You Need Help: I’m Butch and I Want To Try Makeup for the First Time

Q:

Hey y’all, I got a question.

So, I’m a self identified tomboy who presents fairly soft butch by accident because yay skateboarding and lifting heavy things. I recently started getting fucked by the most amazing afab non binary human, who looks like me stylistically in so many ways (tattoos, butch dress style, short fuckboi hair etc etc.) Except. They wear makeup and it looks SO GOOD!

I’ve always been curious about makeup, but have never had the chance to explore it as a neglected child/teenager who received a total of 0 life advice from either parent, and my friends always assumed I didn’t want to wear makeup as I was so freaked out/ashamed of never having worn it and not knowing how.

I really wanna wear makeup. Like SO BAD. But I don’t know where to start and I have ALL THE SHAME FEELINGS! Like, what if I’m practicing and I take if off but it’s really hard to get eye makeup all the way off and WHAT IF people then COMMENT and I’m like AAAAAAH, they know I’m a failure at being a girl T_T

If I asked this human to help me I know they would (they’re a cosplayer, and also the most good hearted human I know,) but again SO EMBARRASSED!

Please help. Even writing this I’m dying inside gags

Yours mournfully,
a sad butch

A:

Hi friend,

These are all super real and valid feelings! Makeup can often feel like a really intimidating ritual to integrate into your world and presentation, especially if you’ve always identified as a tomboy or lived on the butch end of the spectrum. But I promise that using these products doesn’t have to have anything to do with “being a girl” and can have everything to do with just feeling great in your skin, loving the way you look, and celebrating different physical features. I’m so excited for you to start playing with new products and seeing what you like!

Before I dive into recommendations, I just want to affirm that I completely understand why you might feel embarrassed, and also: you don’t have to be! Everyone starts somewhere, and there are so many great brands and resources out there these days, you don’t necessarily have to do the “steal your mom’s foundation even though it’s the wrong color and wear it to middle school anyway” thing that I did. (Not a good look, to be clear, and also — nobody ever said anything to me about it!)

Remember that ultimately, using makeup and other facial cosmetics is really about making you feel like your best, most confident self. It’s less about which specific products or techniques you use, and more about loving what you see in the mirror. Which colors bring you joy? What textures feel great on your skin? Which features do you want to highlight and celebrate?

If you’ve literally never tried makeup of any kind before, I would recommend starting with a few basic products to get the hang of things, and then slowly building up and playing from there as your confidence grows. You don’t need to try doing a full face with twenty products on your first go, and you also don’t need to buy a bunch of brushes or tools — every product I’m recommending can go on your face straight from the tube, or be applied with your fingers! Give yourself permission to try a few things at a time, to play and experiment, and to figure out what does and doesn’t feel good for you.

Finding a few brands that you like will come with time (for the record, my favorites are Glossier, Rituel de Fille, Make Up For Ever, and MAC), so I always recommend beginning with tinted moisturizer (if you want it), a lip product, and some eye products, depending on what you’re most excited about trying. You didn’t mention skincare, but we recently did a whole A+ advice box that’s packed with recommendations for basics — starting with clean, moisturized skin will make every single other product look better and go on more smoothly!

I’m not sure if you’re looking for foundations or other face makeups, so just in case: Glossier has an excellent sheer skin tint that is really easy to smooth on with your fingers and gives a polished but natural, your-skin-but-better vibe, and the Fenty skin tint has a little more coverage if you’re looking to even out your skin tone. If you don’t feel like dealing with color matching, check out Make Up For Ever’s correcting primers, which can be worn alone. Sometimes it can be challenging to find products that suit your skin color and tone perfectly, especially if you have darker skin or don’t have access to in-person shops with professional artists, so using online tools can be really valuable to help you get the right shade. Additionally, companies like MAC Cosmetics have free virtual try-on and coloring matching services, which can be a fun way to play around with your face without worrying about precise application or getting makeup off afterwards. And if you just wanna sparkle, try putting some highlighter on your cheekbones — it’s a game-changer.

However! I feel like what you’re really interested in is fun pops of color, and eyes are a great place to start. Mascara can have a big impact with minimal effort, but there is a huge variety of formulations and brushes to choose from — getting mini travel sizes from shops like Sephora, Target, or Ulta can be an inexpensive way to try out different formulas without breaking the bank. Most people find a smaller brush easier to use at first, so check out Maybelline’s Great Lash (available at every drugstore — it’s a classic for a reason) and Glossier Lash Slick for a natural look, L’Oreal Paris’ Voluminous Mascara for a fluffier brush, and ColourPop’s bff mascara if you want to try a color other than black or brown.

