Oak Park last year was cited as one of the “sexiest suburbs” in America. So surely that means Oak Parkers are beautiful”or at least, easy on the eye. But one Oak Park woman is skeptical of the “looks only” approach.

“There are many women who are beautiful on the outside but are hurting on the inside,” Willa Peterson believes.

Her business, “Let’s Make Up – Where Inner and Outer Beauty Meet” aims to help women of all ages create a beautiful face as well as heal emotional wounds.

“You must forgive,” says Peterson. “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord. Carrying around all that anger and junk just drags you down.” Armed with the latest in cosmetics and a “school of hard knocks” psychology, Let’s Make Up focuses on pulling together the whole woman.

Down to a science

“There are 42,336 different face combinations,” Peterson states confidently. A certified make-up artist, she has studied this and has a certificate to prove it. “There are 41 face shapes, 36 lip shapes and 24 eye shapes”not including Asian.” She has a specialized computer program that purports to identify the proper shape of a person’s facial features. “Artists are trained to know the shapes, but it’s like using a calculator instead of doing figures in your head”it’s faster and accurate,” she says. Identifying your features can help define how to properly highlight or accent them with make-up. For her sessions, Peterson will use the preferred products brought by the client or she will use Mary Kay Cosmetics.

Peterson has been representing Mary Kay Cosmetics for three years. “I was devoted to MAC for the longest time but made the switch a few years ago thanks to family and friends,” she laughs. Peterson’s son, a pilot in the military, was getting married in San Francisco to a woman in military intelligence who also sold Mary Kay Cosmetics on the side. At a party for her new daughter-in-law-to-be, the bride-to-be gave attendees a party favor including Mary Kay samples. “As soon as I got back to the hotel, I threw them away,” recalls Peterson. “I didn’t even open or try any of them.”

Back home in Oak Park, while shopping at Whole Foods in River Forest, she ran into a friend who, in conversation, told Peterson of her success with selling the brand and asked her if she wanted to do so, too. “I thought things must really be getting bad for her at the office if she is selling Mary Kay,” Peterson laughs. To humor her friend, she agreed to attend a meeting and, to her total surprise, she liked what she heard. “It was the first time I had ever heard a business say “God first, the family second and then career,” she says. “I really agree with that vision.”

But there was one area where she wasn’t satisfied with the company. Mary Kay Cosmetics does not require licensing of their representatives and, for legal reasons, does not allow representatives to apply make-up to customers directly. Instead, they teach people how to apply cosmetics themselves.

“I wanted to touch people’s faces,” Peterson said. “I didn’t want to just teach them; I wanted to show them myself.” Not one to compromise her beliefs, she became a certified professional make-up artist through “Dawn Till Dust Professional Make-up Inc.” a cosmetology school based in Nutley, N.J.

Peterson was quickly hired by Bobbi Brown cosmetics at the OakBrook Nordstrom, but she found a regular schedule too limiting. She wanted greater flexibility to travel and severed ties with the trendy company. “One son is in the military and is moving to England, another son lives in Colorado, and my daughter is in college in Southern California,” she explained. “My family is very close, and I also like to travel for pleasure.” Again, not content to compromise, she kept her travel schedule and also started her own business.

Becoming beautiful inside and out

Peterson offers a series of workshops designed for people at different stages of their life.

Included are: “Let’s Make Up: The Essentials,” creating a basic look while also helping people put together personalized strategies to get past their internal hurts by forgiving others.

In “Let’s Make Up, Let’s Shape Up,” Peterson addresses dietary issues and helps people become victorious over poor health by eliminating certain foods and adding others. “I had several illnesses that were
corrected primarily by changing my diet,” she noted. In particular, Peterson singles out the “warning foods””meat, caffeine, chocolate, salt, sugar, and white flour.

“Just imagine meat on the table for three days,” she observes. “That’s how long meat stays in your system. Fruits and veggies are the opposite”once eaten they quickly are eliminated.” According to Peterson, white flour turns to paste in the colon. “Animals have straight digestive systems built for meat products. Human digestive systems are circular,” she instructs.

Peterson learned about the positive effects of nutrition the hard way. “I had many illnesses”one, sarcodosis, is an auto-immune system disease that effects your spleen and kidneys.”

She now takes Mannatec ambrotose, a health supplement, to fortify herself with nutrients. And she stresses the importance of a good night’s sleep. “Many people actually overeat because they are tired. They really need a good night’s sleep, rather than more food, to feel energetic,” explains Peterson.

“Let’s Make Up, It’s Not Too Late” is a special make-up session for the woman returning to the workplace, transitioning from a divorce or widowhood. Peterson draws from her own life experience as well as her extensive studies and readings in psychology and motivation. But she also teaches with Candy Gellineau, a River Forest career coach whose philosophy””Why crawl when you can fly?””appealed to Peterson.

As part of the “emotional make-up,” each woman identifies her own purpose in life and, together with Peterson and Gellineau, establishes steps and accountabilities to turn dreams into reality.

A house of skin

In addition to her own health journey, Peterson has had her share of family issues as well. Her two sons”one a property developer in Colorado, the other a pilot in the military”are African-American men married to white women. “Some family members really had a problem with it,” she acknowledges. “They really felt pain and the presence of these young women in our family reminded them negatively of the days of slavery, but I said, “These women didn’t do that; don’t put this on them.”

Peterson says God calls on us to love our brother, and to differentiate based on color is wrong.

“I call skin your house”it’s just what holds your organs and stuff together.”

It’s these personal stories that help Peterson establish a strong rapport with her clients.

Recently Peterson had a personal session with a 12-year-old girl who needed to learn how to care for her skin and appropriately use make up. “Cleansing, exfoliating and moisturizing” was the focus with light make-up being secondary. Receiving advice from Peterson, meanwhile, was easier for the young lady than hearing it from her mother.

Peterson has also worked with an elderly woman in a care facility and was touched when the woman began crying after viewing her make-up application in the mirror.

“I was so upset,” she recalled. “I thought she didn’t like it. But the woman said, ‘No, it’s the first time I’ve looked beautiful in three years.'”

Peterson sees groups in party-style settings where instead of making jewelry or offering entertainment, she teaches young girls who are just getting interested in cosmetics how to care for their skin and properly apply appropriate make-up. She is also popular with women who want to catch up on the latest techniques or who want to refresh or update their look, either alone or with friends, during what Peterson calls “girlfriend time.”

She charges from $25 per person, minimum of four, for private parties, or $45 to $75 for an adult workshop. For information about “Let’s Make Up,” contact Willa Peterson at 386-5697.

How to forgive and move forward

Willa Peterson believes in the healing powers of forgiveness. But she acknowledges it may be hard. “Do you want to know how to forgive?” she asks, almost coyly. “I’ll give you a few tips but you’ll learn even more at a seminar.” Here are her strategies for those hanging onto emotional pain:

1. Pray ” Peterson urges others to start a regular conversation with God.

2. Write a letter to God ” “Just write all your pain, your hurt, your questions, your anger down on paper,” she suggests. You’ll release a lot of tension.

3. Express how you feel””Someone may not know that you are frustrated by them. You have to communicate”tell people how you feel and give them the chance to talk with you,” she says. Women are nurturers and avoid confrontation. By being direct, she says, you can face the problem and resolve it.

4. Show love and kindness to others””When you do something nice for someone else, you will feel good about yourself,” she notes. If you can reach out and help someone else who is in need, you will see the many good things in your own life you have to celebrate, and will feel better.

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