Episode 50 Transcript

Published: Thursday June 6, 2024

Inclusivity in Beauty | Steph Aiello’s Impact

A Quadriplegic Makeup Artist’s Influence on Inclusivity


Alycia Anderson: Welcome to Pushing Forward with Alycia, a podcast that gives disability a voice. Each week we will explore topics like confidence, ambition, resilience and finding success against all odds. We are creating a collective community that believes that all things are possible for all people.

Open hearts. Clear paths. Let’s go.

Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia and Alycia Anderson. We have a major influencer in the house today.

I’m so excited Steph Aiello, she is a makeup artist, a content creator, a disability advocate. She’s working with all kinds of incredible brands like Ulta and Maybelline and Fenty. And she’s got the most amazing story, heart and beauty. Welcome to the show Steph.

Steph Aiello: Thank you. I’m so excited to be here.

Alycia Anderson: I’m so excited you’re here too. Can you share a little bit about your spinal cord injury journey? I know you call yourself the Super quadriplegic. Talk a little bit about your journey.

Steph Aiello: Yeah, of course. So, I became a quadriplegic back in 2010, and I was actually on my way to go to cosmetology school on that Monday, I got into my car accident on Sunday.

So, makeup is something that I’ve always had a passion for, something that I’ve always wanted to achieve. However, when I became a quadriplegic and I lost a lot of mobility in my hands, I didn’t think that it was going to be something that I could revisit that passion. And of course, like a lot of us who are… when our lives change on a dime, I went through a lot of depression initially in the hospital and which was hard because when everyone’s calling you this inspiration and they’re so proud of you, like you don’t ever want to admit that, hey, I’m actually struggling.

And so, I try to push through that and my OT actually saw through all of it and sawl that I was having a really rough day and didn’t want to get out of bed. And she’s the one who initially started the flame back up for me and put makeup in front of me on my little table while I got to stay in bed and said we’re gonna figure this out, and that’s what we did. And, that’s how I figured out how to lace things between my fingers, open compacts with my mouth and use other… use my body in a different way to still achieve the beauty that I wanted to achieve.

Alycia Anderson: Two things just came to my mind, I think it’s very beautiful that your occupational therapist… I’m sure you had told her stories about your dreams of wanting to be a makeup artist and do all the things that you’re doing today. And while you’re laying in the hospital bed, she brings you the thing that you love and.

Steph Aiello: Mmm hmm.

Alycia Anderson: And you’re able to kind of start to create. I… being in the hospital sucks and you don’t feel beautiful, so I can only just imagine how nice it was to have makeup put in front of you to kind of.

Steph Aiello: I think it was also a part of like control that I felt like I didn’t have because everyone was bathing me, cathing me, helping my program, dressing me. I lost all of my independence, including like feeding me.

That it was one thing that I had… that I had control of that made me feel like I still had a piece of my identity and my identity lingering somewhere inside this body.

That was new.

And so, makeup has been way more than just like a beauty tool for me has been like my therapy and my rock through all of these years.

Alycia Anderson: Aah, that’s so beautiful. You talk about your hands and making your hands your brand.

Can you talk about how that was from pre and post?

Steph Aiello: Yeah. So, I don’t have full grip. Like my hands actually… like they function, they move, but there’s like no strength to them. So, they look like… this is where people are like, no, you’re a paraplegic.

I’m like, no. What is wrong with you? [laughter] Like, I promise you. I am a quad.

So like, I will lace things between my two fingers and yeah, so, making my hands my brand was not initially my idea. It came from Tyra Banks and she was the one who encouraged me to make my hands my brand.

We went to a beauty con event that was for Tyra Beauty. Rest in peace Tyra, beauty makeup.

But we went to that and I was asking her like you know. I have low confidence online and I cut my hand function out of all my videos like can you show me like a better way to do this and do that and then it wasn’t until Chelsea and I flew out to Las Vegas to one of her big events and it was also, I believe it was my third year being cancer free or my fourth year being cancer free and Vegas is the last place I ever walked.

So, it was like a big moment for me and it was a day of my cancer free date and Tyra Banks went on stage and talked about a beauty influencer that she met and she encouraged me to make my hands my brand, and ever since then I have stopped hiding my hand function.

And I didn’t know how much beauty like you feel when you’re actually showing the world who you really are, and so that was… that was like something really special that I’ll always remember and always be grateful for.

Alycia Anderson: How has this passion in makeup artistry and advocacy? What are your

goals there?