Good eyebrows can also completely change the shape of your face, and while there are a lot of different products out there, I always suggest that people start with Glossier’s Boy Brow. It’s super easy to use, comes in multiple shades as well as clear, and creates a frame for your face that makes everyone look more polished and put together.

Eyeliner is a really accessible way to play with color and sparkle without necessarily needing expertise. You can draw a line along the upper or lower lashes of your eye, can try lining the inner rim or waterline, or can even play around with wings, lines, dots, and other artistic expressions. Liquid lasts longer but has a steep learning curve, so I would recommend grabbing cheap pencils from your local drugstore or Ulta in shades that you like and playing around. There are a lot of so-called rules for which colors are best for different eye colors, but honestly, fuck it — get colors that make you happy. Try glitter or metallics if you want to. Play around drawing lines and shapes all over the place and don’t be afraid to test things out! And with that in mind:

You mentioned worrying about eye makeup not coming off all the way, and while I personally love a smudged morning-after kind of look, get yourself an eye makeup remover and you won’t run into this issue. Before you wash your face, or in between makeup experiments, use cotton rounds and Neutrogena’s Oil-Free Gentle Eye Makeup Remover to do a quick swipe over your eyelids. You can also buy pre-soaked pads if that’s easier for you. This is also a great product to have on hand if you’re halfway through a killer look and then make a mistake — you can just dip a Q-tip into the makeup remover and clean up a small area without having to wash your entire face.

Moving on from eyes, lips are also a really fun and easy access point to start playing with color. Even if you don’t do anything else, adding a bold or shiny lip can immediately change the way your face looks, and can have a huge impact on your mood, confidence, and general vibe. For more subtlety, tinted lip balms like Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmers and Tinted Lip Balms are super sheer and easy to slick on for a natural look, while something like Honest Beauty’s Tinted Lip Balm will give a stronger color payoff without being too fussy. The Enchanted Lip Sheers from Rituel de Fille are really buildable and come in some unique shades, and the same brand’s pigments can be used on lips and all over the face, running the gamut from bright neons to more subtle shades. And if you wanna go for a bold, badass shade, check out Nars’ Velvet Matte Lipstick Pencil or the many shades of Sephora’s #LIPSTORIES Lipstick.

The only way to get good at putting on makeup is to practice, and I would encourage you to get some cheap products, play around, and see what excites you. There are a lot of fantastic queer-friendly makeup brands out there as well as tutorials on YouTube, from trans and nonbinary makeup artists doing a full beat to very natural, sheer looks that you could wear every day. If you live near a Sephora, they do a lot of free classes to help teach people the basics about makeup, skincare, and haircare that you can sign up for.

But I would love to really encourage you to talk to your partner! They sound like a wonderful human and a fantastic resource, and also, I bet they would be really excited and flattered to get to help you play around with new looks. Cosplayers are incredible and it sounds like this person could teach you so many different techniques to try out, in a safe space. (Plus, I’m sure they have favorite products that you could test!)

Remember what I said at the beginning: focus on what makes you feel pretty or handsome or sexy or beautiful or whatever way you want to feel, and chase that! If you love your lips, grab a bold color or fun gloss and let them shine. If you always look at your eyes first in the mirror, try out mascara or eyeliner, or even some bold eyeshadows, and make sure they pop. If your cheeks are full and beautiful, pop some blush on them or play with contouring. If you’re obsessed with your hands, treat yourself to a manicure. And if you love your freckles, you can use sheer powder to help them stand out. The sky truly is the limit.

Have fun! And readers, please feel free to drop your favorite queer vloggers, tutorials, brands, and products into the comments!



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meg

Meg is a freelance photographer, writer, and tarot reader living in New York City.

Meg has written 92 articles for us.

8 Comments

  1. I would add in the Laura Mercie Eye Caviar sticks; I have the shades ‘Rush’ and ‘Strapless’ – Rush I’m particularly obsessed with because it’s a really pretty purple and red duochrome that can either be subtle or bold depending on how much you layer on. They’re a little on the spendier side but what I love is that they’re basically exactly like crayons; twist up, apply a few strokes to your eyelid and then use your fingers to blend if you want a sheerer look.

    Danessa Myricks is another good brand for using your fingers; in particular the Dew Wet Hydrating and Highlighting Balm – I used to think I couldn’t wear highlighter because with powder highlighters, I’d always end up with chalky streaks all over my face but since it’s a balm, it blends really nicely into the skin (I wear the shade ‘Morning Dew’). Also a lot of her products are multi-use so you can buy one but wear it all over your face (I have put the highlighting balm not just on my cheeks but also eyelids and lips before).

