Listen to Letting Go Reloaded, an acoustic rendition of the lead single off IMMINENT’s first EP Letting Go, sung by Katouche and her beautiful sisters.
The subject of makeup rouses a lot of passion in me. Anyone who knows me well enough knows I am quite the makeup enthusiast. I could probably buy a second-hand car with how much money I’ve spent on makeup and makeup related paraphernalia in the last 10-odd years.
Yep I said 10 years! That means I’ve been wearing makeup since I was 10 years old. A bit young right? My first makeup item I personally owned was a lipgloss-lipstick duo. My older sister bought it for me from a South Asian beauty shop in Brixton near where she went to secondary school. It was a gift for my 10th birthday. The lipstick side was bright red and the lipgloss side had gold flecks in it. I wore it at given every opportunity. I loved what red lipstick represented, that audacious sexiness that was emulated by the women I’d see in my life. Beyonce in the 03 Bonnie and Clyde music video, Jessica Rabbit in ‘Who framed Roger Rabbit’ and most importantly my mom.
I used to love to play in my mom’s shiny black mac makeup bag. She always had MAC studio fix powder and Mac’s chestnut lipliner. The ability to express and create that makeup provided fascinated me to say the least.
Now imagine me in adolescence. Depressed and covered in hyperpigmentation. My teen years were marred with low self-esteem and feelings of otherness. Colourism drove me crazy as I occupied that awkward space of not being light-skinned and not being attractive enough to carry off dark skin. Now I am definitely not alone in this experience every young black girl has experienced facets of this process to self-acceptance. Sidenote: Being dark was the least of my worries considering I was disabled which leaves me outside of almost every space I enter till this day.
With all of these ugly issues makeup became my catharsis alongside Chris Brown and Jhene Aiko songs. Music would teleport me away from my sad reality and into a world where people liked me for my sensational ability to converse about absolutely anything. Makeup on the other hand was an armour that allowed me to confront the various issues that lay in front of me on a day to day basis. Literally, foundation covered hyperpigmentation. In a more figurative sense, makeup needed time away from my routine. And it gave me confidence. When I wore red lipstick, it was an act of resistance. I wanted to make the point that despite what ASAP Rocky may have told whatever publication that dark skinned women could wear red lipstick and we wore it very damn well. When I wanted to emulate the beauty of Rihanna’s ‘Loud’ album artwork I’d wear Ruby Woo. When I wanted the confidence of Teyana Taylor in the ‘Do Not Disturb’ video it was Diva. All under the guidance of Jackie Aina or (lilpumpkinpie05 her handle back in the day).
Now here is the thing when we talk about the connection between confidence and makeup people get up in arms. People amazingly assume that this exclusively implies a dependency. And sometimes it does. In my case however it didn’t. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup to school so there were no opportunities for me to rely on makeup.
But to return to the dependency point. I truly believe it is not a bad thing for someone to rely on makeup for confidence. The only people I hear championing so called ‘natural beauty’ are those considered naturally beautiful. The luxury of things like clear skin, symmetrical faces and all that other crap fed to us as the standard are not accessible to everyone. So aside from the genuine creativity and beauty that makeup can express for individuals it is a defence mechanism for many.
If bone structure is so important to how mainstream beauty is constructed then why is everyone so aghast by contouring? Those that fall outside of the standard will look for other ways to meet it. And considering makeup generally has no physical risk I find it difficult to see where the real issue lies.
In a patriarchal world where how beautiful you are shapes opportunities, relationships and careers. In a world where the measure of a woman is in fact her beauty unfortunately 9 times out of 10. In a world where from the moment you’re born you are fed ideas on what you’re supposed to look like. It is unrealistic to all of a sudden be shocked that makeup holds such importance in the lives of all women. And then to shame and critique women as if you’d actually pay them any mind if they weren’t wearing the same makeup you supposedly detest so much.
Now don’t read this with the assumption that agency isn’t what drives women to wear makeup. But the issues described above potentially inform our decisions even in small ways. Its neither a good or bad thing. Its just a thing.
So I’ve talked a lot about ‘women’ but there are some specificities that I think I must raise. As black women the pressure to simply ‘be’ is immense. Within that, is the pressure to be perceived as beautiful. In a conversation with my cousin, she explained to me something so simple but so overlooked. First, the importance of beauty to how you’re valued as a woman. Second, the fact that this beauty is intrinsically tied to whiteness and femininity. If beauty, femininity and whiteness are synonymous then the further removed from whiteness, the further removed from conventional beauty. See what I mean when I say simple but overlooked?
Such a pecking order leaves black women in a very painful predicament with pressure to assimilate into the white mainstream conception of beauty. Yet still we live above it dictating the trends and styles over and over again. We are shamed for it, we are imitated and then we create all over again.
This added complicated layer means that wearing makeup for black women comes with so much scrutiny. And the “blacker” you are perceived (however arbitrary this assumption) the greater the scrutiny. I find that many assume that black women wear makeup due to low self-esteem and supposed ugliness. However, this is based on how THEY in fact view black women as ugly and they project this onto us as if it is our problem.
So as an avid wearer of makeup, as a dark-skinned black disabled woman. I make the choice to do what I like with my money and my time concerning makeup. And I would love for all of you who read this to do the same. And no more “pick-me” behaviour please. Makeup as it serves as our form of creativity, our method of coping, our conversation starter and as our past time should remain valid without the unsolicited opinions of the naysayers.
So, what about me in the present day? My makeup bangs. Nevermind at the time I was convinced my contouring and eyebrows were pretty damn good at fifteen, in hindsight they were a mess. But that doesn’t matter because at the time they served their purpose and you couldn’t tell me anything. My love for makeup is consistent and it is an important part of my personality. Now I do my mom’s and my sisters’ makeup and quite a few of my friends’ too. I love the joy in their faces when I’m done. Armour as much as it covers, it enables. So makeup as armour isn’t just about covering imperfections, it is about accentuating your strengths in a world where all everyone want to do is draw out your weaknesses.
Words and music by Katouche Goll (@itskatouche)