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Beauty advice from the Berlin Porn Film Festival


TextAudrey MorePhotographyNadine Fraczkowski

Sex worker Audrey More travelled to the Berlin Porn Film Festival to ask porn stars for some tips about their beauty regimes

Sex workers understand better than most the value in presenting a range of faces to the world, especially when it comes to embodying a fantasy. At Berlin’s Porn Film Festival (PFF), the leading performers, directors and producers of queer indie porn gathered in Kreuzberg over last weekend to celebrate a more diverse, artistic form of sexual expression than you'll ever find on the front of a porn tube site. Including ambitious full length screenings, selections of shorts, panel discussions and documentaries, PFF is a haven for those interested in watching and making films that challenge porn's mainstream. The atmosphere is warm and buzzing; this is, after all, a close-knit industry, and PFF is as much a reunion for performers and film-makers as it is a professional showcase. 

Amidst all the activity, we spoke to attendees about looking good on camera, the demands of the job, gender fluidity and how their routines differ at home and at work, as well as grabbing their recommendations for make-up that stays put during an on-camera orgy.

Bishop Black, performer

How do you like to style yourself on set?
Bishop Black: It depends on the vibe and the feeling in my body. Today I’m feeling really feminine. The only thing I’m missing is some really big hoops, maybe some with a pentagram. This time of year I feel like I become all witchy. So I mix between that and a more standard masculine look.

Also, it depends on the project, and how much liberty they give me in terms of make-up. When I first started making films, I focused on my drag aesthetic, which I don’t get to use so much these days. That was high femme, pink wig, heavy make-up.

It was an interesting endeavour to be in drag; to have a strong representation of this other element of myself, and my gender and a sense of fluidity. It’s not always something I wish to express. Sometimes I’d rather just be who am I right now. I think it takes a large amount of energy to want to express it, to be out.

Has sex work affected how you think about your body?
Bishop Black: It depends on the direction of the sex work really. I make porn, and I also escort. With the escorting, there’s another type of drag. It’s boy drag, this weird finite play between empowerment and commodification, but working within that commodification for your own needs. As a black, bisexual male there’s a lot of connotations people will have about me; regarding my appearance, about how I fuck, whether I’m a top or a bottom. In Berlin, there’s this big fetishisation of the black guy and the ideologies that come with that. Sometimes I play with it, sometimes I don’t. I’d rather be seen for who I am. 

Do you have any beauty rituals before you film?
Bishop Black: I’m a massive bath person. With bubbles, obviously. My friend used to work at Lush and I had all the products, all the bath bombs. That was lovely. Baths are something I need for some personal space, time to soak beforehand. I also love to shave my head. I do it every three to five days, I love it short.

Vex Ashley, co-founder of Four Chambers, independent porn director and performer

How has your look evolved over your career?
Vex Ashley:
 When I first started camming I had to look a very particular way, which was sweet and ditzy and innocent. I’d wear my hair in pigtails, minimal make-up, really cutesy and non-threatening. Then, as I began to mature I realised I was more interested in looking how I wanted to, middle-aged. Presenting this ditzy character was irritating me a bit. I’ve always been a bit weird, and when I started doing sex work online it stopped me feeling that I had to perform as a ‘sexy person’ in everyday life. It allowed me to be weirder because I had this outlet for appearing sexually attractive to men. I got obsessed with looking like a pastor’s daughter, with minimal make-up and looking very prudish.

Any hero products for when you’re filming?
Vex Ashley: I discovered 24-hour liquid lipsticks. It’s nail varnish for your lips, so when you’re performing you’re not going to get lipstick on the other performer’s face unless that’s what you’re going for. If I’m shooting something messy and wet, I tend to ask performers to wear a lot of mascara, or something that’s going to wear off. There’s something hot about a person having a very ‘put-together’ face, and then that facade starting to degrade through fucking. That’s sexy for me. But when I don’t want that to happen, I use primer and sealer to keep everything in place. I can get a little flushed when I’m filming, so fixing my foundation (I use Nyx Setting Spray in Dewey) is important for making me feel like I look good on camera.