Steph Aiello: My goals are definitely to like try, you know, I do have a platform where I am going to be noticed more often than not like, first off, but like I want to open doors.

And then I get like really excited when I saw like Bri Scalesse in a Sephora, and I was like, thank God it’s not my face! Like, yeah! It’s like, you know what I mean? It just feels so good and that’s like what I want more of is like seeing more people in wheelchairs being represented in a space that is not as inclusive.

It’s inclusive when it comes to skin tones and all of that and, you know, makeup and all, anything that has to do with that, with inclusivity. Which is great. Makeups come a long way in that, but it’s not as inclusive when it comes to the packaging and the brushes and all the tools that you need.

So, I do work with Maybelline behind the scenes which is what I want to do more of and I want to do more of that behind the scenes with other brands in the sense of like testing products, testing, packaging, testing formulas. I think that’s like my most favorite thing.

So, I think that’s where I’m hoping things kind of shift into because I don’t know like as much as it’s been a fun ride for like it to be my passion. I can’t wait to see it be others and other people get highlighted.

Alycia Anderson: The packaging and the accessibility I worked with a brand one time. It was the same like conversation. You need to start with packaging. You’re going to lose us at literally opening up the product if it’s not accessible.

Steph Aiello: Mmm hmm.

Alycia Anderson: So, I think that’s powerful that you are doing that work and there’s a lot of opportunity.

Steph Aiello: Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, and that’s… that’s the… that’s the goal, I think like it’s really cool, right when like brands go viral for including us, but true inclusion is when we don’t go viral.

It’s like when my photo in the Ulta like store went viral. I was like OK like you know, everyone’s like Oh my God, it’s on this new station, it’s on this new station.

I was like, OK, well, hopefully this is the first and last time that we need to do this.

Because we should not have to go like, that’s not inclusivity. We… Why are we giving a… like through all the brands for putting someone with a disability in their window!?!

Like this should be normalized at this point.

And so, I’m excited that I’m only going to be 34 years old and hopefully I can live to the days where I can see an ad and be like, oh, that’s so normal. Like I love that. Like. You know, and you know, people aren’t going viral for things.

So, that’s why it’s important to work behind the scenes secretly where no one sees what you’re doing and brands just slowly release things and it just be inclusive.

Alycia Anderson: Social media has been really powerful for us as a disabled community because we can take control of our own narrative, which is awesome, right? Like it’s showing the world what is possible.

But, in that there is a lot of these viral moments of just doing basic things. Because society doesn’t believe that we can do like simple things like brush our own teeth or whatever it might be.

So, I think that should be the goal not to go viral.

Steph Aiello: Go viral. Yes. Yeah.

[laughter together]

Alycia Anderson: What is the advice to reach your goal no matter the adversity that they think is in front of them because of their disability?

Steph Aiello: I think at that point it’s just kind of like the only person who’s truly standing in your way is yourself.

They’re not going to tell you no, and if you don’t feel like there’s space for it, you make space for it.

Like you got to push things and move things around. And you know, I know that it’s so hard because I hope that, you know, like I keep going back to this, but I hope I live to the day where like, it isn’t like this, but it is right now and I’ve had to do it in the beauty space.

Like where you force yourself and you force companies to make room for you and therefore you’re going to feel great because you did it for yourself, and you also did it for a community.

And you also open doors for other people. To not have the struggle.

Sometimes you need one person to go through all of the loops and hoops and all of that and all the wheelies and everything to get there, but if you don’t see a space for it, make a space for it.

Like, I feel like you and I are like, sassy in like in your face, like we’re going to demand it like, no, this is not how it needs to be, this is how it should be.

And sometimes you know, and that that just because if you don’t, if you don’t feel like you have that. That’s totally fine.

But that’s why we need to do what we’re doing, when we have that type of mentality is so that everyone else can just follow lead and it be an easier path for them.

It shouldn’t be a struggle for everyone to get into their dream jobs.

Alycia Anderson: 100%. Was that always there for you? That spicy, fiery advocate? Were you her pre accident?

Steph Aiello: I have always been super sassy, very independent, very I don’t know how to, like, just annoying.


I have always been that person. I think after my accident. I have… I knew I had her still in me, but I had to… I had to meet myself. I had to… I had to learn who I was again and find out like what parts of me are staying? What parts of me are leaving, like with the importance of life and what’s worth a battle and what’s not.

