Barbara Lee Shimoda was born in Chinatown and grew up on the Lower East Side in New York City. Originally destined for a career in fashion design, Barbara’s career path took a slight turn when an unforeseen event guided her into a new direction. Today she works as a permanent make-up artist, combining her love and talent of design into a career that ultimately changes people’s lives.Barbara Lee Shimoda was born in Chinatown and grew up on the Lower East Side in New York City. Originally destined for a career in fashion design, Barbara’s career path took a slight turn when an unforeseen event guided her into a new direction. Today she works as a permanent make-up artist, combining her love and talent of design into a career that ultimately changes people’s lives. From cancer survivors to accident victims, Barbara’s clientele ranges from celebrities to diplomats, who come from all over the world just for her passion, expertise and brilliant freehand. Barbara can do just about anything and says the best part of her job is knowing that she is improving the lives of people who seek her service.
I was so glad I could release her from this subconscious suffocation.
ASIANCE: How did you initially become a permanent makeup artist?
Barbara: Twenty five years ago, I got married and I had a baby who got very sick. He ended up having multiple surgeries. The nurses up at New York hospital took such good care of him. The nurses really inspired me. I then had a couple more kids, 3 in total. Once they were old enough, I went to school, got my degree and started Nursing right away.
When I was a young mother and very harried, I didn’t have time to put on makeup. I had 3 little ones to take care of. I wanted it on perfect. So I had heard about this procedure about makeup which stayed on forever. My friends and I talked about it and investigated it. A friend of mine said she heard about this woman in Chinatown who did it. Being young and naïve I said, “OK!”.
When it was finished, my eyeliner was smeared. The makeup artist kept saying that, “It will come off. It will come off.” I said, “Do you think you could take this all off?” She said, “No. It’s permanent.” I was upset. I didn’t know what to do. I finished my education. I got divorced and went ahead and worked hard in Nursing to support my kids.
I started doing a lot of surgical work at Methodist Hospital. Since I was in that department, it was great. There was this plastic surgeon that put on these beautiful breasts for women, whether it was Augmentation or a Mastectomy, their areolas were horrible. They would literally take a cookie cutter and tattoo the areola on. The surgeons were men and I thought no breast really looks like that. The doctors would tell me that they were giving this woman perfect breasts. I said, “No, she has to feel unique. She has to look unique”. I have to figure out a way. So one of the surgeons said, “If you think you can do a better job go ahead”. So I went out to California to learn and came back and said, “I can do this!” Within a few days, I had my first clients. I ended up fixing my botched eyeliner. It took 8 years of gradually filling in.
ASIANCE: Is there a procedure that is most popular among Asian American Women?
Barbara: Most Asian American women have the eyeliner done. Most of us don’t have eyelids and we don’t have eyebrows. That’s pretty much the most popular.
What is typical of Asian Women is that most shop for price rather than quality. Some think I’m too expensive. They think they can go to Chinatown and get it cheaper. Everyone who comes to me knows that I will do 100% for you. Sometimes it takes return visit but once it’s complete I can guarantee you will be happy. My motto is “If you don’t give up on me, I won’t give up on you.”
Never give up your dreams. Always try to go forward. Even if you have to go backwards, it’s ok.
Some come from Hong Kong. Some have come on a bus to get here. And some save up their money just to come to NY to see me.
ASIANCE: What can one expect after they come see you? Let’s say they come in to have their lips done.
Barbara:When you first get it done, it looks red and vibrant. But then it will set into a natural color. You have to pump in a lot to get a little bit of color. I look at the skin tone. Lips generally are blue. Your lips will never turn bright red because there is too much blue in your lips.
ASIANCE: Give us an example of how you changed someone’s life.
Barbara: This one woman came in with orange lips. Someone had done it in acrylic ink. She said she couldn’t breathe and asked me if there was anything I could do for them. First, I had to remove the horrible lip line. I put a glycolic polymer on them and just let the lotion work and lift all that off. As I was removing it, I could smell plastic. After I was finished with her, she said, “Barbara my lips can breathe. I can feel them”. That was better than her saying, “I look good”. I was so glad I could release her from this subconscious suffocation. She didn’t know why she kept getting thirsty. She was out of breath. Later she ended up becoming one of my apprentices.
