Bold is Beautiful: Benefit’s Maggie Ford Danielson chats with us on growing up with beauty and the power of makeup
Can something as innocuous as waxing your brows change the world? Heck yes, according to Benefit Cosmetics. Celebrated for being an innovative and fun beauty brand we all know to be the brow guru in the business (their concealers are some Holy Grail-status stuff too), the family-run company has gone global beyond arming every gal with killer eyebrows, launching a philanthropy initiative in recent years that tackles the issue of women empowerment.
Aptly christened 'Bold is Beautiful', the project takes Benefit's signature brow waxing service up a notch by making your monthly grooming session count towards helping women and young girls who lack the resources and opportunities to better their lives. In fact, the 2-years-young philanthropy brainchild has already seen 11 million US dollars raised across various countries, and something in the digits of 460,000 brows waxed. Locally, the project is going into its sophomore year and sees a tie-up between Benefit and two Singaporean charities, Girls2Pioneer and Aidha. The former is a UN-affiliated organisation that engages young girls in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (aka STEM) in order to balance the gender ratio in said fields of work, while the latter impacts change by providing financial literacy programmes to equip foreign domestic workers and lower-income women with leadership and entrepreneurial skills.
And fearlessly putting their money where their mouth's at, this year sees the brand magnifying its altruistic spirit by pledging 100 per cent of their brow waxing proceeds in the month of May to their charity partners – the end goal being a whopping six million USD to help women and girls around the world. Leading the charge herself, second-generation brand authority (and crusader of goodwill) Maggie Ford Danielson dropped by our Little Red Dot to spread the word on how Benefit seeks to... well, benefit the local community, and clues us in on what life was like growing up with Benefit, and what it means to be a global beauty brand in today's politically-sensitive social media age.
Can you share what your childhood was like growing up in a family of beauty moguls? Did you get an insider's perspective and thus fell in love with cosmetics from a very young age?
When I was young, Benefit was a very, very small brand. I grew up with a working mum, and that was impactful on my life but they [Benefit founders] really weren't beauty moguls then. Which was actually really interesting for me, because this brand that you see now — this huge brand globally — that's not the brand I grew up with. It only became this really big brand that everyone knows about in the last 10 years.
Back then, we had a couple of stores in California and that's what my mum did: She went to work in makeup stores. The brand grew a little bit here and there, and that was nice because it kept everyone more humble. With that said though, I obviously did have a lot of immersion into the world of makeup. I remember when I was young; she would bring me into the stores if she couldn't get a babysitter for me. She would literally sit me in a corner and I would just watch her put makeup on people.
But my sister and I didn't really wear a lot of makeup, even when we were allowed to start wearing it around 15. We were tomboys growing up but what we did learn is that we were not ever afraid of makeup. I think a lot of younger girls get nervous. 'I don't have the right skills', or 'I don't know how to do this' whereas for us, because makeup is just always around us we felt comfortable with the idea of makeup. We never went to makeup school or anything, but we were learning about it naturally and we just knew how to do it.
What was your earliest memory of playing with makeup?
I remember my mum had this powder eyeliner. She would lick the brush to make it wet then dip it in. I remember looking at this brush and thinking that was so grown up and cool. There was also this bronzer, way before Hoola came out, and it was this loose powder bronzer that came in this crazy pot that got so messy once you took the cap off!
It's kind of a given that sisters will fight over clothes, shoes and boys at one point or other. Did you ever have sibling quarrels with Annie when it comes to beauty?
As you say, sisters will always quarrel. We'll always fight and bicker about everything. Annie and I do the absolute same thing, but what's great about working with my sister is that we're able to have arguments and then we just move on. We get it out, and then go we move forward. Versus working in an environment with regular colleagues that aren't your family, you can't be as honest sometimes because you're afraid of hurting their feelings. Or you know, 'I'm gonna have to work with this person so I can't tell them this totally sucks' — it's political. So by working with your sister, you can actually be more productive.
Conversely, did beauty bring the two of you closer as you grew older and took over the family business?
It did! My sister and I — well, she's not here on this trip — but normally we go on trips together, we live really close to each other at home, and we've got kids the same age. Basically, we have a very unique life growing up with Benefit and travelling the world being spokespeople for the brand. And having someone to share that with is really special because we understand each other. I mean, we do have our own set of struggles but she understands me and where I come from, so it's been really great to able to share that with her and to be able to rely on her. We even know what the other is thinking without even speaking!
So it's kind of a twin thing.
Yeah, like a twin thing! Which is weird, because we're not even twins (laughs). But our mum and aunt are twins, so we kind of grew up with that unspoken twin communication and we also do it even though we're not twins.
What was your most embarrassing makeup moment?
Ugh... I was in the high school in the '90s so I had the really thin 'sperm brow', which was so gross. I tried to wear white eyeshadow — you know, things that were really just not attractive for my skin tone. I went through all that and then I was really into shimmer and glitter even in the 2000s' when I was in college. But you gotta try all those things when you're young. It's just makeup and you can wash it off.
