5 Trans Women On The Beauty Moments That Shaped Their Transitions

For years, how beauty products are marketed has defined what many consumers deem ideal or inspirational and, more often than not, beauty products and trends are imagined on thin, white, cisgendered people. Yet as a new decade approaches, what constitutes beauty is changing. It is no longer standardised.

The Government Equalities Office tentatively estimates that there are approximately 200,000-500,000 trans people in the UK but when it comes to beauty, trans people have not been truly visible, for example in global advertisements or on brand Instagram feeds – until now. When trans model and activist, Teddy Quinlivan was tapped by Chanel Beauty for a major campaign earlier this year, it signalled positive change for the trans community. "I am the first openly trans person to work for the house of Chanel and I am deeply humbled and proud to represent my community," Teddy wrote on Instagram. "This [is] a victory that made all of [the] shit worth it."

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Great strides have also been made by Illamasqua in particular, which has started to use gender inclusive language in its Instagram captions. Non-gendered makeup lines are on the rise, too, for example Jecca Makeup and Fluide, and transgender models are featured more by major brands. Take Lady Gaga’s promotional video for her global beauty brand, Haus Laboratories.

The beauty industry as a whole seems to be working towards broader beauty standards and genuine inclusivity, but the transgender community is still marginalised in its mainstream. While buying and using beauty products may seem one of the lesser challenges faced by transgender people on a daily basis, talking to a number of trans women proved their appearance and how they present themselves to the world forms a key part of their identity. It can serve as a tool for self-expression, experimentation, empowerment and more.

Ahead, five trans women share the poignant beauty moments that shaped their transitions.

Elodie, 21

"I knew I wasn’t in the right body at 4 years old but came to terms with my gender identity in 2007 at the age of 18, through watching other people’s transition stories on YouTube. I started living as Elodie 'full time' in January 2018.
 
My beauty journey began when I started wearing concealer at 16. I was still male presenting then. I was extremely apprehensive and remember hiding it from my mother. One day she found the concealer, confused as to why I was ashamed and hiding it. When I was 17, I went into my mum’s bathroom and put on a full face of makeup and some of her hair extensions (I don’t think she is aware of this). It was so emotional to see my true self for the first time.
 
When I was actively transitioning I worked for benefit cosmetics, which really helped me learn how to apply makeup and bring out the natural beauty in my face. Eyebrow shaping alone makes a huge difference. I’d always suggest light brows that aren’t too thick, with a soft, feminine arch to fellow trans women.
 
Growing my hair out and wearing makeup made me feel much better about myself but the biggest moment of change came after being on HRT (hormone replacement therapy) for nearly two years, as my face has become so much softer and feminine.

For my own beauty looks, I love browsing Instagram and really enjoy experimenting with colour. I’m all about cruelty-free beauty products and I'm a fan of drugstore brands, Revolution and e.l.f. I also use Urban Decay, Juvia's Place and Too Faced. I’ve never had a negative experience buying from any of these brands. I wear a lot more makeup if I’m going out for the night, but day to day I will stick to mascara, concealer, blush and contour. I have bleached my hair pink before as I loved that trend, but some of it snapped and turned a nasty colour – that’s my biggest beauty regret. Always go to a salon!
 
Transgender model Theodora Quinlivan’s beauty looks inspire me. She’s the first trans model to be the face of Chanel Beauty, which is a huge step towards inclusivity in the luxury beauty sector. I think it is so important that trans people are visible in advertising like this.
 
To women beginning their own transition and beauty journey, I’d say less is more. I wore lots of makeup at the start of my transition! Watching feminising makeup tutorials on YouTube really helped me get the knack for application and techniques."
Alexis, 27

"I started using gender affirming products at times throughout my childhood. I was definitely apprehensive. If I used a product, I made sure I removed it before anyone else was home. I've been transitioning in total for almost four years, and learned quite a few beauty techniques from videos or images online.

At first I couldn't apply eyeliner at all, it was always such a mess. Over the years I've gotten it down and now winged eyeliner is my thing. I could not be without my eyeliner or mascara by NYX Professional Makeup. I'm actually subscribed to receive their eyeliner monthly. NYX are vocal supporters of the LGBTQ community, donating to The Trevor Project in the US (a national 24-hour, toll-free confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth) and partnering with LGBT champion Angel Merino for their #LuvOutLoud campaign.

In general I think most beauty brands are gradually doing better at being more inclusive. I’m definitely more likely to buy a product if the brand supports LGBT rights. Most of my experiences shopping for products have been positive. Early on in my transition, reactions and encounters were mixed, but now people are usually so kind. I get most of my inspiration from both cis and fellow trans women on Instagram, rather than celebrities or magazines. I like using Pinterest for hairstyle inspiration especially.

I usually wear the same day-to-day makeup look but I'm experimental with my hair, which is lilac at the moment. An instrumental moment since transitioning was when I decided to get a fringe cut. It really helped shape my face, and for the first time I really felt comfortable with my own features. That was one of the last but really major things that finally put the pieces together to make me feel like me. I really enjoy getting my hair done. It’s been such a positive experience. My hairdresser has been working with me since my first haircut and it has immensely improved my confidence."
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Eve, 22

"Ever since I was a child, I knew I was different. I only started transitioning in the last two months of this year but started using makeup when I moved to the US in 2014. This was around the time the trend for makeup seemed to really boom, and I realised it was time for me to experiment with my own look.

At first I was hesitant to try things as I didn’t know anything about skincare, hair or makeup. Now, after five years, I'm pretty comfortable with my makeup, hair and body. My first foray into beauty was actually testing out my mum's makeup on myself. Trying each of her products helped me learn the basic process of applying foundation, mascara and lipstick at home. Thanks mum! After I had the basics mastered, I learned everything I know from various YouTube tutorials. I'd suggest really taking your time and remembering that change is constant!

