Studious Beauty: On Pursuing A Doctorate While Working The Makeup Counter


My name is Sharon L. Gjieli, founder of Makeup By Lips LLC, and I’ve been a professional makeup artist for ten years. I landed my first makeup job straight out of high school at Bergdorf Goodman by telling the counter manager that she should just give me a shot for one day, and if she decides I’m not qualified “just don’t pay me.” She liked my confidence. Aside from the private clients I’ve accumulated over the years, my work predominately consisted of retail positions at luxury stores in New York City for couture brands such as YSL, Chanel, and most recently Givenchy. I’ve worked with many celebrities whom I cannot name because they were clients of the brands I represented and not my personal clients.

Makeup artistry started off as a way to support myself while pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree, but I found that it was so hard to balance the two, so I dropped out of college for a while to focus on my makeup artistry. I really loved my job; especially before the 2007 recession, which took a huge toll on the retail industry. Afterwards, it felt like the companies whom I represented were more concerned with meeting sales quotas than they were with the satisfaction of their clients. The industry changed entirely, so I decided to go back to school, and I finished my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology hoping to go back to feeling like I could professionally make people feel good about themselves. But even after graduating, I kept working in cosmetics and complaining about how much it’s changed.

For the longest time, it felt like I had to choose between academia and the beauty industry, and it seemed as though the two were on opposite ends of a spectrum. Academia tends to look down on vanity, and I have been called a "dumb blonde" or a “Barbie” several times by many academics, regardless of my hair color at the time (which was constantly changing and was sometimes actually blonde). I will never forget a classmate of mine in college, who was incapable of hiding her disbelief when she found out I scored 97% on a difficult statistics exam saying, “You got a 97? I guess you shouldn’t judge people.” I was shocked and offended but also respected her candor.

Women are expected to be pretty and take care of themselves, but they just can’t be too pretty or take too much care of themselves. It's such a terrible stereotype that a woman with a full face of makeup is immediately judged as shallow or ditsy. It was really frustrating for me to constantly be treated like I am incapable, regardless of my capabilities. I know that many of my very intelligent and competent colleagues had similar experiences. However, in spite of our frustration, we willingly accepted and even played into the stereotype. It was as though being shallow was an unspoken prerequisite to being well groomed. I have found that people don’t typically respond well to pretty people “trying to sound smart.” The term “pretty” in this context does not relate to actual genetically inherited beauty and bone structure, but rather to a lifestyle. Someone who is “pretty”, for all intents and purposes, is someone who puts time and effort into their appearance on a daily or frequent basis.

I recently got really sick of the stereotype and decided to finally bridge the gap between vanity and intellectual credibility. I impulsively applied to a Master of Science program in Industrial/Organizational Psychology during my lunch break at Barneys New York, and I am now on the thesis track with an ambition to complete a Ph.D. I have one motive in mind: conducting a credible study of my own that will correlate makeup application to performance improvement; which is a fancy way of saying that I want to prove that wearing makeup will make you do things better.

Sharon L. Gjieli.

There are so many studies that show a correlation between makeup application and improved self-esteem, which is why it’s important to make sure the response is performance improvement instead. It’s practically common knowledge that wearing makeup makes you more confident, which so many people frown upon, arguing that confidence should not come from one’s appearances, but rather their accomplishments. If I can establish that your actual performance improves (which will lead to more accomplishments) because of makeup use, perhaps people will become more open-minded. I believe that applying makeup is a method of achieving autonomy over the way you look, which will make you feel autonomous throughout your day.

The prospective thesis is still being tweaked, but the general idea of the experiment is to find a really diversified group of participants (including all gender identities, races, income brackets, and various age groups) that will be split up into two random groups. The first group will take an exam and a survey without makeup, and the other one with makeup. After some time, the groups will switch, and then I will measure an increase or decrease in their performances. Of course there are many more details and factors to be considered, but for now, that's the quick and easy version. I hope this will redeem a bunch of women like myself, who love to get ready in the morning, but still want to be taken seriously. Not just women, but well-groomed men as well. I want to break the notion that the words “vain” and “shallow” are somehow synonymous.

