Beauty for the Homeless

DIANE OKLOTA WOOD

August 14, 1992|By DIANE OKLOTA WOOD

Homeless?

Hungry?

Life gotcha down?

Don't despair; a new lipstick will brighten your day, and wearing the right colors will lift not only your mood but that all important Self Esteem!

Does this sound like ad copy of the absurd?

Wish it were so.

This is the philosophy of a group of women executives from the beauty industry who are sure to earn a ''Point of Light'' for their unique approach to serving the homeless.

The May issue of Mirabella magazine reported this community-service project of the Cosmetics Executive Council whose members have banded (or blended) together to offer their services. They are providing make-up, make-overs and image workshops for homeless women.

Do they have beauty tips for homeless women? Like, ''What to wear for a night out,'' when you're spending every night out, on the street.

What is really behind this form of help for the homeless? Is there a need to have them look better so that we are less burdened looking at them? Is this literally a way to put a pretty face on a serious social problem?

There is also a tiny bit of irony here. These busy execs spend their after-hours concerned about the self-esteem of homeless women, but these same people spend their days making sure that the rest of us feel bad so we will buy their stuff.

When they are not volunteering, the Cosmetics Executives are devising marketing strategies to make women feel unattractive so that we will purchase an average of 32 new beauty products a year. Their hard work and our compliance created a $10 billion dollar industry in 1991. Could they spare a little cash for the homeless?

And they will go to any lengths to make us feel bad. Fashion magazine editors revealed their big secret only last year, the existence of the Scitex machine. this is a computer graphics machine that alters almost every fashion or glamour image we see. This, in addition to regularly using models who are 16 or 18 years old to represent working women and the ''mature woman'' in ads.

If only we had known it was as simple as finding lipstick and a matching blush. Blondes may not have more fun, but maybe they have more housing.

How silly it makes the government look, too. All those programs to build houses and apartments, when the solution was in front of us all along. Walk into any major department store and it's the first thing you see: from Estee launder, Chanel and Shiseido, the solution to low self-esteem and social ills in living (muted this year, not frosted) colors.

Maybe it is the Democrats' fault, after all. LBJ could have combined his social programs with Lady Bird's causes to create the ''Make America Beautiful Anti-Poverty Program.''

But does this ignore the fact that homeless women are women after all, and that they have the right to participate in womanly rituals and to care about how they look? Can a homeless woman retain that part of being a woman, even if it is the silly and manipulated part? Or are these cosmetics volunteers actually giving homeless women another impossible standard and something else to feel bad about? In addition to worrying about food and shelter each they can worry about whether their failure to find them is because they didn't look good enough.

Diane Oklota Wood is a free-lance writer.

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