I was recently told by someone close to me that I “don’t need make up.” This is nothing new; this good-willed sentiment is not unfamiliar to most women. Well-intentioned people, particularly men, like telling women that they are beautiful as they are, blah blah. After the feeling of being validated wears off (I am farrrrr from being immune to white patriarchal standards of beauty), I interpret these “compliments” as unsolicited advice on what I “need” and “don’t need.” Here is a to-the-point visual of this very common phenomena:
Source: unfortunately unknown.
The thing is, as much as it does make me feel good to know that someone else thinks I am beautiful “the way I am,” I want make up to be a part of “the way I am.” And this is incorporation of cosmetics into my “way” is actually really tough for me. I think about wearing make up a lot. I am around cosmetics often. I spend hours on the internet, watching Youtube make up tutorials. I re-blog photos of interesting and innovative ways of doing make up on Tumblr. I like to stop by cosmetic stores and counters after work, just to have a little browse (I’m at the MAC counter at Yonge Station all the fucking time). This is pretty much as close as I get to make up – in my head and around me. I have a number of tubes of lipsticks, but I don’t use them often.
Two thirds of my entire make up collection.
I love make up, but I’m scared of it. Aside from not really being able to wear any eye make up due to some eye conditions I have, I have some internalized shit around gender and drawing attention to my body (particularly my face). I remember being in grade six or so, and spending my saved-up allowance on a shitty ring from Ardene. I used to only wear the ring in the safety of my bedroom, where no one could see me taking pleasure in admiring my ring-clad hand. I never, ever wore the ring in front of my parents. I felt ashamed of adorning myself in this way. The ring symbolized some sort of feminine maturation that I was uncomfortable with. As a boy-ish girl whose chose baggy t-shirts over little tops, but simultaneously wanted to explore a realm she was unfamiliar with, I didn’t know how to reconcile those things. Instead, I hid that gender curiosity in fear of being asked what I was trying to do and feeling embarrassed. And now, well into my adult years, I can still feel that same shame when I step out the door with bright pink lipstick on: I feel like a fraud; I think my lips are “too wrinkly” for lipstick; I never used to wear lipstick, why am I starting now?. I ultimately feel like I have to justify why I am doing what I’m doing, even though I know I don’t have to. (doesn’t help when I nervously decided to Skype my parents one night wearing dark burgundy lipstick and they asked me, “what’s on your lips?!?”). So. I’m scared of indulging myself in this way.
But what helps me move through this internalized shit, bit by bit, is knowing that, I think, for queers, make up is not only about correction and emphasis; it’s also about exaggeration, breakthroughs, and self indulgence. Exaggeration is about making things bigger and more prominent. Exaggeration takes up space. Breakthroughs come with the boldness to try things unthought of. And self indulgence is about treating ourselves well in a world that doesn’t pay us enough (money) nor treats us with all the respect we deserve. We are not always only interested in covering up certain parts of ourselves and then accentuating what we think are our assets. Queer make up isn’t always neat, natural, and pretty; it can also be trial-and-error, freaky, and totally unnatural. It’s like, I love blue and yellow, I should wear them all the fucking time, so why not put it on my fucking face??? And in queers’ fearlessness in pushing the boundaries of aesthetics, I am finally starting to feel like I can “come out” with my make up-obsessing self. In their confidence that is fueled by risky boldness, there is so much to appreciate and to take delight in.
Where would we be if not for lo-fi lesbians, dangerous drag queens, femme warriors, badass mamas, aunties, and grandmothers?
One of my favourite make up and style goddesses is Arabelle Sicardi aka Fashion Pirate. She coincidentally just wrote a short piece about the best lipsticks for “girl monsters” (girl monsters!!! omg, I love it.). A green-haired, blue-eyelined, purple-lipped feminist writer, Arabelle recently wrote about what it is that she wants in fashion:
I want ridiculousness in fashion. I want ugly. I want destruction, I want imperfection, flaws, ripped seams, extra armholes, mutated glory that when people walk by me they whisper that they just don’t get it. [Source: Fashion Pirate]
Kyisha Williams, director of the short film Red Lips [Cages for Black Girls], insists on accentuating her lips with red lipstick as an anti-racist statement. In talking about Red Lips, Kyisha says:
In the film, I talk a little bit about how I came to start wearing red lipstick. It was a really hard thing for me. I had made this decision when I was a really young girl that, well, my lips are too big and I can’t call more attention to them . . . Later on, when I was an adult, I thought, ‘Hey, why don’t I do this?’ and I remembered. It just popped up as a memory, the reason why I wasn’t doing that. I thought to myself, ‘That’s totally racist! I should totally do this if that’s something I want to do. My lips are beautiful, and they can be accentuated!’ and all of this stuff. Obviously, I had that knowledge [only] later on in life. When I did start wearing red lipstick, people reacted really weirdly to it. Men on the street would catcall and be really forceful. I would reject them, and they didn’t understand. They would get upset. It was like, ‘I’m wearing red lipstick, but it doesn’t mean that I’m available to you. It doesn’t mean all of these things that you think it means.’ For me, wearing red lipstick is an anti-racist statement. [Source: Xtra!]
And this is not a blog post about queer make up, queer aesthetics, and boundary pushing if calloutqueen, Mark Aguhar, is not remembered. Mark committed suicide in mid-March of this year because the world is fucked up and did not have enough space for them. Mark once wrote this simple poetic manifesto:
These are the axes:
Bodies are inherently valid
It is complicated
Mark Aguhar, 1987-2012
And so, I’m remembering the fabulous queers for whom the world was simultaneously too much and too little. I’m grateful for all the queers who put on blue lipstick and don’t give two shits what people are whispering about them as they sashay by in all their gloriousness. I’m thankful for the queers who are, similar to me, just starting to wear any make up, particularly accentuating parts of themselves they have been told was disgusting or ugly. Thank you for making it feel easier for me to put on that pastel pink lipstick a la mid-90s I bought on a whim. I might only ever put it on a couple of times this summer, but having y’all feel like my personal cheerleading squad (1-2-3-4, “natural” make up is a bore! 5-6-7-8, yr green eye lids look fucking great!) is a blessing to my 27 year-old self.