BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
Complications make up who we are. We are complicated. Bodies are complicated. Identities are complicated. Makeup can be complicated. There are so many social implications and environmental factors surrounding putting on eyeshadow and mascara; it can feel a little overwhelming about what to do or where to buy. Makeup is complicated because it's a part of our bodies if we want it to be - and our bodies are political and personal and ours. Or should be ours.
For nonbinary and transgender people, makeup can be both complicated (deciding how you feel about using it or not using it, what socially responsible brands to support), but also freeing. Makeup allows us to play around and decide exactly how we want to look, what aesthetic the day can bring. For me, as a nonbinary femme, I love using makeup, but I also love using it in very specific ways where I can choose my own rituals, so what I buy and where I buy it from is extremely important to me. When it comes to cosmetics, I only support cruelty-free brands and brands that celebrate diversity and inclusion. Not to be cool, but because of what it means, for the world and for me.
So, when I discovered NYX, I honestly never looked back. Cosmetics, and choosing wear to buy from, is not a frivolous choice. What I buy reflects who I am, and being able to find makeup and see makeup ads with people that reflect who I am and what I believe actually means a lot to me, as it should to all of us. We should see ourselves, and a range of people, in what we consume. We all need to buy stuff sometimes, as much as it sounds dirty to say we're all consumers, we are. We all need to buy toilet paper or tissues or things like lipstick or mascara if it makes you happy. What we consume is a choice to an extent, because so often, we lack real choice, depending on where we live, our gender identity, our racial identity, and our socio-economic background. Our lack of choices makes what we consume, and can afford or not afford to consume, complicated. When we do actually have a choice, however, it's important to use the power we have - and choose it.
It's refreshing for me, then, to see a brand that isn't afraid of supporting the LGBTQIA community, and is actually inexpensive (thus, accessible), especially right now when basic rights are being threatened, and could be limited depending on the Supreme Court now that Kennedy has retired (could it, for instance, threaten Roe v Wade?).
I started wearing makeup when I was a preteen. It was a rite of passage in my family for women. For me, it began to allow me to shape my identity, to figure out what I felt and desired and how I identified. Now, years later, it allows me to create a look and an aesthetic, to be who and what I want. That's not an overstatement. The way we dress and present and identify is freeing. It's fun. It's part of who you are and can be and will be.
This is not a love letter to a cosmetic company, but really, to inclusion. When companies decide to be inclusive, it normalizes "othered" cultures and perceptions. Trump's administration is a real and unfortunate illustration of how perception and choice can yield change (and in this case, terrible change), and literally alter perception in a myriad of ways. Right now, marginalized groups (whether immigrants, people of color, or queer people) are scared. Their lives are being destroyed and threatened everyday. This didn't just happen with Trump overnight, it was already happening, but Trump's continued presence, and choices, make this fear worse.
When I feel discouraged, makeup has always been a comfort for me, largely because it's about control, even if that sense of control is minor compared to other parts of our lives we can't control at all. In a time where bodies are constantly being threatened, and taken ownership of, this is a way for me, and for many others, to take control.
What does it mean, of course, that we live in a world where our sense of ownership and control is at once advertised and marketed to be inclusive, but also simultaneously being controlled and limited and destroyed? Look at the families who are being separated right now. They aren't in control of their bodies. This duality we see, in companies like NYX, and in governments like the Trump administration, is not only confusing, but creates an extreme discord.
It's funny to live in the "digital age." We are always, apparently, surrounded by choice - endless options when it comes to what we eat, what clothes we can buy and from where, what smartphone to get, how to watch movies, what streaming system to use for music. These choices are supposed to make us feel more free. And in some ways, they do; we can choose how to present and what to wear, we can choose not to support major companies or not (but, then of course, become limited if we order on Amazon or buy from places owned by Amazon like Whole Foods, etc). Medical breakthroughs have allowed us to own our bodies more, to be who we were born to be, to make choices at all.
At the same time, it also feels like we're in a broken world being driven off a cliff, right into a wreck. We're on a boat with a mad captain. In a large way, it seems like our choices are becoming fractured on a global level when it goes beyond what food we buy or companies we support or whether to compost or not. And yet, when it comes to ICE or climate change, our choices aren't endless at all. It's discouraging at best. Right now, children are being separated from their parents, the ocean is warming. Last year was the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the U.S., with at least 28 deaths due to violence, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Things feel bleak because they are bleak.
Still, we have to cope when we aren't fighting and rallying. Because we can't be fighting 24/7 realistically. Bodies need to heal, to be taken care of. Makeup has become the way I cope that has nothing to do with the catharsis and political nature of art. Art is a way I cope, but I can't say that writing necessarily relaxes me in the same way doing a face mask does. We are allowed to relax and center ourselves. Yes, I meditate too, every morning, but sometimes, it's hard to block out the worries and the voices and the thoughts. Honestly, it's harder now than it used to be.
I don't think makeup is for everyone, but I do think it can saves lives. It can save the life of someone who is transitioning, or has transitioned, and helped them shape their identity. It can help you find out who you are; that's a life saved by an alternative, which is to struggle with your identity, or the way you are perceived. We can't control everything, but we can try to at least own ourselves in the ways that make us happy, in the ways that count.
They can't take that away from us. They can try, and sometimes they will succeed, but I do think these small moments of joy count for a lot more than we give them credit for. I do believe these small things can lead to greater protest and power and happiness.
#ARTISTRYFORALL 🌈 Feeling extra inspired by all the strong beauties out there like @nikita_dragun 💋 Repost: ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜 my passport is finally changed! this was such a long and intense process, but it’s finally over! this is the LAST legal document i had to change. it’s been such a long journey spanning over 2 years now, but i can’t thank everyone enough for the constant help getting me through the worst of it. i think it’s time for a trip! xo || #nyxcosmetics #nyxprofessionalmakeup
And in case anyone wants to know what's in my purse at all times:
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016), and Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017). They are the editor of A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017). Joanna received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College, and is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, a managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine and CCM, as well as an instructor at Brooklyn Poets. Some of their writing has appeared in Brooklyn Magazine, Prelude, Apogee, Spork, The Feminist Wire, BUST, and elsewhere.