Thursday, June 10, 2010

An Explanation on the New Business Venture

Recently, a close friend wrote me an email in response to something I had posted on my blog a few days back. It made me wonder if others were feeling the same way ... so I have decided to address his concerns publicly.

He wrote:
"I happened upon your blog today, where after reading about refreshingly strange hair dreams that felt out of sync with the previous gauntlet of pageant preparations, I found this:

'I have decided to use the skills I gained while preparing for Miss Illinois USA and Miss USA to influence and help other women. However, I am going to take it slowly. If there is anything I have learned through all of this, it is that rushing things just causes you to do it at a lower quality than you should. I want to do this right, and slowly but surely, I think I will.'

Which felt like pure concentrate wisdom bubbling with well-adjusted purpose. But then my admiration was ... murdered?

'So what is my new goal that is going to help other women? I am going to sell make-up! LOL!'

Most of the time I make it my mission to outrageously support you, even twist my ethics a bit to explore dimensions of thought and ways of being that I find uncouth, but tonight I'm going to nix the sideshow and ask:

Are you certain selling make-up is going to lead to women's empowerment? Should (can) confidence come in products? Wouldn't you say, be better positioned to teach people how to exercise to tone their body in a healthy way or eat right instead of hide/amplify/alter what they actually look like for a cultural construction of beauty that keeps them enslaved to consumerism, objectification and emphasis on, what, at the end of the day doesn't matter that much?"

Reading this message naturally caused me to become a bit defensive. I was even a little angered, and didn't know what to think. My gut was saying, “How could he, a friend, not even a stranger, have perceived your words like that? Doesn’t he see the humor in my remarks?” I must come off differently via typing that I do via personal interactions. However, I have gone ahead and let this comment "bake" for a few days. Now ... I think I'm ready to answer his question. You see, sadly for me, he was right in much that he said. However, the problem is that I explained my motives poorly under the pure assumption that people would understand what I was thinking without a proper explanation. I caused a reader (and a friend) to misunderstand my thoughts and in turn think negatively of my intentions and actions. This is a serious thing that needs to be addressed, and I hope to do so now.

First of all, I feel that a woman's empowerment and confidence comes from a multitude of different areas. It’s unique for every woman, but for me ... I am confident when I am feeling at my best. That means my best physically, emotionally, and mentally among other elements. It's simple really -- when I look good, I feel good. When I am in a good mood emotionally, it radiates and attracts the good moods of others creating positive energy. When I am mentally in the right place I am able to take charge of myself and my surroundings, making the best of it. Those three parts create a confident woman who is happy. But that is what works for me. Other women, perhaps, work differently. However, it has been my observation that over all, women DO feel the most confident when they are happy with their appearance. This may be the driving force behind the media and displays of "perfect" looking woman achieving fame, success, beauty and love ... but nevertheless it is a feeling many women cannot avoid.

Sure, I could teach people how to "exercise to tone their body in a healthy way or eat right instead of hide/amplify/alter what they actually look like [through make-up] ..." However, I somehow feel that it is almost on the same level of insult.

Now, my intention for selling make-up is not truly just that as it sounds. My intention was to take the skills and lessons I have learned as Miss Illinois USA to bring confidence to other women. You see, before being crowned Miss Illinois USA I didn't wear much make-up. I also didn't wear jewelry, my nails were rarely manicured let alone colored and my hair was often thrown into a bun on top of my head. If you can picture this you will see a very casual girl and not the "typical" image of a beauty queen. Gaining the title of Miss Illinois USA offered me the opportunity to rethink those attributes. I was never forced, never asked, or never influenced to take hold of my appearance, but I found that as I went to different events and met various people I just felt a lot more confident and outgoing when I knew I looked my best. Maybe that is how this style and, may I say, stereotype of beauty queens came to be -- through women trying to gain confidence by looking and feeling their best.

Thinking of this early on, I wondered how I could be certain to feel as confident as possible at the Miss USA Pageant. I did my research and found some people to help me. I took lessons in walking, interviewing, applying make-up, doing hair, and more. I worked with people on developing a professional and attractive wardrobe. I worked with others on health and nutrition, as well as sculpting and leaning out my body. And still I worked with others on ‘working a room’ and creating random (but insightful) conversation with strangers. I learned to look, be, and feeeeeeeel like a confident and impressive woman ... and I liked it.

Now -- when thinking of a way to develop a NEW GOAL for myself, keeping in mind that I sincerely desire to earn additional income, I came up with a solution I thought was quite perfect. I could combine the skills I have learned, practiced and developed with the things I truly care about, while earning a living that might possibly put me in a financial position that is better than the one I'm in now. As different opportunities came and went, the one that stuck out the most was the opportunity to begin my own business selling skin care products including make-up, and instructing on application. Although this isn't something I ever thought I'd do, it has recently become attractive to me for many reasons:

1. It brings people together. I am itching for an opportunity to speak, network with, and get to know more people. I love one-on-one engagements with people, as well as the fact that you truly can make an impact on another person's life through something as simple as conversation. This new business venture provides me with the opportunity to do that.
2. It helps me help women feel confident. I have learned so much over the past year and have developed immensely. If I can turn myself from a roll-out-of-bed slug to a hey-look-at-me diva who has the world at her fingertips, why can't I educate others in taking a similar approach to embracing their inner [powerful and confident] woman? I would love the opportunity to show people the things I've learned. This new business venture provides me with the opportunity to do that.
3. It helps me develop myself as a business professional while earning extra income. Unfortunately, the idea of providing women with skin-care and make-up lessons did come with a bit of selfishness in the sense that I have tried different ways of earning additional income with little success, and truly require an increase to reach further goals of mine. The sales woman in me got excited about the possibility of marketing my knowledge and skills to yes, better the lives of others, but also ... to better my own life.

