Jessica Ruiz’s story is nothing short of amazing. The 26-year-old makeup artist was born with arthrogryposis, a congenital muscle disorder that has affected all four of her limbs. “When I was born all of my limbs were literally contorted,” she says. “My left leg was completely across my torso near my shoulder, my right leg was bent underneath me, both of my arms were crisscrossed behind me, and both of my feet were clubbed and my toes were touching my heels. Also, I was born with intestines outside of my body.” Her doctors told her parents that she would be a vegetable and that she would never be able to walk, talk, or communicate in any way. Here she is now, though, speaking just fine to talk about how she- here’s the amazing part- is now a makeup artist. With limited movement in her arms and hands, Ruiz learned how to apply makeup on first herself and then others. Through watching tutorials on YouTube and practicing on her little sister, she was able to hone her technique of using her mouth to apply makeup. She loves trying the latest makeup trends on her clients and playing around with special effects makeup as well. After going through five surgeries, dealing with bullies as a child, and being rejected from every beauty school she’s applied to, Ruiz has been through it all. She just recently started getting the attention she deserves, though, and has been steadily getting clients and gigs. By pushing herself and doing what doctors said she would never be able to, her life is on the right track. Oh, and did I mention she’s married? Her husband, Robert Rodriguez, along with her personal care assistant and longtime friend, Shelley Harris, help take care of her, but it seems she can do plenty on her own. Of course, you’re dying to know more about the Philadelphia-based makeup artist, so read below to see what she has to say about her life and career, and to get the makeup tips she offered exclusively to HBS readers!
Question: What was it like growing up with arthrogryposis?
Jessica Ruiz: Growing up, it was kind of hard. I was in a school for both the mentally physically disabled right here in Philadelphia so I always felt secluded to the point where I would never be able to fit in with the ‘other kids.’ I was always picked on. I was a tomboy- no makeup, I was all about mud pies and tonka trunks- and I was picked on because of it and it was tough. There was a group of girls in middle school that picked on me and called me crude names. I never really hung out with girls and I was kind of always with the guys. All this bullying was really getting tiresome and I wanted to do something about it so I went to adults, the teachers, and principle, and they didn’t do anything. Because it was a school for the mentally and physically disabled, they said ‘You guys are in the same boat’ or ’It doesn’t matter,’ so I thought I needed to bring positivity to my situation. I started doing makeup. I watched my aunt do her makeup day in and day out and it really transformed her and boosted her self-esteem and self-confidence. I wanted to feel that, too and makeup has done the same for me.
Q: What other struggles did you grow up with?
JR: Not being able to see my parents as much as I’d like. Both parents gave me up when I was 30-days-old. They weren’t able to take care of me due to my physical disability on top of their drug issue. Really wanting my parents around was really one of the hardest things for me growing up. Yes, I had my grandparents and they gave me everything I could ever want, but you still want that motherly love from the person that gave birth to you.
Q: How did you learn how to apply makeup on yourself?
JR: First, when I hit the 8th or 9th grade, I was able to put on foundation and everything and that was all through Youtube. I literally taught myself how to do makeup through Youtube and adapting what they were doing to how I could possibly do it.
Q: How did you perfect your technique?
JR: I spent hours upon hours sitting on Youtube watching several makeup tutorials on there, and I would watch each video numerous times until I got it right. I would practice on myself first then practice on my poor younger sister.
Q: When did you start doing other people’s makeup?
JR: In 2007. I had a request from a really good friend of mine to do her makeup for graduation photos. It got to point where I was like ‘I have no idea how I’m gonna do it!’ I had just learned how to do my own and I had no idea how I would perfect someone else’s, but I did it! After graduation, her mother actually sent me a thank you letter because she loved it so much. That felt really good.
Q: What did it feel like when you were rejected from all of those beauty schools?
JR: It really made me feel worthless, that I wasn’t even worth the time to take out to give me the chance because they never seen me work. They just knew I came in with a full face of makeup and they probably thought ‘Oh she just had someone else do it.’ I went into a deep depression and gained about 50 pounds. I’m tiny so, for my size, going up to 150 is a whole lot.
Q: What else did you pursue?
