By Kelcie McKenney
Women supporting women. That’s one of the many mantras that feminism totes. It’s an uplifting message of helping your fellow sisters out, and as a strong females, that connection and support can fuel a movement.
There are countless women in today’s world that inspire others and bring love and support to the women around them. This new series, Bad Ass Babes, will feature those women.
Our first face is Alley Gage.
She’s a Senior Makeup Artist at Sephora who was featured in Sephora’s Holiday Campaign this year. Rather than hire models, Sephora turned to their 11,000 North American employees to apply to be featured in their latest campaign. Gage was one of the only 10 selected artists in Sephora’s most diverse campaign yet, and she was the only face from the Midwest. In February of this year, I interviewed Gage for The Pitch (my full-time day job), and you can read the full article here:
But our conversation went beyond a Q&A, and Gage had a lot to say about the women she helps everyday, and her own struggles she has faced on her path to being in Sephora’s window:
“I think makeup catches a bad wrap,” Gage said, holding a cup of coffee and nestled into the leather couch of Thou Mayest, a coffee shop in the Crossroads district of Kansas City. “Like you’re being vain or you’re being superficial, you’re hiding yourself—but for me, it’s my war paint. That’s why I put on makeup: I get ready to face the day. It’s not something that I don’t feel confident without, I just feel powerful with it on.”
“I think makeup catches a bad wrap. Like you’re being vain or you’re being superficial, you’re hiding yourself—but for me, it’s my war paint,”
For Gage, makeup is her armor, and it’s a coat of arms that she wants to share with the world. Today she’s wearing a warm, pink smoked-out eye with a sharp, black wing. Her cheeks are rosy pink and her lips are a glossy nude. Today’s armor says warm and welcoming.
“When someone sits down and they have no makeup on, they’re putting their face in my hands,” she says, her voice picking up with excitement. “All I’m looking for is the good and the positive and the beautiful and it has trained my mind to see life and people that way. It’s the biggest gift to just look at people and want to see the good. It’s so powerful.”
As a Senior Makeup Artist in Sephora, Gage goes to work to not only apply makeup to customers stepping into the French cosmetics chain, but to teach her fellow artists how to better apply makeup to others, too.
“Sephora is so rooted in helping people learn how to be their own artists at home,” Gage said. “To work for a retailer that wants to empower other people and to teach—that’s been the most meaningful thing.”
I was able to witness Gage teach in action. On one of my many visits to Sephora (self-prescribed makeup addict over here), I went in to pick up new foundation and concealer. I’d been breaking out a lot more, and I’d lost my confidence due to my difficult skin. Another makeup artist was helping me out, and Gage chimed in with tips to beat out my new redness: higher-coverage foundation, a cream-based concealer for longer wear, and (my personal savior) a yellow-tinted color corrector to get rid of all that redness—it’s a safer option than a green color corrector, especially because I’m so pale.
But beyond the products recommended, Gage had more to share: she too struggled with acne. She understood my frustrations, and she did it in a way where I felt like I didn’t have to be embarrassed about my “imperfections.”
Back in the coffee shop, Gage shared another time she helped another girl with acne in her Sephora chair. She recommended skincare products to help clear up her skin.
She understood my frustrations, and she did it in a way where I felt like I didn’t have to be embarrassed about my “imperfections.”
“She came back in and said, ‘You changed my skin and you changed my confidence. I feel like a totally different person.’ To have that kind of impact on someone is so cool,” Gage shared. “I love that I get to have time, whether it’s 15 mins or an hour, with somebody that I would never, ever get to meet. And I get to find common ground with that person and celebrate how they’re beautiful.”
In the summer of 2017, Gage filmed “get ready with me” videos for Sephora’s YouTube channel.
“I was really excited because I really struggle with my own acne,” Gage said. “To have this thing that has burdened me and embrace it and get to share the gift of knowledge, it’s so cool.”
It’s easier now to talk to others about similar issues, but overcoming her struggle with acne and embracing it didn’t happen overnight. Gage was bullied growing up, something many girls can relate to, and where she’s at now is a testament to her hard work and perseverance.
After finding out she made Sephora’s holiday campaign, Gage’s home store had an unveiling that her mom and friends attended. When the pulled away the sheet and showed the photo that would be in many Sephora windows, Gage said she cried.
“My mom said, ‘What would 13-year-old Alley say?’ Because I was really severely bullied when I was growing up, so it was this moment of, like, You made it through all these things and now you’re the face of this beautiful company, and it was this super surreal thing,” Gage said. “It was this ‘pinch me’ moment.”
“I think makeup is empowering because you can put a lipstick on one day and be one girl and then take it off and put a totally different one on and be someone else,” Gage said
Makeup has brought Gage on an incredible journey from a bullied girl in high school to a confident woman in the window of an international store who is passionate about sharing her knowledge with women around her.
“I think makeup is empowering because you can put a lipstick on one day and be one girl and then take it off and put a totally different one on and be someone else,” Gage said before taking another sip of her coffee. “Makeup just became a safe place where I could be who I wanted to be. I could express, I could create, I could feel, and it was my art and I was wearing it but I wasn’t married to it. I could take it off at the end of the day and be somebody else. It made me feel free and brave and also I got to make myself my own kind of beautiful.”
She paused before adding, “That’s a woman. We’re complex and elaborate, and makeup reflects that.”
Kelcie McKenney is a writer, editor, and artist who is passionate about feminism. She currently works as Digital Editor at The Pitch , where she writes and edits for Kansas City’s alternative magazine. You can find Kelcie watching internet cat videos, eating brunch, taking photos, and reading mystery novels.