Friday, December 18, 2015

The Reality of Today's Workforce and the Lessons

I recruit for a company now: This is a job I never sought out or thought I'd have any interest in. I see three types of people: The young job seeker who has plenty of time to turn his or her life around; the older worker whose back is against the wall and is choking down his or her pride; and then there's the older worker who has been in dead-end employment all his or her life and doesn't do anything to get out of the trap. There are probably hundreds of stories behind their respective journeys to this job, stories I wonder about frequently.

I've seen more illiteracy than I ever knew existed in our country. If it looks depressing as a statistic, it's far harder to see in the form of a 58-year-old man whose expression has gelled into a permanent state of despondency. I've seen people who don't know where to start when they see a computer. I've seen people literally scraping for spare change, going hungry, living a hand-to-mouth existence. The irony is they're working for one of the richest companies in the world.

I don't blame the company's founder: He was the brilliant one who took a risk that worked for him. There's a quote that 99% of the population is working for the 1% of the population that had the courage to pursue a dream. Most of us don't risk because we're scared, so we go the route we think is safe. My own situation is a reflection of that choice we all have deep inside us but let go undisturbed. So we live a "safe" life of a steady paycheck, but it costs us something deeper: Our souls.

The way out of struggle isn't another job. Maybe there was a time when it was, but it isn't anymore. I read Inc. magazine, which recently dedicated an entire issue to people who got into financial hot water and pulled themselves out. The common theme was they figured out a way to make money themselves: They didn't rely on a raise, promotion, or a winning scratch ticket.

When the financial collapse of 2008 occurred, it was a huge lesson that your employer won't save you. I saw so many people who gave more than 20 years of their lives to a company, only to be tossed out once times got tough. What caused the collapse is inexcusable and impacted millions of people who had nothing to do with predatory lending.

When you're recruiting, you learn to spot situations that don't make sense: I saw an older man in a training session whipping through the computer application process, then helping others who were computer illiterate. I spotted him a few weeks later on the warehouse floor. Maybe we both sensed we didn't seem to belong there. He came up to me and asked what I was doing there. I asked him his story. He was a financial executive for many years, making $200,000/year. When the economy crashed, he got laid off and has been unable to find another job. At 58, he knows his age is working against him in the job search. Even though age discrimination is illegal, it goes on all the time. He's been given the “you're overqualified” speech many times. Now his back is against the wall, and he's working for $12/hour in a warehouse. His wife told him to get a job – anything he could get – to help pay the gas bill and their real estate taxes. His mortgage is tied up in litigation for being a predatory loan.

When a company tries to lure employees in, they use the carrot-and-stick approach: You can grow here (maybe, but usually that will be if the right person likes you and the politics work in your favor); you can win a flatscreen TV or an Xbox if you dutifully come to work (feed poverty with more liabilities). What would be the better approach? You can LEARN here. You can learn a skill that will empower you to someday embark on your own journey. The smart ones will cull something valuable from the experience and move on to a greater journey. I wish I could tell them all this advice, but I can't. I have to read off a corporate presentation and stay silent about the truth. One job applicant, who didn't have a filter but did have a brain, blurted out during the presentation: "That is some serious brainwashing!"

Ultimately, each of us, dealing with varying levels of struggle, need to learn we're our own answer to our own problems. For me, I stopped almost all discretionary purchases when the economy collapsed (Black Friday and Cyber Monday held no appeal to me, but I saw many pull out their credit cards and stand outside in the cold at 2 a.m.). If I have to buy something, I weigh it long and hard and only buy it if it's an absolute need. I've learned the hard way how to distinguish between an asset and a liability. I hate the frustration I feel daily, and that frustration motivates me to think harder and deeper about what I really want in life, what my true passions are, and how I can give back to the world even in moments when I think there's nothing to give.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Review: L'Oreal Visible Lift Blur foundation

After 25, there are definitely things you might want to "blur." This has become the new buzzword in the makeup industry: Optical illusion through makeup that takes down the appearance of things like fine lines and wrinkles through a "blurring" technique. Call it the reverse HD effect. The product retails for close to $15 (pricey for a drugstore foundation) and comes in a plastic squeeze tube.

This foundation looks great on the skin upon first application. I don't see a visible difference in things like fine lines, nor do I see any lifting effect, but it does create an airbrushed finish. As a cautionary, if you have combination to oily skin, the foundation wears down and separates very quickly. The initial result lasts a short amount of time.

I imagine this product lasts much better on someone with normal to dry skin. It has a moisturizing texture and isn't long-wear. I also don't know that I buy into the "blurring" effect of the product: I remember trying Lancome's Teint Resist, and in every single light (including florescent), I looked amazing (and of course it's off the market). I swear, that foundation contained unicorn tears. Optical filters are a wonderful idea, but the company doesn't really explain how the product works, and I don't see that dramatic an effect on the skin.

