Most Important Ugly: Brandon, Tyler and Gendered Makeup

This week, I’ve decided to show you my dear friends Brandon and Tyler’s monsters; I think what I like about these two together are their genderfucking, the instant connection I have to them both on a very deep level because we see ourselves lost in someplace between genders and identities. Most of the time, it’s kind of fun to just chill there together, in non-binary babe existence, smiling into the abyss of Whatever.

Brandon

girlmonster_brandon_2

Photo Copyright Tayler Smith

Brandon is perhaps the sweetest person I know and I knew from the start that his photo would be easy because we’re so similar; we share the same language of identity and monsters. We’re both “black crows,” an affectionate term in reference to the brand Comme des Garcons. The brand is so integral to our relationship and how we both navigate our gender and sexualities — his monster was never going to be anything removed from the vocabulary of the brand. He came in decked in Comme des Garcons, without me asking. The interview was short and almost militant in authority — everything was a bullet point, an abbreviation because we’d interrupt each other and finish each other’s train of thought. “Balenciaga, but colder. Queer parties but boys cannot be trusted.” “Sideways femininity. Boys in skirts. Missed connections, literally in lipstick.” “The PUN! I love the pun. It was the best era of Comme des Garcons.” Our conversations were like that, condensed into quick google image searches of references and nodding. Finding Brandon’s monster was not difficult, because he was always so attuned to it. His monster is his muse in a lot of ways, and he’s made friends with his anxieties. It makes him very powerful, a potent and charming friend to have. You aren’t afraid to be ugly around him. He welcomes all your thorns. Find a friend like that, a person who loves you unconditionally for who you are and who you can be. Bonus points if you share skirts. Brandon lets me borrow his Yohji Yamamoto one sometimes.

Tyler

Photo Copyright Tayler Smith

Photo Copyright Tayler Smith

Now, Tyler. Tyler is my genderqueer darling in arms, we’re both unafraid to be messy together (so says our very drunken karaoke sessions together, but also our confessional writing we exchange like love notes among friends). Our session got real messy; it quickly became a kind of gross homage to lipstick and liquids. Tyler’d just stopped taking T and was gravitating into being genderfluid; they came back to lipstick for the first time in a long time the day they came to the photoshoot. So naturally, I celebrated the decision by pouring gross black lipstick out of their mouth. It made sense at the time. I smeared their face with lots of different colors as a celebration and acknowledgement of their new link to femininity — they were giving themselves permission to embrace the feminine and still not be wholly femme. Tyler represents a celebration in multiplicities in gender and sexuality, happily and without apology. They’ve been a public figure for a long time now and still somehow can remain so kind and generous with their love, but they’re fiercely loyal to what they need from the world in return, their still fiercely determined to take what is theirs from the universe. A feminine monster, happy chaos in rainbows and minty lip tar.

I chose these two together because right now I’m going through what I like to call “gender chaos” — something I’ve talked about with both of them at length. I don’t feel comfortable with any pronouns right now and I am fine with that, with just being an eternal shrug of a person. I wish my pronoun could just be a shrug. For those of you who don’t identify as cis — I don’t know if what I am is trans, so I hesitate to call it that — can you talk about your feelings about makeup with me? I get so many questions about how to present masculine of center or more feminine as a cis man, almost every day, a question about gender and makeup, and I am at a loss. I don’t use makeup that way anymore, so it’s like looking back in time. My makeup on other people and on myself is more about genderless ideology than presenting femme or butch or what have you. But how do you use it? And why?

Profile photo of Arabelle Sicardi

Arabelle is a fashion and beauty writer and general creative person. Hustler of popgoth looks and bizarre lipstick.

Arabelle has written 7 articles for us.

31 Comments

  1. Thumb up 10

    Please log in to vote

    Your writing is so incredibly inspirational to me as another person who’s uncomfortable identifying with any sort of pronoun. I feel myself float between genders at all times, and sometimes the floating is freeing and sometimes it’s terrifying.

