Last Saturday I decided to stock up on some cosmetics and went to the store close to where I live. I buy most of my cosmetics and beauty products here because they are big and have most of the brands in stock. Since I go there fairly regularly I happen to know some of the ladies working there, especially the ones responsible for the brands that I buy. Although “know” would be a bit of an exaggeration; I never ask them for advice since I know which brands I want or are good for my skin, thanks to my dear friend Maria.
On this particular Saturday, the shop had a special event hosted by the brand Lancôme. Women could get a free makeover from the Lancôme representative and a professional mini-photoshoot for a very minor fee. As I was walking towards the products that I wanted to buy (which by the way were from Lancôme) I heard someone calling my name. One of my acquaintances Francisca* had decided to use the Lancôme event to try out a new look for the spring and it was she who had called out to me. So I went over and while I was chatting with her I had the opportunity to observe the Lancôme makeup professional Gabi* at work on her. As we were talking, Gabi told me that she knew Francisca since years and hence knew exactly what Francisca meant when she said that she wanted a more colourful and vibrant look. Francisca was obviously a bit nervous about the makeover and kept asking me if I thought the colors that were being used suited her, if I thought she was looking good in them etc…..
I should mention here that Francisca is a beautiful, vivacious Italian girl with long curly hair – in short a “typical” Italian beauty with a heart of gold who turns heads wherever she goes. It always amazes me that she doesn’t see herself as very special; she has often told me how she is always “put into a box” by most people just because she is Italian; that although she was born and has lived in Germany for over 30 years, she is still treated as an “outsider” by most of the people who know her for years and that she hardly has any real friends . But I digress…
At the outset I must say that Gabi did a very good job on Francisca. Francisca looked very fresh, natural and vibrant after the makeover was finished. The colours used on her looked very good on her and suited her perfectly. What greatly disturbed me however was the way the makeover was done and what Gabi said to Francisca (and to me) while she was doing the makeover.
As I learnt that day, Francisca has had skin problems since years. She is prone to acne, which has left its marks on her face. She has been to a number of skin specialists who have told her that she needs to curb her intake of chocolate, coffee and cigarettes if she wants the acne to go away… To be perfectly honest, I have never really noticed the acne marks on her face; firstly they are really not that noticeable and secondly you don’t notice them because you are so captivated by the vibrant expressions on her face, her laughter and her expressive eyes. However during this makeover, Gabi pointed out all the so-called problem areas that Francisca had – to me and to Francisca; she kept telling us which products she was using to cover up all the imperfections that in her eyes Francisca had. I don’t recall how often she told me that Francisca had always had “terrible” skin even before she had had her daughter, that her skin had just worsened after that, was currently looking awful because Francisca is pregnant again with her second child and the hormones are creating havoc with her skin. Then Gabi went on to tell me how Francisca’s “hawk like nose needed softening to make it more feminine”…and so it went on. With every one of these remarks, I could visibly see Francisca shrinking deeper into her chair, looking around to see if anyone else was listening, becoming totally insecure, seeking reassurance from me that the makeup being used on her was indeed making her look better and “hiding” her imperfections. I tried to reassure Francisca that she looked great (which indeed she did, she is glowing with her
pregnancy!!) but I must admit that I was beginning to feel very uncomfortable with all this negative talk about Francisca’s features. When Gabi said something positive about Francisca, she immediately followed it up with a negative e.g. she said that Francisca had nice teeth considering that she has been quite a heavy smoker for years and to bring this out she needed to “fill out” Francisca’s thin lips…. Gabi and Francisca appeared to know each other very well and went back a long way, so Francisca was obviously used to this very “honest and straightforward” dissection of her appearance but it greatly disturbed me because I could see that the normally chirpy and vivacious Francisca was turning into a very insecure and timid person. Only after the makeover was complete and we all agreed that she looked stunning, did Francisca get back her self-confidence and started glowing again.
