On Knowing Your Face
I started working in bars and clubs when I was 15, and I met a lot of interesting sculptors, photographers, all kinds of people. Everybody wanted to draw or sculpt me. That’s how I started—I was figure modeling, then tattoo and pinup modeling, and they never had any budget for hair and makeup, so I had to do my own. These artists were like, “Oh, you have such an interesting bone structure, very architectural.” I don’t think this face is interesting at all! It’s the one I wake up with every single morning—who cares? But it taught me to really look at my face and therefore look at other people’s faces—not just in terms of what’s good-looking, but in terms of what’s interesting.
Photo: Don Sun, Moss Photography
You look at faces differently when you’re so close to them. You get people who think they’re plain because they’re doing something blah with their look, but they’re not really looking at themselves. Women are trained to think we spend too much time looking at ourselves, that it makes us vain or stupid. But it teaches you a lot about yourself when you get to know your own face. Women aren’t looking at themselves, not objectively. We spend a lot of times looking at ourselves critically, which isn’t the same thing.
My clients usually have an idea of what they want to look like, but when people think about the idealized version of themselves, they still don’t actually see themselves. It’s still somebody else they want to look like. You can’t get up in the morning and say, “Maybe today I’ll look like Penelope Cruz.” You can put a stunning face of makeup on someone and if they look in the mirror and it’s not what they thought it would be—if they still don’t feel that “wow,” that connection, that awe at discovering themselves—it doesn’t really matter. I’m the expert in the sense that I have the technical skill to do the manual work, but you’re the only expert on your own face. And at the end of the day, you get one face for life.
On Comfort Zones
I had one bride who’s a lawyer; she spends all her time working or with her daughter. She said to me, “I’m really nervous about this. My time goes to my work and my daughter—I don’t really wear makeup. It’s not me.” I said, “If it’s not you, why are you wearing it on your wedding day?” She said, “Well, I have to.” I said, “It’s your wedding—you don’t have to do anything. If you want to get married, all you have to do is show up. So don’t come in here feeling judged and saying you don’t know what you want to look like. You know what you want to look like! Don’t be afraid to tell me.” So we did the trial, something very basic because I didn’t want to scare her. Bridal makeup can be scary for someone who doesn’t wear a lot of makeup; it looks soft and natural in pictures, but you have to put on a lot of friggin’ makeup to get it that way! A lot. I get a lot of, “Do I need this much blush? My eyes look so dark!” People are afraid of looking overdone and trashy, or like they’re trying too hard—everyone wants to look effortless.
So this lawyer was a little resistant at first, but she loved it. She went to pick up her dress later and still had her makeup on—and she didn’t like the dress anymore. She had bought the simpler of two dresses, and when she tried it on with the makeup she said that she felt like she was hiding in her dress. So she switched it out, got the more elaborate dress. That was, like, the crowning achievement of my career! She sent me a picture and said, “I want you to know that you changed this for me. I hadn’t felt like I was allowed to wear makeup.”
I did that low-key look for her trial, but on the day of the wedding I said, “Okay, you got the fancier dress—we’re going to kick it up a notch.” She was ready for it then. And now she does her hair a bit funkier, she wears a little more makeup. She got that confidence from being told that she could do whatever she wanted and that she had to feel good about whatever choice she made. It’s like being a shrink, it really is. And it’s the only non-medical profession where you’re licensed to touch the public.
Celebs get airbrush makeup, and now it’s available on the general market, so a lot of brides want it. And it looks flawless, but you know what else looks flawless? A more enhanced version of you, one that isn’t being plastered onto your real face. You know those cheap airbrush T-shirts on Coney Island? That’s going on your face. You can’t adjust it once it’s dry, and because it’s not blendable you get these flat faces sometimes. Skin is a combination of tones, especially African-American skin—it’s not just brown, it’s yellow and red and sometimes a warm orangey-tan color, and you can’t get that depth with airbrush. Airbrush is a good option for some people, but it’s not the best option for everyone. And if it’s not right for everybody, why do it at all?
I’m resistant to airbrush makeup because my perspective on beauty is so much more about revealing than about concealing. I just got married myself. I get that you want to be beautiful—you’re in these photos you’ll have forever and you’re paying a lot of money for them. But at the same time, you can’t erase your entire face and start from scratch. So I ask clients a lot of leading questions, like, “What do you worry will be the worst thing about your face on your wedding day?” People tell me right off the bat; they start touching their face. They become very frank, saying stuff you generally wouldn’t say to someone, even if you talk about your insecurities with your friends. There’s a balance between planning how we’ll work with that—how we can minimize whatever it is—and getting them to figure out what it is that’s really bothering them so much. Because no matter what you do with your hair and makeup—you can look amazing, and you might even look like a different person if you do enough—if you’re looking for those flaws, you’ll find them.
On Playing Ball
There’s a balancing act between doing things on your terms and being comfortable with what you do on society’s terms. You’re going to feel that pressure—especially as a woman—to appear sympathetic. People will give you attention, and they’ll sympathize with you more if you look like this pretty, sweet thing. I walk into my butcher and the little old Italian butchers fall all over me. Who doesn’t love a pretty, well-put-together girl? So, yeah, I’m putting on my face before I leave the house.
On the job, you can say ideologically, “It shouldn’t matter what I look like; I’m good at what I do.” But people make value judgments based on your appearance—not just your face and how you dress, but the way you shake hands, how you make eye contact. Beauty is a part of that overall picture. I mean, I hate business attire, can’t stand it—what is that, a twinset? But when I was in that world, I played ball.
At the same time, when I was working in corporate America, I sat in a cubicle all day. If I left for lunch it was miraculous. But I suffer from migraines, so sometimes I’d just put on my shades and go to work—and when I showed up to work with no makeup on, people thought there was something seriously wrong. Because you’re stepping outside that protocol where everybody else is playing ball. I play ball in certain ways because it does help me along, but when I feel like hell—when I’m brushing my teeth in the dark because of my migraine—you’d better believe I don’t care if someone notices I’m not wearing blush! You can use beauty to your advantage but you don’t have to define yourself by the standards you adhere to in order to play ball—it’s about more than just looking the right way for other people; it’s about taking care of yourself and maximizing your potential for impact so that you’re happy.