Oh, I did have this really unattractive haircut in college. It was this... no, I wouldn't even consider it a bob. It was really short, like at my ears, and I dyed it dark purple. I don't know what I was doing!
Is there a piece of beauty advice handed down from your mother that you swear by?
She's always said this — and it's kind of ironic cause we're a makeup company — but she says, "don't wear too much makeup". I think it's apt though, especially for the younger generations or the younger girls who are just starting to be interested in makeup. They want to wear everything all the time. Full foundation, eyeliner, contour, eyeshadow... because it's fun, you know, and it's like a new world with new opportunities. But it's about choosing and being particular with your makeup. If you're doing a dramatic eye, go for a softer lip. If you're doing a bold red lip, then just do mascara and a really clean eye look.
I really think it's about balance and feeling being confident in your own skin. Know that makeup is there for you to express yourself, but it's not about covering up or wearing a mask. It's about enhancing your features. Less is more!
What's your stance on Instagram makeup then?
It's too much, and it's not real! I've met most of the really, really big influencers and they don't wear such heavy makeup in real life. That's just for one moment on Instagram. Most of them don't even wear much makeup when they're out and about. I mean, yes, if there's an event they'll be wearing all that makeup because that's their persona, but they don't do that in their everyday life. They actually go barefaced. What you see on social media is not reality. It's unfortunate, because I feel like teenagers and young girls see that and they think that's what they're supposed to be.
When it comes to the relationship between makeup and women empowerment, how do you see Benefit contributing to the conversation, particularly in today's social media age that has been buzzing with the #metoo and #timesup movement?
I think it's important as a big player in the cosmetics and beauty industry that we express two ideas. The first is that a lot of people assume wearing makeup means you're not feeling confident about the face you have when you wake up in the morning. 'You don't need to wear eyeshadow'; 'you don't need to fill in your brows'; 'you're beautiful just the way you are'. Yeah, I know. I'm not doing this because I feel self-conscious. I'm doing it because I like it. I'm doing it because it gives me a boost of confidence. So I like to think about makeup as a tool for empowerment. And I think a lot of people do feel that. It's also a form of self-expression, you know?
Makeup sometimes gets a bad reputation, and on social media there's even a backlash on the total Instagram look but I think there's a whole area in-between — it's not one extreme or the other. People should be allowed to do whatever they want, whether you want to wear no makeup or you want a full-on glam face. Cause you know what? That's artistry. Makeup is about self-expression, and I think that leads to empowerment.
Secondly — and it's also why we started the Bold is Beautiful project — we feel that it's our responsibility as a global beauty brand to reach beyond just makeup and affect change in the community that have supported us. We have a voice at Benefit, and we are lucky to be where we are because someone in our life believed in us, whether it was our parents, a teacher or a friend. Something in our lives gave us the confidence to be where we are today but so many people, specifically women and girls, just don't have that support. So it's our responsibility to give that to them, whether it's through Girls2Pioneers or Aidha, which are the two philanthropies here. We can't just sit back and expect someone to do it, especially being a brand is that for women. That's why I feel so passionately about this.
How important is it for Benefit to give back, and how do you select the Singaporean charities the project will be working with?
One of the main things we're really passionate about when we set up the Bold is Beautiful project was that every country that activates the programme will choose their own charities. So the charities here in Singapore are different from the charities in Thailand or say, Mexico. Because the local Benefit teams are the ones doing the work; they're the ones who have the relationship with our charity partners, and they will be the ones volunteering so they need to feel that the charities are super committed. It's not going to work if someone in San Francisco tells them a charity to work with. Like, what do we know? We don't know what the local Singaporean community wants or needs. The people who live and work here know what's best.
Also, what's really important is that the money raised here in Singapore, stays in Singapore. Unlike a lot of other big global brands that have philanthropy, we don't collect the money and then distribute it. Every dollar raised here goes back to Girls2Pioneer and Aidha. It's the same in Mexico; the money raised there will go to the charities in Mexico. This is so that customers feel that much more that they've impacted change here. It's nice to give back to the greater good, but if you know your dollar goes to a girl in Singapore then you'll feel that much more connected to it.
Lastly, name your five Benefit desert island must-haves.
Oh my god, most people just give me one, and that's so hard but now I get five! I could work miracles with five products. I would definitely say Porefessional, Badgal Bang mascara — I love them all but I'm obsessing over this one right now — the Goof Proof brow pencil in shade 4, Bo-ing concealer, and one more... I would say Benetint. No wait, I take that back! It's Hoola. With these products, I'm good to go.
The Bold and Beautiful project will kick off in May with 100 per cent of Benefit's Brow Wax services, $26, going to Girls2Pioneer and Aidha. Book via Vaniday or call 6369 9496 to book your appointment.
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