Beauty is constructed. Beauty operates as privilege. Beauty is structural. Beauty operates as power. Beauty is stereotypical. Beauty operates on a sliding scale. All of this is true, how "beauty" is perceived in relation to power and how "beauty" is denied for some people. How beauty is directly connected to systems of power and how these systems determine who experiences praise or normalization versus objectification or dehumanization. Beauty is sociopolitically complex.
Beauty is something else as well though. Beauty is internal. Beauty is personal. Beauty is more than what can be aesthetically expressed and visually consumed. Beauty means something different to people who are aware of its sociopolitical complexities but also aware of the power of defining beauty for themselves and being empowered by that definition.
Here I discuss beauty in terms of basic aesthetic concepts regarding skincare and makeup, and even these are informed by a personal and sociopolitical interaction with beauty as a concept and as an experience. Additionally, despite not being an esthetician or dermatologist, I get a lot skincare questions. I cannot advise or prescribe anything, of course; instead, I discuss my lifetime experience with my skin and my current skincare regimen. Despite not being a makeup artist, I do get makeup-related questions. I cannot teach about makeup use as it is not my profession; instead, I discuss my lifetime experience with makeup and my current favorite products.
Since childhood, I have suffered from eczema and hyperpigmentation. Both of these are devastating to skin, especially to Black skin, from what I have observed. I dealt with a lot of shame and sometimes bullying because I did not have perfect skin as a child, especially as a brown-skinned Black woman who is not considered "light skinned," and thereby dealt with colourism. I deal with eczema scarring (I have not experienced a breakout in a year, but it does leaves permanent scars) and hyperpigmentation on my arms and legs, so much so that I prefer to wear long sleeved shirts and long pants sometimes. These wardrobe choices are less about feeling insecure now in adulthood (thankfully I feel good about myself now, after a sometimes difficult childhood) and more about already dealing with hypervisibility as a Black woman—if you know me, you know what I deal with online and offline, which I have written/tweeted about for years—and trying to minimize the constant forced engagement, prodding and harassment that I already endure. I feel comfortable around people I know, or with myself at home and barely wear any clothes there. However, I do not have to deal with staring, hair touching, interruptions, forced engagement and street harassment in my home. In adulthood, I unfortunately followed the "take tons of biotin" trend and a few years ago experienced acne for the first time, on my face. See, no matter what I go through with my skin in my entire life, my facial skin has usually been great. I was so upset about the acne (moreso because of healthcare costs as an indie creator and less so about aesthetics). It took over a year to treat and I am just now starting to see a reduction in the scarring on my face. My facial skin is back to being soft and well-moisturized with or without makeup.
Sometimes when I receive compliments about my skin, I know people are actually saying "your makeup is nice" or they are actually complimenting my professional photography but do not associate Black women or me personally with being a photographer. (A lot of people have an issue with the latter for reasons I will not get into here.) I have posted selfies/self-portraits without makeup on as well, so perhaps some people still think my skin is nice from engaging those photographs. Even so, most people who compliment someone's skin have no idea what that person has been through, when for many people it is a lifetime of skin issues. I definitely have that lifetime of skin issues that have been stressful, as with any other health conditions that I deal with. Despite this, I like my appearance, with and without makeup, and I love myself. But self-love is actually a process. It is not a black and white thing of either applaud every flaw/health condition/stressor you have or you "hate" yourself and then should be abused by other people for possessing "self-hatred." There are many terrible social messages about "self-love" and "self-respect" that are based on abuse and victim-blaming by external people, and have little to nothing to do with how someone actually feels about themselves. Instead, self-love means the constant unlearning of a lot of messages about what is "beautiful" and especially when those messages are rarely positive messages for women in general, but especially so for Black women, dark-skinned women, fat women, disabled women, trans women, queer/trans men, non-binary people, people with any skin scarring, people who do not have perfect facial skin, and people who are a combination of any these mentioned identities/conditions. It also means reaffirming the good about ourselves as well, as a regular activity. This is how I engage self-love.
My current skincare regimen: I always remove makeup immediately after going out. I never sleep in makeup. I use makeup wipes, often ones with cucumber for a cooling feeling. I wash my face with a good but gentle cleanser. I like witch hazel as an astringent whenever I use it. I moisturize after I wash my face and I use sunscreen if I will be out in the South Florida sun for an extended period of time. I also use an exfoliant, but not everyday, more like every 1-2 weeks.