Photo Courtesy of RantNOW

I am often asked how I manage to balance makeup artistry with my education, and my answer is that I don’t think that’s what I’m doing. I used to feel like I was a part of a balancing act between two different ends of a spectrum, and I wasn’t able to focus my energy in both directions. Now I don’t feel that way, instead, it feels like I have two different tasks to complete in order to accomplish one goal.

I chose the name “Makeup By Lips” for my LLC and social media pages because I’ve always been so insecure about my full lips, especially growing up with my maiden name “Lipetz” (which came with very creative nicknames from my peers). Now I’m proud of my lips, and I love to flaunt them by wearing bright lipstick (especially red!). I even changed my middle name to Lipetz when I got married. There’s something so empowering about owning and flaunting the things that used to make me feel so self-conscious. I believe makeup shouldn’t be a tool to mask insecurity, but rather a tool for expression of one’s self. I constantly fight the beauty standard by refraining from all “before and after” pictures, as well as any editing tools and filters on all of my Instagram posts (@makeupylips). Although it gets me fewer followers, I take pride in my dedication to my vision and my brand. After obtaining my Ph.D., and proving that makeup application is a valuable tool towards achieving performance improvement, I hope to make huge changes in the beauty industry- the first of which is finally abolishing the absurd and unrealistic beauty standards that both men and women are plagued with. Makeup application should be a personal experience where the focus is on accentuating that which makes you most confident.

My long-term goal is to make cosmetics more inclusive and accessible to all genders and races. People think I’m insane for arguing that men should have their own cosmetic lines (or should at least be represented in existing makeup brands). However, having beauty as exclusive to women propagates the notion that beauty is a female responsibility, which I find unfair to both genders. Makeup brands should also start making shades that are inclusive to all skin tones because having color selections as limited as they are at the moment is so outdated and blatantly racist.

I hope to get a conversation started, perhaps even a “vanity movement” one day. A part of me hopes I’ve already started the movement by writing this piece. While it may seem shallow or superficial to fight for one’s “right to be pretty,” it has started to feel like my calling. Academics haven’t really taken to my ideas yet, but as a science student, I’ve learned that scholars, especially scientists, are only persuaded by evidence, which I hope to provide with my thesis experiment. However, as I continue to express my vision to my makeup colleagues, I find that more and more identify with what I’m saying. A beautiful friend of mine, who previously worked for Chanel cosmetics, began her journey as a writer and expressed to me that she feels as though she has to “dumb down [her] looks” to be taken seriously as a writer. I talked her ear off about my vanity movement, and we concluded that “you can be a scholar with eyeliner on.”
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How Postpartum Mesh Underwear Started My Entrepreneurial Journey

"Steal the mesh underwear you get from the hospital," a friend said upon learning I was pregnant with my first daughter.

It was the single best piece of advice I received before giving birth in December 2013. My best friend delivered her daughter eight months previously, and she was the first to pass along this shared code among new moms: you'll need mesh underwear for your at-home postpartum recovery, and you can't find them anywhere for purchase. End result: steal them. And tell your friends.

My delivery and subsequent recovery were not easy. To my unexpected surprise, after almost 24 hours of labor, I had an emergency C-section. Thankfully, my daughter was healthy; however, my recovery was quite a journey. The shock to my system caused my bloated and swollen body to need weeks of recovery time. Luckily, I had trusted my friend and followed her instructions: I had stolen some mesh underwear from the hospital to bring home with me.

Unfortunately, I needed those disposable underwear for much longer than I anticipated and quickly ran out. As I still wasn't quite mobile, my mother went to the store to find more underwear for me. Unfortunately, she couldn't find them anywhere and ended up buying me oversized granny panties. Sure, they were big enough, but I had to cut the waistband for comfort.

