Doing Makeup for Underprivileged Teens: Everything It Was, and Wasn’t

Alright alright alright. I haven’t written in a while. March has been hella crazy, but with all kinds of good things. And what’s more is that a lot of that busyness has been specifically due to my preoccupation with hair, makeup, etc. Splendid.

For instance, let’s just go over this past Saturday.

On Saturday, March 22, I had the opportunity to attend the Orangewood Foundation’s Belle of the Ball event. What’s this? This is a day of beauty, self-esteem, and empowerment for around 400 teenage girls, many of whom are in the foster care system and the majority of whom are socioeconomically disadvantaged. The event is specifically oriented towards their senior Prom. Each girl participates in various seminars on topics like body image and stress, and they are given a formal dress (of their choosing), a pair of formal shoes (of their choosing), a purse, and a makeup and skincare consultation.

Just take a guess as to where I come in.

Two of my coworkers (the cheer coach for our 1st grade cheer squad and our performing arts teacher … surprise) headed off to Orange Coast College in the early morning to get ready for makeup consultations on approximately four girls each. We were given t-shirts to wear, and were escorted to orientation in a nearby classroom. There, myself and a couple hundred more makeup artists were given the run-down on what our job was for that day: to provide affirmation, easy tips on makeup and skincare that could be used forever, and a natural, customized makeup look. No photos were permitted as many of the girls in the foster system are put at risk when their photo is shared online. Done deal.

And so then we all headed off to our separate rooms where they split us up into groups of thirty or so. That’s when we all began pulling out our kits. Ohhhhhhh mama. Not only do you get insane kit envy when looking around at a room full of different makeup artists’ junk, but it’s also so interesting to see what different artists find important and essential to have with them. Many were prepared with a full range of eyeshadow colors (we’re talking canary yellow and such), whereas I limited myself to a mere two eyeshadow palettes so as not to overwhelm myself with options. There was a wide array of the various products I have read about over and over spread out among the long tables that filled our rooms, and some artists had brought their huge palettes from their cosmetology schools as students, while others brought an amateurish mish-mash of items that they just knew would work (and that would be me). The chatter of makeup talk filled the room (and I’m not sure how many times I heard OH GIRRRL said that day), and eventually the girls were escorted in by rounds for the next four or five hours.


Just a smattering of the kits spread about the room, with parts of mine on the top right.

What was supposed to be just four girls at a rate of fifty minutes per girl eventually turned into what I believe was seven girls at a rate of about thirty minutes each. Now, let me tell you- that is fast. Very fast. I greeted each girl, chatted for a bit, gave them each a facial massage with sunscreen moisturizer after removing any traces of old makeup, matched foundation (and mixed a couple shades on the majority of the girls), and got to work on color. I relied on MAC’s Sheertone Shimmer blush in Plum Foolery, NARS’ blush in Exhibit A and Orgasm, Dior’s 5-Couleurs eyeshadow palette in Earth Reflection and Stila’s shadow trio in Baked Bronze, and a bunch of other stuff that I really can’t remember. Yep. Oh, and the foundations consisted of just three shades of CoverGirl TruMatch. That stuff’s good for drugstore range (and it’s also good to be able to refer the girls to less expensive brands).  For skincare consultations, I stuck with two rules for the girls: wear sunscreen everyday, and be sure to take off all makeup before you hit the sack.  Easy enough, but essential nonetheless.

I can’t really explain how great the whole experience was. I was so nervous before beginning because I was terrified that the girls would want a really difficult look, or wouldn’t give an easy smile, or that I wouldn’t be able to properly match their skin tone and then I’d look like an idiot (note: I have worked almost entirely on Caucasian girls. That’s just how it’s been. I fully admit that I just don’t know enough and have enough regular contact with non-white people. We were told in advance that the wide majority of the girls we’d be working with would be of Hispanic or non-white descent, and so I was excited and anxious to finally practice on non-pale skin. I’ve done enough pale. Soft neutrals, rosy cheeks, blah blah blah).

