In the days of yore — when Tumblr was the social media platform de rigueur and My Chemical Romance turned adolescent angst into a bona fide culture — I lined my eyes like a raccoon, slipped into a Dead Inside T-shirt and headed to my very first concert. A Rocket To The Moon was supporting Mayday Parade and suddenly I felt as though I was surrounded by my people: the emos and scene teens, baby goths and outsiders; the kids who were really not okay and had no interest in pretending otherwise.
It was there that I met a young woman who told me that she was an emo fetish model. I knew very little about fetish modelling at the time (Like Bettie Page? I wondered). But after that encounter I did a deep dive on Tumblr and MySpace using an old, two-stone laptop and discovered what felt like a whole new world. I found women and femmes decked out in latex and fox tails. I saw dominatrices taking control — of their bodies, their sexualities, their power. Eventually, I discovered fat fetish modelling, too — a community that totally transformed the way I perceived my own plus-size figure.
Like the woman singing "Miserable At Best" beside me at that glorified garage gig, there were fetish models on the internet as well. To me, their heavy winged eyeliner and painted teardrops suggested that their sadness wasn't shameworthy. Maybe it was (and had always been) their strength; if that were true, maybe all the things I believed to be my weaknesses were just the opposite, too. Fetish models across kink communities never fail to put together looks that make me think about everything from cultural constructs of femininity and power dynamics to the question of how to perfect glittery highlighter. Whether we’re considering furries or fatties, doms or subs, there’s no doubt that makeup is often a critical part of the looks being created. In the many years since meeting the woman who brought her emo into the boudoir, I’ve continued to be drawn to this imagery. It’s this which compelled me to chat to the following fetish models about how they relate to and utilise makeup — be it for pleasure, play or their powerful professions.
Courtney Mina, 35
Courtney Mina has been modelling within the big beautiful woman (BBW), super-sized big beautiful woman (SSBBW) and fat fetish communities for 16 years. She was the first BBW model I ever stumbled upon. I remember thinking that the babe was undeniably beautiful but not only in terms of aesthetics. What was most striking was how she seemed to reclaim all those things fat women and femmes are told they cannot be: sexy, strong, sultry, savage.
"A lot of times when I do shoots, I work in my everyday makeup (or no makeup at all) as it’s good to keep giving different versions of myself," Mina tells Refinery29. "But most of the time when I am about to 'play the part' I tend to get into character, and more dramatic makeup helps with that [...] I almost always have big hair whenever I’m shooting as this is what makes me feel the sexiest personally but my everyday hair is usually in a messy bun, loose braid or naturally down without any added volume."
"Playing with different looks allows me to create different characters professionally and express different parts and aspects of my personality in my everyday life," she adds. "It’s a creative outlet for me and the different makeup aesthetics act as a medium for character creation or personal expression." Despite enjoying the process of getting into character, Mina doesn’t strive to look like an entirely different person in her work. "I never give off an aesthetic that isn’t me in some way," she explains.
Although she’s aware of the argument that getting dolled up stems from patriarchal expectations of beauty, Mina believes that rather than eschewing cosmetics altogether, it’s just as "powerful to embrace, transform and lay claim to these practices that were once expected of women and are now a powerful tool of expression."
East London-based model SatsuTrash has been involved in fetish modelling within the latex and pet-play realms for four years. The green-haired vixen seems to effortlessly mesh pin-up glamour with ‘90s grunge, telling Refinery29 that they "always switch between wanting to look like a glamorous ‘20s Hollywood starlet and a kickass alternative chick with an edge."
For Satsu, there is definitely a marked difference between their off-duty looks and what they might put together for a shoot. "Day to day, I won't always be focused on presenting feminine but instead I’ll just go for a relaxed and simple look that can range from feminine to gender neutral to masculine," they explain. "My day-to-day is a lot more likely to change than my fetish photoshoot look. I wear makeup to look more like myself, while at a shoot I put on the makeup to become something or someone else, or a different part of myself I don’t always get to experience."
When prepping for a photo set, Satsu knows that it isn’t just about makeup or beauty. Each look is a story; an element of their identity which they may not always get to harness. "When I apply my smoky eye, and my lipstick especially, something about the dark, sultry look reminds me that I have a natural, feminine sensuality in me that doesn’t need to be repressed for the sake of society," they muse. "Other times, it helps me feel powerful, dominant and so many things that an AFAB [assigned female at birth] individual who presents as female is told not to be."
"Without my fetish modelling, without the tools to be able to shape these things inside of me that exist without society’s approval, I don’t think I would be half as in touch with myself," they add. "Satsu is all of the things I was afraid to be on a day-to-day basis. She’s bold and sure of herself, sensual and expressive."
BkBlue has dabbled in both BDSM and shibari modelling. She enjoys experimenting with beauty looks across the spectrum, from au naturel to dramatic, but ultimately believes in "enhancing what is already on the canvas [rather] than making it look totally different."
There’s definitely a difference in how BkBlue utilises makeup in her regular life versus her professional one. "My makeup and hair are very natural day to day," she tells Refinery29. "If I'm going out, it's only concealer, eyeliner, mascara and chapstick. During a shoot, however, I'm transforming myself into someone else; a different character even. I often wear a full face [of] makeup and my hair can be out naturally or can be under a wig, depending on the theme of the shoot."
After 15 years of modelling and exploring some fetish scenes within that, BkBlue feels that the dominant side of BDSM tends to rely on darker makeup, while the submissive "is more subtly sexy and playful".
No matter how fun it may be to get into character, though, BkBlue hopes that more women and femmes can push through beauty standard rhetoric in order to embrace themselves just as they are. "For example, freckles to me are so beautiful but some people choose to cover them, while others pay for surgery or stencil them on through makeup," she shares. "My point is: people forget that the natural beauty that is given to us at birth are special characteristics that we should cherish, even when these are features that we get teased about regularly or that have made us insecure."
Storm Kitty, 26
"I enjoy the way makeup can basically transform me into anyone," model Storm Kitty tells Refinery29. "Even using different shades of eyeshadow and lipstick can make you feel like a totally different person, and change your mood, too. Putting looks on can make me go from feeling gloomy to beaming with confidence."
Storm Kitty has been modelling for eight years and identifies with kitten-play, rubber and latex fetish communities. Although she’s particularly fond of heavy and dramatic beauty looks as she enjoys how different it makes her face appear, her everyday relationship with cosmetics is quite different. "Day to day, off shoot, I am doing a lot of unglamorous activities and putting on a full face takes time," she jokes. "My everyday routine is just foundation and mascara (if I wear any makeup at all). I like to save my creative looks for times where they can be shown off and I'm really feeling myself."
Much of the imagery Storm Kitty creates is shot from a dominant point of view so she gravitates toward a "strong and dark" aesthetic. "I feel a lot more confident with something sharp and sultry. My hair is also naturally dead straight so adding some big curls and backcombing to it just makes me feel like a total vixen!" As for her perception of our cultural relationship with beauty, Storm Kitty muses: "You can't exclude people or critique them for how they choose to present themselves, and this goes for anything from makeup to cosmetic surgery."
"We all have our own levels of comfortability and what makes us feel good. If you aren't hurting anyone, people should leave you to what makes you happy. My looks absolutely aren't to everyone's taste but that's the fun thing about being humans, we aren't all supposed to like the same thing; it would be so bland. If someone wears makeup for confidence, so what? If they wear it for fun, so what? It's down to the individual to make that choice about what empowers them."