Presenting our true selves outwardly can be an essential part of developing confidence, but can be easier said than done. For Jamie Windust, the artistry and effort put into their makeup was an empowering means of exploring their identity
It took about six months for the old department store that I used to work in to be convinced that it was OK to have someone work on the plethora of beauty counters, who wasn’t a woman. To me, the beauty counters were a metropolis of potions and creams that had the capabilities to transform oneself, but not into someone else, rather into a more confident, and sculpted version of who you already were.
Like most people, I started wearing makeup due to insecurity. After years of fluctuating skin types, and months on prescription drugs, I decided that it was time to try the slap. I dabbled here and there, only to one day be asked to take all my makeup off by my then manager as I looked, in her words, “ghastly”. Thanks, love.
As my identity as a human being grew and evolved, my makeup bag came with me. The cyclical relationship of wanting to explore femininity, and my ever growing makeup collection, was no coincidence. Colour held its hand out to me, and I took it swiftly, allowing it to adorn my face in ways I had never imagined would be possible. It was a time where the meaning of makeup changed for me.
I was 16 when I realised the enormous potential makeup had to allow me to fully embrace being myself. I never felt like the rules everyone else was following with makeup really applied to me. I’d watch the tutorials, and find the techniques to master the basics, but when it came to the creative element of constructing a visage, I always felt underwhelmed by the creations on my screen. So, as I continued to throw everything on to my face in the hope that something stuck, it never crossed my mind that this could be seen as too much. There was always a slight hesitance, and discreteness, but never enough to stop me from painting how I wanted to.
Now, that feels different. The magnitude of reality seems to have squashed how makeup feels for me now. It’s still an outlet for a conversation with myself about how gender and expression harmonise through my face, but it leaves me with a question, speaking back to me in the mirror – “At what cost?” The conundrum trans people have lived with for what feels like forever. At what cost is it to be yourself, when everyone will inevitably tell you that they don’t want you to be?
As I slick the blush up the sides of my face, and blend the fuschia into my temples, I wonder if it’s worth the pain that will assert itself? This isn’t what makeup used to be about. It used to be fun. It used to allow me to find who I am. But once you’ve found it, the feeling around makeup as expression forms a new relationship. It now feels like an endurance test. How long can I last in this face, before I have to change it again? Is it worth it? At what cost?
In 2019, I stripped it all back. Towards the end of the year, I decided enough was enough. I was tired of feeling like public enemy number one every time I stepped onto the Tube. Sick of having to second guess if it’s sensible to go to certain places in a face of makeup. Whether or not it was worth it. I stripped it back, and for the first time since I was that 16-year-old taking their first steps towards the makeup counters, I went without. I navigated the world with ease, and with less anxiety. I felt room to breathe. I was able to do the mundanities of life, and not feel like I was being watched. But did I feel like me?
I’d reached a stage of my relationship with makeup that I’d never thought possible. The impact of wearing it, and being subjected to constant street harassment, had pushed my mental health over the edge, and eventually landed me here, makeup-less. I felt like I’d given in. That I’d started to believe what they were saying. Started to believe it was true.
But for anyone who knows how it feels to be persecuted for being your truest self, we know that person is still inside us. Even if you’ve changed how you look, and your presence in the world is vastly different from what it was, you’ll still hear their voice inside your head to remind you that they’re there. Sometimes, it’s more important to prioritise your whole health, both physical and mental. By looking out for your own mental health, it in no way means that the prejudice you face has won. It means that you’re, unfortunately, having to be practical in a world that doesn’t allow trans folk to breathe.
People often ask me, “How did you get to this version of your face, and how do you not care what other people think about you?” And the answer is never simple. People want you to say that it’s all about ‘being you’ and ‘never letting people stop that’. In part, I agree. We shouldn’t, en masse, allow people to dictate how we look, or how we live our lives, because they’re ours to live, and not theirs. But it comes to a point where you also have to listen to your body, and your mind. Make the decisions you need to make about the way you present yourself to the world. If you can’t be bothered with having to deal with the anxiety of street harassment, it’s OK to create a face that you know will be safer for you. It doesn’t negate any part of your identity, and it doesn’t mean they’ve won. It just means that you’re looking out for yourself when you need it the most.
The first time I ever used my staff discount was on that fateful beauty department. I’d been working there a week, and came in on my day off. I will always remember the absolute joy of placing that red lipstick down on the counter, and the pure excitement at how it was going to make me feel.
Remember the excitement of the first time you became who you are now, and never forget that they will always be proud of you, no matter how you look.