Joy & Euphoria: How The Queer Community Uses Beauty To Resist & Conform

(L) Alok Vaid Menon; Durga Gawde (R)
(L) Alok Vaid Menon; Durga Gawde (R)(L) @alokvmenon; (R)

From the 1920s to now, the use of makeup has been consistent through changing styles and trends. But while makeup and beauty have stood the test of cultural time, the relationship that people share with makeup is complicated. But no matter how we look at it, the LGBTQIAP+ community has well and truly embraced makeup through the years, even when shunned, ignored, and worse.

LGBTQIAP+ creators, drag performers, and activists have worked hand in hand to challenge the traditional hetero-patriarchal cultural norms that exist around makeup. Taking their cue from these individuals, beauty brands have come around in the past few years to foster a more inclusive space for everyone and to broaden a previously exclusive image of beauty.

Thanks to archaic laws of dressing and self-expression through the ages, makeup has become a tool for queer resistance and political protest. Using makeup, some LGBTQIAP+ individuals use beauty to take power into their own hands. Makeup has the power to change lives, not just in public but also in private. The community’s use of makeup as resistance to make them visible in a world that thrives on the erasure of the LGBTQIAP+ community has helped members stand out. This recognition in public spaces helps to create a safe haven outside the home. Unfortunately, this also means consciously putting a target on peoples’ own backs and carries a major risk of harm.

Image Courtesy: @sushantdivgikr; @jason_arland

In countries where homosexuality is illegal, including India until a few years ago, even wearing nail polish can serve as an indicator to those in positions of power, increasing the risk of arrest and violence. However, as Nigerian author, Desmond Vincent wrote, “Sometimes the most effective form of activism is simply daring to live.” He did not mean live as in just exist but live truly, authentically, and loudly, without fear of going against the norm, even when it is against the law.

Young queer people might feel an overwhelming urge to conform to the majority and face major pressure to present ‘correctly’, in accordance with their outward gender identity, and to ascribe to an expected cisgender-heterosexual identity, especially in fear of being outed or condemned by their family and friends. For some queer people, being ‘straight-passing’ is a privilege that other queer people simply do not have.

Marketing for beauty products has largely been targeted at women through the years. However, with the younger generation becoming increasingly aware and more in need of deeper engagement, brands have started taking notice of the changing tides and are becoming increasingly more inclusive. Brands in the west have had a head start on this kind of inclusive marketing, but homegrown indie brands are catching up quick. Though things are slowly changing, we have not yet achieved the same level of branding from subsidiary brands under multinational corporations in India. While June’s Pride Month is a baby step forward, it is still a tokenistic approach to inclusion for the queer community and lip service for big brands.

Queer resilience is not all rainbows and glitter, as depicted in various Pride Month campaigns. Queer joy and gender euphoria are helped by people wearing what they like, when they like, without fear of persecution and violence. Makeup and beauty have the power to validate gender identity and help dispel gender dysphoria in trans and non-binary individuals. Being young and queer in India comes with its own set of unique challenges. Beauty is an escape from those challenges, a world in which everything can be beautiful — including yourself.

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