    For me, makeup was always a way to express the scary glitter-guts inside of me all over my own face. It was a mode of control. I couldn’t control the dinner plate round face and squinty eyes I was born with, but I could make the light hit them differently and affront my peers with the colors raging in my brain. Most importantly, I could take it off. I could be glamour queen femme one day and tomboy realness the next. Makeup could be done in secret and wiped off before the prying eyes of parents could corrupt the magic I’d made.

  2. Thumb up 8

    Please log in to vote

    oh gender-chaos and makeup. this article and these photos are perfect i have so many feelings about it. I feel like there is no way to give someone this kind of advice because gender is such a fucking universe you gotta kinda find yr own spaceship you know?

    I’m thinking about gender literally like 90% of the time when I’m not thinking about pizza but I’m also a theatre artist (mostly in design) and think a lot forever about performance and installation and how my aesthetics are telling a story.

    I identity as a sexy cloud of mist most of the time but sometimes a robotboy but mostly a sexy cloud of mist. incidentaly most of my aesthetic goals are to desexualize myself in any conventional way bc I am not at all interested in other people sexualizing me and what that says about my gender (there is gender internally which is all u but there is this other messy leaking gender that other people keep putting their acid rain and fingers in, you know?)

    anyways my approach to makeup is usually tons of foundation bc I am so uninterested in looking human and i ususally fill out my eyebrows to extreme levels so people know I mean what I’m saying and glitter that looks like it was definataly an accident like I feel asleep in my craft box or something. most of the time i’m covered in glitter and it is an accident cause last halloween I had a party and covered my apartment in fake spiderwebs full of dollar store glitter and I’ve never quite gotten rid of either. femininity traped in my spiderweb and I’m gonna devour it soon or whatever, maybe thats part of my monster.

    ok wow I have so many feels

    but also, black lipstick (desexualizing also bc black lipstick is so unkissable on purpose)

  3. Thumb up 5

    Please log in to vote

    i used to use makeup because as a “girl” i was supposed to make myself more beautiful, more palatable, i stopped using it as a “fuck you” to gender norms and because i felt ugly either way. now that i have come to a better understanding of myself and my gender (altho it’s all still a messy mystery), i find myself wanting to play and experiment with makeup again. thanks for writing this. much to think about.

  4. Thumb up 4

    Please log in to vote

    My mom constantly forces “girly” things on me. She tried to get me into makeup and I ignored it completely because I’ve always hated forced gender roles even when I was 6 and didn’t know what it was called.

    Lately I have gotten into it a bit. After deciding that I will let my gender expression be what ever I want it to be and after research I made my decision. I refuse to do an entire face of makeup but I like working on my eyes. I only use skin tone colors too because I’d rather not look like I’m wearing makeup. (if that makes any sense) I put on a mosturizer or bb cream, I do my brows,bare minimal of shadow,liner and a little mascara. Then I finish the look was chapstick. My mom is still trying to get me into foundation and lipstick but its not happening.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about my gender, lately. I never have before because (1) I was uneducated about it at first (2) Once I was educated I never felt the need to think about it. I have no preferred pronoun. You can call me anything and I’d be cool with it. I’m cool with my boobs and vagina and the rest of my body (not that those are related to gender) but I think I’d be cool if I had different equipment. I think the way i would want to represent myself with clothes, makeup, and shoes would be the same as well. Is this just me being a chill ass human being or do I just not have a gender? It starting to freak me out a bit because I just never thought about it and accepted being a cis woman but now that I am, I just don’t know anymore. Now its got me thinking about my dating life. Not everyone that looks like the stereotypical woman (I don’t know any other way to phrase that) identifies as a woman so am I a lesbian? I know I’m not straight but my world is getting rocked by all of this.

  5. Thumb up 4

    Please log in to vote

    I’m pretty new to identifying as genderqueer. As for makeup feelings, it’s been a long time since I’ve worn makeup, and right now I’m trying to project a more gender-neutral image because that’s how I feel most of the time. I don’t know how I would do that with makeup in a way that wouldn’t read as both female and feminine. If someone could do makeup for me in a way that would make me look clearly in between genders that would be awesome and badass and I’d be into it! But it’s not necessarily the #1 thing I feel a huge need for right now.