For beauty inspiration, I admire my fellow Filipinas Pia Wurtzbach and Catriona Gray, who are both pageant queens. They have had a huge impact on me and they both champion LGBTQ rights.

One of the beauty looks I posted on Instagram recently was inspired by Kirsten Sage Coleman, the makeup artist who created the beauty looks for HBO’s Euphoria, staring trans actress Hunter Schafer. My must-have products are Ole Henriksen's C-Rush Brightening Gel Crème and Truth Serum. Since transitioning, my skin is softer than ever. I've had microneedling treatments and was impressed with the results.

In terms of makeup, I like Jeffree Star's Liquid Lipstick in Celebrity Skin, and the KKW Beauty Rose Gold Lip Gloss. I use the Huda Beauty #FauxFilter Foundation or Morphe Fluidity Foundation – both have a good shade range, which is another important factor in terms of inclusivity by beauty brands. When shopping in store, people have made me feel so included. It feels like home to me.

For my hair, I love Redken All Soft Conditioner and Shampoo and Ouai Haircare Hair Oil."
Becca, 44

"I am 44 years old and my coming out spanned over 20 years, with multiple attempts to go to full-time presentation. I was 40 when I was finally successful, and I have never looked back.

I first started to use makeup in my early 20s. Luckily, I have always had a knack for application and knowing what colours suit me. Prior to clearing my face of facial hair it was critical to find makeup that cancelled out imperfection. I opted for Vichy Dermablend because it covered everything. Unfortunately, it did look and feel thick on the skin. After the hair removal, my makeup options really opened up. My beauty inspiration came mainly from friends, the women I admired and who were confident in their appearance, rather than magazines or catwalk beauty trends. In my younger days I did look to celebrities like Claudia Schiffer and Gwen Stefani to see how they wore certain trends.

I have used Clinique skincare products for decades. My decision to buy a product is not based on any brand's allegiance to the LGBTQ community, though. First and foremost, I look for products that work well, have staying power and match my natural skin tone. I always buy products that are gentle on sensitive skin and have not been tested on animals.

I learned many of the makeup techniques I use from YouTube and from friends, who showed me how to contour. I went to friends for advice as I was never comfortable going to a makeup counter in the early days. I’d advise fellow transgender women to find someone who can colour match a foundation and concealer to your skin tone. My biggest frustration was trying to find the right product that blended well and didn’t stand out for the wrong reasons. Many department stores or mobile makeup artists now offer this service. My other tip would be to moisturise, as makeup is always going to look better on well hydrated skin."
Kelly, 32

"I am a 32-year-old transgender woman. I remember playing with makeup as a small child, but began wearing makeup in public at 15. I had bad acne in my teens and it bothered me so much and hugely affected my confidence. I did some research and learned it was derived from hormonal issues. Once I started hormone replacement therapy my acne condition improved with time and eventually cleared.

The first beauty product I was obsessed with was mascara. I always envied girls with long, beautiful lashes. I actually wore mascara to school before I transitioned but was told by my teacher to remove it. The next thing I experimented with was grooming my eyebrows. At 15, I began to make them into a more feminine arched shape. These two small experiences were the beginning of my beauty journey. Now the list of beauty products I love and use goes on forever!

I always wanted to have long hair and I believe my hair is a big part of my femininity. A moment that really stands out was actually investing in a great curling iron. I was so excited the first time I used it, as I’d never seen myself with curly hair before. I felt like me.  

Most of my beauty looks have been a process of trial and error. I’m mainly self-taught, but had a makeup lesson that covered the very basics of application. I will always remember the first time I wore a smoky eye look. That felt like a real turning point and the opportunity to have fun with makeup began.

I also started my Instagram page with a focus on beauty blogging, trying products and experimenting with different looks as my own way to feel included in mainstream beauty media. I’ve learned so much from social media, like being exposed to the latest beauty trends and new products on the market. Years ago I didn’t know what highlighter or contouring was. I think Instagram has been a huge asset to the trans community to both connect and learn.

One of my favourite makeup looks to create is a cat eye with black winged liner. A good foundation is a great investment, too. No one’s skin is naturally perfect. At the moment I’m using Maybelline.

A brand I think is actively helping the LGBTQ community is Morphe. I feel they not only acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ people, but give us equal inclusion as cisgender people. It’s been encouraging to see Morphe collaborate with people from the LGBTQ community. It may seem like a small thing, but it demonstrates to us that we are just as valued as everyone else. I personally would not support or buy products from a brand that discriminates against the LGBTQ community in any way. Tarte, Urban Decay and Marc Jacobs are also doing great work to support the community, and that makes me want to support the brands in return. Marc Jacobs Beauty donated 10% of each of its Enamored Dazzling Gloss Lip Lacquer Collection sold last summer during Pride month to SAGE, an organisation dedicated to providing advocacy, services and support to older members of the LGBT community.

For such an affordable brand, I’ve been impressed with Revolution’s celebration of Pride and support for our cause, too.

To sisters out there who want to start their beauty journey, don’t be afraid. Go out and buy your desired beauty products and try them out! Experiment, and understand it may take a while to get things right. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends or at beauty counters. Book a makeup lesson. Go to beauty salons and the hairdresser's. Seek out professional advice on your skin type, the shape of your features. Little things like this make a huge difference. Eyeshadow application can be different, for example, if you have hooded or non-hooded eyes. Find out what hair length and style suits your face shape and think about the amount of time you want to spend getting ready each day, in terms of maintenance. Most importantly, do what makes you feel beautiful."
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