On gender, self-expression and my relationship with makeup.

My gender identity and gender expression is a complex motherf*cker. I’ve blogged about this on numerous occasions here, such as The Gender Tag, or any number of posts about my relationship with androgyny (here and here), but I’ve never really explicitly explored how I feel about makeup. Which is weird, because makeup’s a relatively big interest of mine. I’ve been debating whether or not to write this post for weeks, which is silly because what’s wrong with talking about makeup? But the truth is, other than with a couple of people, when I talk about makeup I feel stupid and insecure and like my identity is being questioned. Not because of anything I personally think about makeup, but because of how the world views it, and therefore me.

Makeup is many things – it’s a way of covering things you’re self-conscious of, it’s an art form, it’s a form of self-expression, it’s a way of enhancing your favourite features. It can, like all things, be damaging, especially if we buy into the media’s beliefs that people 100% look better with makeup (yet then we shame people for ‘lying’ about their appearance? Logic.) However, I do not think makeup is inherently bad. Yes, it can be dangerous to convince yourself you look better with makeup on, but if you enjoy makeup, it makes you feel happy or confident or like yourself, then what is wrong with that? Pile on as much damn foundation and glitter as you like if it makes you feel happy and good about yourself.

My personal issue with makeup is that I feel uncomfortable in it. I love buying and trying new makeup and I spend god knows how long watching videos and reading articles about it. But when it comes to actually wearing it, I feel uncomfortable. For most of my teenage years I used makeup as a crutch to hide my biggest insecurities like my nose and my hyper-pigmented cheeks. I also liked it because makeup was a one-size fits all. It didn’t make me feel self-conscious like clothes did. But as I discovered more about myself and as I evolved as a person my gender expression switched from being very stereotypically feminine to stereotypically masculine. As I’ve mentioned in posts before, I personally find my outward appearance isn’t able to fully convey how I feel inside – whether that’s my gender or just me. My body shape and face shape look naturally feminine (or what society defines as feminine), so even in the clothes I feel most comfortable in and clothes that would look completely ‘butch’ or androgynous on others, I never feel quite like myself. It feels like I’m trying to dress my outer-me with my most internal-self, but the outer-me doesn’t quite mesh with the inner one, even though that is me.

I’ve always liked ‘pretty things’ so maybe it’s just that. Yet when I don’t wear makeup, or if I take pictures when I’m bare-faced, I feel I look most authentically like myself. Not because I think makeup hides what you really look like, but because I associate makeup with femininity, and therefore when I’m without that femininity I feel more like myself. Which is dumb! Because why the hell is makeup feminine? Sure, traditionally only women wore makeup, but now anyone can and does rock a cat-eye or some serious contour! Hell, some of the most famous makeup artists are men. Yet because of how society associates makeup with women, I feel uncomfortable wearing it or talking about it or showing pictures of it. And even typing this I kind of want to delete it in case it makes the people in my life view me as more feminine. Again, not because there’s anything wrong with being feminine – I’m proud to consider myself female – but because it just doesn’t quite click with how I feel I really am. This probably won’t make any sense to people who haven’t experienced dysphoria or similar things, but it is what it is. And I wanted to share how one of society’s stupid, dated conceptions directly impacts people.

I think how I feel about makeup ties into how I feel about names and compliments. It’s all very complex and really you probably need a small information leaflet if you ever want to talk to me. “Beautiful is fine, but only on certain days. Handsome or cute is always good. Using she is fine, but so is he, and don’t call me a lady or woman whatever you do. But yes, I am female.” I’m sure we’d sell dozens of copies. So it’s very complicated and muddled. And it probably always will be, which is okay.

I won’t kid myself and pretend that this cathartic post is going to change anything – I still won’t feel comfortable wearing makeup outside my own little bubble, and I still won’t often talk about my gender or gender expression, as I know people will still say makeup ‘proves’ I’m girly or that I ‘can’t identify as so and so because I do this and this and this’, because that’s just how society is. As much as I want to do whatever I want and prove that makeup is genderless, at the moment it’s just more comfortable for me to play by society’s boxes. But don’t for a second think that I don’t absolutely hate that.


Thanks for reading.
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