IS LIPSTICK STANDING IN THE WAY… OF EQUAL PAY & REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS?

It’s a morning, like any other normal morning in my life. Get up, make coffee, do stuff for the kids and husband, check my work email to see which fires will take priority in my day, and then to the bathroom, to put on my public face. I’m a no nonsense kind of woman, using only organic products that moisturize and protect. My beauty ritual doesn’t include blue lipstick or cat eye liquid eyeliner that I see on a daily basis in my news feed on the internet.

As I was putting on my lip balm, I looked at myself in the mirror. No! More like I looked through myself, as only a woman can when she’s alone in her bathroom. My thoughts drifted to one of the most critical presidential elections looming in our near future. I’ve been actively working in Hillary’s campaign camp trying to make a difference. With equal rights in all feminist areas teetering on a backslide to the suffocating U.S. of the1950’s, I started to cry. Immediately followed by anger. I looked down at the cosmetics on the counter with an overwhelming feeling of indifference. Is the old school, objectified image of women still the one factor that will force us back to the past? I envisioned swiping my arm across the counter and shoving the products directly into the garbage to allow some of the rage to escape.

I needed to laugh, blow off some steam and get a quick reality check, so I set up a coffee date with a friend who is no stranger to discrimination and is possibly the human version of Wikipedia for all things beauty on the planet -Harvey Helms. A fashion stylist, author, beauty blogger, screen writer and now a Silicon Valley start up for…wait for it…a new cosmetic brand. https://www.harveyhelmsbeauty.com/

Harvey is…well for anyone who knows him is “Harvey.” He is almost indescribable with a sprinkle of unique, humor, smarts and a frankness that his friends cherish. In 2013, I covered the launch of Harvey’s first book Blush: The Unbelievably Absurd Diary of a Gay Beauty Junkie. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michealene-cristini-risley/the-life-of-iblushi-autho_b_1628686.html

Harvey is a feminist in the truest sense of the word. He’s worked in women’s businesses for over 35 years and advocates for us on a daily basis. He’s honest and forthright with his views on image building, that leads to confidence and eventually empowerment in a world that’s still ruled, as he puts it, “By old, white, heterosexual men that long for the America of yesteryear. Where women were property, black people were servants, and gay people were locked in a closet with a nonexistent key.”

As I enter the coffee shop in Menlo Park, I see Harvey having animated conversation with a women and a tween girl. I chuckled just hearing him say, “Don’t worry! Have her start the acne regimen I suggested and clear skin is just moments away.” As they leave, I plop into the chair facing Harvey. He pulls out his lip balm and reapplies like he’s channeling Marilyn Monroe in “How to marry a millionaire.” As I sigh, he says, “Michealene honey! You need a large, cold pressed ice coffee! What’s the matter?” Harvey is from the south and calls everybody honey-man or woman.

“Lipstick!” I say as I sit back in my chair. Harvey raises one brow and says, “I know it’s not about finding the right shade for you. That’s not your gig. I know you. It’s the Cinderella complex and this election. Isn’t it? Well I guess anybody who has a vagina should be very concerned right now. Along with us other second class citizens who’ve made civil rights headway in the last 8 years. Do you think I’m one of the devil’s helpers since I launched a beauty brand?” I laughed heartily for the first time that day and said, “I don’t know what to think Harvey!”

Harvey took a big sip of his ice coffee, leaned forward, and looked me straight in the eyes. “Michealene, let’s stick to the facts.”

“Feminism in the 21st century isn’t the “You’ve come a long way baby” conversation started in the 1970’s. God bless Gloria Steinem and that courageous movement but today isn’t about women acting or dressing like men to create equality. Although I must say that I do love that menswear inspired look created by Ralph Lauren for Diane Keaton in the movie “Annie Hall” as a feminist statement.” I snap my fingers in the air to get Harvey off of fashion and back to our conversation. He apologizes and keeps moving like a freight train on high powered ethanol.

“Michealene, like it or not, image is important. That is a fact. Putting our unique faces out into a world that is now swamped with selfies, self promotion, instant celebrity and the backlash of negative commentary, including ageism and body shaming just to name a few. The feminist of today come prepared to compete in this twisted world. “

“I created Harvey Helms Beauty because I love the science of beauty and women asked me to help with their image. Some of my clients have cystic acne, or scars from accidents or a myriad of problems that effect self esteem. People are far more judgmental of women. I suffered with acne and add that to being gay in the south in the 70’s and you can see that I was bullied beyond belief. Cosmetics and skincare changed my life for the better and I survived. I wanted to take my love for the transformational side of beauty and help all women everywhere be the best version of themselves.”

“One women may play 3 or more different roles in their lives that require different looks. Saturday soccer mom? Work? Special events? Girls night out? IP lawyer in a courtroom? Presidential debate? My style background allows me to assemble easy cosmetic looks that suit each woman’s personal style and concerns. Go into any Sephora and you’ll see women staring at the millions of products wondering which ones are right for them. I take the guess work out of it making it a touch easier to bring their A game.” I am feeling a headache coming on until this…

He takes a quick breathe, “My curated HHB products are paraben-free and cruelty free.”

Okay he got my attention here. Cosmetics is in the dark ages, like the white old men who want to make birth control illegal. (Yes 11 of the Republican Presidential candidates wanted birth control to be made illegal. ) Regarding cosmetics and personal hygiene product, the United States has not passed a major federal law to regulate the safety of ingredients in these products since 1938. Other countries, like the European Union have banned more than 1,300 chemicals in the product formulas of personal care products and restricted the levels of over 250 more in such products. The United States has only partially banned 11 to date.

Women are the majority of cosmetic users and they deserve better. Harvey Helms, and companies like Beauty Counter are doing something about it.

“Michealene-You look like you, only a more polished version of yourself. Listen, women are smart, funny, powerful and equal to men. BUT they are women. They should revel in whatever version of womanhood they represent. If that includes lipstick, then I’m there to help. But for the sake of sisterhood they need to come together and stop breaking each other down. If we say the truth. it’s not just men who are the problem. Its what women do to each other on their way up the ladder. Look at the twitter wars between pop stars and music divas. Get it? Now that we’ve solved the problems of the world, can I talk about your eyebrows?”

I smiled and sighed, “Okay, Harvey I am all yours. Just let me get a large cold pressed ice coffee first.”

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