  6. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    You connected with my heart. It took me a thousand years to realize who I am. I was always what someone else… what I was taught/assumed/directed to be because of my body. The truth only came from a loving, emotional connection with a lesbian….. I want to create in others ….
    the female that is me… Sarah……that when they see me they know I am a girl….. that my legs spread to be loved as a female by my female lover….. then cuddled and reassured of our love…. to be touched physically and emotionally with loving tenderness that makes me feel happy and content

  7. Thumb up 5

    Please log in to vote

    I always had a strong relationship with makeup, a relationship made of extremes grooved with emotions, just like my relation to gender. I have to thank you and your project, Arabelle, for reminding me of the strength of that connection.

    My mother was very anti-makeup by the time she had me (although I know now that she was at least moderately into it in her youth), but I would beg her as a small child to buy me makeup kits. It seemed that being able to spread colours on my face in a magical prescribed fashion was a portal to glamour, to adulthood, and to love. I was going to be princess by virtue of my beauty, and people would be drawn to me instead of thinking I was wierd.

    In my later childhood and early teens, I reversed my position and used stereotypes about superficiality and makeup to be able to despise the popular girls who despised me.
    In my mid to later teens, I adopted suddenly and without transition a long, heavy cat’s eye that really felt good, dark, older, and made me look just a little bit weird. The weird and magical was what I was looking for, but I was keeping it low in a way that was still palatable and ‘sexy’.

    It took the clearing out of many things (falling in love, overcoming (?) the invasive depression that characterized most of my adolescence, being able to face much more pressing questions for my psyche, including whether I wanted to live) for me to be able to give shape to the half-formed gender admissions of my teens and get here, on the edge towards my twenties, really super genderqueer. (But also 400% confused and shaky, I’m no expert even about myself).

    I realize now that I was always ever after strange and magical feminine archetypes, not feminity itself: being a witch, being a princess, or both. My earlier makeup was a small attempt at weirdness, but it was mostly an attempt to keep my gender in one piece, so that maybe if I thought I looked pretty I would like the feeling of being a girl.

    Now I like to use makeup to signify the weirdness I feel in my gender in a way that, at this point in my life, presenting as traditionally masculine never could. I always have a thought for practicality, so there are many days where I wear nothing at all, and I never wear mascara or foundation (which I find uncomfortable and long to remove), but I like to give myself strange eyebrows, weird white-lined eyes, and a mouth in unrealistic colours.

    I don’t need to be pretty anymore, and some days, I can feel proud of it. Thank you so much, Arabelle, your project is wonderful and real.

    I mostly talked about makeup hare, rather than gender. I’m terribly repressed about a lot of these things, and new elements emerge from my brain’s side dip of shame regularly, but maybe I can sum it up this way: I alternate between several gender identities, and their orientations. Despite my best intentions my body refuses to magically shapeshift, so I’m left to try and present a coherent whole to the world in the morning, in the form of my face. The most coherent way I can find, many mornings, is to wear weird makeup.

    PS: In the way of pronouns, I’ve used ‘they’ for a bit, but I’m thinking of switching to ‘ey’, so I feel a bit less like an autonomous collective when I hear people talking about me. :)

  8. Thumb up 3

    Please log in to vote

    I’ve been a fan of fucking with gender norms & makeup as defense for a while now, but I’ve only recently been able to label my gender (i find labels to be useful). I still love how makeup makes me seem intimidating and robot-like but now I’m trying to be read as androgynous and it’s hard to fit makeup into this. I think my main issue is dealing with newly labelled gender and asexuality in front of my cishet male friends, and makeup can give me an air of “don’t you dare fucking ask me about my gender and don’t you dare fucking talk to me if i don’t give you permission”. Yet wearing makeup also makes me read as ‘girl’ to them so i don’t know. The agenda is looking like a robot- sexless, genderless, intimidating.

