In my makeup bag, there is an arsenal of tools which I use to tear down the patriarchy. In my makeup bag there is a bunch of creams, potions, Poly-Fil, and over-the-counter drugs that allow me to cross an overbearing gender binary.
In my makeup bag is the hardware which allows me to finally live my childhood fantasies. In my makeup bag is a lifeline to an expression of my gender that saved my life — that saves so many people’s lives. In my makeup bag is a history book, connecting me to the radical queens, queers, butch dykes, and trans folk who fought for me to be able to paint my face the way I want to paint it. In my makeup bag there are thousands of tricks for me to cover the scars of my teenage acne, or the slice on my nose from a homophobic attack which has never quite healed. I love the scars in some ways, but having the devices to cover them allows me to dictate their mark upon me.
In my makeup bag there are missing pieces and extra bits — given, received, shared in the round between my drag sisters and me, like heirlooms, reminding us of each other whenever we use them. In my makeup bag there are hairs which stick to the sides, cut from the long hair of a drag-king friend and stuck to make a beard while leaning over my makeup box. In my makeup bag there’s self-care, a kind of self-care that not only nourishes you but makes you omnipotent, even if just for a night.
In my makeup bag there’s an ode to the women who gave me a femininity to explore, but not to parody (that’s just terrible, lazy drag). In my makeup bag there’s jewelery given to me by my friend Amnah who was so desperate for me to be kinder to myself that she found things to make me sparkle.
Indeed, there are a lot of things in my makeup bag. And while it’s so easy to talk about colors, powders, primers, and highlighters with a Zoella level of soullessness and irrelevance, makeup to me — to many of us — is not an extravagant stockpile of excessive frippery, but something which gives us power. In a world where that power is only taken from us, makeup is a tool which allows us to draw our battle lines and give so much power back to ourselves. It’s a secret language, misunderstood and disregarded by boring dudes who think makeup is "gay" or "for gays," which allows us to communicate with each other silently or with floods of Facebook messages about Kat Von D’s new matte lipstick, as evidenced by 70% of my conversations with my friend Sadhbh. (For the other 30% we talk about radical queer politics and are currently asking each other whether femme-centric spaces are doing enough to accommodate butches.)
With all this in mind, then, how does one construct the perfect face to encompass all these (intense) emotions and meanings? Time, pain, and rejection help. But a light appears, eventually, and it’s your face.
I start my routine with a smoothie, which I throw in the trash in front of someone in gym gear because it makes me feel good. Then I have a Full English, by which I mean the various sausages of the men on my rotation. After this I prime; I prefer MAC Strobe Cream because I want to blind my enemies. I spend a while thinking about how Ayn Rand has a lot to answer for, before taking MAC full-coverage foundation in NW24 and smearing it generously all over my gender non-binary face to conceal the fact that I’m actually Holly Valance. (Top time- and energy-saving tip: Get a makeup artist.)
Next I pop on Cher’s masterpiece Closer to the Truth as I approach mine. I wonder when she’ll age, then make the sign of the cross in worship to her, the queen of all drag queens. I contour, but only because my real face is too sculpted — so I, as they say in Italian sculptural history, "de-sculpt xoxo" (translation slightly off). I use MAC, obviously, because they sponsor my face and also insure it.
After this I go to The Ritz for an hour or so and coax the signatures of old men from the 1% onto their wills, which are now all for me — a girl's gotta eat. Then I head home in their Bentley and do my eyes while thinking about late-stage capitalism. Next I tweet Diane Abbott and tell her she’s a legend, and after this I stick glitter all over my beard because it’s simple and effective. I spend some time worrying about the environmental impact of glitter but then get infuriated that the gays can’t have anything. I keep going with glitter. And finally I draw on a lip, a big brown faded lip. I have a bunch of cigarettes and possibly a Babycham because I’m on a health kick. And then I kiss myself in the mirror and tell me that I love me.
Me. My makeup bag is not for anyone else. It’s very much for me, as yours is for you. People question whether the act of wearing makeup is anti-feminist (much like they question drag); I think the answer is in the reason we do things. For so many of us, makeup is about choice, about allowing yourself to choose how the world sees you. The same can be said for not wearing makeup, especially if you’re expected to by society. It gives us agency over our image, which the world is so intent on distorting and abusing.
Above all, in my makeup bag is a kit which allows me to create an illusion which is closer to the truth than most people ever get. Because while people bandy about terms like "fake," I think choosing how you want to look is, polar oppositely, the definition of authentic.
This story was originally published on Refinery29 UK.