More Than Makeup.

Updated: Jul 17, 2019

Some people have a path laid in front of them, and others have to find theirs. In my experience, no path is ever the straight line we imagine it to be, although we can reflect back and see the things we did both deliberately and accidentally that got us where we are.

My first job was at Walgreens when I was 16 years old. I worked in the cosmetics department and fell in love with makeup. Observing from the outside, you may not have expected that at first- I was a punk rock girl with very short hair and a hard exterior. Maybe it brought me back to the days when I was a young girl, watching the mother I eventually lost to addiction, do her hair and makeup at our dining room table- the Conair vanity mirror perched next to her trusty coffee cup. Sometimes she would step away to answer the phone or cook me breakfast and I would dig inside her makeup bag. To me, she was the most beautiful woman in the world and all the colorful things she used to get herself ready for the day were fascinating. One of my first memories was burning myself on her curling iron! Whatever the reason was, I didn’t intend to become a makeup artist at the time. I had a lot of interests- I loved music, art, writing and performance. If it expressed something, I wanted to be a part of it.

Style was always a big deal. From being a little kid and emulating Punky Brewster or Clarissa Darling from “Clarissa Explains It All,” to tearing out the editorials from Sassy Magazine in my teens to obsessively researching the hair, makeup and clothes of golden-era movie stars in early adulthood… I always wanted to say something or paint a picture with how I presented myself to the world. Despite the fact that I grew up in a turbulent household, I was taught some really important lessons that I learned later were not common by even the best parents. Both my mother and father always told me that I was smart and independent, and I could be anything I wanted to be. I never remember feeling like I couldn’t do something because I was a girl, I don’t recall being told to by ladylike or modest, and there was a strong narrative to not let people push me around. I had leg braces to correct a hip problem, I was very tall, and I had bifocals that magnified my eyes a million times, so I think my parents realized pretty quickly that I might get picked on. My dad taught me never to start fights, but not to run away from them and fight to win. Hearing from teachers and other adults that boys picked on me because “boys will be boys,” never sat right with me, and reporting this to my dad quickly resulted in a response confirming that that wasn’t true. It shocked, confused and angered me to learn later in life that most girls weren’t raised like this.

While style and art were always things I loved to experiment with, I really stepped into the traditionally-feminine aspects of it once I got that job. A couple of years later I worked for a luxury department store and fell in love with the lookbooks they put out each season, and thought maybe I’d like to be a buyer. Eventually a friend asked me if I was interested in modeling for a photographer she had been working with. It paid really well, and even though I was nervous, it sent me on a course that brought me to where I am now.

I became an alternative model in the early 2000’s, during the MySpace era. It was this incredible digital platform where I could connect with other people and put out a creative image in a way I never had before (I should note that these photos are TOTALLY embarrassing now). I could also write about anything I wanted, and lots of people could read it. I fell in LOVE! All those days alone in my room as an only child, writing stories and poems by myself, and all those daydreams I had had about dressing and appearing in a way that really expressed who I was… I had a place to do that where I was no longer alone. Did I model for crappy photos? Yes. Did I have bad eyebrows? Yes I did. Did I write some shitty things that I would be grossed out/horrified/eye-rolling about now? Oh my God… YES. But at the time, I thought it was awesome. It wasn’t about making money, it was about making art. I was too naive at the time to realize that it wasn’t art to everybody and that for a lot of people it was just smut or objectification, and I went into everything I did trying my best to tell a story or recreate the picture I had in my head. I loved collecting clothes and props, but I especially loved experimenting with makeup.

I usually had to do my own hair and makeup, but one day I went to a shoot where there was a professional hair and makeup artist. I asked her if she liked her job, and she said she did. I enrolled in cosmetology school that same week, and because I already had connections with people who created photographic art, I had a physical portfolio before I graduated and immediately started taking clients. I imagined doing makeup for model photography as my ultimate goal, and worked at makeup stores selling cosmetics as my day job.

During this time, I fell in love with a budding photographer who lived out of state. It was a relationship like I had never been in before. I had met another artist, a person who shared my sense of humor and who seemed just as passionate as me. He was also the person who would eventually break me down, abuse me, and be the first person to ever make me feel like I didn’t have a voice or an identity. At the time, it felt like I would never get myself back and that he had simply taken parts of me for himself and his own ambitions. I was so afraid of him that I left almost everything that I had previously worked for and loved. It felt like it belonged to him. Everyone seemed to love and admire his work, while I was no longer a person. In private I was giving everything I could to help make him a success, while publicly, I was “that photographer’s girlfriend.” My relationship with him and the eventual fallout was the first time I truly knew what it felt like to be a lesser person because I was a woman and he was a man. Not just to him, but to an industry I loved and a society I existed within.

I started working at a makeup store that was an industry leader at the time. It was here that I started to feel like I had something of my own. Nobody knew who he was and the friends I made, the work I did, and the money I made, was my own. It was the hardest time of my entire life, but going to work every day and doing something I was passionate about gave me a sense of power and purpose that I no longer had in any other area of my life. One day, a client came in and asked if I could come to her hotel on her wedding day and do makeup for her and her bridesmaids. I remember saying, “I think so,” almost like I was unsure. But it was an incredible experience. By this time I was a single mom who was struggling to stay afloat, but I was helping someone who trusted ME with one of the most important and memorable days of their entire life! And they wanted to PAY me for this! They THANKED me and APPRECIATED me. Then they referred me to other people they knew who were getting married. More people came into the makeup store asking if anyone who worked there would do makeup for their wedding, and eventually my coworkers started to say, “yes, Angela does makeup for weddings.”

