Women and Competition, Part II: Working in the Beauty Industry

Lessons in getting ahead from a makeup artist, magazine editor and PR pro.

 minute read

Andrea Karr

We’re told it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and if you don’t take your place at the table, someone else will be waiting in the wings to steal it out from under you. But just because you work (or want to work) in a competitive industry, doesn’t mean you have to spend your life racing to keep up with others, looking over your shoulder or getting down on yourself when you don’t measure up to an arbitrary standard.

Instead, you can reframe how you think about competition and let it propel you to become the best version of yourself. That’s the approach of three successful women in the female-dominated beauty industry. Read on for their tips for overcoming rejection and self-doubt, finding inspiration in other people’s accomplishments and ultimately achieving success in the career of your choice without burning bridges in the process. 

Grace Lee, Makeup Artist

With 24 years of experience in the beauty industry, Grace Lee has done it all. Not only has she been Maybelline New York’s lead artist for many years, but she’s also painted a host of A-list celeb faces (think Gigi Hadid, Adriana Lima, Gwyneth Paltrow and Meghan Markle), worked on countless advertising campaigns and magazine covers, keyed runway shows at New York Fashion Week and even appeared on the latest season of Project Runway.

But even with all her success, Lee has still heard her share of no. “People say to me ‘You do all this stuff!’ But I’ve been rejected many times,” she says. “Even when I think I’m going to get the job, sometimes I don’t. I tell a lot of young makeup artists that if you can’t deal with rejection, then this is not the industry for you.” Though Lee’s career is highly competitive, she still finds it incredibly rewarding. Here are her tips for women who are starting out—no matter the position:

Learn to accept rejection gracefully

“The most important thing is not taking it as a personal attack. Some people think, ‘I’m the worst artist and I’m the worst human.’ No. It’s just a matter of qualifications or something that the client is looking for that the other person had. Even with my kids, it’s important for them to know that they’re not going to be #1 in everything. They’re not going to win every game. They’re not going to get A+ in everything. It doesn’t define you.”

Give compliments freely

“I’m friends with a lot of people in my industry. I often like their Instagram photos and comment. There’s nothing wrong with giving compliments. Telling someone they’re amazing doesn’t make you less of an artist. It’s more rewarding when you can support people rather than bring them down. There are people who are very stingy with their support and that’s just insecurity.”

Be patient

“The younger generation? They want everything tomorrow. It doesn’t happen that way. A lot of assistants go on set and they’re not thinking, ‘How am I going to learn?’ They’re just thinking, ‘How am I going to get new clients?’ And they’re handing out business cards on set. I’ll never ask for them again. Think bigger picture and long game. I remember good people when I feel like they understand and respect that.”

Natasha Bruno; Photo by Katherine Holland

Natasha Bruno, Beauty Director at Fashion Magazine

Formerly a writer and editor at publications such as The Kit and S/, Natasha Bruno is Fashion Magazine’s newest beauty director with big plans for the beauty pages. “This is my opportunity to truly make an impact,” she says. “Growing up, I never felt represented in a lot of the things I would read. If I wanted to find a story that spoke to me, it was never a Canadian story.” With her new position, she hopes Canadian readers of all backgrounds will feel represented in the pages of Fashion, and that she can draw attention to the diversity of talent across the country. 

But in order to do that, she first had to beat out other candidates for the role. “In my interview process, one of the questions I asked was, ‘Can you let me know who else is in the running?’” She found out that there were two other top candidates, but she didn’t ask for names. “I tend to compare myself to other people—especially if I know them and what they’ve accomplished. I’ll think, ‘Oh my god, I’m not at that level.’ It was healthy for me not to know.” 

Bruno nabbed the spot because she was the right person for the job, but she grappled with self-doubt along the way. Here’s what she learned about competition during the journey:  

Believe you deserve the good things that come your way

“When I started this role, I almost didn’t believe I could do it. I never thought I was at this level in my work. But I got the role and the reaction has been: ‘This is so refreshing’ and ‘You’re going to kill it.’ But also messages like, ‘I feel like you’re going to steer Fashion in the direction it needs to go.’ And that’s coming from a full rainbow of people. I really take that to heart. It’s people saying, ‘I want to be represented.’ And they see me as an outlet to help do that.”

Focus on what you bring to the table

“One of the things I was asked to do during the interview process for my job was drum up ideas of what I thought could live in the new beauty section. Over the years, I’ve really been able to craft the voice I want to share in my storytelling. I told myself, ‘Don’t veer from that. Just send ideas that are really who Natasha is and how Natasha thinks. And if you don’t get the job, then it’s not for you.’ And that’s what I did. I’m myself. I can’t twist and turn to be something else.”

Build a network of supporters, not competitors

“Be nice to people. We all feed off of each other’s energy. Try to be positive when you’re meeting people. I think, for me, what’s helped me in my career path is my network. Get a mentor—somebody you can trust and get advice from. You never know what that person will do for you, how they’ll influence you or whom they’ll connect you to.”

Kristina Argento; Photo by Karolina Jez

Kristina Argento, Co-Founder of Sundae Creative

A few years ago, Kristina Argento left her corporate job at L’Oréal Paris and founded her own boutique PR agency with two other women, Karine Idrissi and Karolina Jez. They now have clients like David’s Tea, Noize and Redken and continue to pitch their services to brands that need help with public relations, event management and influencer marketing. Women-led PR and creative agencies are a huge part of the industry, which means that Argento and her business partners are constantly measured up against other women when pitching clients. “It’s natural for us to be in a state of competition,” she notes. “But on the flipside, it’s nice to see that there are such successful agencies that are powered by females and that hire powerful females and nourish their talents.”

As a new business owner, Argento has struggled through the growing pains of discovering who she wants to work with, what types of work leave her energized—not depleted, and how to motivate herself with the successes of others. These are the top lessons she’s learned:

Remember everything you’ve accomplished

“A lot of the time, we compare ourselves to other people so quickly without looking at the great things we’ve done. My business partner, Karine, is my voice of reason if I’m being competitive or voicing some type of jealousy. Every day I say, ‘Oh my gosh, how did that agency get those clients?’ And she’ll say, ‘Krissy, look what we’ve done in the last two years. Pretty amazing.’ And I’m like, ‘Yes, that’s true. That’s the perspective that I needed.’”

Allow the successes of other women to inspire you

“When I left my corporate career at L’Oréal, I did some freelancing and helped another agency out with a few projects. The woman who leads this agency completely fascinates me. I see how hard she works and how much her agency has grown since I worked with her. I feel very inspired by her. Of course, there are clients that she has on her roster where I’m like, ‘Damn, I wish those clients were mine. I wish I had won that client.’ But the only way you can get through the day in such a competitive world is by looking up to these individuals and knowing that what’s meant to be yours will be yours and what’s meant to be earned, you’re going to earn it.”

Watch the energy you put out in the world

“It’s your choice how you want to manage your days and how you want to manage your energy. If I start putting my energy into negative things, I will get negative back. So I’ve learned that you get back what you put in. If I put out jealousy or any form of negative emotion, it’s going to come back to me.” 

Some competition can be healthy because it can push you to be better, but it shouldn’t take over your life. Instead of constantly comparing yourself to others, try to focus on your own goals, take the time to improve yourself in your chosen field and celebrate your wins.

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