Look Good, Feel Better

By Abbie Kozolchyk ,

Beauty editing can be all kind of things: an eye feast, a funfest—a crazy education (true story: when a friend was studying for his medical boards, I did better on the dermatology practice tests than he did). But one thing the gig is not, typically: a big soul stirrer.

Last week, however, I lucked into an exception: a Look Good Feel Better workshop. This free program—which I’d been invited to observe by the underwriting foundation—exists solely to help cancer patients handle the side effects they see in the mirror.

The point, of course, is not to feel runway-ready (forgive me: I’m getting a thousand New York Fashion Week press releases per minute as I write). The point is simply to feel like oneself—an often elusive state for anyone who doesn’t think she looks like herself.

And while the women at the session I sat in on were remarkably beautiful, they’d all seen their share of change: Most had lost their hair; some had lost their brows—everyone had newfound skin care concerns. Speaking of, I should note that each participant gets a cosmetics kit, and the contents are always screened for toxicity.

The workshop was led by a volunteer veteran of the beauty industry who’s versed in everything from blush blending to wig washing—and wise-cracking, when a group clearly needs a good laugh.

She kept the intros intentionally brief—a detail that might have been lost on me had I not been struck by something a friend said several months ago, mid-chemo: Feeling obliged to talk about your cancer, even among people who can relate, gets old fast.

Then again, there’s perhaps no better ice breaker than group grooming. It feels like such a throwback—seriously, when did you last primp en masse? at a slumber party? bunk night?—the sheer girliness seems to take women out of themselves. Yes, even if they’re learning how to keep scarves from slipping off their newly exposed scalps.

As I followed the participants through their two-hour session, I kept trying to figure out what accounted for the amazing transformation I was witnessing: That escapist element? The makeup itself (which, for the record, was fabulous by any standards)? The expert tutelage? Or simply being pampered?

In the end, I suspected the answer was all of the above, with a heavy emphasis on options A and D. And according to one graduate of the program, I wasn’t too far off: “It was the beautiful women, both inside and out, who gave me an opportunity to think about something other than cancer. I instantly felt brighter. It was just such a nice contrast—and that in itself was inspiring.”

Indeed, however face-brightening the blush—or natural-looking the penciled-on brows—there’s no cosmetic that can hold a candle to the gorgeous glow of kindness.

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To find a workshop near you, click here. And many thanks again to the workshop participants—as well as to the Personal Care Products Council Foundation and NYU Langone's Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center—for allowing me to observe.

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