ASIANCE: What do you love the most?
Barbara:I also do stretch marks. I love my work. It’s never boring. There’s never a dull moment. I’m always figuring out what to do with the face, body or whatever it is I’m fixing. It’s really good to be able to fix someone and change their whole outlook on life. It may not be anything to us but that little thing changes them. So my advice to you is whatever is bothering you, take care of it and get on with your life.
ASIANCE: Do you have any advice for Asian American women or women in general?
Barbara: Never give up your dreams. Always try to go forward. Even if you have to go backwards, it’s ok. As long as it’s a positive reflection on your future.
ASIANCE: Your hobbies besides tattooing?
Barbara: I love to travel, especially Paris. Each place is special. I like Paris because there is so much art there. Everyone that dresses has a certain style. I didn’t meet anyone there who was not friendly.
ASIANCE: Talk about the charity you and your husband founded.
Barbara: Dori (husband) founded “Give Children a Choice” which builds preschools for Children in Laos. When we were there, we went to a village and met this child. A fishbone had been stuck in his throat for over a year. I didn’t see anything. I only saw puss. I knew he needed to be brought to the emergency room. When we got to the emergency room it was disgusting. It had this dirty bowl of Borax in it where everyone washed their hands. There was a gurney that had blood splattered on it. All the walls were painted this gross green and blood was splattered all over it. Everything was just filthy. Everyone washed their gloves and reused them.
So, everything is blue on this kid. He’s hypoxic. We took the kid for an x-ray. The machine was this old rusted cranky thing. Then, the doctor pulls out this huge needle. The kid jumped up and high tailed it out of there into the jungle. In Laos, the custom is that if the child doesn’t want to do it, he doesn’t have to. I said, “You can do whatever this kid wants but he’ll be dead in a month”. I ran after him. It was pitch dark. I picked him up while he’s kicking, yelling, screaming and crying. I said, “It’s going to be good for you. You’ll be able to breathe!” The doctor ended up taking the bone out without the anesthesia. Four days later the child was completely different. The hole in his throat had closed up. The whole emergency room visit cost $6.80! And this doctor was screaming about his overtime.
In Laos, about 11% of the children don’t make it past 5 and on the outskirts, it’s worse, 20% of children don’t make it. Most of these kids are orphans. I hope one day I can take him back here.
Give Children A Choice. Right now we’re concentrating on Laos but last January we went to China. We want to build schools over there. Contrary to what anyone thinks, China is still 3rd world. Especially once you get out of the port cities. They are so poor. Some cases are really bad. We got to see firsthand what it was like. The problem over there is not only are they poor there are just so many people. www.givechildrenachoice.org
It’s a dual effect because so many girls are in elementary school and can’t go to school because they have to watch their siblings. There are preschoolers who don’t do anything. This is to help kids so they can stay in school. We also get medicine sent to the villages. During the rainy season malaria is very high. The children tend to jump into the river with eye infections. We also provide free lunches which help them stay in school. We pay for teachers’ salaries and training until they can get on the government payroll. The schools are multi generational.
Before we came in there, the children used to be sad and expressionless. They didn’t have a personality. Now they sing. They interact more. It’ll have a lasting effect. We started it at the end of 2002 and now we have a total of 6 schools. Most people who wanted to play a part became interested through our newsletters.
We have a Sponsorship program which is situated in Phnom Penn, capital of Cambodia. The children work in dumps 7-14 hours a day for 10 Cents to 75 Cents a day. They don’t go to school. So we started a program where they go to school. And then later in the afternoon they learn English. We have 9 kids. We’re also pro-girl power! We try to sponsor more girls because there is more opportunity for males than females. If any one is going to get, it’s the boy. If girls are successful the rippling effect is even greater, even for siblings. It has a broader impact.
You can find more information on Barbara and her tattoo techniques here http://www.timelessimageinc.com.