However, I’m pretty sure that a couple of the completed looks I worked out on about three of these girls ( and I was crushed that I couldn’t take pictures of a couple) was some of the best work I’ve ever done. One of the things this experience did for me personally was affirm my capabilities as a makeup artist. I know some of you may scoff at that, but up until this point I had really thought that I might just be a white girl’s makeup artist. I felt that, sure, I was competent enough, but possibly only up to a certain point. Give me a face that doesn’t look remotely like mine, and I’m screwed (and they are, too).

But nope! This day confirmed that I’ve done my work. I’ve done my studying of what works with what, and what rules are okay to stick with and which can be broken. I’m happy to say that all the girls looked great. My first girl would giggle literally every time I showed her the mirror after applying the next step to her face. We loved it. A couple girls had really never worn makeup before, and I think the whole thing was just a bit overwhelming for them and they couldn’t see past the fact that this stuff was on their face (which is understandable). I tried to just affirm that whatever they were feeling was perfectly okay, be it delight or discomfort. One girl insisted on not wearing any makeup but she asked more questions about it than any of the others! One girl took selfies for every step of the process. Another just sat quietly, and I found myself awkwardly chatting to fill the silence until I confessed to her, “You know, you don’t mind the quiet, do you? I think I keep talking because I want to be sure you’re okay and I’m a bit excited, but if you’re okay saying nothing, I am too.” She nodded and agreed, and I shut up and got to work.

My first four girls (because I’d only planned on doing four) got swag bags that I’d prepared with E.L.F. and Yes to Cucumbers products, and by mid-morning you could feel all the wonderful energy that was in the room. There was so much mutual blessing that was being exchanged between all of us and the girls, and I seriously can’t get over how genuinely giddy some of them were. It wasn’t cheesy and silly; it was real and it was deep. I had come to this event with this somewhat condescending idea that I was to be a FORCE OF TRANSFORMATION in these women’s lives, and yet at the end of our half hour some of them grabbed me and hugged me in a way that affirmed my deepest humanity, simply because it was one human genuinely and righteously loving another human. They were giving to me; they were transforming me.

That was one of the most incredible things I took away from all of this- the fact that that entire morning and noontime was an exercise in healthy, righteous, human touch. Upon the moment of meeting each of these girls, I shook their hand and immediately began touching their face. When does this happen?! We typically only touch someone’s face when we’ve earned their deep trust, or we too often think of touch immediately in an eroticway. However, in the case of my Belle of the Ball girls, physical touch was to be the very grounds of our relation with one another. Despite whatever experiences she’s had, and despite whatever ones I’ve had, here we go- the first and only thing I’m going to do is touch your face. I’m going to massage your face and observe the little details of it. I’m going to reach for that makeup brush behind you and I’m going to keep my hand firmly planted on your shoulder while I do it (as my intent was to always have a hand on the girls as a way of asserting my attention toward them) . I’m going to purposefully use physical touch to create beauty and impart affirmation unto you, and all in a way that is healthy and good. This wasn’t some patronizing matter of “giving back” or some meaningless “WELL YOU’RE PRETTY NO MATTER WHAT THEY SAY” trope. No, this was a matter of two humans exchanging touch and affirmation in mutual blessing of one another. This was virtue and goodness; this was the kind of stuff that humanity was created for.


My fellow artists, colleagues, and friends, Jenae and Samantha.

And it was makeup that brought it all together! A shared joy over makeup, and a shared joy over, well, joy was what made this day what it was. We all finished about an hour late, but after clean-up and a couple good-byes exchanged with other artists, my coworkers and I left feeling fulfilled. Not fulfilled because we had just “done the right thing” or earned our charity points for the year, but because we had just shared an experience with other humans that upheld the most profound of truths: that we are made to be part of a loving community. We need each other. I needed those girls as much as they may have needed me in that moment.

So, that was my Saturday.  And it was well spent to say the least.  If you’re interested in getting involved with  the Orange Foundation in any way, check out their site for opportunities at  Oh, and I can’t say that this will be the tangible outcome of any other volunteer work I do, but this was the swag we were all given after the event-

laura mercier

Holy what the WHAT.

xo, MR


One thought on “Doing Makeup for Underprivileged Teens: Everything It Was, and Wasn’t

  1. I love how this is written. And knowing the girls/women at OC Rescue Mission back in the day would have LOVED this. I am sure all those teens felt the same.

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