    Reading through these posts always gives me so much confidence in makeup as a weapon and being a genderqueer who loves makeup thank you so much you guys

  9. Thumb up 8

    Please log in to vote

    What you wrote in the last post of the series got me thinking. Like your identity is evolving…is Autostraddle’s identity evolving too? So many folks find something to identity with in these works, that I think the space is evolving beyond girl-on-girl culture.

    I’m a longtime Straddler, and I am going to stick around as long as you’ll have me, until a banhammer comes down on my head. But I do think it may be time to reasses the audience, the intention, and participation in this site. As long as we sweep genderqueer folks and trans men in under the banner of “girl-on-girl” culture, we deny their identies. Yes, the long-time community understands Autostraddle to be a safe space, but when many trans women have been denied solidarity from those who operate under a “cis ladies and trans dudes only” platform, when HRC dudebros dominate the national conversation on LGBT politics, it’s important to step back and see what folks expect when they come to a site under the banner of “girl on girl” culture.

    This is not meant to be a pile-on of you, Arabelle; I see your work has resonated with a lot of readers–I am more interested in what the site’s editors have to say about the evolving content and readership, and how to best encompass their audience and convey the great content and solid community that circles their wagons around Autostraddle.com

    • Thumb up 5

      Please log in to vote

      Hey Rie! We don’t normally respond to these kinds of comments (see the comment policy), but felt like it was important to speak up real quick! When Arabelle came to us with the opportunity to share her project, we enthusiastically agreed to showcase her art because we knew it would be f*cking awesome (and it is!). We were actually surprised that some of the models were trans guys, but it’s Arabelle’s personal project and as such, she had complete creative control over how it was executed. Although the issue of trans male inclusion in queer female spaces has a long and torrid history, the truth is that we do have pictures of and stories about people who aren’t queer women all the time — for example, straight women and gay men.

      We are still a site primarily aimed at queer women, written by queer women, but obviously as our community evolves and expands, we’re starting to feature more content by and about non-binary and genderqueer folks who submit. We hope that we can share these perspectives without it being a referendum on our historical mission, just as any website aimed at any niche group can find meaning or worth in stories about people outside of that niche group specifically. We don’t intend to hire a trans male writer. Some team members (ETA: not writers, but team members who play other roles besides writing for the site and a-camp) have come out as trans men since joining up, and we didn’t kick them out of those roles either.

      Anyhow, as per the comment policy:

      Autostraddle will not:
      Entertain off-topic derailments: The topic of a comment thread is that post. Our writers are volunteers who write for fun, for their portfolios, and because they enjoy the community. We’re totally interested in meaningful conversations on topics raised in the post, but please send concerns, complaints or criticisms of the site as a whole — even if you find a way to tie in your broad-level complaint to the topic of the post — to the editors who have been hired to field such concerns. Please send concerns, complaints or criticisms of queer women as a whole to Santa Claus.
      Respond to concerns, complaints or criticisms of the site as a whole in comment threads. (Yes, this is a new rule.) If you wanna talk to the editors about the website, e-mail them.

      • Thumb up 2

        Please log in to vote

        Thanks Laneia–I wasn’t aware of this change in the commenting policy. (Been here too long.) I don’t like that we’re not allowed to criticize the site as a whole while tying it into a specific piece posted, but I don’t have to do the dirty work of moderating and also I understand that you want to take care of your writers and their work, so I get why it exists.

        Keep on keeping on.

      • Thumb up 1

        Please log in to vote

        “please send concerns, complaints or criticisms of the site as a whole — even if you find a way to tie in your broad-level complaint to the topic of the post — to the editors who have been hired to field such concerns.” … “Respond to concerns, complaints or criticisms of the site as a whole in comment threads. (Yes, this is a new rule.) If you wanna talk to the editors about the website, e-mail them.”

        This is very confusing.

      • Thumb up 4

        Please log in to vote

        Laneia Nicole – from the portion of your response that is not about the comment policy, I think you may have missed an important point that Rie brought up. To put it as simply as possible, for a lot of trans women when we see “girl-on-girl” and efforts being made to extend that umbrella to include men, we worry that what we’re actually reading is a site aimed at people who are FAAB rather than women & non-binary people. Would you please address and clarify that issue? Because I will admit that while I *enjoy* content like this, it also makes me wonder to what extent I am welcome here.

