“Makeup is no different than clothes and accessories - it's embellishments for your face. And it also gives you creative freedom. You get to have that moment in front of the mirror every morning and give yourself self-love. You're making yourself beautiful, which is essentially self-love.” – Michelle Phan
Dichotomy surrounds the beauty industry: why are beauty and cosmetics perceived as trivial, unimportant matters, yet the beauty industry is worth billions?
Makeup as business
Zainab Pasha, co-owner of The Dressing Table salon in Karachi, Pakistan, is an entrepreneur who made her passion a career. When I asked what inspired her, she said,
“In a city like ours, where glamour is everything, beauty is a business that always thrives.”
The business of beauty has always thrived. From the Shang Dynasty in China in 16th century BC, where wealthy women would hire someone to apply rouges and powder to their face, to Ancient Egypt, where heavy eye makeup was thought to ward off evil and improve eyesight.
Today, makeup is more technical. Skin color, undertone, skin type, and texture are considered; oily skin must be paired with a matt primer and thick foundation with a matte finish. Dry skin pairs with a hydrating primer and liquid foundation with a dewy finish. The makeup industry has almost evolved into an exact science.
It is two in the afternoon and there are two girls in my bedroom. Two beautiful gowns, that are not mine, hang in my closet. My hands work tirelessly, my fluffy brush moves back and forth, creating the perfect blend, like the halo around Gabi’s soft green eyes. Prom starts in a few hours, and these two girls have asked me to do their makeup, offering payment in return. I have no office or business card, but my hobby has already yielded dividends while allowing for the personal growth of skill.
Makeup as empowerment
Around the 1970s, feminists refused to wear makeup for fear of conforming to beauty standards and contributing to patriarchal culture. Recently this attitude has changed—makeup is viewed as something people can partake in, but do not have to.
In a small room, there are conversations happening in many languages: English, Urdu, Pashto. Refugees who fled their homes in Afghanistan, women who strive to build new lives, have come to me for help with grooming so they make a good impression at job interviews and networking events. They are here to learn how to do makeup. I use all my skills and tools to reinvent them. Before, they looked exhausted—their life’s journey has taken its toll. Their confidence beautifully resurfaces after I have made them up. Chins are higher, postures straighter. I have given these women the power to change themselves: first on a physical level and, by extension, on a psychological level. Makeup has altered their sense of self. Seeing their reflection in the mirror, they finally experience the self-love every person seeks. Makeup has empowered them.
Makeup as art
Richard Seymour, a partner at seymourpowell, explored how true beauty is felt not defined. Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder but in their limbic system. Beauty bypasses all else and goes straight to the pleasure centers of the brain. Seeing beauty on other faces makes you happy and seeing beauty when you look in the mirror evokes feelings that are unmatched, as the beautiful thing you see in the mirror is a groomed you. Makeup shows women that their own face, hair, and skin, can be enhanced so they, too, look beautiful.
About the Author
I am drawn to both the business end of the makeup industry and the desire to help more women become groomed. While makeup is far more accessible today, it needs to be made more accessible in more remote areas.
As a published hair and makeup artist (HMUA), I aim to make society view makeup not as a crutch for people suffering from low self-esteem, but as a tool for empowerment, confidence, and self-love.