Beth Ditto On Beauty, Androgyny, & Getting Your Feelings Hurt

Beth Ditto used to do the popular girls’ hair for prom. Now, the outsider is a superstar — and her hair and makeup take center stage.

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For some, a lipstick is just a lipstick. But for others, it's a source of strength, creativity, and expression. In our series Power Faces, we'll explore the relationship between strong women and the makeup they choose to wear — or not. Our latest subject is singer-songwriter, fashion icon, and former Gossip frontwoman Beth Ditto, who just kicked off a North American tour with Sam Smith. This story was told to Rachel Krause and edited for length and clarity.
I was always really into hair and makeup, even as a little kid. I loved to draw on the Madonna mole in the mirror. I used to have my mom draw a blank circle on a piece of paper so that I could put makeup on it. I have two sisters, and my mom would say all the time, “I don’t know where I got all these girls from!” She’s always been a real big tomboy — she moisturizes a lot and stays out of the sun so she has beautiful skin, but she doesn’t wear makeup at all.
Photographed by Anastasia Garcia.
Carolina Sarria Pop Red Pom Pom Jacket, $1,550, available at Carolina Sarria; Di$count Univer$e The Scarlett Woman Dress, $389, available at Di$count Univer$e; Victoria Hayes earring.
I love Mary Tyler Moore, and I started doing a bouffant like her when I was 10 or so. She’s still one of my biggest inspirations as far as the way I want to look. But honestly, my first real beauty inspiration was Miss Piggy; I just thought she was so glamorous. I’d put those Winter Magic gloves on and put little hair baubles over my fingers like big rings.
Photographed by Anastasia Garcia.
The Outsider
In high school and junior high, the popular girls would always ask me how I did my hair, and would ask me to come over and do theirs for prom. We did not hang out at school, but they wanted to know. That was the story of my life, and it still kind of feels like that now, in a weird way. I always feel like an outsider, and I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to not feel that way, because that’s just who I am naturally. It’s really cool and really surreal when people ask me to do interviews and take my picture, and in a lot of them I’m naked or barely wearing anything.
The way I grew up — always being queer, always being who I was, always questioning authority and the way the world works — set me up for growing a thick skin to be able to work in a business like this. It really prepared me for the way that people feel like they can treat you if you’re a big person or if you’re a queer person that doesn’t look exactly like them.
I think when you’re a fat person, you have experiences in life that are different from everyone else’s, and you think you’ve already experienced it all at a young age. But you don’t realize how much your body and mind will change as you get older. In my 30s, I’ve become much more forgiving of people and the world, especially as it relates to beauty, and what people feel like they need to do to survive in a culture that is so brutal and judges people so hardcore on the way they look and feel.
Photographed by Anastasia Garcia.
Balancing that with standing my ground and finding my own personality within it and being who I am can be really difficult. How do you not get your feelings hurt by someone who says they’re dieting? But as you get older, you realize not everything is about you. Now it’s just, Well, whatever, I get it.
From Margins To Mainstream
Growing up in the 80s, everyone was cool with men who wore makeup, like Boy George, and androgyny was such a thing. But that used to be in the margins, and now they’re having their own moments. It’s not just androgyny, it’s men wearing makeup! There’s no right or wrong way to be queer or to express yourself, and I think that goes for everything: fashion, style, beauty.
It’s like with body politics — all these ideas of what you have to be, you have to undo them. In my past relationships, I’ve usually been the one who mows the lawn or whatever. But I do not dress butch ever. I’m always going to be wearing eyebrows and a dress while I do it.
I’m just so happy that gender fluidity is becoming a topic in the mainstream; it’s my favorite thing. There’s still a lot of work to do, but things have changed. I hope my nieces and nephews will grow up with that being normalized, and it won’t be a situation like it was for the kids that I was friends with growing up.
Photographed by Anastasia Garcia.
Makeup As Meditation
Before a show, I spend about two hours by myself doing my hair and makeup. It’s a really important, meditative time for me — for creativity and reflection, almost like painting. It’s not just like, I have to look good before I go out there! Because that’s not the goal. I don’t feel like I look better when I go on stage or when I do a photoshoot; I just feel different. It’s a way of breaking the monotony.
At the same time, I love to come home and just do a “natural” face, which is so much harder than a full face. You have to have a gentle touch. A little eyeliner here, close to your lashline, and then, whoops! Now it looks like Amy Winehouse eyeliner, which is great. But people will be like, “You’re so attached to your eyeliner.” Well, yeah, I guess. I didn’t mean to wear it, but it just got bigger and bigger and bigger.
I knew from a young age that I was either going to be in the music industry or doing hair and makeup; those were the only things that people ever gave me praise for. I knew I was naturally good at it, and it was something I was and still am super interested in. I love to read about products and watch YouTube tutorials. Kids wear so much makeup now — as if it’s 1985 again. And I love people who put on makeup not just to look pretty, but to look different, or even kind of crazy.
Photographed by Anastasia Garcia.
I think about doing my own beauty brand all the time. I love the smell of makeup, the look of it — I even wear eyeliner to the beach. Working with MAC was really fun, but I’m still in this headspace of, I’m Beth, I make music and I’m a really good babysitter. My problem is that I’m really bad at self-promotion and social media. It feels too unnatural — it’s not who I am.
Would I do my own line, in a world where I didn’t have to sell anything? Yes! But right now, I’m into body scrubs. Just sugar, coconut oil, and essential oils, and you just mix it up. I’m very crafty; those are the things I like to do. Actually, what I’d rather do than beauty is my own line of yarn. I’m a crocheter. I’m a lot less interesting than people would think. I would much rather stay home.

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