairstyle that I wore.

I remember the first time a class mate told me I had “good hair”. I was kinda nerdy, had natural hair which was unusual because most of my classmates had relaxers or “perms” as we used to call them, and this girl that I could not stand screamed across the room “Hey, you got some good hair.  I bet it would be real pretty if you had a perm.”  At the time I was just confused because the term was so foreign to me. I was raised by a mother who was/is a performing artist that put me in a West African dance company where everything African was celebrated.  It was super important to me to have natural hair because the styles that I wore for performances looked more authentic, and I fit in with my fellow dance peers.  Most of us had parents who embraced their African heritage and passed it down to us making West African food, music, languages, clothing, religion, and education the norm.  Because I valued dance and my dance community more than my peers in elementary school, I didn’t mind not fitting in.

Now as a grown adult I am learning from several other women that I am lucky to have had the unique childhood experiences which helped to establish my views on my own hair.  High school was another story, but we will discuss that in the next post!! Peace and a bottle of hair grease!! lol

 

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The Oscar Effect: Should I boycott certain makeup brands?

The Oscar Effect

A few weeks ago the nominations for the Academy Awards were announced and to many people’s surprise, there were hardly any people of color nominated! Oh what a surprise!!(sense my sarcasm?) Jada Pinkett Smith went on a social media rant proposing that people of color and especially black people boycott the show.  All this talk about boycotting had me thinking about my field and whether or not I should boycott the cosmetic brands that refuse to sell foundations for a broader range of skin tones, and what that would look like.  Most of the brands that I sell currently have many shades that would match any persons skin no matter what color, but there are brands that I have sold and sometimes still do that have nothing for darker skin tones.  I have had countless conversations with fellow retail make up artists, account executives, regional and national trainers, friends, and several other people about why certain brands offer no products for deeper skin tones, and the only answer that makes the most sense is that they just don’t want to!!

After reflecting even more about the brands that refuse to make foundation shades for deeper skin tones, the Flint water crisis, Donald Trump’s ideas on immigration, racial profiling and police brutality, and all of the other nasty things happening to brown and black people all over the world, my conclusion made sense.  I still wasn’t satisfied with my answer so I decided to start researching  brands one by one to find answers. I started with one that is extremely prestigious and offers a lot more than cosmetics.  This brand offers cosmetics, fragrance, clothes, shoes, and hand bags.  This brand is French and causes some women to skip out on paying rent to buy their hand bags. I have had several women tell me that they love using the cosmetics from this brand because pulling out the compacts make them feel luxurious!  Young teenaged girls also love this brand and the luxury and status that it promotes spending their parents hard earned cash on lipsticks just so they can pull them out of their backpacks and feel special.

The interesting thing about all of this is that luxury and status are important to many people no matter what color or how old they are.  In the era of Social Media striving for status seems to trump common sense so even if these brands that are so in demand care nothing about people of color, people of color still support them in droves! Some how if there was a “mass awakening” that caused folks of color to stop buying cosmetics from these companies that don’t really care about catering to them would it make a difference in these companies bottom line?  In the sixties when black folks boycotted the buses, those boycotts definitely hurt the transportation systems financially.

Would it help to create more brands specifically for people of color? I can’t help but think how black communities thrived during segregation.  Black Wall Street is a great example, so great that once they created their own educational and financial institutions among other things, the US government became threatened and wiped the whole community out!(just google the full story, I know your curiosity is itching to understand what I mean when I say “wiped the whole community out”)What would the effects be via social media? Would a successful boycott push brands to be more inclusive or not? Our current public school systems especially in poor and urban communities does not make the whole inclusive argument sound promising. Guess those are probably really similar questions that we can ask about the film industry right?

Fifty Shades of Black and White

Sooooo I have learned/been reminded of a very great lesson in the past few months.  I am going to elaborate on the lesson that I learned right now!! Like to hear it? Well here it goes!

A month ago, I was freelancing at a luxury beauty boutique in the nations capital and one of Obama’s right hand people came in with a friend.  She came in, and immediately I recognized her.  I was super excited, and imagined how our exchange would unfold.  I imagined that I would greet her, answer all of her questions, take her on a tour of the store, give her some samples of great products, crack a few jokes related to the awesome world of beauty, and then give her my business card knowing that she had a great experience and would definitely reach out to me later for my services.  I figured since she was a woman of color and African American to be exact that I was the best person to approach her and “look out”.

I was wrong, way wrong. I spoke to her, and a few other vendors spoke, and her response to us all with out opening her mouth was that we were mere peasants who were not deserving of her time.  I knew that it was not the typical “Im a political celebrity and just want to be left alone”response that I recognize and can identify before I even greet a person.  Instead, it was that ugly you can only talk to me if you pass the  “brown paper bag talented tenth college educated only upper middle class/upper class” look and attitude that she gave me which hurt my heart.  I have certainly experienced that attitude from countless black women, but she caught me off guard. I was extremely disappointed. She had stereotyped me the same way that most of my clients stereotype me, but I expect it from them.

Two weeks pass by and I have two more encounters with two different women that were the total and complete opposite of the one with”Obama’s helper”.  I was in the same store, different location, and a young lady who looked like she was in her mid to late twenties asked me for advice choosing a concealer.  She wanted a concealer that was easy to travel with so I decided to show her one from a line that just happens to not offer any darker shades for women of color.  I brought her over to the line, picked up the concealer, and before I could demonstrate how the product worked, she noticed that there were no colors for deeper skin tones.  I laughed and said that while I could not wear anything from the line, I liked it for lighter skin tones.  She said “that’s fucked up”, and followed that up with “show me something else, if there is nothing here for you, then there is nothing here for me”,  I went to another line, and sold her another concealer from another brand. We continued to chat and that was that.

The next woman I helped came into the same store but on a different night.  She was looking for a new foundation, I matched her, and somehow we started talking about cosmetic brands that made foundation shades for darker skin tones vs ones that did not.  She said that she didn’t understand how companies could choose not to create foundation colors for deeper skin tones, and was visibly passionate about this issue. When I asked her where her passion came from, she told me that she was a civil rights attorney.  I was surprised, we continued our conversation, she bought the foundation, thanked me for matching her, providing an interesting conversation, and exited the store.

The last two women showed compassion and empathy for the struggles that black women deal with on a daily basis when trying to find makeup in the prestige beauty market. They each expressed their disappointment and frustration with brands that only catered to a certain demographic racially, and they did not have to. They allowed me to do my job with out stereotyping and judging me based on the many stereo types that they could have chosen. They were the total opposite of the first woman and they were white! They reminded me not to judge a book by its cover by their actions, and for that I thank them!

 

 

 

“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”.

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.

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.