    Also since you mentioned MAC, I’ve found their staff to be really helpful for beginners – the higher price points of their products might be a little off-putting but every time I’ve been into their stores, the staff are really helpful about finding the right products, even if you’re a total makeup novice.

    • Just to tack on to this – I’m Butch, also started experimenting with make-up late in life and I have to say that going into MAC and talking with the make-up artists helped so much. They were all so lovely and I was very lucky to have 3 queer artists (AMAB NB, and two bi AFAB women) sit down with me. They eased my anxieties and talked me through everything (much like Meg has wonderfully done in this article) do I felt less like drowning and more intrigued. They didn’t pressure me into buying ANYTHING which I wasn’t expecting, and the patience they showed with answering all my questions was so welcome. All my Internet research helped but actually speaking to someone in the know made the starting point so much more.

      Anyway bottom line is: LFG, butches wearing make-up!

  2. wow what a cutie baby earthling. low stakes makeup that comes to mind – eyeshadow paint pots (you can use your fingers to blend them out) are less intimidating than powdered eyeshadows IMO. eyeshadow sticks do the same thing too. you could do like a nude paint pot all over your eye and do a shimmery color at your tear ducts and call it a day. it’s a look. :)

    milk makeup cream stick/blush for lips and cheeks comes to mind also

    and as for makeup removal double cleanse it off and you’ll be fine. i recommend a reusable cotton swab but it’s fine. micellar water for the eye areas with a swab. it’s not a huge deal.

    have fun let the world surprise you with new discoveries don’t be too scared of the tenderness of the experience. it’s a joy when you let it be

  3. So stoked for you! I came to makeup kind of late, and realized it was a lot more fun when it was something I could do if/when/how I felt like it and not something I was being pressured to do to conform to a particular gender ideal. It sounds like the stakes feel high for you, but you’re not going to do it “wrong.” It’s just playing with pretty colors on your face!

    I co-sign all advice above! For makeup cleansing purposes, I just use a basic micellar water to take off face/eye stuff and coconut oil to remove lipstick before following it all up with an overall face cleanser. It will come off!

    I would recommend Colourpop and the Sephora collection since they are generally decent quality but cheaper than higher end stuff, so you can experiment without committing to the expensive shit. When I first started wearing makeup, I basically just ordered products in colors that I liked off of Colourpop and tried shit out. If there’s a Sephora or Ulta near you, I also fully endorse just browsing the section that has travel/mini size stuff and see what looks fun to try. There’s tons of Youtube tutorials out there, and I always treat them as set of suggestions that I will probably do in a more simple/basic way, rather than as a set of instructions you must follow perfectly. Get some stuff that makes you light up when you see it, look up some tutorials for the kinds of things you’re interested in, put on some fun tunes, and just go to town with the cleanser handy and nowhere to go that night.

    I know you’re intimidated, but if this cutie is as sweet as you say, I’m sure they would be MEGA PUMPED if you asked them to help you out. Like a date where you just play with makeup together? How awesome would that be!! Or, if not this person, maybe a friend who wears makeup? I know I would be thrilled if someone asked me to do some low-stakes makeup stuff together. <3

  4. Honestly having a makeup night sounds like a really fun date night. It definitely takes time when you are getting oriented to how to use new products or techniques, so making that time intentional and playful could help make for an extra safe and open space to dig in. Plus, most importantly, asking this person to help you means you’re giving them an excuse to stare into your eyes and gently touch your face and that sounds like excellent foreplay to me!

    For eye shadow, I like Juvia’s Place, which you can order online or pick up at Ulta. It’s pretty affordable and you can get big palates of bold colors or small palates of more muted colors and you are supporting a black woman owned business too.
    If you want to go bold and get some glitter, I recommend elektra cosmetics. I have a tub of Bolt Balm that has literally lasted me years.

    You can do it! We believe in you!

    • I love this so much — a great example of why autistraddle is so necessary! I don’t wear makeup myself but I just wanted to say that if you like real pity tv competition shows, glow up on Netflix is really fun and has frequent non binary contestants/very fun makeup. It’s not so much butch but I really enjoy it! Start with season 3 or 4

  5. I can’t rec enough watching makeup tutorials on youtube. Every style, every price point, every ability, every body and gender expression, there’s someone on yt doing it. nobody wore makeup in my home growing up so i had to teach myself as an adult and i’ve learned a lot.

  6. Would only add one thing! If you’re like me and prone to dry lips, HIGHLY recommend getting a lipstick primer to put on before applying anything matte. It was a total game changer. Put on chapstick, wait a couple minutes to let it absorb, and then do primer+lipstick to seal the moisture in.

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