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.”

A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.

Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.