Mascara was the first for more than one.
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Think of the very first beauty product you ever used. Odds are that it made your younger self feel a mix of excitement and nervousness all at once. Anyone that has used makeup likely knows how powerful a tool it can be for self-expression. But for some transgender women, their first experience with makeup can be even more powerful—sometimes life-changing and affirming.
No matter which shades of lipstick or eyeshadow you choose, makeup allows a person to show the world their truest self. Even if the makeup is temporary, the feeling of being able to define yourself with beauty can stick with a person for much longer.
As a creative outlet, makeup allows many women to express their personal style and truest selves to the world. But, as all the transgender women in this article told me, many also wear makeup to find themselves.
Of course, every trans experience is different. Not everyone in the community uses makeup to explore their gender or feels the need to even set foot in a Sephora. That is perfectly fine—and doesn’t make a woman of that transgender experience any less of a woman.
For the seven trans women that I spoke to, makeup was a distinct part of their lives and experience. Many can remember the first time they tried their hand at makeup and how it was an exploratory time in their transition process. Here are their stories about beauty, self-definition, and makeup.
1. Jazz Jennings
“Growing up, I would always have fun with makeup. Whether it was my sister’s princess palettes or my mom’s ‘grown-up’ makeup, I remember loving the feeling of dolling myself up and feeling vibrant and beautiful. I would look into the mirror and see myself glowing, and then just smile.
“I specifically loved eyeshadow. There were so many beautiful, sparkly colors, and it gave me the freedom to transform into whoever I wanted to be (usually either a princess, mermaid, or fairy). Nowadays, makeup continues to allow me to ‘glow,’ and it will forever make me feel vibrant and beautiful. As an artist, I love playing around with new palettes and colors. It is so much fun to create new looks and enhance my features.
“Being a transgender woman, makeup gives me the confidence I need when I’m feeling self-conscious or down. It makes me feel special and gives me the courage to walk outside and show the world how beautiful I am regardless of what you tell me. Specifically, when I am feeling dysphoric and upset with my body, makeup is my best friend who allows my inner beauty to radiate externally.”
Photo: Courtesy of Instagram/@jazzjennings_
2. Casey Blake
“The first makeup item I used was a Natural Profusion Colour Me Glow 12 Shades Palette. I remember buying these for a little over $1 at Walgreens and trying to blend as many shades together to create a dark crease with a maroon lid.
“After a few years of living my daily life as female, I’ve found even just a little touch of makeup always gives me the comfortability I need to go out into the world with confidence. But beyond the makeup, I can truly say when I feel good about myself, I’m more courageous and more focused on the task at hand as opposed to how strangers are looking at me.”
3. Gigi Gorgeous
“The first makeup item I remember using was either a Lancôme lipstick or a Clinique blush. My mom always used to shop at department stores and get a lot of things for free with her purchases at the checkout, so I would always take them (hehehe) because she never really used them. MAC Cosmetics is where I really started getting into makeup.
“Makeup means a lot to me, as a person and as a transgender woman. It gives anybody the ability to experiment with their look, whether you want to go for a bombshell, glamorous face or a streamlined, natural one. I’ve always been a girly-girl, and makeup has helped me to feel my most beautiful on days where I didn’t. As a transgender woman, my confidence is key. Makeup gives me confidence and is my creative outlet.”
Photo: Courtesy of Instagram/@gigigorgeous
4. Elle Bradford
“The first makeup item I remember using was a CoverGirl mascara. I don’t remember exactly the name of it, as this was more than 10 years ago, when I was in middle school. My sister and I snuck to the local pharmacy one day after school and picked it up using our lunch money. We were so excited! It was in that moment that I fell completely in love with makeup and the way it can enhance your own beauty.
“Makeup has been an incredibly powerful tool as a trans woman in alleviating dysphoria, especially at the beginning stages of my transition. I am hugely indebted to the power of makeup for helping me feel a little more comfortable in my own skin during a period of time when it was hard to love myself. Nowadays I really only ever wear makeup for events, nights out on the town with friends, or for filming YouTube videos. And although I no longer lean on makeup to feel beautiful, I still love how incredibly fun and creative it is.”
Photo: Courtesy of Instagram/@ellebradford
5. Kimberly Westbrook
Westbrook tells Bustle that the first makeup item that she remembers using is her mom’s mascara.
“Makeup means to me probably the same thing it means to any other person. It enhances our features we want enhanced and can hide features we don’t want to bring attention to. If you’re looking for something profoundly different because I’m a trans woman, it’s probably not here. Finding a balance of [too much or too little makeup] takes time. But when you nail it down, flawless is what you’re left with.”
Photo: Courtesy of Instagram/@kimberwestbrook18
6. Lucille Johnson
“The first makeup item I bought was eyeliner. Makeup to me is like armor. Starting my transition, I used makeup as a mask—not to conceal who I was, but to hide what people perceived me to be and to show who I really am.”
7. Shay Neary
According to Neary, the first makeup product she can remember using was Maybelline’s Great Lash Mascara.
“I was 7, and at the time my father was a long-distance truck driver. My mother would often leave me with my grandmother, who had dementia, when she did errands. I remember sneaking into her master bathroom, going into her makeup bag, and finding the most colorful item. It was a lime green and pink tube with black writing. At the time, I had no clue I was transgender, but I knew I loved the way it made me feel as I coated it furiously on my lashes.
“Makeup, for the majority of my transition, has been simultaneously a safety precaution and a passion. For years I used makeup as a way to present more feminine in public. I often would have a full mug on at 8 am every day to feel comfortable. Nowadays, over a decade into my journey, I use makeup as a way to express myself. I don’t wear it that often, unless at nighttime or for photo shoots, but I still enjoy the art of applying it. There is a sense of caricature when applying makeup; you can be anything you want to be. Nowadays, I’m more focused on who is under the mask I used to paint.”
No matter the beauty product, one thing is the same with makeup—it is a tool of self-exploration. As these women share, makeup is not about covering up who you are, but about expressing your true self.
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