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Celebrity makeup artist Akua Auset helps bring out the extraord...










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Celebrity makeup artist Akua Auset spent Friday evening in front of a gathering of women in her North Elston Avenue studio.


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It's not that the women didn't arrive already knowing some of Auset's principles about beauty, health and wellness. It's just that when you're in a pretty place where pastel walls are angular and jut out like an A-line skirt and diffused fragrances set a mood, you don't mind being reminded about potentially toxic chemicals in makeup or the importance of "purifying teas." Auset, 43, has worked with an array of celebrities, including Bulls legend Michael Jordan, actress Pam Grier and singers India.Arie and Jill Scott. But the photographs displayed most prominently in her studio are of regular people to whom she's given Hollywood-style makeovers as well as advice about living better. She said New Moon Friday, a free event she plans to hold at least one Friday every month this year, is about bringing out the extraordinary in ordinary people. (You can find other Friday dates at

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"It's about creating yourself as a living masterpiece," Auset said during last week's inaugural event. But Auset, who is formerly known as Nick Roques, acknowledged that she has not always seen herself as a masterpiece. "When I was young, I felt ugly and uncomfortable in my own skin," she said. "I realized that making people beautiful satisfied my own desire for beauty." She said a defining moment in her career came when she was hired to work on the set of a raunchy rap music video.

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Celebrity makeup artist Akua Auset helps bring out the extraord...

"I didn't know the project until I arrived, and the whole day I was like, wow," she said. "It featured a lot of butt-shaking in front of the camera. It's one thing to see it on television, but to see it in person — it really opened my eyes in that I felt a need to talk to girls." Auset offers workshops (she recently did one at South Shore High School) and retreats for girls to get them to work on their self-esteem and self-worth as well as healthy eating, grooming and living habits. She has a book, "Superwomen & Goddesses: Workin' Your Power & Magic," which she dedicated to the daughters of the post-gangsta rap generation. "They spend a lot of time in front of the television, and I want them to think about what they're consuming visually and spiritually," she said. "I ask them: 'Who are you? What are your gifts? Who are the people who affirm who you are?'"

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Auset, who grew up on the South Side, said she remembers deriving her own identity from what she saw on television in the 1970s and '80s. When she was a teen, her self-image was not positive. "At the time, the images of beauty were not what I looked like and what my family looked like," said Auset, who's African-American. She said that unlike her peers, she didn't wear makeup for years. But one day, when she was 21, she was in a department store, and a man behind a counter offered her a makeover. Afterward, she loved what she saw. "My face was broken out and pimply and it looked flawless and I looked at myself and thought, 'I'm really pretty,'" she said. "It was a magical moment. It was like regaining my confidence, and I began to do makeup at department store counters." A year later, she had her first of two daughters. She was a single mom, and being a makeup artist was her way of "painting" while making money to support her family. She also began working for local celebrities and traveling to Hollywood. In 1998, she left Chicago and moved to Los Angeles, where she would stay for seven years. "In my 20s, my idea of beauty was pretty superficial," she said. "But in my 30s, I started to feel exhausted and I was getting headaches. I was a slave to erratic emotions and I thought, I'm only 30 and I should feel better." She said that when she was young, her mother exercised and consumed more vegetables than meat. But Auset said she took a different path until her own health taught her that true beauty was a function of being and feeling well. "The options we have with health, wellness and beauty are overwhelming," she said. "When I started watching what I was eating, I didn't know exactly what was a protein and what was a carb." So she developed a 9 1/2-week-long project that teaches adults and teens how to eat, drink and think in a more holistic way. Instead of promoting diets, Auset encourages eating "live foods" (meaning nothing processed or cooked above 118 degrees). Instead of suggesting that participants "exercise," she recommends that they "get going, even dance." And she reminds them to breathe during hardships and stay focused and positive. "I've been homeless and on welfare, but I've also flown in private jets," she said. "So I know life has its challenges. But I think about what Michelangelo said when asked how he came up with such amazing masterpieces. He said he just removed what was not the masterpiece. And that's what this is about, removing and letting go what's not the masterpiece in you."

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