As I have mentioned before in my posts, I suffered terribly when I was young because I was an obese and acne-ridden teenager/young girl. Most of the girls around me and all the females in my mothers family had beautiful glowing skin (they still do) which made it all the more difficult for me because everyone commented on my terrible skin, wondered where it came from, gave me lots of advice on what I should do to improve it etc. etc. It was a total nightmare for me. Years later the acne went away but it came back in my late thirties and has since left its marks on my skin. I spent years trying to cover up these marks but I have never been very talented with make-up and decided to stick to just using lipstick and eyeliner. I too have had my share of makeovers where beauticians/makeup professionals have plastered my face with makeup to cover all the blemishes that I have, told me that I have very small eyes, funny eyelids where there is no space for eye shadow, uneven lips etc etc. They have given me the feeling that I look distorted and that I have to use makeup to be seen as attractive or to cover these gross imperfections. So I can relate to what Francisca felt in that chair- the feeling that one is physically attractive only with makeup. Over the years, I have come to terms with my “imperfections”, met people who have appreciated my inner qualities and made me feel attractive, and today they don’t disturb me. I can even ignore all the well-meant but not asked for advice that I get from some makeup professionals in shops who thrust samples of their very expensive products, which would help me with the marks on my face, when I pass by them.
So what does all this have to do with Maria? I met Maria through common friends years ago in Stockholm. She attends the church that I go to there and our common friends introduced us. These common friends told me about Maria, that she was a great makeup artist and had done a fantastic makeover for my friend’s daughter, who before that had never used any makeup. The way they were talking about Maria and my first impression of her (which was that of a simply-gorgeous-stunning-warm-and-vibrant person) made me courageous enough to make an appointment with Maria for a makeover (I had just returned to Europe from China and my skin had suffered from all the intercontinental travels, irregular eating habits and the smog in Shanghai).
I met Maria for my first makeover with her in 2013. I must admit that I was a bit nervous about all the faults that she would find in my skin and my features, that she would show me some really complicated makeup tricks that I would never be able to master etc. etc. What I did not expect was how Maria talked with me and did the makeover. I had never had a makeup professional praise any feature of mine but all Maria did was tell me how she was going to enhance my eyes which spoke volumes, or she talked about how she was going to accentuate my cheekbones or bring out my eyebrows…she only talked positively about my features and about enhancing them. When I kept talking about my terrible skin marks, she gently gave me some tips about products that would suit my skin and not clog the pores or she talked about creams that would even out the skin tone because nearly everyone had “imperfect skin “and needed “help”.
She made me feel beautiful just as I was, she talked about how everyone was different and beautiful, that there was no “standard of beauty”. When the makeover was done, I looked in the mirror and saw “myself”. It was not me with a perfect mask that looked back, but a natural-looking-glowing me.
Since then Maria has done many more makeovers for me, showing me different looks and giving me tips on makeup and skin care that are easy to follow and “affordable”. It was Maria who helped me find the right skin cream that doesn’t clog up my pores and give me acne. Since Maria is an independent makeup professional she knows all the brands on the market and can give one a very neutral and honest opinion about the product/brand that would best suit ones skin.
Over the years we have become good friends and I am always more than willing to be a model for Maria when one of my visits to Stockholm coincides with a sales event that she’s working with for Lancôme at one of the big departmental stores in Stockholm. At such events, Maria demonstrates to the customers in the departmental stores how to use makeup, recommends certain products, gives tips etc. She does this by demonstrating how the products work on a “normal” person i.e. she does a makeover on a “live model”. I am always thrilled to have the opportunity to be one of her models at such events.