JR: I tried to do a few fashion shows and to really get my name out there. There was one fashion show where they said ‘We’re gonna get your story out there this is amazing’ and after the show, I never heard from them again. I also did sweet sixteens and proms and just freelance trying to get my name out there.
Q: When did people start taking notice of your talent?
JR: Honestly, very very recently! Ever since the Philadelphia Small Business Fashion Week. I reached out to them saying ‘Hey listen, I’m a makeup artist here in Philly and I want to get my work showcased.’ They had no idea that I was disabled or that I did makeup with my mouth. They were like ‘Sure, come in to showcase your work!’ I called the night before to make sure it was handicapped accessible and to let them know I do makeup with my mouth. What I do is very different from a makeup artist who does makeup with her hands. The director, Dawane Cromwell, was caught off guard in a good way and with welcoming arms they let me showcase my work. Within a week and a half later, my face was on the front page of the local newspaper. That was probably the first moment since the show that people started taking notice of what I do and how I do it.
Q: What’s the best gig you ever got?
JR: That event. They were the only ones who were completely open to how I did my makeup and how I did my client’s makeup. I also did my very first professional photo shoot with a photographer who was physically disabled himself so that would definitely be another highlight.
Q: What’s it been like getting all this attention?
JR: Oh my goodness! A lot of tears, a lot of happy tears. I honestly had no idea that it would take off the way it did, you know. I thought it would be like ‘Oh I’m just gonna do this Small Business Fashion Week,’ but they were like ‘No, we’re gonna get your story out there and get the recognition you deserve!’ Even my own family, they’re like “Hey movie star!” when they see me and I’m just waiting for someone to wake me up where I’m still just doing makeup for people I knew. But that’s the thing, people who had no idea who I was before, now know who I am. My manicurist actually booked me a cool gig just last night, actually.The client had no idea who I was and I walked in her apartment and her jaw dropped and she said ‘You’re the girl from tv!’ and ‘This is an Instagram moment!’ and took pictures. To see people view my disability and my ability as a whole, this is what I’ve been working towards: breaking that stigma of being disabled. Over the last few weeks, I definitely realized I don’t have a disability. A disability is all mental, all in the head if you allow it to be. It may sound cliche, but I feel as if I’m cured of being disabled because, again, it’s a state of mind, not a state of being.
Q: What do you have coming up in the future?
JR: I actually plan on being the lead makeup artist for the Philadelphia Small Business Fashion Week and lead makeup artist for the Philadelphia Kids Fashion Week. I also plan on creating tutorials for how I do my makeup and clients makeup and a whole bunch of fun stuff; not just makeup, but q and a’s and getting involved with my viewers. I also have a GoGundMe account(www.gofundme.com/jessicarulz); it’s mainly to help me get the supplies I need to continue to follow my dreams of owning my own glam studio where my past and future clients can come and get their hair and makeup done. It would be full service. That’s what I really want to do. Have my name on a huge building and have people say “Hey, I know you” and I also plan on coming out with a brush and cosmetic line.
Q: Is there anything you want to do that you haven’t yet?
JR: A lot of film work. I want to get involved with film directors. My deep passion is actually special effects makeup. I’m a huge fan of The Walking Dead and getting to see my work on the screen would be amazing. I’m also want to work on getting my name out there to not only be a Philadelphia/NYC based artist but to be able to travel outside of my realm and possibly become a celebrity makeup artist.
Q: What makeup product could you never leave the house without?
JR: Eyeliner. Especially now with all the tears, I’ve been running through eyeliners so it’s a must.
Q: Is there anything else you want the readers to know?
JR: People should never give up on their dreams.
Jessica’s favorite makeup brands:
Jessica’s Lipstick Secret:
Apply a clear lip liner on your lips then apply lipstick, then a translucent powder and reapply your lipstick. It will last all day!
Where to Find Her:
Right now Jessica Ruiz is based in Philadelphia. You can find her on social media with username Dreamy Eyes Artistry on Facebook, Dreamy_Eyes_Artistry on Instagram and @DreamyEyesMUA on Twitter. Her manager, who books all gigs and appearances, can be reached at email@example.com. Her gofundme.com account can be reached by clicking here. If you’re wondering how she does her own makeup, her first Youtube tutorial is posted at