Diversity is a hot topic right now, and it’s long overdue. For a lot of people of colour, especially those of us who are LGTBQI and not very slim, we have had to deal with the discomfort of difference for too long. In my personal experience and in my job as a makeup artist, I’ve heard countless other people’s beauty stories. One thing’s for sure, too many of us have felt like we were too ugly, too hairy, too fat, too dark, too masculine or too feminine.
Growing up I heard about androgyny being beautiful in fashion, but I never thought that word would apply to me in a positive way. I didn’t connect taunts about being manly to a cool aesthetic; I just thought I was ugly. For many of us raised as girls, we feel that femininity, as dictated by white people, was the mould we had to fit, however hard that might be.
I grew up in a world where getting up early for school to pluck your face raw was a reality for some, because it’s not ok to be a girl with a hairy face. Even full eyebrows weren’t ok until very recently. And those held up as ‘brow goals’ by the media still turned out to be on white faces, despite thick eyebrows being very common in South Asians.
There are countless examples of this. The Kardashian/Jenner family popularised curvier figures that black women and women of colour have long been mocked for. It’s hard not to see the diversity trend of this era as one that takes the attributes of marginalised people and makes them digestible by watering them down and serving them to the public on a familiar platter. If your hips are wide, your stomach must be flat. If your eyebrows are thick, you can’t have a hairy upper lip. Even in 2018, looks are a constant balancing act.
If you scroll through my Instagram, pictures of my work and of myself show a push in a more radical direction. I play with gender and beauty standards. I am lucky to work with trailblazers who are out to change definitions of acceptable faces and bodies. But for both me and my clients, posting those pictures and wearing those looks has not been easy.
A look I do on a client might get praise and likes online, but when they’re in public, the laughs, stares and harassment are constant. While some of my job involves creating fresh and bold looks, I spend much more of my time covering acne, stubble, and reshaping features to ease insecurity and public harassment. Most photos show a fantasy world where you can explore your gender, be proud of your skin, and speak your truth. The reality is very different.
Art and images exist within, not separate from, a world that wants to eliminate the threat of difference. With growing liberation movements, comes a strong backlash of violence against people of colour, trans people, disabled people and queer people. While models and artists like Aaron Philip and tinah_spaaahkle, Travis Alabanza, Alok Vaid Menon are getting more recognition, they are also losing protection.
Being followed on Instagram means more visibility, but it also means bigots are able to message, comment and even find out your location. The current climate has seen our images, our stories and our realities used to sell products that we cannot afford. Governments are deporting us, taking away our medical care, benefits and life lines.
Public opinion is swayed by our growing presence in the media. We are being celebrated more often and more loudly, but the material conditions of our lives are getting worse. There are more trans public figures, but that doesn’t mean that trans people have more access to health services. Even if you’re the face of a brand, you still might struggle to pay for day to day expenses. Media attention doesn’t mean a regular income.
In terms of creativity, people of colour and the LGBTQI community have been the source of many trends and ideas which are appropriated by companies who make staggering profits from our intellectual property. From Madonna’s vogueing to Gwen Stefani’s bindis, we are rarely the faces of our own art and histories. But the tide is turning. We are starting to be heard, with terms like cultural appropriation entering the mainstream vocabulary, and diverse shade ranges trending in cosmetics. We are starting to get a small piece of the pie we baked.
Beauty, marketing and diversity are areas that offer us a chance to redress entrenched ideas about what people can and should look like. We can have a say on who gets to be a role model, and who gets to bring their ideas to life. This is a crucial time for us to restructure the way we operate and think.
We don’t just want to be the faces of advertising campaigns selling products, but credited as the minds behind them. We don’t just want to buy diverse shades of foundation, we want makeup artists and models of colour to get as much exposure and as many jobs as their white counterparts. An image on a screen or billboard takes a huge team, days on set, months of preparation and post production. Being the only person of colour on set, or the only trans person on set isn’t acceptable. While a final image might scream ‘diversity’, the process of creating that image is just as important. What we want is to be leaders at every stage, not just faces, not tokens.
Umber Ghauri is a makeup and visual artist. With a passion for celebrating marginalised identities, Umber began their journey with a degree from The Courtauld Institute of Art, quickly moving onto a makeup training course. Combining an understanding of historical and current representation within art and media, Umber realised the role of makeup artist was one of great responsibility where LGBTQ people, disabled people and PoC are underserved. Umber believes that we should all experience our beauty in a positive environment, where we have control over how we look and how we are treated.