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Matt Bernstein aka Matt XIV beauty look

Matt Bernstein’s colourful, confrontational looks spotlight queer issues

TextLuke Smith

The make-up artist and photographer breaks down the importance of the provocative words on his skin

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You may not think that make-up has political potency, but a quick scroll down @mattxiv’s Instagram feed and you’ll think again. With a bio that reads “beauty but make it political”, photographer and make-up artist Matt Bernstein is spreading the queer agenda with colourful yet confronting make-up looks.

The New York-based 21-year-old uses his images as a vehicle to educate his audience, recently sharing the story of the Hallmark channel removing the advert of a same-sex couple kissing, saying “taking us off TV won’t make your kids straight.” He is very open about his experience as a queer person, sharing a death threat received from someone in his comments in a recent post with a quote written on his arm that read “Why do queer people have to be brave to exist in public? I don’t want to be brave, I just want to be.”

Through the medium of make-up and social media, Matt is making queer issues accessible to an audience who would otherwise never be confronted with such content. “Make-up and social media are the tools I’m using to create a digital world in which people can think more deeply about who they are.”

Here, Matt talks about political beauty and his experiences as a queer person, both online and offline.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up?

Matt Bernstein: I grew up in a conservative New Jersey suburb, raised by a family who loved me within a larger surrounding that made it difficult to express myself. I played a lot of sports when I was younger, and quit them all by tenth grade. I’m quite a soft and sensitive person –  but also very confident. The confidence comes out more on social media, but the sensitivity has always played a role in my identity and my relationship to ‘manliness’.  

What’s your earliest beauty-related memory?

Matt Bernstein: When I was a senior in high school, I was at a friend’s house with a bunch of girls, and they put black liquid eyeliner and a little shimmer on me. It was one of my fondest memories from high school and a very personally confusing breakthrough moment for me. 

What is it you do and why do you do it?

Matt Bernstein: My Instagram bio - ‘beauty but make it political’ - says it all. I use make-up to generate conversation about sociopolitical issues related to gender, sexuality, public health, and violence. These are issues which concern so many people – especially young people – but we aren’t given the language in school or mainstream media to discuss them. So, I’m trying to use beauty and colour to make these complicated topics more accessible to people. 

How did you get into it?

Matt Bernstein: I moved to New York a few years ago for school, and it wasn’t until I got here that I really started playing with make-up. In New York, you can walk around in a banana suit and people won’t look twice. I felt like I could explore glam without the fear of being judged. I began doing looks on social media just over a year ago, and I’m surprised every day that it’s created this community so far.

What’s been your career highlight so far?

Matt Bernstein: Last month, I went to Utah to attend a conference with over a thousand LGBTQ+ kids and their families. Most of them grew up in the LDS (Mormon) Church. I gave a speech, we played with make-up and helped each other put lashes on. It was the most emotionally intense, rewarding weekend I can remember.

Describe your beauty aesthetic in three words.

Matt Bernstein: Gorgeous, confrontational, and gay.

If you could have a new sense on top of your existing ones, what would it be?

Matt Bernstein: An internal alarm clock so I stop oversleeping. I know some people claim to have this already. I would like to chat with y’all.

Which fictional character do you most relate to and why?

Matt Bernstein: Dobby the house elf is a gay icon.

God – or let’s just say a higher power of some sort – is only letting who they follow on Instagram into the afterlife. What kind of pic would you put up that perfectly sums you up as the person you were back on Earth?

Matt Bernstein: This one. Hope you like it @god! 

Who is your beauty icon/favourite look of all time? Why?

Matt Bernstein: I’m just a slut for lashes. Pat McGrath’s feather lashes look for the Valentino spring 2019 couture show were iconic. Also, the lashes Sarah Tanno did on Gaga for the 2019 Met Gala. Are you kidding me? Insane.

What does beauty mean to you?

Matt Bernstein: Beauty has much more to do with you and how you feel about yourself than how anyone else sees you.

When do you feel most beautiful?

Matt Bernstein: Right after the lashes are glued down.

If not your body then, is there anything you would want to leave behind? An artwork you haven’t done yet, a book, a bloodline? 

Matt Bernstein: Yes, I want kids but I don’t care so much about leaving behind any specific material thing. I want to leave a legacy or a feeling with people – a sense of confidence and freedom. I suppose that’s like, super fucking sentimental. A book would also be nice.

Are you optimistic about the future?

Matt Bernstein: *Nervous laugh* I need young people to come out and vote. It’s the biggest power we have in a democracy. It’s louder than any post or tweet. Just fucking vote.

What is the future of beauty?  

Matt Bernstein: The future of beauty is queer and non-heteronormative! It’s artistic, personal, expressive, and judgement-free.

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