I eventually recovered from my C-section, survived those first few sleepless months, and returned to work. At the time, I was working for a Fortune 100 company and happily contributing to the corporate world. But becoming a new mom brought with it an internal struggle and search for something “more" out of my life--a desire to have a bigger impact. A flashback to my friend's golden piece of advice got me thinking: Why aren't mesh underwear readily available for women in recovery? What if I could make the magical mesh underwear available to new moms everywhere? Did I know much about designing, selling, or marketing clothing? Not really. But I also didn't know much about motherhood when I started that journey, either, and that seemed to be working out well. And so, Brief Transitions was born.

My quest began. With my manufacturing and engineering background I naively thought, It's one product. How hard could it be? While it may not have been “hard," it definitely took a lot of work. I slowly started to do some research on the possibilities. What would it take to start a company and bring these underwear to market? How are they made and what type of manufacturer do I need? With each step forward I learned a little more--I spoke with suppliers, researched materials, and experimented with packaging. I started to really believe that I was meant to bring these underwear to other moms in need.

Then I realized that I needed to learn more about the online business and ecommerce world as well. Google was my new best friend. On my one hour commute (each way), I listened to a lot of podcasts to learn about topics I wasn't familiar with--how to setup a website, social media platforms, email marketing, etc. I worked in the evenings and inbetween business trips to plan what I called Execution Phase. In 2016, I had a website with a Shopify cart up and running. I also delivered my second daughter via C-section (and handily also supplied myself with all the mesh underwear I needed).

They say, “If you build it, they will come." But I've learned that the saying should really go more like this: “If you build it, and tell everyone about it, they might come." I had a 3-month-old, an almost 3 year old and my business was up and running. I had an occasional sale; however, my processes were extremely manual and having a day job while trying to ship product out proved to be challenging. I was manually processing and filling orders and then going to the post office on Saturday mornings to ship to customers. I eventually decided to go where the moms shop...hello, Amazon Prime! I started to research what I needed to do to list products with Amazon and the benefits of Amazon fulfillment (hint: they take care of it for you).

Fast forward to 2018...

While I started to build this side business and saw a potential for it to grow way beyond my expectations, my corporate job became more demanding with respect to travel and time away from home. I was on the road 70% of the time during first quarter 2018. My normally “go with the flow" 4-year-old started to cry every time I left for a trip and asked why I wasn't home for bedtime. That was a low point for me and even though bedtime with young kids has its own challenges, I realized I didn't want to miss out on this time in their lives. My desire for more scheduling flexibility and less corporate travel time pushed me to work the nights and weekends needed to build and scale my side hustle to a full-time business. If anyone tries to tell you it's “easy" to build “passive" income, don't believe them. Starting and building a business takes a lot of grit, hustle and hard work. After months of agonizing, changing my mind, and wondering if I should really leave my job (and a steady paycheck!), I ultimately left my corporate job in April 2018 to pursue Brief Transitions full-time.

In building Brief Transitions, I reached out to like-minded women to see if they were experiencing similar challenges to my own--balancing creating and building a business while raising children--and I realized that many women are on the quest for flexible, meaningful work. I realized that we can advance the movement of female entrepreneurs by leveraging community to inspire, empower, and connect these trailblazers. For that reason, I recently launched a new project, The Transitions Collective, a platform for connecting community-driven women entrepreneurs.

As is the case with many entrepreneurs, I find myself working on multiple projects at a time. I am now working on a members-only community for The Transitions Collective that will provide access to experts and resources for women who want to leave corporate and work in their business full-time. Connecting and supporting women in this movement makes us a force in the future of work. At the same time, I had my most profitable sales quarter to date and best of all, I am able to drop my daughter off at school in the morning.

Mesh underwear started me on a journey much bigger than I ever imagined. They sparked an idea, ignited a passion, and drove me to find fulfillment in a different type of work. That stolen underwear was just the beginning.