Window into Benefit Cosmetics•
Primping, preening, plumping. A splash of color here, a spot of cover up there… The world of cosmetics seems like it’s easy to peg, right? I thought so, until I talked to a lead esthetician who works for the French-owned Benefit Cosmetics company—as a gay male—in a uniquely female dominated industry.
I wondered how he felt being a minority in his business—twice over at that. I wondered how different the job was for men than women. And, as a gay man, does he encounter a different attitude from his mostly female clients? I asked, what’s it like for a homosexual man to run a quintessentially feminine business, managing a Benefit brow bar in the middle of a suburban Macy’s? Why is this a worklife fit for James?
James, Lead Sales Esthetician at Benefit Cosmetics
Experience: 6 years
He was just out of high school. And like most 18 year olds, James was exploring who he wanted to become
in his work—and his life. He chose to go to cosmetology school around the same time he was coming out as a gay man. He had never heard of Benefit Cosmetics, though the company has been around since the mid 70s. It wasn’t MAC, the crème de la crème of the makeup industry. But it wasn’t the prestige that mattered. At this point, it was how he was treated, the worklife and the culture. And Benefit offered the coaching and management support for someone just beginning to carve out his space in the world.
Six years in, James is thankful for his role at a company he’s grown up with. What’s he learned along the way?
Beauty business is a women’s world.
James is only one of three men on the whole department floor—across all cosmetics brands within the Macy’s where his brow bar sits. “I wouldn’t mind having more guys working with me,” James says. “Having a lot of girls can be hard…sometimes there’s drama.” He goes on to say how some women bring their personal lives to work. But when you’re gabbing about makeup, who can blame them?
He has to draw lines.
“When I have a gay dude…you kinda get a little flirt from them when they’re in your chair.” For men and women, mixing work and pleasure is tricky. You want people to feel as comfortable as possible when your job is to yank out their facial hair. Talk about ranking high on the up close and personal factor. So getting hit on (when you’re inches from a client’s face)? It happens.
Therapy sessions come with the job.
He sees, on average, 45-60 people per week at the brow bar for waxings and consultations. “It’s a never-ending reality show,” he describes the unpredictability. “You don’t know who’s coming, what kind of mood they’re in, what happened to them (if someone got broken up with, pregnant, if someone passed away…)” So you’ve got to be ready to roll with it all. As far as how customers treat him? He’s had clients who insist they can’t be touched by a man. And ones who barely bat an eyelash.
Manscaping is here to stay.
James loves helping women feel better about themselves…and helping women feel better about their men. “The wives are the one’s telling [their husbands] to get their stuff done” as brow waxing moves up next to male manicures. It’s just one more beauty treatment men are getting. And James reminds me, “Then there’s the gay guys.”
Unlike other beauty counters, Benefit Cosmetics employees are encouraged to loosen up because “laughter is the best cosmetic.” You won’t find blue blazers at a Benefit counter. There’s music playing, laser lights and fun outfits with a ton of bright color to go with its rosy packaging. There’s also no sales pressure. There are goals but no commission, which James says helps keep the co-worker cattiness at bay.
As much as the cosmetics business surrounds you with people, it can be a lonely job. Imagine running a brow bar by yourself where the only place to bounce thoughts and ideas is the mirror. James now has a part-time assistant but wants to add another full-timer to his station. It’s both to grow his responsibilities and sense of collaboration. Even makeup artists need a sounding board. Especially when the office environment is like “clash of the departments.” “I’m working inside Macy’s but I do not work for Macy’s so getting the store management to listen to you is really hard.” Coupled with being one of the few men, and being gay, James does crave more community in the workplace.
You might be surprised to hear that the Benefit Cosmetics brand traces back to a product made especially for an exotic dancer. The origin of the company name comes from a lip antique stain named Benetint. It was created in 1977 to make an exotic dancer’s nipples a little rosier. True story.
I asked James what it takes to succeed in this business. He emphasized that a lot of it boils down to personality. “Cosmetics can be taught,” he underlines like coal black liner. “You need someone that’s going to talk to people.” An eye for color and the gift of gab, and you, too, could be building a better worklife at the cosmetic company that promotes “ grabbing life by the giggles.”
Anyone out there agree or disagree? We’d love to hear about your experience at a cosmetic company or any other beauty retailer. Plus, if there’s a job you’d like to learn more about, tell us in the comments and we’ll consider it for a future “Window into___” profile.