BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
When it comes to having beauty and self-care rituals, there’s a lot of chatter on social media about making time for yourself and figuring out ways to pamper your body (while also pampering your mind). Many times, however, I find that these articles are aimed at cisgender women, without much thought about how gender and gender identity fit into our ideas of wellness rituals.
This, of course, also ignores the fact that "self-care" has become a weird marketing brand to itself, a quick phrase for people to use to seem woke to their bodies, as a way to allow yourself to keep busy as long as you do a weekly facial. And that’s not really what self-care, or even enjoying beauty treatments, is about. It’s actually about pausing, taking time, understanding why you engage in the activities and rituals that you do.
We all need to regularly take care of ourselves, learn our limits and boundaries, and most of all, what we enjoy, not what we should do within specific guidelines, whether they’re heteronormative ones or ones our own queer communities have established. I actually mostly despise the term "self-care" because it implies that everything else we do isn’t—that our actions and thoughts are for someone else. And that’s ridiculous.
While I’m not saying we should be endlessly selfish and self-centered, the term "self-care" is often seen on women’s blogs as a way to "declutter" your life and find that "work-life balance," as if women and femmes need to make themselves busier than their male counterparts, because value needs to be proven. Self-worth is nothing without doing…all the time. Or so it seems within these media havens.
Beauty rituals, interestingly, are also gendered, as if only women engage in them, as if men (or non-binary people or queer men) don’t enjoy them. In so many ways, beauty rituals are relegated to "self-care" within the strange beauty blogging world that is often written about as if it is trivial (and that is sexist)—when really, how we choose to present ourselves is anything but trivial, and certainly not a "woman’s only" club. Or a binary.
Treating ourselves is another phrase I hate, often used alongside "self-care," as if we should feel guilty for doing so—although it also becomes classist, besides gendered. It’s for wealthy women who can afford facial and gym memberships and green smoothies and time off. For anyone who doesn’t fit in that category, the small acts of destressing become a luxury—and aren’t even talked about. Maybe putting on eyeliner is that 2 minutes of "me time" you get a day.
All I’m really saying is that taking care of ourselves should not be a luxury, and should be something we just do and don’t have to coax ourselves into—and we also shouldn’t limit who does and doesn’t. Men and women aren’t the only people in the world, and neither are the rituals and hobbies we engage in, and thus, shouldn’t be marketed to one or the other. We’re all different—and gender identity is much more nuanced than a few binary labels we’ve accepted as a mainstream culture.
How we choose to appear should be as unique as we are ourselves, as more than the labels we are forced to choose on a daily basis, as a way to just be. Although we also need to remember, of course, that our gender identity and our chosen rituals also reflect our perception of safety. And if it is safe to appear exactly as we wish, do we make that sacrifice, or do we try to pass? We usually do a mix of both. For instance, I live in New York City and have a very different idea of how I can and can’t dress compared to someone who lives in a rural part of the country that may be more conservative. For instance, according to Human Rights Campaign, "in 2016, advocates tracked at least 22 deaths of transgender people in the United States due to fatal violence."
As someone who does identify as a non-binary femme, I have my own chosen rituals (like putting on winged eyeliner, giving myself gel manicures and facials, etc), versus someone who identifies differently than I do. And of course, within my own identity are contradictions and variations and changes (sometimes I also want to wear bow ties and have had faux hawks before and used to be obsessed with my side burns).
This is why I asked my queer-identified social media community what their own rituals are—as a way to understand how other genderqueer/trans/LGBTQ folk view rituals and enjoy taking care of their bodies. And to promote the idea that trans and non-binary people all have their own preferences, and there's no one "right way" to be trans or genderqueer.
Here are some transgender and non-binary-identified people who shared their favorite beauty rituals with me that they enjoy:
"Burt's bees skin care products, particularly their brightening daisy extract and their radiance eye cream."
"I've really struggled with beauty stuff being genderqueer/transmasculine, but lately I got my eyebrows done and started wearing bright red lipstick as a way of claiming beauty rituals for myself.
I find myself coming up against the beauty routines that I feel were imposed on me when I was younger. If I wear makeup, am I just giving in to someone else's idea of me? Obviously I don't think that, but it lurks at the back of my mind. I've been inspired by old school androgynous looks lately."
Kallie Van Tassel
"I've been wearing black eyeliner since I was 13. More days than not I look in the mirror and feel confused and bad because I feel so disconnected from my body. Binders don't fit on me bc my chest is so huge, and I'm genderflux so I'm not sure if top surgery would be good for me, not like I'd ever be able to afford it. It's so frustrating to feel so out of control of my presentation. Makeup is pretty much the one arena I feel like I have control over. My eyeliner is the oldest link I have to grasp onto my visual identity, the one thing that's stayed consistent and comfortable and always makes me feel cute."
Anna Daniela Hiomi
"I guess I have never thought about how complex my daily beauty ritual could be. Foremost, everything needs to happen in twenty minutes or less, but with meticulous precision as a bled eyeliner could mean missing the 8:20 bus to work. Also, a complete outfit must be ready since the night before. I have to pay attention to my beard area. For me, this is a must. The offending area must be shaved to perfection and then treated with concealer. Guerlain’s multiperfecting is my fav. After that, foundation (Lingerie De Peau Natural Perfection, by Guerlain as well) will be the basis for making me feel comfortable throughout the day.
The main idea is not to pass but to feel as pretty as possible. If I can achieve that, then I can just forget about my image and can do my job as everybody else around me."
"Kat von D foundation is really good (trans lady with unresolved face shadow issues, need thick opaque foundation that lasts hrs)."
Cody La Vada
"As a transwoman who hasn't undergone electrolysis, laser hair removal, or surgery (I'm only on HRT, 2 years now!), my morning routine is grueling and takes about three hours before I feel comfortable leaving the house/being seen by others.
I barely have facial hair, but it's still a huge source of dysphoria so I shave my face with a regular razor with AND against the grain, then use an electric razor, and then Smooth Away pads to exfoliate and buff. Then tons of moisturizer/balm to prevent burn/irritation. That takes about 45 mins, and the rest is dedicated to hair/makeup. I refuse to leave the house or be seen by anyone unless I'm entirely done up because it's my method of coping with dysphoria and presenting myself as almost a piece of art to the world. I view my makeup ritual as an artistic process.
Some of my favorite brands are Two Faced, Kat Von D (her primer and Lock It foundation are the best!), and, surprisingly, ELF. NYX setting spray is my go-to favorite. I've also been using No. 7 foundation recently, and it's great because I'm very pale, and it matches my tone and reduces my pore size ."
"My favorite product is NYX liquid suede lipstick in Amethyst, because it makes me feel visible and powerful. I think That even when I feel most endangered by my visibility as a disabled trans femme, this is when I feel most alive and most myself."
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), Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016) and 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, or is forthcoming, in Brooklyn Magazine, Prelude, Apogee, Spork, The Feminist Wire, BUST, and elsewhere.