If your skin is dry or normal and you want to minimize the look of fine lines, this product is possibly worth a try. Overall, I don't think it's worth the hype or promises. Miracle? No. Blur? Undetermined.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: L'Oreal Voluminous Superstar mascara

Mascara is one of the hardest products to review, because everyone's lashes are different and take to mascaras differently. I rarely review mascaras because I have a very sad story: I have typical Asian lashes - short, straight, almost non-existent. They're a little like Whoopi Goldberg's eyebrows.

I'm envious when I watch the non-Asian reviewers applying mascara and it boosting what's already there. For me, finding a mascara that produces a visible result is a huge accomplishment. The first mascara that accomplished this for me was Cover Girl Professional mascara. A few years back, I discovered the L'Oreal Voluminous line. There have been so many offspring of this original version that I can't keep it straight: Some have worked for me; some haven't. L'Oreal's Full Definition performed so well on me, I kept repurchasing it. Then, as it happens, it got discontinued.

I tried L'Oreal Superstar mascara on the hunch that a primer would help the helpless. To my amazement, the primer adds a level of volume and definition to the lashes. The mascara itself produces visible length and volume to my lashes. Here's the litmus test: If after I apply the mascara, my lashes touch my glasses, I know a measurable impact occurred. This happens every time I apply this mascara.

The brush is the standard L'Oreal Voluminous curved wand. The formula is thick but doesn't appear clumpy on the lashes. The mascara applies smoothly and leaves lashes evenly defined. After a day's wear, there is no flaking or smudging.



Sunday, October 18, 2015

What It Means to be a Journalist

The job that intrigues people the most about me is that I was journalist. They think it sounds glamorous, maybe gutsy. When I try to explain the world of it, I am thrown back into a fascinating whirlwind of stories - other people's stories. To be a really good journalist is to be able to morph yourself into someone else's world and mind long enough to tell their story.

Here's how it started: I was a child who got put in the Blue Birds group for reading comprehension. The Blue Birds were the strongest readers and writers. When other children would struggle with a word, I'd get so frustrated that I'd want to get up and read it for them. I could remember how to spell a word just by seeing it once. My brain didn't work like that in other areas, but words landed in my mind like photographic images.

I would write prolifically as a child, spending hours I couldn't recall later roped into the world of the word. Something happens to a writer's brain during the writing process: Time stops and you lose all sense of self. Words actually appear on the page before your brain fully processes them. Literally, I would stand up a few times and wonder, How did that get there? I didn't write that.

While other students struggled trying to figure out their major in college, I knew that I would be a journalist. I didn't know it isn't always a lucrative career, and it's one of the one's most susceptible to economic collapses. I once read that passion doesn't make sense. You follow it because there's no other choice.

The dichotomy of me is that I'm by nature a very introverted and shy person. Once I got into a journalism job, I learned fast that I'd have to fight that in order to pull information from people. I also learned journalists have terrible reputations: People just inherently don't trust them. People would test me with "off the record" and "on the record." If they later saw anything that was "off the record" in print, they wouldn't talk to me. This never happened, because I never burned them. Yet I knew I was getting tested for my integrity.

When I got to New York City, I became a financial journalist. My manager told me my first day, "Call traders. You're going to sink or swim." It was one of the scariest tasks as a early twenty-something, but I swam.

Here's what worked: I got straight to the point; I listened; I used my soft, feminine voice to entice them to call back (that's as far as I'll go with playing the "girl card"). I also learned about people very fast: Some of the most outwardly friendly traders were the scammers, and the most bristly trader ended up being the most honest. Journalism is a strange dance of psychology: You're reading them, and they're reading you.

I left journalism when September 11, 2001 hit. Many of the young journalists voluntarily walked away. Why? Because in the midst of tremendous grief, we were asked to call people and pull a story. Here's where I'm not a hardcore journalist: When someone is hurting, I don't want to intrude and ask them how much it hurts so I can get marketable copy.

I remember us sitting in a divey bar shortly before we all left. Prince's Purple Rain was playing in the background. Our futures were unmapped, but we were young with the mystery of time on our side. In the years following, I went back into journalism, then I tried a series of office jobs that were boring but provided the false sense of security journalism never does.