Sadie Lune, performer and artist 

You’re about to celebrate 20 years of doing sex work. Has your relationship to beauty changed in this time?
Sadie Lune: One thing that’s really changed is that I used to have a look very focused on glamour, with fancy lingerie (or as fancy as I could afford). After a while, trying to maintain this class presentation really stressed me out. So there was a while when I got more casual – I mean, not super casual – but enough to feel like I was allowed to do that.

It’s something I think about a lot in relation to ageing. I have this Venn diagram in my head which is performing in porn in one circle, ageing in another circle and femme identity in another. And in the middle of them all is the question ‘What is the primary source of body image issues?’ And I can’t tease it apart. I think ageing can be a bit easier for those members of my community that aren’t femme. And having work, and creative projects, based on your appearance, and specifically image on screen, certainly affects it.

How does your look relate to your different types of work?
Sadie Lune: I have two looks that I know how to do. Maybe two and a half. One is a bit gothy, a bit vintage. Femme but with colour. Colourful vampire femme. And then the other one is what I’d use for a performance piece, with much more glitter, much more eyeshadow. That’s drag queen vampire femme. Sometimes a moustache. And then, the other look, which is only in the last two or three years, which is ‘sophisticated adult woman’. It has a different palette, which I use for speaking gigs around sex worker rights or feminist porn. For that, the lips aren’t super dark, no crazy coloured liner. I went to MAC when I turned 37 and got a lesson, and bought new stuff, and learnt how to do that. But from 16-37 it was just the other two looks!

That kind of make-up is more accessible and approachable, and people take me more seriously. And when I’m doing activism and I want an audience to hear me, I wear something tight but not too revealing, colourful fishnets, just to be like ‘I’m a weird queer whore! Don’t forget!’, and the face I feel will make people hear me, and take what I have to say seriously.

Lupa, escort, Pro-Domme, and performer

Does your look vary between escorting and porn?
Lupa: My look varies more when I’m doing one-to-one sex work because I’m catering to my client’s preferences. Some of them prefer a heavily made-up look, and some of them hate that and want a girl next door vibe. My default is quite heavily made up. I like a dramatic look. In film, I prefer to look more like me.

How do you construct that dramatic femme look?
Lupa: I’m a big fan of eyeshadow palettes and a strong brow. I love Anastasia Beverley Hills Dip Brow. But recently I’ve also been playing around with Glossier and their products. It’s not my normal domain, that fresh, dewy look. Then on my day off, I wear nothing and just moisturise. It’s all or nothing with me.

Do you feel that work affects how you look in any way?
Lupa: Earlier on in my career, I was very beholden to trying to constantly shape myself exactly to clients’ fantasies, and now I put my own preferences about how I want to look first. I’ve gotten more tattooed and I recently shaved a bit of my head, and I’ve stopped shaving some of my body hair. It’s a compromise between the male gaze idea of how women should be beautiful and what I’m paid to embody, versus how I, as a queer feminist woman, want to exist in the world. It’s a fundamental tension, but as I get older and more secure I'm allowing myself more concessions.

Rooster, performer, filmmaker & sex educator

How do you like to get ready before filming?
Rooster: A lot of the performers I work with, we know each other quite well, so we often get ready together. Sometimes we’ll borrow each other’s make-up, do some grooming together, some pampering. It’s like being intimate with each other, preparing, like being each other’s hype-person. It’s really nice.

Any favourite products that can hold up the demands of making out all day?
Rooster: My saving grace is this very deep purple lipstick by Pretty Zombie, in 3 Witches and also Transylvania. It’s great. I was living in this queer non-binary sex worker house, and we would all stock up and order it from the US at the same time. I also always get tips from Bishop. They have amazing taste in lipstick.

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