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Hazel Gaskin Farrell Cox Circus
Photography Hazel Gaskin

Exploring the beauty rituals of a circus performer

British performer and aerialist Farrell Cox on wearing her hair natural and matching her make-up to music

Rituals is a monthly column that looks at the obscure beauty routines and sacred acts of self self-care different professionals practice as they prepare for a typical event or performance. Currently playing the acrobat in the RSC’s production of Don Quixote at the Garrick, performer and aerialist Farrell Cox talks growing up without representation, how she prepares for a performance, and the ways being an aerialist has changed how she thinks about beauty.

Growing up I didn't really want to look like anyone, as there wasn't anyone who really looked like me – there wasn't much representation in the media. However, my mum would always listen to Prince and Nina Simone and in some way, I carry their style in my clothing and make-up choices. I'm a big fan of Grace Jones - the lines of her cheekbones which compliment the structured silhouettes she wears – and more recently Janelle Monae who actually collaborated with Prince so it's all weirdly connected.

My school days didn’t really inform my beauty aesthetic as I was quite free and always changing. One time I shaved off my hair, another time I coloured it blonde. I think growing up I didn't really know what beautiful was. I remember visiting a theme park when I was about five or six and a guy saying to my mum, “she's beautiful, you are going to have loads of boys knocking at your door when she's older.” I didn't have boys knocking at my door (maybe I turned out not to be beautiful!) I still don't really know what beauty is - maybe the day when I stopped comparing myself to others and wore things that made me feel good and happy or spontaneously whack out a high kick in.

I got into circus really late. I trained as a physical actor and met circus performers along the way. I went to classes and then ended up working for the traditional circus and from then on I've been combining circus arts and acting.

The first time I performed I was so nervous, I think I was more nervous about the way I looked more than anything – if I looked glamorous enough. My hair is curly and glamour is often seen as a slicked back high pony or long wavy hair. I remember having my hair out and wearing some sort of glitter to match the sequins and rhinestones in my costume.

Being an acrobat has shown me that you can be beautiful even with muscles. To prepare and maintain my body for performances, I make sure to eat and sleep well, drink water all the time, take magnesium, and always cool down and do my physio. I try to minimise stress as much as possible, as it’s all connected – it can make your muscles tight and create blemishes on my face which isn't always a nice feeling. In terms of my skincare routine, I always use olive oil to take off my make-up as it’s natural and it hydrates your skin, too. Moisturize, moisturize and moisturize!

Choosing my hair and make-up looks usually starts from a theme. If it's a storytelling piece it's what the character will most likely wear in that scenario. Otherwise, something that complements the music track, for example, bright make-up with a fun happy flowy piece of music. I'm a big fan of having my afro hair out if I have the choice. To get ready for an event I use Barry M and Kryolan products, and recently I've been using Bella Pierre because the pigmentation is great and the brand is cruelty-free.

On days I am not performing, most of the time I'll wear dungarees or jeans – clothes that aren't restrictive and that I can bust out a high kick in if I wanted. I usually don't wear make-up because I like to give my skin a chance to breathe and just have a break. It can get really irritable applying and removing make-up all the time.

The most rewarding and challenging aspects of being a circus performer are bringing joy, creating a reaction, starting a conversation and also potentially be some sort of representation as a young black female performer. Just before I’m about to perform, when I look in the mirror I see a strong woman, who has worked hard (although there’s always room for improvement!) and is grateful for doing something she loves every day. Afterwards, I see a tired face and potentially an eyelash in my eye! And also a face that is grateful, which I somewhat guess could be beautiful. It sounds cliche but, to me, beauty means being yourself and being your true authentic self.