Introduction: This mask is about beauty—how we as women are taught and trained to pursue an ideal from a very young age. We face daily reminders on television, on the internet and in print advertising of the perfection that will come if we buy and use beauty products.

The mask I assembled is a combination of many of the famous faces that any woman reading a beauty magazine or stepping into a mall will encounter. If she lives in a large city, she will pass many of these faces on her way to work—they proliferate on buses, metro cars and store fronts. She will see them again on the internet and with nightly television shows. Kate, Eva, Ashley, Jessica, Drew, Mary-Kate…..all the women I showed the mask to could pick out at least one of the famous beauties, even though their faces were only partially there.

I don’t have anything against makeup or cosmetics, they are a rewarding diversion and a guilty pleasure, and some of it you really need. It is also one of the first things you get permission to do from your mom as you pass from child into teen years. In this way, I suppose it is a rite of passage, like shaving is for men- you know you have arrived.

I chose to photograph the mask in three places- a beauty salon, a department store, and a chain beauty store. Say the word “Sephora” to any American women and she will know you don’t mean a singing angel, you mean that glowingly lit chick haven that we all love to disappear into.

I chose for the salon one owned and staffed by Vietnamese women.Manicure salons have become a boom industry in US cities, where they have created jobs for tens of thousands of Asian women. Manicure salons have invaded US cities over the past 10 years. The phenomenon took off in southern California, where there is a big Vietnamese population. The link with the Asian community is so strong that in California, exams to join the profession can now be taken in Vietnamese.

According to the US Labor Department, there were 44,390 licensed manicurists in the country in November 2009, earning an average of 9.56 dollars an hour, just above the supermarket checkout clerk at 8.27 dollars but less than a hairdresser at 11.41 dollars. According to the California department of labor, 80% of the licenses are issued to someone who self-describes as of Vietnamese origin. Business was good at the salon, the manager said that women continue to come in these times and reports that “A little luxury is good for you.”

Cosmetic counters in department stores are helping the large chains to keep above water. There was no apparent lack of business at the cosmetic counters in Bloomingdales or Sephora.Here are some statistics from

Amount of money needed each year (in addition to current expenditures) to provide water and sanitation for all people in developing nations– $9B

Amount of money spent annually on cosmetics in the United States- $8B  

In the photos of the mask are the women who go to work each day to make other women look beautiful.

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