by Jourdan Katz
My passion for cosmetics began early. I was a baby theatre nerd who fed on audience laughter as if it were my own parents’ approval. I loved dressing up in costumes, I loved delivering my lines, and unlike many of my young stage peers, I LOVED MAKEUP. In another life I would have been the most fabulous, glam, blinged-out toddler in a tiara. I wore a full face of makeup to school every day starting in sixth grade, complete with a signature glossy red lip.
In my conservative small town my “look” got a lot of negative attention from classmates, and sometimes even from my teachers. I was called pale by other kids, as if that was something I shouldn’t be, and goth even though my clothing choices were bright and colorful, right out of Delia’s. My sixth grade science teacher even tried to publicly humiliate me once by telling me in front of the whole class that I was too young for makeup and confiscated my lipstick. I didn’t care. Makeup was never about trying to meet anyone else’s expectations. I wasn’t totally above the pressure to conform that all adolescents deal with. I cared about fitting in, just not when it came to my makeup.
If I had known as a child that my job (product development at a global cosmetics company) existed, I never would have aspired to anything else. As it was, I pursued theatre into college, but eventually changed majors. To keep myself in Betsy Johnson dresses and Marc Jacobs flats, I worked at cosmetics counters through my SIX years of college (I know, I know, I changed majors!). This gave me invaluable product and industry knowledge and consumer insights that I put to use in my current position. After graduation I applied for a position at the corporate office of the company I had been working for behind their retail counter. The rest is a dream come true.
The two questions people always ask me when I tell them I work in beauty is if it’s anything like fashion/The Devil Wears Prada, and if I’ve made anything they’ve heard of.
Yes and Yes.
I love my job and the company I work for. I love that we don’t believe in selling things to consumers by making them feel bad about themselves. As a policy, we don’t even use the word “anti-aging.” However, the stereotypical industry expectations do exist for employees. One of the hardest pills to swallow has been the constant and aggressive food and body policing.
Like Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada, I am a size 4-6, and one of the larger women in the building. I love my body, but it is a bit more difficult to love 9-5 Monday through Friday. The daily body shaming women endure here ranges from micro-aggression (being asking which diet you’re on, as if you should be dieting) to full on control (being told you need to stop eating the free unlimited snacks from the kitchen as you return to your desk with a cookie). The obsessive food and body talk is constant.
On my first day, I was given a “pep talk” by my superior on how to avoid gaining weight while working here. My department even had a contest to see who could lose the most amount of weight in six weeks. We all paid $50 during week one, weighed in, and were weighed again six weeks later. The winner got to keep all the money.
Yes, I participated.
You don’t HAVE to take part in the weight obsession, but do not dare try to inject some body positivity, or you WILL be treated like Cady Herron standing in front of a full length mirror confessing that your breath smells really bad in the morning.
The problem only gets worse as you go up the chain. Those in the top positions are the most affected. I’ve seen diets from the top consisting of all bacon, or just Diet Coke and cigarettes. It’s a trickle-down issue that has affected even the most confident of the employees here, and I’ve definitely fallen victim to the pressure.
For the past three months, I have been pretending to be on the very restrictive diet that my superior follows. It started innocently. One day she mentioned her fitness & diet goals, and when I expressed interest, I realized we were FINALLY having an actual conversation. Our previous interactions were short & always about work. It had been obvious I wasn’t among her most favorite people on our team, and I finally saw a chance to sneak into her good graces.
My fake diet is fairly far off my real one. I’ve been a vegetarian since childhood, and prefer to eat foods that are higher in fats & lower in carbs like olive oil and cheese. However, I’ve never restricted carbs from vegetables, and I won’t turn down a burrito – ever. My superior eats mostly meats and those awful smelling “miracle” noodles that I recently discovered have no carbs, fat, or calories because they are indigestable and immediately “expelled” by your body (delicious!). They smell the same before & after you eat them, really. I usually leave the office for lunch which makes it easier to keep the lie alive.
When I get back in, my superior will ask what I had & I’ll say “Oh, I had a salad. You?” and we’ll chat about miracle noodles for awhile. I know I am a sell-out. I know I should be brave & be my curly-fry-loving self. I dream about telling everyone around me to stop policing my body & my food, and I think I will eventually. Like, at 5pm on my last day as I’m walking out double-fisting gelato milkshakes.