    • Thumb up 9

      Please log in to vote

      I think the change in the audience might also just be a change in the younger lesbian and bisexual group as a whole. In previous decades exploring gender was not considered apart from homosexuality (and that still stands in many places), whereas ‘lesbian’ or ‘bisexual girl’ means something very specific in Western queer thought today, and people who aren’t part of that break away into newer identities.

      This is only my very personal opinion, but I think the ‘girl-on-girl’ part might still be relevant because Autostraddle’s voice is heavily formed from lesbian culture, and I’ve always understood the site as being preoccupied mainly with queer women, with the intention of prioritizing those who are of colour, trans, and non-monosexual.

      If us non-binary people (almost exclusively faab here), find material that we can relate to, as well as some trans men, that’s great (and not surprising since much of that population identified at some point as queer girls), but I think the focus on queer women is good.

      I’m also a bit afraid that including faab non-binaries and trans men in a more explicit fashion might consecrate more of this space to talking about faab transmasculine presentation (which is not the extent of genderqueer expression even for faab individuals, but certainly the one that gets most publicity), and half of tumblr is buzzing with that already. The world is hard enough on trans women and on femmes.

      • Thumb up 1

        Please log in to vote

        “I’m also a bit afraid that including faab non-binaries and trans men in a more explicit fashion might consecrate more of this space to talking about faab transmasculine presentation (which is not the extent of genderqueer expression even for faab individuals, but certainly the one that gets most publicity), and half of tumblr is buzzing with that already. The world is hard enough on trans women and on femmes.”

        First of all, hell yes the world is hard on trans women and femmes. It’s awful. More than awful. It’s violent, and it’s unfair, and it’s terrifying, and it’s deadly, and it’s poison.

        But “half of tumblr is buzzing with that already” – that’s really dismissive, and dismissive of a group that really doesn’t have a lot of safe spaces or support (more than trans women, maybe, but not a lot). And honestly, talking about any trans population getting a lot of publicity (at least by way of their own voices), especially if you’re talking about non-binary trans folks – that’s just misrepresentative.

        I’m wary of defending any kind of men in a women’s space, but I’ll definitely defend trans* and gender variant folk in a predominantly cis space. Yes, trans women (and transfeminine maabs?) are the most vulnerable and marginalized population of all the trans subsections, and as such should be prioritized in the movement. But it’s not like the rest of us are doing great, especially non-binary trans folks, even if they are masculine-presenting.

        I really like Arabelle’s work, and I like the discussion it has engendered, I just don’t think it’s a good idea to dismiss trans=masculine people just because they have it better off than the most marginalized and discriminated against group in the whole LGBT/GSM/queer pantheon.

        If that’s not what you intended, then I apologize for the backlash. And if this comment violates the comment policy because it’s not about the article itself, that’s fine, delete it – but I still don’t think it’s right to be dismissive about trans concerns, be they trans-masculine or not, in a predominantly cis space.

        • Thumb up 1

          Please log in to vote

          Wait, you identify yourself as non-binary in your comment, which changes some of my concerns. I wish I could edit (or maybe just delete) my comment. Basically the “in a predominantly cis space” qualifiers don’t apply to you, obviously, and the statements attached to them aren’t appropriate in a reply to your comment since you’re not cis.

          I guess all I really meant to convey is that living in a cissexist world is hard for all trans* and gender variant people, even if the patriarchy makes it easier on trans-masculine people than trans-feminine people. But that’s not something I have to tell you, rhymeriver, because you already know it. I apologize for being patronizing.

    • Thumb up 7

      Please log in to vote

      I have similar concerns to Rie. I also think Mira’s comment was valid. It was just stated that writers who come out as trans guys stay on the staff. Not saying kick anyone out, btw, just saying that Mira is making a valid point about the inclusion of men that needs consideration.

