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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Patriarchy Stress Disorder is A Real Thing and this Psychologist Is Helping Women Overcome It

For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.

As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.

Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.

What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein

This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.

Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.

Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.

In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.

"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."