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Makeup Is a Form of Empowerment

Allure logo Allure 12/1/2020 Keah Brown
a close up of a person talking on a cell phone © Libby March

This story is part of The Beauty of Accessibility, our series on inclusivity and representation for people with disabilities in the beauty industry and beyond.

One thing about living through a pandemic is — at least for those of us looking to protect ourselves and others by wearing masks and only going out when necessary — we spend a lot of time staring at the same four walls of bedrooms, living rooms, and bathrooms. Trying to be productive without crumbling under the weight of the world is not easy. At the start of quarantine, everyone was making bread while I panicked about money. Next came the Animal Crossing phase, which I skipped in favor of playing Scrabble Go on my phone, cycling through a few other games along the way. After the sheen of games wore off, I started to play around with the little bit of makeup I had.

Makeup, outside of lipstick, has always been a point of contention for me. It was a thing I loved and coveted but long believed was not for the Black, disabled, and queer person that I am. Even so, I have been watching makeup YouTubers for years, excited to see the looks they create using just one brand, or their latest review of a line the audience was asking to see. I watched my mom and sister and cousins paint their faces and enhance their beauty, opting to enhance mine too on special occasions.

a person sitting on a bench: Mara Hoffman dress. Tibi jacket. © Libby March Mara Hoffman dress. Tibi jacket.

Still, I never thought I was worthy of the experience that is being in front of your bathroom mirror with your favorite songs on shuffle, dancing as you go through the motions of enhancing the beauty that is already there for others and, most importantly, yourself. I believed there were too many steps, brushes, and products that were not accessible for me to use. With full use of one hand and limited use of the other, I scoffed at the idea that I might one day be able to apply more than lipstick on a regular basis.

But time is a funny thing, especially during a pandemic; all at once it is as long as ever and happens quickly. Virgo season, aka the best part of fall, arrived before I knew it. With it came a new sense of determination to prove myself wrong and try something I had been putting off for years. My birthday is in September and as a birthday person, I tend to celebrate the whole month. This year, I did just that, and received the best surprise when my friend Mandy sent me makeup to practice creating looks. I had previously gushed to her about my love for lipstick but had no idea what was up her sleeve.

a man standing in front of a tree posing for the camera © Libby March a person standing next to a tree © Libby March

She sent me the blushes and lipsticks from the Rare Beauty line and a few other amazing items. Her very generous gift kicked me into action. With my gifted goods, plus some previously purchased foundations, primers, a 16-piece rose-gold makeup brush set, and one of those brush cleaning machines I got from Amazon, I began my journey. Since then, there have been many shirts with foundation around the collars (and frantic googling to see if it will come out), days of overdoing blush, and more poorly applied eye shadow than I can keep track of. A few months later, I am still terrible at blending eye shadow — but I won't be forever. I will not lie and tell you that I have perfected a full face, but I am pretty good at foundation. I should be, I have four: Sephora Collection brand foundation (47 in cappuccino), Maybelline Fit Me foundation (355), and two from Fenty Beauty (385), because apparently my belief in myself and Rihanna is equally unyielding. I don’t try a full face every day, but when I do, I play [my makeup products] off of each other so they all feel loved. I am obsessed with the Hourglass Arch Brow Volumizing Fiber Gel. Sometimes I’ll wear it with nothing else on my face.

Makeup isn't just for "beautiful" people; anyone can and should be able to wear it, should they want to.

As I explore my new relationship with makeup, I often find myself reflecting on why I was so scared of it in the first place. One reason I was afraid was because I thought makeup was only for beautiful people to further their beauty, and beautiful was something I had believed I would never be. My fear also formed because, on top of not feeling beautiful enough for makeup, I believed the point of it was mainly to impress potential romantic partners — and I never thought I’d have any of those.

a man standing in front of a forest © Libby March

However, somewhere along my journey of self-love, which began in 2016, I realized just how wrong I had been. Makeup isn’t just for "beautiful" people; anyone can and should be able to wear it, should they want to, conventional attractiveness notwithstanding. It sounds cheesy, but the realization that beauty is not only subjective but something that comes in many forms allowed me to see the harm my thought processes were causing me and others when I voiced the idea aloud. The other thing I realized as I spent weeks in front of my bathroom mirror practicing this new yet familiar thing with hopes of getting to a place where I am comfortable doing it unassisted, is that I am doing it for me. There is nothing wrong with practicing the art of makeup for a romantic suitor, but when I began my journey a few months ago, I began it for myself. If I can find and foster self-empowerment in my journey with makeup, so can others.

Makeup, for me, has since become a tool of expression and a piece of independence I always longed for. As a disabled, Black, and queer woman, the freedom that comes with being able to show my family and friends the thing I did on my own is unmatched. Sure, they touch me up when I need it, but I like the idea of getting ready just to run in their rooms to show them the final look, or to take pictures and text them something silly like, "Nature is healing." The most exciting aspect of learning the steps of makeup is that there is no wrong way to do it. For me and so many others, it is an extension of our personality, another way to share who we are with the world.

Makeup, for me, has since become a tool of expression and a piece of independence I always longed for. As a disabled, Black, and queer woman, the freedom that comes with being able to show my family and friends the thing I did on my own is unmatched.

Another thing about living through a pandemic is that we have to protect our joy and nurture the things that keep us going while we fight for a world where we all will be free. I am learning as I go in my makeup journey. With every decent makeup day, I feel as though I am seeing who my friends and family always saw — and honestly, with a red lip, my four foundations, and eyebrow gel, I could take over the world.

Photographer: Libby March. Makeup: Jess Martinen. Fashion Editor: Karen Lopez. 

All products featured on Allure are independently selected by our editors. When you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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