Friends with Benefit

Eimer McAuley and Jonny Adams discuss the transformative power of makeup

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Friendships can take you in the strangest directions, even to eyeshadow palettes and lipgloss tubes. This week, Cherwell Life listens to two College friends who found inspiration and confidence in each other’s creative flair, and courage to be different.

Wearing makeup for the first time

Eimer: Makeup seemed like the answer to everything when I was twelve, the magic silver bullet that would take out both my social insecurities, and the body image issues of a prepubescent girl with acne, and a weird bob haircut. If only I was allowed to wear it. One day after school I took all my pocket money and splashed out on make-up. The next morning in the P.E bathrooms I transformed myself. My foundation was caked on, my blusher was neon, my eye-liner smudged and wobbly. But I felt empowered, and most importantly, pretty. Until I got to registration and my form teacher told me I had enough foundation on to build a house, and drew a circle around my face with a makeup wipe. I tearfully removed the rest in the bathrooms, but I wasn’t going to be swayed. That was the beginning of my makeup obsession.

Jonny: It was at Oxford that I first went out in drag, and I decided to enlist Eimer to do my makeup. Many brushstrokes and screams of “Sit still and let me do your waterline!” later, I looked at myself in the mirror. I’d gone into the experience thinking of it as just a fun, new thing to do when exploring queer culture in Oxford (which it certainly was). However, seeing how radically my face had been altered unleashed a fascination with makeup’s transformative power that has led me to experiment with drag more often. Stepping out in heels and a wig, I would be lost without a faceful of makeup to help me inhabit my new persona (I’m provisionally calling her ‘Jasmine T’).

The power of makeup

Eimer: At university, makeup came to mean a lot more to me than a suit of armour: it became a skill. When I started to do other people’s makeup for nights out, it even became a challenge. There’s a lot of pressure when someone trusts you with their appearance, but it’s so rewarding when they’re pleased with your efforts. The first time I did Jonny’s drag makeup was really special, I think, for both of us. Drag makeup is an entire skill in itself. Having tried to glue down brows before, I couldn’t have more respect for the artistry of drag. After a tense hour of poking and prodding (in which I was perfectly professional) I was holding my breath as he looked in the mirror. His reaction to seeing himself in makeup for the first time reminded me of my 12-year-old self in the P.E toilets. That makeup allowed me to be a part of such a transformative moment with a friend summed up for me what an empowering art form it is.

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Jonny: I see makeup as a way of expressing aspects of myself that, in my everyday life, I don’t usually get to exhibit. Not only can makeup change your appearance almost beyond recognition, but in a society defined by gender norms, makeup allows you to explore modes of expression that lie beyond traditional expectations of your gender. For instance, there are certain things people do not associate with traditionally masculine gender expression. Men are rarely described as ‘beautiful’, ‘pretty’ or ‘glamorous’. But for some men, perhaps especially conventionally ‘feminine’ guys, whose interests and behaviour have been stigmatised by society, these feelings can be empowering. When I go out in makeup, I can unlock different ways of feeling confident in my skin. I feel bold, attractive and empowered, in an entirely different way to my ordinary appearance.

Changing societal expectations

Eimer: Firstly, I feel makeup shouldn’t be gendered as an art form. Men should feel free to wear makeup whenever and wherever they want without facing discrimination. I also feel students who wear makeup to school shouldn’t be publicly humiliated by teachers for doing so. Not only could this be potentially very damaging for young people with image issues, I believe it ties into the wider culture of slut shaming in schools, where recently girls have been criticised for wearing clothes deemed to be potentially ‘distracting’ to boys. Lastly, makeup doesn’t have to be pretty. We get caught up in the beauty trends on Instagram, but we shouldn’t constrain makeup’s capability as an art form. Jonny and I both love the band PWR BTTM—a band from New York who play loud, alternative punk music while daubed in stunning, messy makeup—and particularly love how they explore makeup. Band members Liv and Ben cover their faces in paint and glitter, with lip-stick ‘inspired by desperation’. It’s beautiful and messy and shows how versatile makeup can be as a means of expression.

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Jonny: I’d like more people to realise that wearing makeup as a man, for whatever reason, is nothing to be ashamed of. Makeup can make you feel more confident and give you a sense of control over your appearance, helping you cover up blemishes and redness. Men in the show business have been doing this for years, but beyond this there is a stigma around men applying makeup to look the way they want to. However, discussion around this is opening up, which in my mind, can only be a positive thing. There are inspirational figures like PWR BTTM who, when performing, show that makeup can be fun and expressive, as well as functional.

Inspiring each other

Eimer: Jonny’s approach to makeup is pretty fearless. Nothing is ever too much, so that makes him the perfect muse. He inspires me to go outside of my comfort zone. He’s definitely the little voice in my head that says “more highlight, more glitter”. I’m really proud that he’s exploring drag more (shout-out to Jasmine T), but I will be sad when the day comes when I’m surplus to requirements. I’m also just eternally jealous of his cheek-bones.

Jonny: Eimer’s passion and skill for makeup artistry is strong. When she’s doing my makeup, I’m always excited to see which direction she’ll take it. From gorgeous smoky eyes and long lashes, to contoured cheeks and fabulous overdrawn lips, it’s incredible to see her skilled hands create the vision of her artistic eye. Colours, textures and shapes abound, her creative approach to makeup inspires me to approach my own style more inventively, and I will always seek to emulate her.