Q&A with Cynthia Robins, The Beauty Workbook Author, on How to Cure the Green Eyeshadow Addicts

Written by J.T. Leroy on . Posted in Miscellaneous, Posts.

Cynthia Robins’
The Beauty Workbook: A Commonsense Approach to Skin Care, Makeup, Hair, and
(Chronicle Books, 176 pages, $24.95) fell into my hands as a gift
from the gods. Being raised by a mom who got her beauty tips from inebriated
barroom Avon ladies, I have makeup and skin care habits that would make an animal
beauty product tester run shrieking. But with Robins’ gentle guidance I
am in recovery. Give this book to that green eyeshadow addict in your life,
and anyone who ever had a beauty question they were afraid to ask.

How did you
get into being a beauty and fashion maven? Were there clues in your childhood?

I have always
loved makeup, from the time that I was in plays as a kid to when I worked on
an "extra" card at F&R Lazarus in Columbus, OH, as a teenager,
making the magnificent sum of $1.12 for half an hour to sell Revlon makeup and
perfume. My mother was European and I used to sit transfixed watching her take
care of herself, from the clouds of perfumed steam after she bathed in something
wonderful to the cosmetic-covered dressing table in the bathroom that my dad
built for her. I watched her "do her face"–change from the mommy-in-the-housecoat
into this lovely, perfectly attired woman with matching bag and shoes, elegantly
coifed hair and flawless makeup. I was always on the makeup committees in drama
class, in class plays and operettas.

When I wasn’t
starring in them I loved doing makeups, particularly on the boys, who were really
afraid you’d hurt them when you headed for their eyes with a Maybelline
eyeliner pencil.

The Lazarus
job was a dream. I worked at the Revlon counter where the makeup artist would
sit me at the beauty bar at the end of the counter and make me up when business
was slow. It was the days of pinky beige foundation that you had to put on with
a trowel, and bright blue or green eyeshadow, and lovely little black wings
for eyeliner, and "spit on the cake" black mascara. Ah, the 50s.

Do family and
strangers hit you up for tips all the time?

The Beauty
is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ve had socialite types ask
me for advice. I’ve even taken a couple of them shopping to pick out new
makeup. For one doyenne of whom I’m inordinately fond, I brought back seven
different brands of navy blue eyeshadow powder, plus new brushes, and went over
to her incredibly expensive San Francisco pied-a-terre, and over Baccarat flutes
of very very good champagne I taught her how to use what I brought her. She
never forgot.

I have friends
who are total punks with dreaded-out hair, and they’ll see your book in
my room and despite themselves be checking it out, and they get into it. And
I notice what they dig–what I dig–is you don’t assume everyone
is into being a fashionplate or into makeup. You just give real down-to-earth
info. But you must get exposed to a lot of models and all–how’d you
keep from becoming a snob about this stuff?

The last thing
anybody would call me is a snob. About anything. I’m as down-to-earth as
they come, despite some of my clothes and the fact that if you open my medicine
chest you will not find an aspirin anywhere–it is wall-to-wall-to-wall
black and gold compacts, about 50 lipsticks and who knows how many bottles of
foundation. Point is I love color. I love makeup. I love making women, girls,
men, dragsters look fabulous with the least amount of sweat possible. When I
wrote The Beauty Workbook, I kept the word KISS posted above my keyboard
to remind myself–Keep it Simple, Sweetie (or Stoopid, depending upon my
mood). The point is to demythicize grooming, makeup and skin care so that anybody
can do it, whether she is a 13-year-old with raging hormones, a 60-year-old
who wants to stay in the game, a dyke with a bad haircut who doesn’t want
to get skin cancer, a guy who loves wearing a dress and needs to know how to
draw on his eyes or the housewife with a kid who has five minutes to herself
and still wants to look "finished, but not done."

I got blackheads
around my nose. What’s the best way to get rid of them? Do those band-aid
strips work? Would stickin’ my nose in a mousetrap glue tray work better?

First of all,
I think that pore strips are the worst invention since the Buff Puff. Seriously,
you can do some real harm with them. If you’ve got the money, go have a
real facial with someone who will do extractions. If not, you can always steam
your face and try to get them out yourself. Better yet: go to the root of the
problem. Too much oil and a dirty face. Keep your hands off your face unless
your hands are clean. If you have an oil problem, use a non-oil soap with lukewarm
water. If your skin is oily and you use extra-hot water on your face, it’ll
dry your face and then your skin will scream: there’s not enough oil and
your oil glands will start pumping out more oil and then you’ll be in big
trouble. If you have oily skin, chances are you have large pores around your
nose. The pore strips will take off 3/4 layers of the top of your skin, aka
the stratum corneum, and that is there for a purpose–to hold moisture in
your skin. So when you screw with it with one of these things, you’re also
asking for skin damage. I don’t trust them. People overuse them or use
them incorrectly. Awful idea.

Your book is
really pretty and easy to use. How did you come up with the design?

Chronicle wanted
to use a workbook format, sort of like a recipe book for the face. They got
something more from me–sort of a literate approach that was more than Step
1, Step 2, Step 3, etc. They got literate writing, funny stories and good information.
They contracted it out to a designer named Laurie Frankel, who did the photography,
picked the typeface and laid it out. My only contact with her happened after
the book was finished. I did sit down with the Chronicle art director, and said,
"You guys do very pretty, pastelly books with those neat little black lines
around your pictures. Fergeddaboutit." I handed them a huge bag of makeup
and said, "Please, this is a makeup book. Use these colors. Stay away from
muddy colors and pastels. I hate them. I love red, fuchsia, lavender, marine
blue, gold–happy colors." And the art director looked at me and said,
"Oh, you like aggressive design." Damn straight. And that’s what
they did. Which is why the book is so gorgeous.

I read somewhere
that a woman eats more than like five pounds of lipstick over her lifetime.
I’ve probably consumed about a pound or two myself so far–and there
is some gnarly shit in those lipsticks. What do you think about all chemicals
they put in makeup?

There are terrible
chemicals in makeup. And there are good things that can improve your skin in
modern "cosmeceuticals," or cosmetics that have a slight drug action.
Stuff like Retinol or AHAs, BHAs (alpha- and beta-hydroxies, which exfoliate
skin), vitamin C (an antioxidant) and such. Lipstick has been basically the
same thing since the 20s–oil, water, color and alcohol. Now, lipsticks
have silicates in them, which make them slip on better and last longer. Obviously,
nobody knows if you can get cancer from swallowing all that stuff. And eye products
are supposedly "ophthalmologically tested" for safety. But cosmetics
have been around since prehistoric times. And yes, they can be lethal. Cleopatra’s
minions wore kohl on their eyes, which protected them from the hot desert sun.
Women from the Renaissance to the Restoration wore a white powder makeup that
was laced with arsenic, which in some cases killed them–nothing like literally
"dying for beauty." And models in the 70s pulled out their back teeth
so they’d look even more angular for the camera. Some women have always
gone to extremes for beauty. Pamela Anderson’s breasts–I mean, really.