When I was in my 20’s, I had a brief fantasy of becoming a makeup artist. I’m not entirely sure where the desire came from. I just really liked makeup. Have you been makeup shopping lately?! There is such an incredible amount of products to play with. It can be overwhelming but it can also be hecka fun.
In my exploration, I got a holiday season job at a cosmetic counter for a major department store. Whenever I got the chance to help a customer try out products, I took it. Especially if eye makeup was involved. I was fascinated with finding just the right color and technique to help a woman’s eyes sparkle and pop. Contouring and highlighting is all about working with the natural shape of the eye - the light and the shadows - to bring out the beauty that already exists.
Beauty is one of my core values. I appreciate the artistry that goes into all endeavors, whether they be human-made or nature-made. In fact, I am very sensitive to the fact that our society often undervalues beauty in favor of efficiency. Sometimes it feels like, everywhere you turn, it’s all about what we can get done fast and cheap and still appeal to the masses.
At the same time, notions of beauty are highly problematic in our culture. As a black, queer woman, I hold this problem in my body with a great deal of pain. If I gathered together all of the messages I have internalized about how ugly I am supposed to be and braided them into a daisy chain, it would stretch around the globe at least a dozen times. When it comes to women’s bodies, we all know who and what is declared beautiful and who and what is not. Until it changes. And then, we still know. We have no choice but to know.
As a feminist, I challenge the beauty industry - my beloved makeup included. I critique it for fueling our fear of not keeping up. Our fear of not fitting in. Our fear of not being beautiful. All of the fun products that I love to play with exist so that we will believe that, if we just find the right one, we just might achieve that impossible beauty standard that everyone has bought into. If we just use the right skin cream or find the perfect shade of lip gloss, then, just then, we can be beautiful.
Here’s my struggle. On one hand, I see the bulls*#t for what it is. The beauty industry is peddling lies and making us sick. We need to understand that our beauty comes from our hearts and the way we make choices from a place of love, compassion, and courage. On the other hand, I coach women and girls and I want us all to value ourselves as beautiful. I want us to take pride in how we look. To value artistry over efficiency when it comes to our makeup, hair, clothes, and the other external representatives of ourselves to the world. I have seen too many women transformed from the outside in with the right combination of eye shadow, liner, and concealer. I’ve seen the power that comes from looking at yourself in a mirror and being able to say, “Wow, I’m gorgeous!” and allow that energy to fuel your whole day and beyond.
This is why I am obsessed with the photography of Jennifer Graham.
I first met Jennifer at one of Jenny Kassan’s Fund & Fuel Your Dreams events for women entrepreneurs. She explained that her speciality was creating business portraits for women leaders. If that alone wasn’t enough to knock my socks off, I just couldn’t take my eyes off her photos. The women were stunning. All ages, all races, all body types - powerful, confident, authentic and absolutely gorgeous.
Although it took me awhile to make the investment, from that moment on, I was committed to working with Jennifer Graham Photography.
My wife, Allison, and I booked our shoot together and the whole experience was just remarkable. You can work with a lot of people who will point and click and get you an acceptable headshot that will work fine for your website. But when you work with Jennifer, you are working with an artist who is tracking every detail of a process that is customized for you. How do you pose in a way that expresses your mission and values? Which clothes in your wardrobe bring out your personality? Which backdrop puts your center stage?
Not only is she an artist, Jennifer is an empath who truly believes that all women are beautiful. Like a good makeup artist, she saw me for who I am - my natural contours and highlights - and used just the right tools to make me sparkle and pop. She asked all the right questions. Shared just the right affirmations. Coached me into places I thought were just reserved for supermodels. Frame after frame, Jennifer worked with my light AND my shadows and allowed the beauty that lives inside my heart to leap forward into her camera.
The beauty industry may be a beast we have to collectively slay. But that doesn’t mean that we should shy away from the artists who help us live into our true beauty. This is what Jennifer Graham does. She insists that all women are beautiful and makes a space for those of us who are changing the world to present ourselves in way that makes folks say “Wow, she’s gorgeous!” and want to follow our lead.
Book your Business Portrait Session or Family Lifestyle/Portrait Session when you register for the Go Girls! Retreat for Women Leaders, Creatives, and Entrepreneurs. Register by Oct 7 and save big!