The reality is, I am still a journalist. It's in my blood. No job compares to telling the truth of our world.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Before & After Mom Makeover: Bringing Back a Little Wearable Glamour

Amy is my former high school classmate. She was one of the most popular girls. I was certainly not. Amy never treated me like it mattered. Back then and today she is kind, hilarious, open-hearted. She is a wonderful wife and mother who spends most of her time caring for her two young children. I thought she deserved a little time on herself and offered to do her makeup. Her children didn't like what I did to their mom ("You have two black eyes!"), but hopefully Amy did.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Newest Makeup Work: Before & After



Model: Sapphire Ng
Photographer: Rick T. White
MUA: Erica Mathews


Foundation: Graftobian
Eye Shadow: Urban Decay
Eyeliner/Mascara: L'Oreal
Blush: Nyx
Contour: Cielmiera
Highlight: Kevyn Aucoin Beauty
Lipstick: Make Up For Ever

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bruce Jenner's Transformation & The American Conscience

I was surprised at how raw the footage was from "About Bruce," even for the Kardashians. The TMI-style reality show is usually lighthearted and pieced together as a scripted antics comedy. This was seeing Jenner and the family completely unguarded.

I was too young to see Jenner win at the Olympics, but knew him from the Wheaties boxes and his legacy as an all-American athlete. He resonated in the collective conscience as a symbol of masculinity and wholesomeness. To know he'd been living with a big secret most of his life evokes sympathy and compassion.

What Jenner needs to do is understand that while his announcement is courageous and freeing, some in the family will be jarred by their understanding of him as a male figure and question their own lifetime memories. To them, it is a grieving process of saying goodbye to what they knew; to him, he will finally be arriving honestly in their lives.

When he told Khloe that his biggest concern was for his two youngest biological daughters, the comment had a palpable sting. Khloe was right to feel hurt, as he was the only father figure she had growing up. Biology doesn't designate someone more important than another. Jenner commented in the Diane Sawyer interview that it's ironic Khloe is taking this the hardest, since she's known for being "the most open-minded one." I don't think Khloe's issue is with transgender; the issue she bears is with men and deceit.

My first client as an MUA was the most masculine male you could imagine: His build and facial features bore that same handsome athleticism as Jenner's earlier years. We talked a little before I attempted to transform him into a woman. The only thing he could say was that he'd been born in the wrong body. I couldn't understand personally what the inner turmoil must feel like, but could liken it a little to being Asian and raised by white parents. I related to everything American, but when I glanced in the mirror or someone treated me differently, I was reminded what was physically apparent and how I felt were different.

In his early 30s, the client's body was betraying him more: Body hair and everything else indicative of male anatomy only seemed to be intensifying. "I don't think I have much time left," he told me. His time to be true to himself was running out simply because of testosterone and his own loose grip on self-acceptance.

I would be lying if I said I was completely comfortable putting feminine artifice on a man. What we see and what is the truth can shake us even if we think we're completely open-minded. As I worked on a man on no hormones, I realized the huge gap between what a man and a woman look like. Hirsute doesn't begin to describe it. It took well over an hour to try to conceal the beard stubble, even though he'd shaved as closely as possible. Trying to feminize sharp, angular features took so much elbow grease that I was in a full sweat by the time I finished.

Though I cursed the amount of work it took, it was an amazing lesson in understanding makeup and understanding how much our gender identity affects us. He put on a dress and his wig and a sigh of peace came over him.

I think Jenner's courage is remarkable, and I hope his influence as a celebrity encourages more people with gender identity issues to come out of hiding. As a side note, I would love to see him in makeup. He will make a beautiful woman.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Contour & Highlighting: Let's Explain What it Means

Ok, this concept has had a spike in popularity as meteoric as the Kardashians', but it's been used in makeup artistry for many decades. I'm not on Instagram, so I don't know how badly this concept is being abused as an attempt to take 10 pounds off the face or try to essentially redesign it.

It has inevitably spurred a backlash, as with any idea that's taken too far. You can blame the Youtubers that are looking like they're about to enter battle or go to a sports event where the team colors or brown and white.

The problem is the oversimplification of the concept: Some argue that it's revisionist, deceptive and even harmful to the psyche. The problem started when it was explained as simply as "put a dark color here, and put a light color here." Recede and highlight. If your mindset to doing it is to try to change your face, this is a harmful concept. Here's another take on it: Contour and highlighting simply enhances the bone structure that's already there. All of makeup is based on the concept of enhancing and tricking the eye. Makeup itself is challenged by some as a lack of self-acceptance.

So take it or leave it: You can view it as deceptive, or you can view it as a way to pull out the bones that already exist in the face. Personally, I love the architecture of bone structure.