I always learn something new about the products that she has and at the same time have the opportunity to try out a “different” look . Before Maria, I would have been intimidated to do something like this, imagining all the time that my physical imperfections would be pointed out to a crowd and then corrected in front of them (the way Gabi did with Francisca) but with Maria I know this would never happen. As I mentioned before, Maria never talks about imperfections. She treats the women that she is working with care, love and respect. She has the unique gift of seeing the beauty that lies within each woman and she uses her skills in makeup to bring this to the surface. And while she is doing that, she encourages and builds up the person she is working with, giving them confidence in their appearance. On a side note, Maria is an excellent makeup professional who works with models and well known names in the designer world, so the makeovers that she does are simply amazing and yet one never looks “made up”. Maria always emphasises the fact that makeup is not there to conceal imperfections but to enhance the beauty that is there in each and every one of us. She manages to convey the message that beauty lies within and is not something that can be “fixed superficially”. She listens to the “problems” that her clients have (like me with my uneven skin tone) and then gives them tips to help them to feel confident about the imperfections that they see, all the while making it clear that she personally does not see that as an imperfection. I have sat twice as a model for Maria at the entrance of the departmental store Åhléns in Stockholm , which was where the awful terrorist attack took place last Friday. But I digress again…
I have watched Maria do makeovers for other women and it has always inspired me. As an HR professional, I believe that it is easier and better to work on one’s strengths rather
than on one’s weaknesses. Maria does exactly that with makeup, she highlights the strengths that her clients have and enhances them. Last year I had helped arrange a wedding of someone very close to me and I asked Maria if she could help with the makeup for the bride and three bridesmaids. That was an amazing experience. The four of us look very different and the bride wanted a very natural look. The bridegroom was pretty apprehensive when he heard that a makeup professional of Maria’s calibre was going to be working with his bride. I think he was terrified he wouldn’t recognise his bride, that she would be all “made up”. Since I know how Maria works, I wasn’t worried at all. I was fascinated watching her work, talk with the other three girls whom she hadn’t met before, building them up, complementing them and just being herself. The end result was just fantastic. The four of us looked amazing, very glamorous and we all felt totally comfortable with what Maria had done with us. And we all loved our “looks” 🙂 Unfortunately, due to privacy reasons, I cannot post a picture here of how we looked after Maria had done our makeup. Needless to say, the bridegroom couldn’t believe that his bride had any makeup on at all, she was simply glowing and beautiful. She is a natural beauty and Maria just brought out her beauty even more.
Watching Gabi work with Francisca last Saturday reminded me of the times I had makeovers done by professionals who might have done a “good job” but made me feel that without makeup I failed certain “standards of beauty”. Talking with other women, I know that many feel the same way when a makeup professional works with them. It was also interesting to see Gabi’s reaction when both Francisca and I said that Francisca looked fantastic. She thanked us for seeing that she had really worked hard and managed to “cover up Francisca’s imperfections to make her look perfect”. The message that Gabi and many professionals convey to women is that they are beautiful only when they are “perfect” and that to look “perfect” and/or have the ability to make someone look “perfect” is a gift that is to be desired.
Maria on the other hand, when complimented on the excellent makeovers that she does, always insists that she only enhances the beauty that is already there. She never makes you feel that you have to fulfil certain “standards” to be beautiful, she gives you the feeling that you are beautiful the way you are because beauty comes in different shapes and sizes, because true beauty is not “perfect”.
My experience last Saturday with Francisca and Gabi reminded me again that people like Maria are a rare gem, especially in the world of makeup and cosmetics where its all about external appearances. How I wished that Francisca could have a makeover experience with someone like Maria, someone who builds her up and tells her that perfect skin is not a criteria for real beauty, that her vibrant personality is worth so much more, that makeup only enhances the beauty that she already is and that true beauty is more than just skin deep.
Thank you Maria for what you do – for seeing the beauty that every woman has and for bringing it out and enhancing it; for making women feel and look beautiful; for being such an encourager; for building the broken self-confidence of women because someone told them that they didn’t live up to some stupid standard of beauty; for healing emotional scars in women like me whose looks were compared way too often with other women and found wanting. Thank you Maria that in the “superficial” world of makeup and cosmetics you have strong morals and ethics; for bringing light, sunshine, joy and laughter to people. Thank you for showing people how God sees them – as unique, wonderful and beautifully made human beings.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals