London was a fantastic place to grow up; although I was raised in inner city London, it wasn't like being in the center of a busy concrete jungle. I lived close to many open green spaces and only a walk away from the most beautiful place of all, Hampstead Heath. My school was situated on the Heath, so for seven years I enjoyed the extensive natural woodland of Hampstead; it was truly like living in the countryside. I would perhaps describe my early years as growing up in a “type of bubble” compared to most places in the world. London, particularly Camden (the borough I’m from), was and still is an ethnically mixed, very liberal place. We were all culturally diverse, a mass melting pot of mixed cultures and colours. I had no real concept of what racism was, as I never experienced it or saw it as a young child—we were oblivious as children. I think this was such a special aspect to growing up in central London, all mixed together and all learning from one other. My antagonist, as I would learn some years later, was Dyslexia.


My early school years were desperately challenging. I was a terribly slow learner compared to my classmates with reading, writing, and math. Whilst at school, dyslexia wasn't something that anyone knew about. It wasn't even really recognised in the 1980s. In primary school, I had “one on one” teaching, whilst everyone else was learning in class together. I was always separated from the rest of my class during English and math. I suppose I was lucky to have the “one on one,” but my teacher just couldn't understand why I just didn't get it, no matter how hard I tried. I have to say, math was the thing I struggled with the most. Even though I had private math tutors all through secondary school, I HATED math with a passion! It was one of the most frustrating periods of my life. I probably cried more over math then anything else in my life. It made me feel so dumb, so stupid that I just didn't get it.

I couldn't even understand the concept of telling the time until I was 11 or 12, when I started secondary school. I just didn't like myself. I used to listen to “Crucify Myself” by Torri Amos and think, That’s me. Her album Little Earthquakes was like the theme of how I felt about myself. I felt like a waste of space, like a “stupid little piece of crap.” The self-loathing was intense, and the insecurities were spiraling out of control. Thank God I went to an all-girls school, because I don't know how I would have coped with boys around. And no childhood experience would be complete without a fair share of bullying, right?


My own experience came in the form of a much younger girl in school; she said the most repulsive things to me to try and get a reaction (which I never gave her). She would get in my face and chant Will Smith's “Summertime” song, saying that I must’ve thought it was summer all year round since I dressed like a slut. My heart raced every time I saw her—the anxiety was high—but I was never one to speak back, to anyone for that matter. Even in class, I avoided speaking aloud since I was too shy and didn't want people to think I was an idiot. That song will forever remind me of her. One of her bullying episodes actually put a friend in a coma and landed her in juvenile detention.

Over the next five years, things slowly started to click in to place: My subject areas were broken down into separate lessons, which made things better for me. I still felt dumb, however. I continued to struggle immensely with math and English, basically anything to do with words or numbers. In the final year of school, my English teacher of five years told me, “Don't worry, Naoko, I know English is your second language.” In total shock, I couldn't even reply. English WAS my first language!

On the positive side, there were subjects I did excel in, like Art and Design. I spent most of my time drawing and painting because this was something I felt I understood and was actually good at. I am a very visual person; I understand shapes and colours, not words and numbers. I will only know if a word is spelt correctly by seeing the shape of the word when it's written down. I decided to focus my higher education on art-related subjects—which suited me down to the ground! I could explore and develop myself in something I loved and felt passionate about. And for the next six years, I only studied art and design and cultivated my real passion: makeup.


I began at The London College of Fashion in the year 2000. Only four months in, I developed acne—acute acne. Acne that warranted a diagnosis.  During my entire 20s I suffered from it, and it devastated my self-esteem. One Christmas holiday, I didn't go out for a month, the entire college break. I hated how my acne made me feel. My skin was bad, and this was magnified since we had to practice makeup on each other every day. Who wants to work on a pizza face?  I learnt a lot about myself, going through relentless acne cycles and becoming an expert in camouflaging blemishes with the hours I spent trying to cover the redness, the lumps and bumps. I went on the drug Roaccutaine three times to try to control the outbreaks. I definitely learned how to be stronger. Although it’s finally under control, I have to accept the fact that I will always have adult acne flair-ups. They are just a part of me. 


I think as a girl growing up, there are a lot of challenges you face with your appearance. Girls tend to be more obsessed with their looks. I know I was. But the beauty of these experiences is that you become a lot tougher. For me, my 30s were where things really started to fall in place. Hitting 30 was a great thing; I am so much happier within myself, and I respect myself and love myself (which I never thought would happen!). I'm happy and comfortable with the way I look, more so than at any other time in my life. God, I'm so much happier now it's crazy! My past just makes me appreciate myself and my life now. I was such a mess—I can't believe that was me! The things that mattered to me in my 20s seem so trivial now. It's not all about appearance; it’s about being happy with what you have, not what you don't have—the glass is half full, not half empty!

Working as a makeup artist has been a joyful process. I have to say it's what I love more than anything—working with interesting people/models/actors. Every day is a new experience, presents new challenges, and brings fun. Don't get me wrong: It has its challenges with lots of ups and downs, but ultimately, it makes me happy. Happiness is the most important thing in life, so we must all be happy with what we do on a regular basis. I feel lucky to have found something which drives me forward, something which is challenging and ultimately satisfying. My career is a continual process of development—which suits me down to the ground—and it's also a whole lot of fun! 



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“The artist is nothing without the gift… but the gift is nothing without work.”  
– Emile Zola

When I read Naoko’s story, I’m reminded of the strength and tenacity of the human spirit. Naoko dealt with bullying and acne, just like most teens. I most definitely had my share of episodes. But she had another struggle, one she carried silently: being dyslexic. Naoko didn’t know that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, that nearly 40 million UK adults are dyslexic with only 2 million realizing it. Dyslexia sent Naoko into a life of shame, forcing her to internalize her academic struggles as she coped with her struggles alone. She blamed herself, hated herself. This silent bully followed her everywhere. Home. School. To bed at night. Dyslexia was her living nightmare. It taught her at a young age how to carry the full weight of her insecurities silently. 

Now I’m about to take you on a trip, so follow close. Naoko, like most dyslexics, excels at seeing patterns—there’s a reason more than 50 percent of NASA employees are dyslexic, after all. Naoko is a makeup artist, whose skillset likewise involves the strategic use of patterns and shapes.  Her disorder of understanding patterns and shapes is actually her dexterity, giving her exceptional ability in her craft. What was once perceived as a curse was actually a gift all along—she just had to find its place. And boy, did she! This gift, coupled with her passion, has taken Naoko across the globe to work with hundreds of celebrities, designers, and top magazines. From the Olsen twins, to L'Oreal and Balmain, she is well on her way to sit amongst the greats.  Just goes to show: There’s something special in each and every one of us.

And as Naoko would say, "That suits me down to the ground!”



Sound familiar? If you can relate, leave a comment with your thoughts and experiences.