Jessica Ruiz, 26, is a Philadelphia-based makeup artist who gives literal meaning to the phrase "Look, ma! No hands!"
A congenital birth defect left Jessica Ruiz without the use of her arms and hands, but that hasn’t stopped her from pursuing her dream of becoming a makeup artist.
Ruiz, 26, was born with arthrogryposis – a condition affecting the joints that causes limited to no use of the arms and hands. So, she taught herself to apply makeup using her mouth. Her innovative technique has landed the Philadelphia-based artist a large Instagram following and a place in national headlines.
“You gotta deal with what you’re dealt with,” the Philadelphia-based cosmetologist tells PEOPLE. “I taught myself and everything that I needed to know through personal experience with myself as well as watching YouTube.”
Ruiz says her journey began when she was about 10 years old. She attended a school for physically and mentally disabled children and was often picked on for being a tomboy, she says.
“I really had to bring positivity to the situation,” she says of the ridicule. “I actually started wearing makeup because I was being picked on. You know, being in a physically disabled school, not a lot of kids, not anybody that I saw, was wearing [makeup] and living a ‘normal’ life.”
She asked her aunt to teach her how to apply makeup, but says she knew her method of application would have to be different – “there was no way in the world that I’d be able to apply it in the same way.”
So, Ruiz practiced and perfected doing her own makeup, and her peers soon took notice. She says she was in high school when a friend requested that she do her makeup.
“I’m like, ‘oh no, I can barely do my own makeup,’ and here someone else is asking me to help them with their’s,” she says, adding that she thought ” ‘Oh, God, I’m gonna be really close to this chick’s face.’ ”
Ruiz, who says she dreams of having celebrity clients like Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz, tells PEOPLE that the other students were intrigued by how she did makeup and would gather in the bathroom to watch her work.
Her passion for cosmetology continued to grow, but Ruiz says it was her grandfather who pushed her to pursue her dream, before he died from cancer in 2007.
“He made me promise him,” she says. “He literally said to me, ‘I don’t care what your dream is, I want you to pursue it.’ ”
And so she did.
Ruiz applied to multiple cosmetology schools in Philadelphia after high school and was turned away from them all, she says, because of her disability.
“I moved on to the next school and the next school and one school actually shredded the application directly in front of me,” she says. “One school told me I had to bring my own model because the models they had would not be comfortable with me being so close to their face.”
So, a determined Ruiz started her own practice, Dreamy Eyes Artistry. She says she sees about three-to-four clients a week.
“For the first few minutes they’re a little bit jumpy,” she says. “Of course, if they see somebody coming at their face with a makeup brush their first reaction is to flinch It’s really all about trust.”
Ruiz is building a team of makeup artists to work alongside her as she lends her talents to Philly’s Small Business Fashion Week. And she’s working on her own cosmetics and makeup brush line.
Now, Ruiz’s message is one of triumph:
“Never let anyone or anything stand in the way of your dreams,” she says. “If you have a vision then you need to make it a reality, because only you’re capable of doing it.”