Ruby Martin: Drag Queens Taught Me to Love Eyeshadow

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Ruby Martin is a writer, artist and comedian who runs her own honest lifestyle website for millennials, her own comedy night Comical Comedy, and can be found talking and drawing all sorts on Twitter and Instagram.


At the time of writing this, I am two episodes deep into Rupaul’s Drag Race UK; this new British version of the US hit is a refreshing new edition to the canon and I’m already in love with a lot of the queens. However it’s not that long ago with the sequins-on-steroids world of drag burst into the mainstream and my life

I was pretty late to make-up. Growing up as an unpopular teenager in a relatively poor household meant that make-up tended to be a treat, primarily obtained through a ‘girls’ magazine freebie. However, I watched a lot of fashion shows (Project Runway, Gok Wan, Ugly Betty) and as it was the early 2010s, the emphasis was on the ‘natural’ look, ideally with the aim of impressing men to think you naturally looked like a Hollister model rather than the awkward 14 year old with acne that you actually were. This was the era of ‘What Not to Wear’ and I read countless articles on how to dress for your body shape, what lipstick doesn’t go and most importantly, what eyeshadow to wear (or more importantly, not to wear).

 After a few years of tentatively playing around with mascara (as a teen feminist who also desperately fancied boys, the dilemma of showing myself not to care about my appearance was always a hard one) I discovered eyeliner at university. Becoming a big fashion nerd from an early age I was obsessed with the 60s look and finally with income of my own, I channelled my inner Anna Karina, if somewhat less French and certainly less sophisticated.

Eyeshadow was still not touched on though. To me, eyeshadow seemed too showy in the world of Gillian Flynn’s ‘Cool Girl’; however like Gone Girl sparked a conversation about the kind of characters women could be, so did Drag Queens.

Whilst things coded as feminine like beauty and fashion are often looked down upon for being ‘trivial’, drag queens taught me it can be a means to subvert expectations, convey a message or sometimes just look really pretty

I binged most of Drag Race after discovering it in the depths of Netflix on my year abroad and whilst it’s OTT challenges and bawdy humour marked it as otherworldly, like Project Runway, it informed the world of a new craftsmanship: Make-up. With one foot in the glam world of Bobbi Brown and MAC, the other in campy stage make-up, it was fascinating to see these contestants create and recreate distorted images of ‘femininity’. I have always loved fancy dress, and it became clear with each weekly theme, their make-up was not just to look pretty but could be an expression of their creativity. The eyeshadow was the paint, the face was the canvas. This notion opened a Pandora’s box, and I don’t just mean in terms of my now heaps of eyeshadow palettes.

We are in a new era of makeover shows. Queer Eye, the remake of the noughties hit show, now preaches a kinder message of loving and caring for one self. The clothes and the hair is not just about what others see, but how you see yourself. I couldn’t help but be inspired. Whilst things coded as feminine like beauty and fashion are often looked down upon for being ‘trivial’, drag queens taught me it can be a means to subvert expectations, convey a message or sometimes just look really pretty, in a definitely not-‘natural’ way! Whatever you choose to do for it, its about you and your intentions.

As they say, we’re all born naked and the rest is drag.

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