Self-taught disabled makeup artist Jessica Ruiz found a creative way to paint faces. (Photo: Instagram)
Sit in Philadelphia-based makeup artist Jessica Ruiz’s chair, and you can expect to leave looking gorgeous. You can also expect that the experience will stand out from any other makeup moments you’ve had. That’s because Ruiz paints faces in a totally original way. To apply lipstick, eye shadow, and liner, she holds the brushes in her mouth. The full-time makeup artist, who does everything from weddings to fashion shows, was born with arthrogryposis, a disease that has prevented her from having full movement in her arms and hands. Despite the fact that her family was told she might never walk or talk, Ruiz has done all those things and more, finding brilliantly creative solutions to any challenges that cropped up.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that makeup has transformed Jessica Ruiz’s life. In middle school she endured painful bullying. However, Ruiz came up with an original way to try to make herself feel more confident when she was facing the mean girls. She put on a little makeup. Ruiz began with eyeliner and mascara, placing the products in her left hand and angling her head down to apply. The bullies took notice. “The girls that were calling me names, their view of me actually changed. They said, ‘Wow, you look really beautiful,” says Ruiz. Of course, it didn’t completely solve her problems, but it did open up a new sense of self for Ruiz. “The bullies would not stop, but their view of me changed. My view of myself changed as well, to be able to take that little bit of eyeliner and mascara and boost my confidence.”
By the time she got to 10th grade, Ruiz’s makeup skills were being noticed, and a friend asked for help with a beauty look for graduation. “I said yes, but I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I didn’t have to do foundation, just eyes and lips. So I just put the brushes in my mouth and dipped them in and applied,” Ruiz explains. After graduation her friend’s mother sought her out to thank Ruiz for making her daughter look so beautiful. The experience made her realize that doing makeup as a career was actually a possibility.
Ruiz set out to make her dream a reality, applying to several different makeup schools. It didn’t go well. She was rejected everywhere. A few of the schools told her that it was unsanitary for her to hold brushes in her mouth. Another school told her that she would have to bring in her own model every single day because their models wouldn’t be comfortable with her so close to their faces. Another school shredded her application in front of her, while asking her sister to apply. “It put me in one of the deepest depressions,” Ruiz admits. “At 18 you are still trying to find yourself. To have a dream and a passion and have someone crush it like that was really heart-wrenching.”
Everything changed when she discovered YouTube beauty tutorials. “I call it YouTube University,” jokes Ruiz. The budding makeup artist watched countless tutorials, learning every aspect of application while practicing on her younger sister. She learned everything from special effects makeup to wedding looks. She took jobs for free, until through word of mouth she started to get hired enough to quit her retail job and pursue her passion. When Ruiz finally worked at her first fashion show, she realized what a big thing it was that she had gotten to where she wanted to go, despite her disability, despite her school rejections: “I was working with so many people who had degrees and there was little ’ol me taught on YouTube working alongside them.”
Ruiz has had people who weren’t comfortable with her approach. “A few were very rude,” she says. “It was, ‘Oh, you’re not going to get close to my face.” Because Ruiz is at times only 3 inches from her clients’ faces, she tries to put everyone at ease. Sweet, friendly, and open, Ruiz seeks to make everyone feel comfortable. “I have some people that are booking me just because of the way that I do makeup now,” says Ruiz. “There are other people who really truly see this as equal and equivalent. The only difference is in the way that I apply makeup.”