And you know, I was only 20 years old. So, you can only understand, like, the mindset that you have. You’re so much younger and naïve, and so my accident really matured me. But it did take a while for me to know who Steph was.

And once I reconnected with like who I am, and who I want to be, and my accident actually really gave me a second chance at like mentality in life and not just breathing life. So, once I figured out who I was, the sass came right back.

Alycia Anderson: I feel like that’s an important note for people who are going through and struggling through kind of a re-found identity after you’ve had such a major change in your life.

Steph Aiello: Yeah, I think that’s the hardest part is people think that their life is never going to be the same. And that’s what makes you spiral.

Which is the truth. Your life isn’t going to be the same.

So, make it something different and make it worth living for, and that’s OK you can start all over. It’s fine.

And to be honest with you, I don’t know if I would be friends with the person I was at 20 years old.

You know what I mean? When I got in my accident, like, I have transformed that much and I love who I am so much more today than I have ever loved myself when I was able body.

So, it’s a second chance at rebuilding and not being married to your ideas and not feeling like you’re going to completely lose yourself.

You’re just rebuilding yourself.

Alycia Anderson: Let’s take a quick break. You’re listening to Pushing Forward with Alycia.


Alycia Anderson: Welcome back to pushing forward with Alycia. I’m Alycia Anderson. Steph Aiello is a makeup artist, a content creator, a disability advocate.

Where was your support system when you were going through all that?

I know that what we have in common is the twin… we’re both twins.

How was it for your sister? Like when you went through all this?

Steph Aiello: You know, I think her story, and I haven’t heard like, I know I’m going off topic, but it just made me think of it. It was the first time I ever heard my Grandpa’s story of my accident. Like a couple. Weeks ago, but I think her story was probably one of the most heartbreaking ones for me.

I think it’s because you know when you’re a twin, you connect and you know you’re each other’s best friends. Before you come out of the womb like no one else can say that.

And I think when I hear her story and her experience through all of it and her truly being my rock like you know, God bless my parents, but they didn’t sign off on any of my medical needs or anything like my sister did, all that.

She just stepped up and had her cries, her meltdowns and was like, no, I’m going to get my sister through this and I know what she wants.

I mean it. I don’t recommend this to anyone, but it went as far as. I was in the hospital when I first initially got injured, like before rehab and stuff, and they wanted to give me a trach.

And my sister said absolutely not. My sister’s too vain. She’s going to figure it out. She’s going to breathe on her own, and damn well I did.

But my sister made that, like, big medical decision of saying, like, I’m going to hold my breath till she breathes like, you know what I mean!?! Like… and she did not allow them to give me a trach, so my sister was a big support system for me and… I hope she doesn’t mind me sharing this, but then when I got into rehab and I was settling in, she kind of fell off a little bit.

She had a lot of stuff going on in her own personal life, but more so, I think, like, it’s hard to watch someone that you love with your whole heart. And I think this speaks for, like, parents with kids too.

But like as a twin. Like you see yourself in that hospital. And I think it just… she just, like, felt like she did what she needed to do. She’s safe. I can breathe. Let me go take care of myself and come back.

And now, I mean, I was just on my… I was on the phone. My sister, right before this call, I was like, I got a call. I gotta get on like, you know what I mean? Like, we’re inseparable. She’s my best friend. And I don’t know how I would live life without her.

And you know my parents and I, obviously had it… like my mom and I had a struggle with our relationship. With…, but I think it was like also she was my caregiver, and you know when you make that transition, you kind of feel like a burden and then you’re putting all that burden weight on to the them and then, you know, it’s just it was very complex.

But now, like, I literally live down the street from my parents. Like, I don’t know, a life without being that close to them. But yeah, my sister was like, literally my voice, when I could not speak and I could not be more grateful.

Alycia Anderson: My sister’s been that for me too, and she’s definitely been the advocate for me as well, and she’s created a lot of opportunities and open doors for me when I was not brave enough to do it myself. So, I… the power of the twin thing is a real thing, and I… I’m sure it was.., it probably was in certain moments, even more traumatic for her than it was for you.

I know for my sister, sitting around and watching me go through major surgeries and all kinds of scary things. It’s been like, traumatic, you know?

Steph Aiello: No, I mean and it’s so crazy because they feel like they have to be the strength and then they cry behind doors, and I don’t know what they… they give you that space to cry. And then they’re like the strength and then they turn around and cry themselves.

And they can’t rely… they can’t rely on us the way that we rely on them in those moments.

