“It says that I'm not afraid to be myself and see things a little differently,” says @Uggiebbyboy
(Please note that while this was correct at the time of writing, Vatel now identifies as non-binary and uses he/him pronouns.)
In her column, Femme Mystique, Dazed Beauty Contributing Editor and founder of Polyester zine Ione Gamble, shines a spotlight on the femmes creating club looks from the comfort of their bedroom as they turn to make-up to express their true identity.
Pre-social media, you’d be pressed to find a radically expressive, creative make-up look outside of the club, on the runway, or anywhere but the pages of a magazine. Sure, kids were still experimenting in their bedrooms, it’s just that there was no way of recording this and sharing it with the world. Back then, the only time you could really show yourself off to your mates was under the cloak of darkness and in the corner of some exotic club. From Leigh Bowery residing over the London club scene in the ‘80s, to the New Romantics, punks, and right up to the ‘90s with Michael Alig and his notorious cohort of New York club kids — painting your face in the most wild way imaginable often guaranteed entry to some of the most exciting cultural movements in the last century.
But like the art, publishing and creative industries, the internet has democratised make-up. Bloggers and vloggers and Instagrammers are now arguably the most influential faces in beauty, and an entrenched historical knowledge of club or subculture is no longer required to paint your face in the most creative way your mind can conjur. In fact, peep your Instagram explore feed and you’ll likely find a whole load of young people pushing selfie culture to its extremes, with little to no prior knowledge of those who came before them. Using their front facing camera to capture make-up looks often only worn inside the house, extreme make-up culture turns extraverted behaviour into an introspective practice, with hundreds of people performing from their bedroom and using beauty as a means of working out their identity and place in the world.
Whereas male drag artists are breaking into the mainstream, with Ru Paul’s Drag Race providing an internationally viewed platform for them to shine, it’s femmes and females of the Instagram beauty community that are quietly pushing make-up use to its most radical possibilities. Through their desire to twist, subvert, or exemplify traditionally ‘feminine’ beauty traits, previously used to oppress them, as a means of empowerment, these are the people moving the craft away from mere performance and into changing how we view ourselves and the world around us.
Enter Elliana Vatel, aka @uggiebbyboy, the 18-year-old New York raised, Florida-based high school student who has garnered nearly 10,000 Instagram followers through her creative use of beauty tools. Scroll through Vatel’s feed and it quickly becomes obvious that some of the most innovative makeup practices are happening in the URL world. From bold lines, to exaggerated glitter cat eyes and freckles in every colour of the rainbow, Vatel believes that expressive beauty has come a long way since its nightlife origins. “It started with club kids doing wild looks for the wild nights; however people realised that it doesn’t matter where or when, you can look however you please at any time because it is your body and your style.” She continues, “I think that’s progressive and a great mindset to have, it’s pushing boundaries in beauty and self identification.”
But while what’s commonly referred to on social media and within the beauty community as ‘avant garde’ makeup may not seem out of place when viewed through our phone screens, Vatel wasn’t always comfortable expressing herself with no inhibitions. “Originally when I was young, I wore makeup to make myself more likable to my peers,” she says, “but now it’s for self expression and fulfillment.” She spent her younger teenage years watching YouTube tutorials religiously, “learning tips, tricks and methods to improve my application.” After nailing the basics, Vatel graduated from following a paint by numbers approach to beauty, to operating under “pure experimentation”. The first step was shaving off her eyebrows and purchasing a pot of glitter. “Through experimentation I’ve learned other perspectives and niche methods. Being self-taught has taught me a lot about myself, confidence, and my skin. A definite positive is seeing your own personal growth and style in makeup.”
However, seeking out experimental methods of makeup application is not purely a source of entertainment for Vatel, but an uncomfortable necessity. “The hardest obstacle I have with makeup is using bright colours on my deep complexion. Certain colours don’t show up as vibrant or bright compared to a white or lighter skin tone. Sometimes colours don't even show up on me. Thus it’s harder to do certain looks or find certain colours to suit my style or look. Through countless tutorials and experimentation I've found ways to overcome obstacles, like pigmentation, to really take my makeup to another level,” she says.
From Salvia, to Fecal Matter to IsSheHungry, ‘avant garde’ is big business when it comes to building a substantial following on Instagram. It’s easy to draw comparisons to other creatives who use their artistic skills to cultivate huge social media followings. Experimenting with geometric shapes and symmetical patterns, Vatel’s approach also adopts clownish aesthetics, another beauty trend born online through creatives such as Jender Anomie, as well as championing a more traditionally feminine colour palette. But as Vatel asserts, “personally I don’t consider myself in a ‘community’ I just do what pleases me.” While avant-garde is a label Vatel uses to describe her style, it’s not necessarily one she ascribes to. “Honestly, I only use ‘avant garde’ as a label to describe myself so that other people can understand how I am; but I don’t exactly resonate with it.” Vatel continues, “in the end, whether or not anyone will understand, I’m just being myself and having fun. It’s that simple.”
So, what is it that inspires her? “It’s really just whatever pleases my eyes, I love horrific visuals and acid trips. It says that I'm not afraid to be myself and see things a little differently. To someone else it may seem like I'm a freak or someone to watch out for. Either way I'm just being my honest self.” But, sadly, that honesty often comes at a cost. “Personally, I've always struggled with anxiety and always having the attention on me doesn't help.” For Vatel, being true to herself is often a double-edged sword. “I love how I look because it’s what makes me comfortable; however some days I still get very nervous when I'm socially around others.” How does she cope with all the attention, then? “Usually online most my reactions are positive, during my real life I get silent stares or direct questions regarding my style. I don’t tend to get many negative reactions, which is wonderful.”
Despite her confliction when it comes having an Instagram presence, Vatel is clear about how much the social media site means to her. “It allows me to share who I and how I identify, it’s wonderful seeing people who are likeminded.” That said, while many of the biggest names on Instagram may have turned their talent into viable careers, Vatel is more interested in dealing with the dead; and hopes to pursue a job in a mortuary — admitting, “I love blood, guts, and gore! At first I wanted to be a forensic pathologist, but I turned to mortuary because it seems a bit easier and I still get to dabble in cosmetics.”
While the majority of her future clients may not have a pulse, Vatel will continue experimenting with makeup on herself and finding joy in sharing her hobby with the world via social media. “It’s fun! It’s just that simple,” she says, “I think people are realising that art is subjective and being genuine is more important than the validation of others.”