      Anyway, I won’t go on because it’s not the appropriate forum, but I do think there needs to be somewhere that is the appropriate forum (not just us emailing the editors)but somewhere we can talk as a community about it.

      Arabelle, I hope I didn’t detract from your work by adding that. I think your art is amazing, and stunning and I do appreciate you sharing your work here. :)

      • Thumb up 4

        Please log in to vote

        To me there should be a public discussion of why issues relating to non-female genders are given significant airtime on this site. It’s not like there is a whole smorgasbord of options for LGBT women’s sites. I’ve never seen a website with free membership try so hard to control what their own readers say about it when the site derails from its stated intended purpose.

        • Thumb up 4

          Please log in to vote

          I agree a public discussion needs to happen, because clearly issues are simmering here.
          (I also wonder whether it is a wise choice to address all concerns about the site to the editors without having a chance to talk about them with the community. Perhaps a summary of the concerns received about the site could be shared at regular intervals by the staff, like once every week or two weeks?)

          However, I think ‘significant airtime’ is relative. To measure, I have gone back through the last five pages of Autostraddle and *made a tally of mentions of non-female genders*, checking within list articles like sunday fundays, also also, and nsfw sunday.

          Page 1:
          – This installment of Most Important Ugly
          – Some mention of gender presentation in ‘Sunless Sea’ (but mostly about women who call themselves ‘captain’)

          Page 2:
          – Mention in ‘the language of comedy’, but not the focus of the essay
          – Mention of ‘xe’ pronouns in Also Also feature

          Page 3:
          – ‘Five ways to try kinky headspace’ is written by an author with a non-female gender
          – Mention of facebook gender options in Sunday Funday

          Page 4:
          – Report on trans-exclusionary Medicaid (the most vulnerable here are trans women)
          – ‘The Switch’ and transgender comedy: article written by trans woman, mostly focused on the trans women protagonist.
          – DapperQ’s ‘100 most stylish’, many of whom identify as women

          Page 5:
          – Saturday Morning Cartoons features one (or two, I’m not sure) non-binary character.
          – The first installment of Most Important Ugly

          With 20 articles per page, and an average of two mentions per page (most of which are minor and not representative of the entire article), that’s less than 10%. (I’m not counting phrases like ‘LGBT people’.) Which means that over 90% of the content is devoted to female genders.

        • Thumb up 5

          Please log in to vote

          Also it would be nice not to lump (faab) non-binary people with trans men, or with the transmasculine spectrum. Hell, some of us are femme!

          Thanks to nb erasure, many of us are perceived and treated by the world as lesbians or queer women regardless of how we identify, and issues that pertain to those demographics (anti-gay discrimination in the workplace, femme invisibilility, compulsory heterosexuality in the medical world, etc.) are relevant to us, and I think we are justified to be in the readership of this site even though we are not (and I do not wish it to be) its primary focus.

  10. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    Arabelle, just adding my voice to those who appreciate your project. I love the stories of each person who you know and who has permitted and given consent to you creating expression on their faces. It is incredible and I feel privileged to share in this.
    I love both Brandon’s lipstick (I love how you have done it, an incredible expression) and the Picasso esque direct view within profile view, and Tyler’s black liquid dripping like blood or molasses from the mouth.
    This is great stuff, so dramatic and original, so please keep sharing.

  11. Thumb up 4

    Please log in to vote

    This article and this project is so close to my heart, Arabelle. I wish I could have the money to fly to New York and see it in person because I would in a matter of seconds. Just another reason why i wish I could apparate.

    My feelings about makeup are so complex….I love it, and I hate it, and it encompasses me completely. I have always lived quite weirdly in my body, and makeup although first used to “fix” myself, became my way of living in my body, adapting to it’s various changes. Most importantly, it helps me navigate through the liminal spaces of my gender, the complexities of my female assigned genitalia, the trauma I’ve been through, gosh, makeup has become my armor. I lengthen my brows and strengthen my Self; I stain my lips and regain my tempo. It helps me stay healthy and it is such a hidden, secret selfish act of mine that I happen to love so loudly.