Some skincare products that I use:
- Makeup wipes: Yes To Cucumbers Facial Towelettes, Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes
- Cleanser: Aveeno Ultra-Calming Foaming Cleanser, Olay Gentle Clean Foaming Cleanser, Trader Joe's Nourish All-in-one-facial Cleanser, black soap (raw)
- Astringent: T.N. Dickinson's Witch Hazel Astringent
- Moisturizer: Pond's Dry Skin Cream Facial Moisturizer, Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Hydrating Anti-Aging Moisturizer*
- Exfoliant: Algenist Multi-Perfecting Detoxifying Exfoliator
- Hyperpigmentation correction: Ambi Skincare Fade Cream, Estee Lauder Enlighten Dark Spot Correcting Night Serum
- Sunscreen: CeraVe Baby Sunscreen, SPF 45 (for full body; sometimes I buy facial lotions that include SPF 15-30 as well)
I like to keep things simple, as far as product choices go, so I do not have a lot of really expensive skincare nor can I speak on any expensive skincare procedures; I have not had any done. I am not recommending these products in the capacity that an esthetician or dermatologist would, just simply mentioning what I use. (These are not the only products that I use in this category; I have used hand-made products over the years and other brand name ones as well; these happen to be what I have as of the date of this post.)
I love makeup. I do not wear makeup all of the time—as I work from home and I enjoy a bare face and comfortable clothes while at my desk or behind my tripod—but I do enjoy a creative look, from time to time. I absolutely love the process of slowly applying it. Taking care to merge my interests in colour, texture, mood, and style. I am a makeup enthusiast and makeup lover, very new to certain product applications anyway, but I am not a professional makeup artist. As I alluded to in People Who Minimize Hobbyists and Exploit Professional Artists, it is perfectly fine to have interests in some arts that are solely for enjoyment. This is especially important for working artists; some arts need to be outside of our labor. Thus, while my work includes being a creator, writer, photographer, curator, social critic, an artist essentially, I like that cooking, filmmaking, graphic arts, nail art and yes, makeup, are simply artistic interests (usually) free of the complexities involved in art as labor.
The first time I ever wore makeup was in the 8th grade. I got one of those pressed powder compacts at the local Walgreens beauty section and I felt so "mature." There I was, wearing foundation without plucked brows, no mascara on, and only chapstick, but you sure could not tell me a thing. Later in high school I dabbled with eyeliner and liquid foundation. I bought my first M•A•C compact in 12th grade when I got my first job, at another retail store. I felt really grown up then, graduating from drug store brands to a specialty store brand. I was young then and did not realize it is less about the cost and more about the production that makes most makeup good or not. I mean, Nyx Cosmetics are beasts killing the game with reasonable quality products and they are extremely affordable, for example. I felt so special doing my own makeup for senior year prom. I dabbled with makeup off and on in college but mostly did not wear much in college. Throughout my 20s in corporate, I wore a little makeup because of the formal nature of most of my jobs. Only a few years ago, well into my 30s, did I get really interested in improving my skills at makeup. In 2013 I started buying (and have been gifted with some) products beyond basic eye makeup and foundation. By the end of 2016, I had a reasonable kit with just about everything I need. After a really awesome Christmas of receiving great makeup gifts, I am in the process of designing a tiny vanity area in my home this year, with shelves and a stool, so that I am not using my makeup out of a travel case while at home.
Makeup is stressful or undesirable for some people. This is a perfectly reasonable response for their own bodies, of course. For me and my own body, applying makeup is stress relief. It is calming to me. I like the actual process of putting it on. Slowly. My body being worth my time. I am an artist so though not a professional makeup artist in particular, I do love the process of holding the brushes and learning blending and more. Thus, I do not view makeup as "frivolous" because I do not view doing anything to my own body, by choice, for relaxation, creativity or pleasure as "not having any serious purpose or value." I determine what is a valuable way to spend my time. Even if my interest in makeup is simply "because I wanna," that would be sufficient as well. Over the years, I have discussed some of the sexism, homophobia, misogyny, transmisogyny and misogynoir (which is specifically how Black women experience misogyny; the term was coined by Moya Bailey, which she elaborated on in her dissertation and some of her other key writing/research; over several years on Gradient Lair and Twitter, I developed the framework and colloquial use of 'misogynoir' in terms of its lexical definition, and how it is applied in multiple topics, not only beauty politics) that people who like makeup experience, such as in What’s Really Going On With The Sexist Backlash Against Selfies on Gradient Lair, and within my 100 Life Lessons, and in various threads (some threads on beauty politics: [X] [X] [X] [X] [X] [X] [X] [X] [X]) on Twitter. Ultimately, choices about makeup and beauty do not occur in a vacuum independent of socialization and oppression; true. But at the same time, people deserve the space and the right to determine how they want to express themselves and how they engage their own bodies.
