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Smiling makeup artist in salon with client

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To have a job in an industry where you are equipped and required to look good sounds like a win-win. Your literal job expectation is to spread beauty, but as that old saying goes, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and makeup artists and their clients don’t always see eye to eye.

It is to be expected that clients come with various tastes but sometimes those preferences are more than that, which challenges your own belief systems and values as an artist. Sure, you have a job to do, but you also want to feel good about it when it’s done. As a makeup artist with nearly a decade of experience, I can tell you firsthand that is particularly difficult when it comes to these common dilemmas.

Lashes and Lollipops

Imagine working in a retail setting and a pair that appears to be a mother and daughter approach your area. The mother is holding the daughter’s hand to prevent her from attacking the lipstick table as she approaches you and asks you to apply a pair of strip eyelashes. You politely oblige before noticing that the mother plops the toddler in your makeup chair. The mother then informs you that her three-year-old daughter is in a beauty pageant and needs lashes. She further explains she’ll be completing the full beauty look at home but needs your help with the lash portion. You value the power of a makeup transformation, but you didn’t expect this one to come with pull-ups.

There is something about a young girl being instructed to enhance herself before she is able to make that choice for herself that concerns me. What does a three-year-old need to enhance? Once a young girl unlocks the power of makeup, rarely is there a going back.

Foundation “Matching”

A woman comes into your makeup store for a foundation match. You welcome her to have a seat while you both discover the perfect type of foundation and shade. She agrees that the one you chose matches her skin tone, but says she prefers a shade lighter. You ask why and she explains that her makeup often gets oily throughout the day and then appears darker on her skin. Understanding the oxidation process, you grab one shade lighter to please your client. However, she begins to consider that during the winter her skin tone gets even lighter and says she prefers to match that shade instead of her current tone. Again, you grab one shade lighter than the last; yet your client still isn’t satisfied and instead walks over to the foundation options and grabs a shade much lighter. She asks you to apply it and you do. It doesn’t match but she buys it. Internally, you question the entire interaction, replaying the fact that your client agreed with your expertise and understood her desired foundation shade was several shades lighter than her true skin tone, yet she still preferred it.

As an artist, I love to enhance my client’s natural shades, tones, and features. As a Black woman, I love to celebrate another Black woman’s natural beauty, including skin color. When I recognize someone desires a foundation shade lighter than her own, I am presented with two options: be respectful of her choice, because she has the right to look however she desires, or speak up both as a woman and a professional about the beauty of her physical attributes, including her skin color. Foundation matching often runs beyond preference and far deeper than the skin’s surface.

Sorry, Sir, I Didn’t Ask You

A man books your services for his girlfriend to get her makeup done. When the couple arrives you begin asking the woman questions about the type of look she is going for, but her boyfriend is answering all of your questions. Throughout the application process, you engage with the girlfriend and discover that many of her preferences are not what her boyfriend is requesting. Finally, at the lip portion of the application, your client asks for something soft, but her boyfriend requests a bold red lip instead, at which point your client then decides to wear red.

I’ve learned over the years that one of the most powerful ways to use my platform is by simply acknowledging others, especially in the presence of someone else who does not. It is not so much about the products that my client chooses but more about how she feels throughout the process. The art and application of makeup is more about self than what others perceive after admiring the finished result. Whether I am planting a seed of reassurance, kindness, or suggesting something new, my ultimate goal is to encourage self-confidence.

I Want Something New, I Think

A client comes to you saying she just wants to feel good. She wants to step out of the box and try something new. You begin to discover things about her current lifestyle and explore possibilities together. You connect throughout the application, but at the end of the service she admits she doesn’t like it. She doesn’t look like herself and what she thought she wanted, she doesn’t want anymore. In fact, her excitement seems to have turned to regret. You encourage her to wear the look for a bit and give it time, but she wants to take it off, along with all traces of your artistry.

Maybe she needed to talk it out. Maybe she needed my conversation and not my artistry. I’ve found that sometimes what we think will make us feel better doesn’t and that’s okay. I choose not to take it personally.

As a professional makeup artist working primarily in a retail setting for more than nine years, I have learned that whether my expertise is embraced now, later, or never, is beyond my control. Encounters like the ones mentioned have also taught me whether clients embrace their own beauty (and their voice) are beyond my control as well. My makeup encounters have stretched my perception of beauty and also challenged my integrity. What these dilemmas have taught me is how important it is to navigate serving clients without compromising my artistry.


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The Moral Dilemmas Of A Makeup Artist  was originally published on