The editor and model pens a personal piece about their experiences asserting their identity with beauty and what happened when they felt like they couldn’t any more
The first lipstick I bought was one of those ridiculously glossy ones you get in Boots. I remember acting as if the second I put it down on the counter, I would be bundled out of the shop, as if I was trying to buy nine bottles of red wine aged 15. Unashamedly I picked it up, and boldly placed the Rimmel Mayfair Red on the counter.
The first day I wore it, I enacted my favourite tactic when doing something people might have qualms about, which I still use to this day – doing it very quickly and acting like nothing about your demeanor has changed. This resulted in me sloppily applying my cheap red lipstick before running to the car before my mother, to then be taken to sixth form, nonchalantly listening to One Direction and pretending nothing was different.
For me, make-up started off as a tool linked heavily to insecurity. My skin was textured and pigmented and I first used concealer and powder foundation to cover and conceal. Stealing it from my mothers make-up bag, I would cake it on, creating a truly blank and sometimes worryingly neutral base, so that I felt confident enough to go to sixth form and about my day. Little did I know that it was crusty, falling off and definitely not making me appear like the Twiggy (who I felt like I was embodying) of my sixth form corridors.
After lots of persuasion of every kind, I then was promoted in my weekend job at one of those small-town independent department stores, that constantly smells like cheese and ham paninis, to work in the beauty department. I remember that first day trotting over the threshold to the Clarins counter feeling like I truly was the embodiment of beauty. Legends only. From there, my tastes moved from just concealer to eyes, lips, cheeks, to the whole bloody face.
My make-up became a tool for releasing myself rather than covering up. It moved from a practice of making myself more ‘palatable’ and conventionally beautiful to an art that allowed me to explore the inner workings of my brain on my face. Exploration both mentally and physically resulted in this face that you see before you.
Now, my make-up is artistry. My most loved and treasured act of self-appreciation and self-care because it allows me to feel more me. Placing the star stamps on my face as the final touch is more than just an avant-garde statement about my love for constellations, it’s purely the icing on the cake, and that cake is a masterpiece of gender euphoria.
But the past three months specifically have not allowed me to do that. The current climate of transphobia is relentless – a never-ending stream of articles, voices and opinions that float around, but impact lives with the utmost of force. People sharing their concerns and fears, that manifest into naive pieces of information that the masses get between their teeth. It creates hostility, intrigue that leads to violence, questioning that leads to outrage. The joy that I once felt as a teenager has been lost, still a distant memory that it is possible to feel joyous, but still too far away to actually get a grip on. Once I had my face down to its specificities, every day without fail I would throw on my make-up in around 45 minutes and leave the house, into a world just not quite ready for us.
“My make-up is artistry. My most loved and treasured act of self-appreciation and self-care because it allows me to feel more me”
One day I decided not to. After the surge in anti-trans rhetoric this autumn, in which groups arose and made their plans for the lack of care, love or empathy towards the trans community very clear, I felt incredibly vulnerable. I’ve been physically attacked twice this year, just because of the way that I look. By people unhappy about the ways in which we live as ourselves, thinking it’s OK to invade our bodies and privacy, launch themselves up our dresses or kick us out of sight. This one day of being make-up free moved into two days, which moved into a week, which moved into two, before finally ending at around 20 days of not wearing a stitch. No stars adorning my face, just reality and a lack of eyebrows.
The freedom of navigating space was completely refreshing. The ability to be able to walk from A to B without worrying about what carriage to get on, or the group of people standing at the end of the road, or whether the cars going past would stop or drive on. No staring. No gawking. No-one trying to take my photo without my consent. It was a time when I felt the warmth of freedom, while the back of my neck still had the chill of gender dysphoria.
Often people think that being femme and expressing your gender identity, is something that is dependent on mood or choice. But it isn’t at all. It’s a mechanism of affirmation for many of who they are, and stripping that back, at times, felt like I wasn’t being myself. I saw people in the hustle of Oxford Street: femme, bold, defiant, and I yearned to be able to do that too. As I continued my work life and met people for meetings, and jobs, they looked at me with slight pity, almost as if they didn’t know the person in front of them. Even seeing people in bright red lipstick would make me feel a sharp guilt that I wasn’t wearing mine.
I felt like a failure. Like I’d given in to the pressure to conform, and of the world around me, by not wearing make-up. People had told me to “tone it down” because your life would be easier, which I had always disregarded as an absurd statement because it was delivered tinged with transphobia. However, there was a slight truth to their naivety. People, often within my own community, continue to gaslight my physicality, and ask “what were you expecting leaving the house like that?” I felt like I’d spent weeks telling myself they were all right and that it was all my fault. Then I saw bought some boots in the Zara sale and realised everyone who says shit like that to me is a knob. Who knew that retail therapy could help deconstruct internalised transphobia?
Truthfully, I enjoyed the escape. The ‘time off’ from being a public target. But I knew I needed to get back into my femme-ness for my sake and my sake alone. I missed that huge part of me that made me feel empowered, confident, and strong, and although there was an ease to life with not wearing make-up, it wasn’t who I was. The first day that I wore make-up again was absolutely terrifying. Even more terrifying than that first time I’d run to my mother’s car with the cheap red lipstick on. It felt like the first time again.
“Truthfully, I enjoyed the escape. The ‘time off’ from being a public target. But I knew I needed to get back into my femme-ness for my sake and my sake alone. I missed that huge part of me that made me feel empowered, confident, and strong”
What I’ve learnt from doing this is that being non-binary or gender non-conforming does not have one look. That’s the whole bloody point – there are no rules or restrictions when it comes to your expression. What being non-binary has shown me is that looking out for your own safety, and your own wellbeing, is paramount to us being able to continue. So if that means taking a break from make-up, and wearing it three days a week instead of seven because it’s going to make you feel safer, absolutely do it.
With the continuation of a Tory government, the next five years are potentially going to be the hardest our generation has ever seen, especially for minorities, people on the fringes and people who intersect those marginalities. Their majority wasn’t just a ‘win’, it’s a warning that opposition forces will have to unite and be stronger, and more intelligent, especially if we want LGBTQ+ issues to be brought to the forefront
However you choose to do it, allow yourself time to evolve, change, and adapt to our surroundings. It’s not a failure to realise that the world we live in is turning further and further against us. Whether that be not wearing make-up, or wearing it every single day as an act of protest and resilience, do it, but remember that your safety is the most important thing to look after and nurture.