My current makeup application process: I wear makeup about 5-10 times a month, on average, for when I go out, but not to the gym. I am a 37-year-old true to life introvert, who works from home, so again, I have no need for daily makeup. On a clean face I apply pore minimizer, concealer, foundation, eyebrow powder or eyebrow pencils, eye liner, eyeshadow, mascara (on my real lashes; I have not mastered faux lashes yet), highlighter (on the cheekbones; I do not do full facial highlighting and contouring), blush, lip moisturizer, lip liner, lipstick and finishing spray.
Some makeup products that I use:
- Pores: Nyx Cosmetics Pore Filler, Nyx Photo Loving Primer
- Concealer: NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer, L.A. Girl Pro Conceal HD Concealer
- Foundation: NARS All Day Luminous Weightless Foundation, NARS Sheer Glow Foundation
- Powders: M•A•C Sculpt Defining Powder, NARS Light Reflecting Pressed Setting Powder
- Eyebrow powders/pencils: Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Powder Duo, M•A•C Eye Brows Brow Definer, NYX Micro Brow Pencil
- Eye liner: Kat Von D Tattoo Liner, Sephora Collection Contour Eye Pencil
- Eyeshadow: Urban Decay - Naked 3, Vice 3, Smoked, Naked Smoky, Vice 4, Electric and Full Spectrum, Sephora Collection Colorful Eyeshadow
- Mascara: GOSH Darling Lashes Extreme Volume Mascara, Clinique High Lengths Mascara, Stila Huge Extreme Lash Mascara
- Highlight/Blush: M•A•C Powder Blush, M•A•C Extra Dimension Skinfinish, tarte tarteist™ x @MakeupShayla Contour Palette
- Lip moisturizer: Palmer's Cocoa Butter Formula Swivel Stick, ChapStick Classic Original Skin Protectant
- Lip liner: Nyx Cosmetics Retractable Lip Liner, Palladio Retractable Waterproof Lip Liner, MUFE Aqua Lip Waterproof Lipliner
- Lipstick: Nyx Cosmetics Liquid Suede Cream Lipstick, Nyx Cosmetics Extra Creamy Round Lipstick, Anastasia Beverly Hills Lip Gloss
- Finishing spray: Nyx Cosmetics Matte Finish Makeup Setting Spray
- Brushes (brands): Morphe, Sephora Collection, Laura Mercier, M•A•C, ELF
- Brush cleaners: Sephora Collection Daily Brush Cleaner, Sephora Collection Purifying Brush Shampoo, Dial Antibacterial Liquid Hand Soap
Below are some of my favorite professional makeup artists and beauty influencers, on Instagram.
- Renee (licensed esthetician, body paint artist, makeup artist)
- Shayla (beauty influencer, makeup artist)
- Denise (beauty influencer, makeup artist)
- NaYeon (beauty influencer, makeup artist, photographer)
In 2017 I want to learn a bit more about contouring/highlighting, though I am not sure I will ever enjoy doing it to my face because the sheer quantity of makeup used in that process tends to feel heavy to me; time will tell. I want to finally learn how to apply faux lashes (ahhh!). I have tried a few times but the results were not pleasant or photographable, haha. I want to learn how to do cut creasing properly; I think it looks amazing. I want to improve my eyeshadow blending skills.
Additionally, I am looking into buying more indie brands owned by women of colour (i.e. @MakeupForWoC's thread of Black-owned makeup brands) and more cruelty-free makeup brands (cruelty-free against animals; unsure of their actual labor practices and how they impact people of colour/poor people; the nature of capitalism). I spend my money on indie brands in other areas of purchases (i.e. lotions, soaps, jewelry, books, and financially supporting indie creators/artists, mainly Black women/femmes), so I want my future makeup purchases to include indie brands as well.
It is important to me to discuss beauty in an honest way, even if some people will have a difficult time accepting this honesty. I am not interested in people's "positive" projections on me regarding my "perfect skin" nor their incorrect perceptions of my "unflappable" self-esteem; I am human like everyone else. I am also not interested in people's negative projections on my looks or facile and inaccurate claims of "self-hate" simply because I do not express myself within their limited terms. Everyone has a beauty 101 story. How people treat them based on their appearance (and how privilege/oppression impact these perceptions) and how they perceive, express, struggle with and celebrate their own appearance. Ultimately, I am more than my looks—whether I am deemed "ugly" or "pretty." I view myself as beautiful; full stop. This is definitely enough. And although I am more than my just appearance, hey, I can be cute (by my own determination, as a Black woman) while still being more than just my appearance.
(*Edit after the fact: After a cumulation of years of exhaustion with Shea Moisture's marketing, though I rarely used their hair products and only used their face cream and a few bath soaps, I decided to look into a different facial cream, though it is listed here.)