It’s Not Just Business; And I Do Take It Personally.

by Mary Duggan

Mary Duggan

My reaction was so swift and painful that it surprised even me – the queen of overreacting. The one with the damaged brain that registers hurt quickly and deeply, despite every effort to get a grip – please.

We’d been thrilled for weeks about being featured in Crain’s Chicago Business, the famed Chicago business publication. We thought we’d done pretty well with the interview. We were all over the topic: Sibling Entrepreneurs. We’d taken the time to discuss our shared experiences before our date with the reporter; and when we did our standard post-mortem, we were okay-ish with the way in which we’d represented ourselves, our family and our business. There’s always this or that you wish you’d expressed differently.

It’s never easy being interviewed. The reporter has an editorial directive – an intent for their piece – and it can be frustrating to try to get your true story out there in the face of the journalist’s assignment. Plus we’re wildly inexperienced, having had very few opportunities to speak to the press during our six-year business history. Coupled with not having a publicist, it can be kind of scary. But generally the decency and enthusiasm and professionalism of the reporter makes the fears go away – and that was most certainly the case with Monica Ginsburg from Crain’s Chicago Business.

But then there is the PHOTO! The WOW are you really going to take our photo PHOTO? The WOW that will be so good for our business photo. The so much needed exposure PHOTO. Which is exactly the same as the too much exposure PHOTO. The I can’t believe you are going to take my PHOTO now when building this business has left me aged and bagged and sagged and overweight and my God, look at my chin(s) PHOTO. Okay? But mostly it’s the Wow, they’re going to take our photo PHOTO.

And so you make your date with the photographer and you discuss where the shot should be taken and you hate, hate, hate that your place of business is not one little bit attractive – clean, yes, and organized, oh my yes, and efficient, of course, and the best you can afford, true. But not quite the photo backdrop of anybody’s dreams. So you work together with the photographer and find a stunning backdrop and get permission to use it.

Then you discuss what you will wear. Of course you will match – that’s part of your sister brand. The IKEA blue and yellow sweat suits from a clearance rack a few seasons back will have to do. You mark the calendar and wonder how many sessions at Curves you can accomplish in the interim and you determine, this time, just this one time that you WILL have your nails done – which never ever happens in your real life. But you make it happen – finally.


Crain’s photographer Kendall Karmanian told us to hold very still so he could let in a lot of light. Our kind of guy!

And everyone who loves you knows just how much this means to you after six years toiling in the basement and giving absolutely EVERYTHING you have to an endeavor you believe to be noble and valuable and worth all the sacrifice. And you know you are not supposed to use words like suffer but actually you have suffered – a lot. Even though it never seems to find its way into any interview and probably shouldn’t. And so you buy mascara and your hair stylist fusses just a little bit more than usual and moves your appointment for highlights forward by a month or two and the day of the shoot arrives. And 2 of the 3 of you are well and the third is a sick wreck but she can still stand and so you have much to be grateful for. And the excitement is undeniable; because the making of the image matters to the news organization enough that they have sent a pro and all you have to do is remember to keep your eyes open, your tummy tucked and your smile completely natural.


Image makers at work, Merz Apothecary Palmer House Hilton Hotel, Duggan Sister photo shoot.

And then it is done and you can’t believe how exhausting it is to have your photo taken. How not natural it feels. And so you wait for the issue to come out and the time flies by so quickly because the third sister, the one not feeling so well, is now incredibly ill and everything in your little operation gets so much harder and mostly you worry and can’t sleep because she is really, really sick and that has not happened in years. And you all look so sleep-deprived and awful that you are grateful the “big shoot” is behind you.

You remind yourself to not expect too much more than your eyes being open. You will not be on the cover; but you will be there. A photograph in a place that matters.  You will advance your cause and maybe, just maybe, something will get just a little bit easier after six long years. And then there it is popped up on a computer screen – the online version – because that is the way of newspapers now and it looks pretty good. And your eyes are open and you are wedged in among some pretty substantial folks. Family business folks who have been at it for years, two generations, in fact; successful businesses that have made their mark and already been sold and so you go to bed happy because it looks to be okay after all – in the online photo your eyes are open.

The next day holds the promise of the “actual” newspaper  – the printed format that is all that really counts if you are 60 years old and want to hold victory and accomplishment in your hands while you turn the pages and ink up your fingertips. And that’s when it all goes sour. When the brain confusion begins. When you can’t quite breath correctly and you know you should be hiding your shameful and ungrateful reaction but you hurt too much to do so. And nothing your dear and so much saner sisters are saying makes any difference at all.