So, like when I… when I found out I had cancer, my sister was in the room and I told her when I got the phone call and she was like, OK, we’re gonna get through it and I will never forget her saying to me. It’s gonna make me cry, she said… she looked at me.

She was like, well, OK, you’re going to have one hell of a story to tell your grandkids someday, and that will, like, forever live with me that gave me all the power and our rooms were right next to each other, and then she goes into her room and I can hear her crying.

You know, but… I’m… if you guys can’t tell how much I love my twin, like my God.

Alycia Anderson: I love your twin too.

Steph Aiello: Hello. I just love her so much. Ohh yeah, anyways… Going on the sass again, OK.

Alycia Anderson: You’ve overcome a lot of adversity. Cancer diagnosis, spinal cord injury. What’s the advice to listeners that are going through adversity like that?

Steph Aiello: And you know, when people ask me this, like the only thing I have to say is feel it.

I think everyone wants to give some motivational speech behind this and that’s fine if that works for whoever right.

But I think it’s so powerful to feel it. Go through it. You’re mourning something. It’s a tragic event. Like you are… like you are not less human when you go through these things.

Like feel the emotion and build, build yourself and it it’s all going… you… then you cross the different bridges to get better and better and better and it’s all going to be OK.

But I think it’s so important… like it’s… and it’s as simple as that. It’s just to feel it.

Because not everything needs to be OK and I know it’s like a very popular quote that I hate and I need to find another way to say it, but… it’s OK, to not be OK.

Like you guys go through it. You gotta hate it, cause like, it sucks. And not enough people say that, this freaking injury sucks.

Like right before this, we started this. I was like, literally whispering. I was like, if I need to pee, can I go pee because my bladder is overreacting? Like, I’m not too sure… this injury sucks, like, and no matter how well you think you have it together, sometimes it just sucks.

And that’s OK.

Alycia Anderson: It does suck sometimes, and I… you know, I… you’re very open and vulnerable about your disability and talking about things like peeing or catheters.

And for me, like, it took me a long time. I was really embarrassed by all that stuff for a long… long time in my life, so I think you’re really inspiring for me too to just hear you like openly talk about those things so freely, because it gives us power in the path.

Steph Aiello: You have to normalize it. I mean it’s just so much easier.

Alycia Anderson: Yeah. So what’s coming up for you?

Steph Aiello: I am I’m working with Maybelline this year as another brand ambassador. This will be my I think 4th year…

Alycia Anderson: Wow.

Steph Aiello: Which is really, really, exciting. I am testing out some products from a company that I can’t speak of at the moment, but I’m loving and I think it’s very inclusive so I’m really excited about that.

I am working with another company, but I’m working with them and we’re going to set up like a virtual class, and I’m teaching people how to put their makeup on, but it’s gonna go further where I am…

What? What we’re talking about is I’m actually gonna teach makeup artists how to teach people how to do makeup so that they can travel into people’s homes and teach them how to do it.

So, it’s really exciting and really cool that I’m tapping into our community directly and then also through able-bodies who then can spread the information and knowledge that I have.

I mean, a lot of stuff is behind the scenes. Which is like my dream.

Alycia Anderson: Oh my gosh, congratulations. And I see you one day like creating your own makeup line and like, doing some big giant cool company.

I’m just going to manifest that for you.

Steph Aiello: Yeah, I want that too. I definitely do.

And I already have an idea, so I’m going to say it. So, in case anyone else steals this idea, you know that I had it first.

I want all of my makeup or my makeup brand to be in quads. Four eye Shadows, 4 Things, 4 packs of things like. You know what I mean?

Like everything in quads.

Alycia Anderson: Cute.

So, we wrap this podcast up every episode with the pushing forward moment. Do you have a mantra or something that you live by that you can share with our audience?

Steph Aiello: I have one from a poem that I wrote before my car accident that has kind of lived with me.

Think less of what you lost and more of what you still have.

Alycia Anderson: That’s profound that you wrote that before your accident.

Steph Aiello: Yeah, it’s almost like my mind and my soul knew, you know.

Alycia Anderson: Wow. You are building up women with disabilities more than you’ll ever, ever now. And thank you for being so visible. For us, it’s amazing.

Steph Aiello: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me on with today too.

Alycia Anderson: And, thank you so much to our pushing forward community for joining us again.

This has been Pushing Forward with Alycia and that is how Steph and I roll on this podcast.