When considering my alternative options and/or interests (teaching piano lessons again, working at a gym, or further developing my freelance web-design business), sales seems like my best bet. The fact that I could do sales for products I have spent the last year getting to know inside and out and learning to love was just a bonus. I think this business venture may be good because although it may not necessarily be the thing I am the "best" at, but it is something I'm interested in, something I feel I could excel at, and something that is flexible enough to work with my extremely chaotic schedule. Another bonus! With the opportunity being dangled in front of me like a bone to a dog, I jumped at it. If it turns out to be no more than another business venture gone sour, so be it. But if it ends up being a move that helps me and others to feel good -- great!

It is disappointing to know that my ideas are not always supported, but I believe this is just part of life. I have come to learn that I can never please everyone, as hard as I may try. My dad used to tell me a metaphor that goes: "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains." It means that sometimes things go great and sometimes they don't, but its all part of the game. You just have to keep playing!! Well, this is what I'm doing and I'm VERY excited about it. I have big plans to make my newest venture my best yet. I know it will be as successful and as rewarding as I make it, and although it would be easier with the support of others, a lack of support will not distract me. For any confident woman, it is important to keep your eye on your goals and never give up. This is another stepping stone toward an ultimate goal I have every intent on achieving.

And that's all she wrote! Comments welcomed and encouraged.


Matt said...

I love your entrepreneurial spirit! It won't always be easy, but if you stick with it, you will definitely be rewarded!

I ran my own painting business years ago, so I know how futile things can seem at the beginning, but, once you get going, it sure does feel good to get those first big checks, hugs, and smiles from happy customers.
Nothing much feels as good as that :)

I can't wait to hear more about this!

Jeff Ginger said...

Hey Ashley, figured I'd chime in, as I've been called out. This response is compressed, but covers at the very least my initial impressions.

I definitely don't have a problem with the desire to look good, my beef is with the ways we're "supposed" to look good - cultural expectations, the whole industry of "selling beauty and lifestyles to women" - in my opinion you should look your best when you're just you, I happened to like that someone who didn't wear a lot of make-up, do their nails and was quite athletic could become a widely recognized cultural symbol of beauty and desire - to me that's activist and progressive. The same way that you're a positive symbol because you're a working woman, or that you're a female who's talented with computers or insist on valuing family in an culture rife with broken homes and selfish parents. As I said before, in the past you've defied expectations in a positive way and started to negotiate your own path between social norms, founded on integrity and intelligence. That's the wisdom inherent in you that I want to see passed on.

While traveling the other day I read a book on the "art" of small talk. The author broke it down in a formulaic fashion and covered a lot of points that seemed to add up reasonably well enough. But perhaps the biggest flaw, is that it's predicated on a dominant discourse of properly deceptive levels of self-investment and general identification with others (besides a reification of gender roles). I like it when people mess with what's "normal" - the artists who show us how to see the world in another way, the conversationalists who are awkward but interesting, those who walk the line of purposed deviance. I mean yes, of course there's this idea (or bubbling stew of them) of how we're supposed to be, and society needs this to operate, but questioning and innovating should also be part of the norm, too.

I'd generally push for working out over make-up for a few reasons - it's a composite activity.
1) You stay healthier (and get sick less, live longer)
2) Gain flexibility, get stronger and develop more endurance (obvious benefits)
3) I think it empowers women (often women are seen as weaker than men, I like seeing this disrupted),
4) A lot of exercise can be done for free
5) It also provides a good opportunity to socialize with friends
6) You feel better - it releases endorphins into your system
7) And, in our culture, it may have positive outcomes for our appearance

If a woman was ever searching for a way to feel better about herself and look more attractive I'd immediately support working out or doing yoga over buying make-up. Maybe you can roll that into your make-up consultations?

Anonymous said...

I see where you are going with this, Ashley. The workout/exercise portion can be found everywhere now. However, make-up and behind-the-scenes tips can only be found in very specific and expensive places (pageant coaches, etc.). I like that you are willing to share what you've learned from this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I understand where Jeff is coming from, it's more interesting and better for the social well-being for women to be against the norm and stand up against the stereotypical definition of beauty, but wouldn't the workout program just be as bad? Women have much more of a hard time with over-exercising, eating and worrying about their body image.

Personally, I would be most interested in an all-around educational session on what you've learned as Miss Illinois USA, including poise, grace under pressure, hair, make-up, exercise - just being an overall successful, strong, confident woman.

Best of luck :)

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