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courtesy of Instagram/@pearliaison

Pearl of wisdom: the iconic drag queen offers her thoughts on beauty

TextTom Rasmussen

“I haven’t learned anything about my insides by applying products to my outsides” – Drag Race season seven runner-up turned YouTube superstar Pearl spills the tea

“Do I love make-up? Of course. Do I owe my life to make-up? Not really,” Pearl Liaison, the only queen on Drag Race to have ever verbally decked RuPaul, explains.

You might know her as the runner-up of season seven, but since leaving the show she’s become the creator of an iconic YouTube channel which both venerates and undermines the classic tutorial format. In one, she goes full womana, before dragging herself older by 80 years; in another, she introduces Roxanne -- the all singing, all smoking international bachelorette: “right now, I’ve been sober for fourteen hours, and...  it’s goin’ okay… still smoking, but you’ve got to start somewhere.”

She’s funny, smart, and refreshingly frank, and somewhat over the interview about two questions in, which makes me think that I’m shit at my job which, frankly, makes me like her even more. Is this how Ru felt? I hope so…

Tell me a bit about yourself and where you grew up? 
Pearl: I grew up in a small, gulf-coast town in Florida. I had a single mum and a big sister. We made do with what we had, which wasn’t much. This has made me less interested in material things and more interested in the bigger picture. I always wanted to leave, which made me very goal-oriented from a young age.

Growing up when did you first feel beautiful? 
Pearl: I never felt beautiful. I knew that I looked conventionally attractive to other people because I was the little boy in school that the little girls had a crush on. I didn’t realise that I was gay at that time so I was just very awkward. I always struggled with self-confidence.

What makes you feel most beautiful?
Pearl: What makes me feel most beautiful now is when my intentions are good and I’m able to keep negative thoughts at bay. Practising good mental health, really.

Is make-up simply superficial? What does it mean to you?
Pearl: Some people can’t leave the house without make-up while others don’t own a single lipstick. Do I love make-up? Of course. Do I owe my life to make-up? Not really. Is it a huge part of my career? Definitely. Is make-up my only creative outlet? Hell no. Makeup is a necessity for my job, but not to my soul. So yes, I think make-up is superficial although I think that word has a negative connotation. Make-up and beauty haven’t made me feel free during my hard times, which are very specific. Although it gives me a sense of strength when I’m wearing it, I consider make-up a small, singular extension of my creativity that I am grateful to have. I will say that an amazing fragrance is one of my favourite things about portraying an enigmatic figure. Humans have five senses and, in my line of work, I have noticed that drag queens often focus on just the visual and neglect other things like scent.

How has make-up allowed you to explore your gender?
Pearl: Make-up and gender; one has nothing to do with the other. I haven’t learned anything about my insides by applying products to my outsides.

What is the most important thing to know about beauty?
Pearl: People should know that beauty is an imaginary standard that we have been brainwashed to idolise. I’m disinterested in the box that we live in as a society. On a physical level, I am much more drawn to unique traits than the standard conventional idea of beauty. I am much more fascinated with the human brain and its inner workings than the face attached to it.

What is the best beauty advice you’ve ever received?
Pearl: The best thing you can do to stay beautiful (physically, mentally and emotionally) is to take care of your body: don’t intoxicate yourself, breathe through life’s stresses, realise that your reactions will dictate your journey. Understand that hard times are just moments passing by, and quickly at that. Oh, and drink water.

What is the worst beauty advice you’ve ever received?
Pearl: That you need to apply 20 potions in a skincare line to stay youthful. That is all a marketing scheme to sell products so rich people can get richer. The only way to stay youthful and alive is to take care of yourself from the inside out.

What’s your favourite thing about your face?
Pearl: My favourite physical thing about my face is probably my eyebrows, which is ironic because I cover them, and draw new ones on for work.

How has beauty and make-up helped you learn about yourself?
Pearl: Make-up and beauty have allowed me to express my creativity, which is a large part of myself. That being said, I am not limited to what I can create with my hands and as I get older I am realising there are far more important things.

How do you feel different when you’re in make-up and out of make-up?
Pearl: How do you feel on Halloween wandering around in a mask? Probably not very vulnerable because your real-self is temporarily hidden. I know that I am fascinating to look at when I am Pearl, but I am not actually physically or mentally stronger. I wish it gave me the strength that I know it gives other drag queens, but I  need more than a costume for that.

What advice would you give to a young person struggling to understand the ways they might not fit in?
Pearl: That’s a bit of a loaded question for me considering my bizarre and outlandish ideas about society, modernism and relationships. But, in a nutshell, I would try to express the importance of self-love, independence and an alternative way of thinking about life. Some people are naturally more socially capable while others are better off living feral in the woods. Although the latter may seem absurd because the world has told us how to live, both ideals and personalities should be accepted and not judged. Stop trying to shove something where it doesn’t fit. Stop relying on others for validation. Learn to thrive in your alone time. You will eventually find your tribe if that continues to be of importance to you.

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