I left a cushy life in the fashion industry as Zac Posen’s Director of PR to be part of something way better, something much more inspiring to me –- beauty. I gave up front row seats at Fashion Week, celebrity dressing and dinners with Diddy (Zac and Sean were partners at the time) for a career that's all about helping women on our quest for personal identity. About ten years ago, I took a huge leap of faith to do something that I feel is very powerful -– to push beauty from the inside out.
So that’s the feel-good part. Here comes the part where I get sick to my stomach.
The actual beauty industry, the one in which I’m trying to be a major player (I recently grabbed Oprah’s attention with the launch of my new beauty site), actively promotes conformity and self-fear. Our bodies are being micromanaged by men, by women, even by ourselves. Quite often we believe our eyelashes are shockingly short, our lips are problematically thin, and our hair has an unruly attitude (that's code for curly).
That's what makes me feel like a hypocrite.
I’m a mom of five: one teenage girl, three boys and one transgender boy. My children are a blend of black American, Swiss-German, Vietnamese, white Canadian and Ghanaian West African. We all look unique -- our hair has different textures, our skin has different coloring, and our features don’t match up. I spend a lot of time making sure we all feel individually beautiful yet part of the same team -- Mom’s Team. And that’s not easy because if you read magazines or watch television, you may infer that some of us are prettier, innately smarter, naturally more athletic and even more likely to succeed than others, just based on how we look and our born genders.
That's why I've often asked myself the question: Have I attached myself to an industry that goes against everything I believe in?
Here are the questions that keep me up at night: Can I sell beauty goods to my customers (and at the end of each day you can bet my team wants to know just how many units we've moved), and not sellout on my family values? Can I believe in diversity while the industry I work in promotes a cookie-cutter image? How do I spread the message that everything worth anything starts from inside the individual while I climb the ladder of beauty-entrepreneur success? If truth be told, my very own overflowing bathroom cabinet might prompt you to ask, “Whose team are you on anyway? Team Narcissist or Team Confidence?” I'm straddling and I know it.
I have a transgender child, Penelope, who pushes my conflict even deeper. Penel was born a girl but solely, consistently and quite loudly identifies as a boy. These days, he’s confident, determined and most of all comfortable with his body. He’s climbed three levels in karate, excels in math, and has formed a rock band with his best mates (he’s on lead guitar and vocals of course). Penel is comfortable with being transgender and being different from his brothers and sister and quite often he tries to help others get comfortable with it, too. “Feel free to call me Jack if the name Penelope makes you uncomfortable," says my outspoken six-year-old.
Do you know how difficult it was to get him to this point of humor and happiness? Suicide rates are high with young transgender children. Depression and anxiety can be debilitating for kids like my son -– even at as young as three-years-old.
I had to go deep to make peace with the contradictions. Ironically, my answers came from my kids, who told me, “The outside is really important, Mama.” Whether it’s your hair or your skin or your body that you have a love/hate relationship with -- it’s yours to ponder over and (re)discover. Beauty is about just that, exploration and discovery. We embellish, cut, color and contour and then we wipe the slate clean just to try something new in our quest to tap into what matters most: our true feelings about ourselves. We express who we are through our hair, our clothing and even the makeup we choose. And that's why I love working in beauty.
My family is complex and multi-layered in every way -– gender, identity, ethnicity and looks. And I bet I am not alone. Perhaps my story is becoming the norm.
At home, we’ve learned to like our multilayered complexities and we push them forward. In my office, we push the same level of acceptance for women all over the world. I love this quote by Linda Wells, “The more we make the connection to confidence and self-esteem, the more beauty becomes a tool.”
Let our complexities connect us. True stories and authentic brands can lead the way. Leave the scare-tactics to the weirdos who only really care about selling products.
I like to call myself a Beauty Gladiator -- I fix my personal dilemmas about beauty, brown skin and kinky hair. And I'm also a mom and a 43-year old woman that wants to raise children that love who they are. I’m hitched to the beauty industry but married to Team Confidence.