Looking back on, for example, my mother’s wedding: she did her own makeup and everyone else did for their wedding back then. My generation did our own makeup for prom, graduation pictures, et cetera. But my life had once again coincided with something that shifted the cultural landscape and served my artistic drive: Instagram. Hiring a makeup artist used to be a luxury reserved for the elite, but thanks to this visual platform, it was now becoming an expectation that a special event where you wanted to look good meant hiring someone who did makeup professionally. What transpired from that point to now, was a journey for me not just in doing what I love, but in getting myself back as a human being. I was no longer a photographer’s girlfriend or “just a makeup artist.” What I did was important and valuable to people. To women.

There have been many ups and downs. There have been many adventures and things I never imagined being able to do. And there have been many revelations. Despite trauma that I’ll likely spend the rest of my life working through, I started to get back the Angela that had a big presence and a big voice. Abuse made me quiet and afraid. Makeup artistry and working with and around women, made me powerful and strong. As I began to feel this way again, I noticed patterns with women who would sit in my chair. See, before all of this happened, I was working with professional models who had careers because they had confidence and knew they were beautiful. As I transitioned into mostly doing makeup for brides, their sisters, friends and mothers, I started hearing a familiar and disheartening phrase over and over again: “I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry that I have a zit.”

“I’m sorry I have wrinkles.”

“I’m sorry I’m fat.”

“I’m sorry my skin is oily.”

Sometimes I would hear a variation of this (and I still do hear these things):

“Make me look 20 pounds lighter and 10 years younger!”

“I hope you can work some magic on this ugly face.”

“Good luck with trying to make me look good. You’ve got your work cut out with you.”

“I hope you can do something with an old lady like me.”

Maybe the first few times, I didn’t notice. But once I noticed its frequency, I started to get pissed off. Not at the women, but at whoever told them that they’re not beautiful or that they need to be “fixed.” To me, makeup was never to fix myself or fix other people. It was to play, to have fun, to make a vision come to life. I was also shocked that these women were apologizing to me- they had hired me and I was working FOR them. Never in my life had I had a boss that said “I’m sorry you have to come to work today,” or “I hope you can handle a crappy-ass boss like me.” What these women said to me, reminded me of how I felt when I was with that man who mistreated me. It was a pleasure, an honor and a privilege to work for these women and do this job, and yet they would shrink and feel self-conscious that I was going to judge them, hurt their feelings, insult them or think something bad about them. This resonated with me so much. It felt so familiar. It made me angry and it broke my heart, and I was not going to allow it into my workspace.

I started joking with women that my makeup chair was a “No Self-Deprecating Zone.” My response was always the same, “I let you insult yourself for free that first time, but moving forward its going to cost you 5 dollars per insult.” This always got me a laugh from them, but it established a clear boundary: During our time together, you don’t have to love yourself, but you can’t shit-talk yourself. If you do, I’m going to call you out for it. I’m not there to fix you, because you’re not broken. I’m not there to make you look like somebody you’re not. My job is not to make you look a certain way. My job is to make you FEEL a certain way. My job is to make you feel GOOD. Powerful. Visible. Strong. Confident. Ready to face what you’re about to do with your head held high. In the 12 years that I’ve been doing makeup, nobody has sat in the chair ugly and left beautiful. That is not a thing. Women are beautiful, period. That’s not a marketing campaign to me, that’s not a strategy to get people to come to me over someone else. That’s something I know to be true. That’s something I love. That’s something I can say about myself that I didn’t used to be able to say because somebody who said they loved me, told me I wasn’t. That person is full of shit, and they told me that because confident, powerful, assertive women are fucking scary to weak people. Behind every woman who believes she isn’t beautiful is someone who saw how strong and beautiful she was and felt threatened by it so they used it to try to subdue her. I’m not here for that. I’m here to do the opposite.

Through this process and this journey I figured out that what I do and have always done has very little do to with makeup. I’m not a makeup hoarder, I’m not an “influencer,” I’m not a “beauty blogger.” I ask women what they want to say and how they want to feel, and we collaborate on how I’m going to help her make that happen. That’s my work, that’s my calling, and my vehicle happens to be makeup.

The word “empowering” has been so bastardized lately because it makes money, so I hesitate to use it sometimes. But the reason that word holds so much influence is because of the root of the word- POWER. Everybody wants power. Its how we get shit done and its how we get what we want. Contrary to what we’ve been taught, power doesn’t have to be at the expense of someone else. In fact, true power CAN’T be at the expense of someone else. Women have been taught that the only acceptable means of having power is through being pretty (and even then… don’t be too pretty, otherwise you might be called stuck-up, slutty, conceited, image-obsessed…). “Pretty” is an aesthetic that can be created through smoke and mirrors, but “beautiful” is an inherent birthright. To me, the word “pretty” means “something safe that pleases other people.” The word “beautiful” means “powerful and unstoppable.” The person who took my voice away, and the people who spoke in the ears of the women who sat in my chair and apologized, wanted us to be pretty and not beautiful. Pretty can be controlled and taken away. Beauty cannot. I am here to help women own their beauty, and when I am with them, they help me do that too. No matter what has been taken from us, no matter what has happened to us, no matter what has been done to us, our beauty stays with us. We just sometimes need someone to help us see that or help us own that without apology or fear. That is what I do. And that’s what my clients do for me.

They are not just clients or faces that I apply makeup to. And I am not just a makeup artist.



    © 2020

     Angela K Morris