    My gender is everything and nothing, I’ve become very detached from feminine pronouns but I still present femme and view myself as this femme sack of deep mystery, mysterious even to myself. This dark brooding galaxy of mine that I hold. My makeup is the little flash I give to myself of that galaxy. Every time I look in the mirror I smile at that little glimpse I have of myself, that metallic lipstick a color of a star deep inside me that I haven’t found yet. (I also love the comment about black lipstick being unkissable on purpose. I love that. It speaks volumes upon volumes and I could live in that idea.)

    Gosh there are so many more things I could say, so many more things I wish to say and share but mostly just my gratitude for your words and your care and the art and craft of gender musings that this project brings to light.

  12. Thumb up 2

    Please log in to vote

    My relationship to makeup is complicated, and a lot of that has to do with how I was gendered.

    I grew up female and went to an all-girls school where we were somehow both pushed to be The Best At All The Things (because Malaysia) but also to maintain as much of the feminine social norms as possible. Proper modest feminine dress, proper attitude, sopan santun, that sort of thing. There were a few people who were more masculine-inclined, but they stood out for doing so, and it wasn’t encouraged.

    I also had a mother who was always on my case about being a “proper woman” (mostly because we came from class privilege and she wanted me to act like it).

    Thing is, I was already destined to fail from Day 1: mostly out of my race. Being Bengali meant I was ugly, I was doing everything wrong, and I should not be allowed to succeed. So there was no way I could have been a proper woman anyway, because my existence meant that I was doing it wrong. from both Malaysian and Bangladeshi perspectives.

    Around my teenage years I started learning about feminism, and also conceived of a gender identity that would have been 100% genderqueer had I known that word existed. (I look back at my teenage blogs and marvel at how clearcut I was about androgyny.) However, because of all the suffocating pressures of femininity, I decided that my feminism would be to be as anti-femme as possible: no makeup, no dresses, no sewing, no traditional women’s roles, none of it. Fuck that shit.

    I found makeup pointless. Why put on stuff to make you more natural? I hated people running after me in shopping malls with skin-lightening creams and acne cures, my dad with more skincare products than I ever will have trying to get me to fix my face, always being told that I was too dark too ugly too EVERYTHING no matter what the hell I did.

    So I did nothing.

    It wasn’t until circa 2008 that I started wearing dresses, and it wasn’t until a year later, when I got into burlesque, that I really explored makeup again. The theatericality made it easier – I wasn’t me, and burlesque makeup encourages the bombastic and outrageous and unsubtle, so I could be a HOT MESS and that would be fine.

    But the too ugly/dark/pock-marked/etc strains returned. I was visibly and subtly shunned for not being normative enough for burlesque standards (!!). I called them out and got more backlash.

    Now I’m grappling with some body image issues, mostly related to my face, that I thought my teenage proto-feminist androgynous protests had sorted out. Noticing that in the fields I’m interested in – public-facing stuff like the arts or media – I would only be taken more seriously if I was closer to the white supermodel ideal. Even in queer circles I know I am not attractive enough to be taken seriously, and the fact that I am a loud outspoken migrant outsider type does not help. I’m seriously contemplating taking more care of my appearance…but then grappling with feeling like a traitor and a sell-out…but then also being pragmatic about how my protests weren’t really getting me anywhere…and so on. Doesn’t help that so much skincare rhetoric is all about “make your skin lighter!” and “fair and lovely!” and all that bullshit that I don’t want to perpetuate.

    People talk about makeup as some sort of armour or confidence-builder. I’m not sure I really experience that. On stage it’s helpful as more of a character setting. Off stage? I’ve tried doing so but really I either get frustrated that it doesn’t seem to be making any positive impact or it feels like a shell and any minute now someone will figure out that I am a fraud.

    I want to be walk-into-a-room stunning. My idea of this is somewhat grotesque: think Maleficent meets The Weakest Link. Powerful and a little intimidating – don’t fuck around with me. But I don’t think I will ever get there or that anyone would believe me because I’m already starting at a disadvantage.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.