In post-duty life, women face a different host of challenges than their male counterparts. One initiative, Operation Reinvent, is partnering with Benefit Cosmetics to offer a new kind of support.
1. This is Marbelyn Cepeda, a Marine veteran who served in Afghanistan and is transitioning back to civilian life.
Cepeda, pictured above with her nephew, joined the Marines in 2009 after her first year of college. She said she chose the Marines because her sister had been in the army and she wanted to challenge herself to do something even tougher. In 2012 Cepeda was deployed to Afghanistan and returned to the United States in February 2013.
2. While she was serving her country, Cepeda said she felt like she needed to suppress her femininity.
“Men [in the military] are more free to be themselves. Women, not so much,” Cepeda told BuzzFeed Life. “I felt like I had to be or act stronger than I actually am. I always had to be on point. There was always attention on me, especially because I was one of few females in my unit,” she said. Cepeda explained that women are allowed to wear certain kinds of makeup, so long as it looks natural, but she never saw much point in wearing makeup while she was active in the Marines because it could potentially draw negative attention.
3. “Before I joined the Marines, I enjoyed being all girly and done up. But while I was in, I just felt like that would have put more of a spotlight on me that I didn’t want,” Cepeda said. “It just felt like I couldn’t be as feminine as I wanted to be.”
Julie Lewit-Nirenberg, founder of Operation Reinvent, an organization that helps female veterans transition back into civilian life with mentoring and career counseling, told BuzzFeed Life that the feelings Cepeda expressed are common. Women make up about 7.11% of the Marines and 15.7% of the armed forces, but enlisting in the military means shifting the focus away from every societal norm of what it means to express confidence as a woman. Boot camp, training, and duty are meant to standardize every person in uniform. But after they’ve finished their tour of duty, Lewit-Nirenberg said women can be left feeling like the identity they cultivated in the military doesn’t have a place once they leave.
5. Once they’re honorably discharged from the military, women are faced with an unemployment rate that is 66% higher than their male counterparts, which means that finding a job can feel impossible.
Couple this with a loss of identity and a deflated sense of self, and these women can feel like reinventing their lives is like fighting a losing battle, Lewit-Nirenberg explained.
6. Operation Reinvent is an initiative that works to help female veterans transition back into a civilian life after serving in the military.
“What we try to do is have these women get in touch and reacquaint themselves with their femininity and their confidence, to give them the confidence to walk into a room and feel like a woman,” Lewit-Nirenberg said. The initiative works to give women the tools they need to have a successful life and career post-duty through a program filled with mentors, career coaching, peer counseling, and more. “The whole purpose of this is to get this side of these women out. To make them strong and confident.”
7. One of the simplest, most powerful ways Operation Reinvent helps veterans become more confident is through makeovers.
“Men don’t understand. They think getting a makeover is frivolous, but women understand that this is nothing frivolous,” Lewit-Nirenberg said. “One of the things we’re nailing down is the importance and happiness that looking good gives you. That looking good and feeling good is one in the same.” So in 2015, Operation Reinvent partnered with Benefit Cosmetics, a makeup brand known for their philosophy that laughter is the best cosmetic. Together, the companies created a program called Salute With A Smile, through which they give female war veterans easy makeovers and 15-minute lessons on how to apply makeup home.
8. “It’s not quite like getting into a Supergirl costume, but makeup makes me feel like a better version of myself,” Cepeda said.
This confidence is at the heart of what Operation Reinvent is trying to do: help women feel their best so they’re ready to face the professional field with their best foot forward.
9. “I never like to place so much importance on how I look because it’s what’s on the inside that counts, but it helps so much of the good on the inside come out,” Cepeda said.
Cepeda worked as an electrician while she was serving, and she credits the Marines for helping to shape who she is as a woman today. While she said she values the skills she learned in the Marines, she’s working toward a different goal when it comes to her civilian work. She’s on track to graduate from Baruch College in December 2015 with a degree in communications, which she hopes to use for a career in public relations.
“I’m not going to say that I want a job I love, because that’s rare. But I want a job that I feel confident about. I want to wake up in the morning and say, ‘Wow. I made it. I’m doing what I set out to do so many years ago,’” she said.
10. On Saturday, Feb. 14, Benefit Cosmetics will offer free makeovers in any Benefit Brow Bar or Benefit Boutique location around the country for any female veteran who comes dressed in uniform.
Women also have the option of bringing in a photo of themselves in uniform to receive the complimentary makeover.
If you or someone you know is a female war veteran interested in becoming a part of the Operation Reinvent program, visit OperationReinvent.org.