Similar to the photo in the print edition; or is this one bigger?

It’s not there. The carefully staged photo with all the shiny hair and the carefully applied mascara and the other wake-up makeup and the toes painted to match the fingers and the tummy held in and the smile trying so hard to look natural. It’s not there. The super successful brothers who used to be in business and kind of maybe as consultants still do business together are there in a marvelous staged fun huge photo. And the beautiful young woman with the six months old business effort and the million dollar investment and the darling baby is there. And her brother who is not actually her business partner, but is maybe tangentially involved in her business, and does not live in Chicago is there. And they are all 3 so gorgeous and really I don’t begrudge them – too much. And there they are the Alcalas – the most amazing family with lots of real and true siblings in business and the most wonderful story and it is so good that they are there.


The tips of our French manicures painted blue to match our blue toes. The nail stylist was so excited about our upcoming 15 minutes of fame that she insisted. There’s no regretting the attention to detail that it honors.

But the sisters are not there; the ones who baked cakes for years and won national TV acclaim and were on Oprah and then watched their business burn to the ground but in the best of Chicago-style rose from the proverbial ashes. There is no photo of them. And there is no photo of the sisters who live together and work together and make deodorant in their basement to sell all over the world and have done so for six exhausting toiling in the dark years. The from the city that works comes a natural deodorant that actually works sisters. Their photo is not there. Unless you count the 1″ x 1″ inset of products on a tabletop that an art director has chosen to represent them with the least amount of real estate ever. But better than the cake baking sisters who got nothing. Or so my sisters remind me. And the copy still matters and there is so much to be grateful for and celebrated. We’re featured in Crain’s Chicago Business.

But I think, well I guess it’s just not as good to be just sisters in business – because the images all say brothers are good, or a sister with a tangential brother is good or a whole bunch of brothers with sisters is good. And they ARE all good and all deserving of the light. But there is no light for just sisters. And I just hate how it makes me feel. Like we will never be enough – no matter how hard we work or how much we accomplish. We will never be enough – no matter the mascara, the manicures, or the matching outfits.

My sisters don’t feel that. But I of the damaged brain, I really do. They remind me that disappointment is hard to process when you have a traumatic brain injury; but I just can’t shake the deep sadness I feel. I am up all night embarrassed by my feelings. I will never be enough. Never as good as the boys or the girls with boys. Not enough to capture the coveted image – the image that holds the light. It’s all just so hard to figure out – how all these art decisions get made. One day, when I can afford a publicist, I will discuss it with her. Maybe she will know.

Until then it’s the really great copy with the little inset, and the tiny little place held, and the feeling invisible that haunts me. And it is no comfort to know it feels that way for other women, so many women, for so crazy much of their lives. I know that world of boys. Know it best, I think, from growing up with my own brothers – all six of them. I had little influence on the brothers older than me; but I did manage to have a voice of sorts with the two who were considerably younger than me. As they entered that time of life that brought in the girls, that time of dances and dating and parties and bars, I asked a favor of their handsome and popular selves. One that I hoped would be honored, coming as it was from a much-loved older sister. Tonight, I’d say, ask a chubby girl to dance. Just one. And be nice about it – give her five minutes of not feeling invisible. Invite her to step out of the darkness along the wall – and take her for a twirl under the lights.

If I were to ask it now I’d amend it just a bit. I’d say, if you grow up to be an art director, be sure to give a girl the light. The just sisters with a small business and an even smaller budget. Capture a beautiful image of them. Capture the imagination and the light for them. Brothers and sisters are both wonderful; but sisters too often are left standing in the shadow. Wouldn’t it be wonderful and warm and healing to shine some light on them? I know half the world would smile a real smile if that actually happened. Until then, I will just focus on being grateful – while I fill myself with Light.

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About the author: Mary Duggan is Co-Founder and President of the Duggan Sisters

The Duggan Sisters cracked the code and created a natural deodorant that actually works: lifestinks. And that was just the beginning. We hope you will spend a few minutes exploring to experience their spirited approach to wellness through their natural products and healing stories.

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One Response to “It’s Not Just Business; And I Do Take It Personally.”

  1. Mary Enright-Olson says:

    The hell with ’em.
    You are remarkable women with fantastic products.
    A friend on FB recently posted about “gas lighting” – the full meaning I did not understand til I read the article.

    Mary, feel what you feel. You ARE FILLED WITH LIGHT.

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