The Cosmetics Counter and Me – In 3 Parts
I just got a job at a department store this holiday season. Not exactly my ideal work environment, but with a substantial amount of student loans to pay, and car to buy, and a dream that I will go to Italy this summer, a job is a good idea. The job is ‘on-call sales,’ which means I get tossed around to different departments whenever they like. Fortunately for me, I started off by taking hours in the men’s department. The men’s section of the store is still competitive, we all have a sales goal we have to meet each day and it’s usually pretty high—which means everyone is ready to steal customers and play commando on the register. However, what’s nice about the men’s store is I feel more comfortable. I understand the clothes and what the guys who come in want. Comfort, occasionally stylish, affordable. Actually, that is totally how I shop for things—which is probably why the women’s section is so confusing for me.
Then I met Anna, the pretty, intimidating, poised leader of the cosmetics counters. She was on the hunt for young ‘pretty’ on-calls like myself. And for some reason I agreed to two full days working “Shishada” *. Compared to men’s, it was easy. Shutting down the register and cleaning up took 10 minutes while the men’s store takes about 40. And my first day went reasonably well. This had a lot to do with the woman I was working with, Justine, who was a bit older but really loves Shishada skin care and explained it to me in a Sophia-friendly, cosmetics-for-dummies kind of way. She didn’t seem to mind that I wasn’t wearing any make-up either.
But all that changed day two, when Justine had her day off and the counter manager Tanya appeared. Tanya was a Russian woman determined to make her commission and ignore me unless I was taking to a customer. But it wasn’t just Tanya, it was also the regional Shishada manager, Iris, a Dolores Umbridge reincarnate, who made it her ‘goal’ to shove Shishada make-up down every customer’s throat till they bought something or ran away.
It’s interesting that out of all the women I met yesterday, none of them seemed happy, and all of them had a thick layer of foundation on their face. And EVERY single one of them (even another on-call whom I like) told me on separate occasions during the day what was wrong with me—and what I needed to fix.
“Did you notice you have two small veins on the side of your face near your mouth? You should put some concealer on them.”
“Your pores are really big, you should think about using XYZ product to minimize them.”
“Your skin is oily on your nose, it really shines. Let’s put some product on it and then cover up with concealer and powder.”
“How do you expect to sell the product if you’re not wearing any? Hello, eyeshadow!!”
So I let them cover me up in make-up (really just to shut them up). And by the end of the day, my face had broken out in a rash and my eyes were itchy all night.
Iris wanted to teach me how to ‘sell’. Shisiedo is in the back, so they don’t get as many customers. Not to mention, they’re really expensive. After making me ‘role play’ with her where I recommended some product based on her skin type/fear of wrinkles, Iris demonstrated how to frighten Latina mothers.
The Latina mother in question was trying on lipstick colors on her hand with her three or four year-old daughter. They seemed happy, though the mom looked tired. Iris began her attack, introducing us and pushing a red lipstick that apparently matched the woman’s sweater.
“I don’t wear red lipstick—I don’t like how it looks on me,” the woman said as politely as possible. “We’re just playing,” she added, gesturing to her daughter. As if that would stop Iris…
“Well, I have a shade of red for people who don’t like red lipstick!” said Iris, grabbing the woman’s hand and showing her the color.
“No thank you,” said the woman, pulling her hand away and accidentally smearing the the lipstick on her sweater.
I stood there watching this car accident, and actually ended up walking away and excusing myself for some water. I ended up in the bathroom 10 minutes later to wash my face (the make-up was starting to bother me). The Latina mom was there too, with her daughter who was now throwing up. Though she didn’t seem to notice me, I noticed her, and how patient she was with her daughter. She was clearly tired, but still rubbed her little girl’s back as she cried and puked, the lipstick still smeared on her sweater.
Another high-up in Shishada appeared in the middle of the day to have a meeting with Iris and Tanya.
“Go grab some customers, and bring them back here,” Iris demanded of me. I didn’t do that. But I did sell some sunscreen to someone who actually wanted to buy sunscreen. Their meeting was held in hushed voices, but I overheard it.
Remember Justine from the day before? Well, apparently she wasn’t cutting it, not selling enough. Iris and the new high-up said to Tanya, “Encourage Justine to sell more. But if she doesn’t step up, we’re going to bring in someone new and young. Everyone loves a new girl.”
This made me sick, and angry. Especially when it became implied that they were considering me to fill this void. Tanya, however, tried half-assedly at first to defend Justine. Iris told Tanya to ‘stop and look at the facts,’ and by the end of the conversation, Tanya conceded that Justine could really do better.
I came home and cried. My face hurt, I had been snapped at all day. I was tired. It had been eight hours of these awful women telling me and every other woman in sight that we are not good enough the way we are.
Besides this, I wasn’t (and am still not sure) why I was crying. Maybe it has a little to do with where I feel my life is at? Maybe it just sucks working at a department store? Maybe I was also just very tired. But in any case, next week I have a full schedule working in the men’s department.
As for cosmetics, Anna offered me more hours in Shishada. I didn’t have time to give her my answer, but I can say with confidence that I am never going back.
*Not the real name of the company