When I first decided to design a contour and highlight product, it was before the commercial explosion. It was before Youtubers were posting tribal warrior tutorials. I was frankly frustrated that there wasn't a product out there designed for contour and highlighting. By that I mean it isn't as simple as applying a foundation two or three shades darker to areas you want to recede and two or three shades lighter to areas you want to highlight. The artistry behind it is more complex than that, and it takes a product that addresses and simplifies the process.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Newest Makeup Work: Old-Hollywood Glamour

The makeup was about achieving an ethereal glow to the skin, doing dramatic eyes, and keeping the look clean and polished. Amanda is an overworked young woman: She holds a day job, goes to school, yet always shows up to modeling assignments professional and upbeat. I mixed a little vitamin E oil with my favorite moisturizer, CeraVe. Then I went to work on creating a polished, glowing canvas, using a BB cream with a bronzing effect and highlighter around her eyes, tops of the cheekbones, and bridge of the nose. I contoured lightly using my Cielmiera contour stick, emphasizing her cheekbones and working around the sides of her nose. Kiss brand (my current favorite) false lashes were applied to emphasize her gorgeous, translucent green eyes.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Money Scam Using Vogue Magazine's Name

I was contacted a couple weeks ago by someone representing himself as James Patrick. He said he was a talent scout and that Vogue commissions what is termed as "emerging talent" as a corporate responsibility initiative. The initial e-mails sounded legitimate, but I kept my enthusiasm in check.

There were things about this person that didn't check out: He was using a gmail account and not one out of Condenast or Vogue. He could be professional and polite in one e-mail and condescending and demanding in the next.

As the correspondence went on, he said he would pay for the makeup I needed for the shoot, then the money would be redirected to someone who represented himself as Michael Flutie. I googled Michael Flutie, and he does come up as a legitimate talent agent. But anyone can create an e-mail account under someone's name.

The check came as promised, and I deposited it. James Patrick immediately pushed to get the money redirected to Michael Flutie. This set up another red flag. Why didn't he just pay Michael Flutie directly rather than going through a third-party? Why was there such a rush to get the money redirected immediately?

The person representing himself as Michael Flutie wanted the money sent to him by MoneyGram. MoneyGram asks a lot of questions before completing a transfer. One question is do you know the recipient personally? I answered honestly and said no, which prompted a lot more questions. MoneyGram suspected the transaction was a scam and declined it.

The following day, I checked my account to see if the check had cleared. It had, so I agreed to work with Citizens Bank to send the money to Michael Flutie. When I approached Citizens Bank, they looked at the routing information and said it wasn't correct. They asked similar questions that MoneyGram asked, such as if I know the person and why was I sending this person money. Red flags started to pop up in the banker's mind and he printed the check I was written. Upon examining it, he said there were a number of indications that the check was fraudulent. Citizens Bank also declined making the wire transfer and said the check will likely bounce in a couple weeks.

The final red flag was an imploring e-mail from James Patrick. He asked me to do the transfer through Western Union and to lie and say that the recipient is my cousin.

It is disheartening that there are people out there who will play on someone's hopes and aspirations to try to make money illegally. Always be alert to potential scams, ask a lot of questions, and if your instincts tell you something doesn't seem legitimate, listen to them.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

What Happens When You Design A Product That Blows Up in the Market

1. I am sooooo tired of saying "contouring and highlighting."

2. I want to timestamp my starting point to prove it was once an original idea.

3. I use pretentious words like "undertone" all the time.

4. I keep having to kick back the prototypes because the "undertone" isn't quite the perfect balance of shading I wanted.

5. I don't go on anymore, because every 2.3 seconds, another contour/highlighter has launched.

6. I still go on because I need to see the 1,800 contour/highlighters that have launched in the past six months.

7. I still love the concept of contouring and highlighting, but I hate the way it's become just a gimmick to ride the trend. Don't put a brown powder in a pan and push it for $40. It's truly harder than that.

8. I've had to think smarter/harder now that the market has been flooded. I both love and hate the challenge. When I bemoaned this challenge, a friend gave me this advice: "Thousands of restaurants make hamburgers. Make the best one."

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Makeover: College Co-Ed to Glamour Girl

I have a problem: I see people, and I don't see how they look. I see what I would do to them, how I would do their makeup if life were my own makeup studio, how they could look. I do this constantly - on trains, in stores, everywhere. I have actually approached people and asked if I could do their makeup. The oddest thing is I'm shy, and even odder is that everyone so far has said yes (although women have told me if I were a man the question would creep them out).

Alyssa is a naturally beautiful 20-year-old woman; there isn't anything to "fix." But when I saw her photo of her own makeup, my mind did a mental transformation of her. In person, I saw a waifish girl with skin magazines herald as creamy and features so delicate they seemed almost invisible.

Alyssa with makeup as she does it

Alyssa after I did her makeup