Beauty

The impact drag culture has over beauty

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  • 29.06.2021
  • By EMILY HENG

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Face it: We live in an age where it is impossible to be omniscient. Our world is too vast in its breadth and scope; a sphere teeming with individuals that are constantly innovating and fashioning new ways to express themselves. See: Sheesh, the greeting synonymous with the TikTok community, or “fruity”, a term frequently thrown around amongst queer circles. To be aware every community out there and its accompanying jargon is inconceivable — particularly if you haven’t been fully integrated into said circles.

As it is, even seasoned members of certain groups remain unaware of the context behind specific terminology. The beauty realm is a prime example. We beat our faces on the regular; shape ’em cut-creases with an arsenal of eyeshadow brushes; and say “snatched” with a kind of frequency that might prove alarming to the normies. And yet, there are some of us that are still in the dark as to the origins of aforementioned jargon and trends — that is, drag culture.

Unbeknownst to many, drag has a hand in the most game-changing of makeup techniques, trends, and language. Contouring and baking was first used by drag performers to dramatically alter their features; a necessity of the trade in a bid to create convincing personas or characters. Dramatic, exaggerated eye makeup was crucial, so they wouldn’t appear washed out under stage lights. Terms such as “hunty” and “tea” were introduced to the masses via RuPaul’s Drag Race, whereupon they seamlessly integrated into people’s day-to-day speech.

This, however, begs the question: Is the current bold, maximalist makeup movement (in the vein of Euphoria, if you will) — and the beauty community at large — co-opting from drag culture? Are we looking at a case of cultural appropriation, or appreciation? We got three of our favourite local drag queens to elaborate on their experiences below.


Arya Dunn | @arya.dunn

What was it about drag culture that first drew you in?
The artistry, the fantasy, the politics and the excessiveness of it all.

When did you first start experimenting with makeup, and what were some of your key influences when first starting out?
I started experimenting for a full year before I started going out to the bars and the clubs — mostly because I was underage, back then. My key influences were honestly drag queens/makeup artists, fashion, and anime, in that order. Anime always served as an inspiration but I didn’t think to apply it ’till much later. My starting looks were not great, but I was inspired by so much. I was a literal sponge.

What does drag and the process of transformation mean to you?
I’d say that drag is a lot of things. It can be stupid, political, beautiful, disgusting, powerful, intelligent, smelly… but it is always excessive. To me, it is my main medium of art that keeps me excited to keep creating. It is also political by default because I am a visibly queer person and I am extremely beautiful. The transformation is very exciting — my face goes from a beige ball to a colourful ball. Also, it is quite powerful in a sense because when you look in the mirror and you see a different character. It is quite like logging in to The Sims or something. It’s almost a prompt for you to just be and do whatever in this fantasy.

There are plenty of recent makeup trends and techniques that have actually stemmed from drag culture. How does it make you feel when people aren’t aware of this, and are actually crediting it to celebrities such as Kim Kardashian instead?
I mean, I don’t really care for it, because how would we reconcile it? Acknowledging it is one thing, but what comes after, ya know? And more specifically what does it change? I don’t expect people who wear BDSM gear as a fashion accessory because they watch K-Pop music videos to understand the kink community.

I think starting discourse about it can help raise awareness and maybe lend more opportunities for drag queens to share their truth like this article (*wink*) but then again I didn’t invent these makeup techniques either, so I really am undecided on it.

What is cultural appropriation to you, and would you say that the current maximalist makeup movement is appropriating from drag culture?
I wouldn’t say so. If anything, people who take on a maximalist approach to makeup probably are aware of drag queens. Maybe I am naïve, but the bulk of people who wears colourful smoky eyes and fun coloured liners with a bold lip are allies or queer people. But maybe that’s just Singapore.

Shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Race are largely responsible for the integration of drag-specific terms such as “beating your face” into everyone’s lexicon. What are your thoughts on people casually using just slang in everyday life — and using such terms despite not knowing where it originated from?
Okay, the lingo is where I get a little bit uncomfortable. It’s like hearing a foreigner try to speak Singlish. A lot of times the language comes from a specific environment that is very layered and nuanced. A lot of these slang terms came from people who were really marginalised and forged a whole culture around being the outcasts of society from a different continent and time period.

As a drag queen who’s done this for six years, I am not even sure I can even comfortably identify with using the same terms. I heard an 18-year-old Joel Lim saying “yass her face is beat for the gods” at an Ariana Grande music video and I just… I want to throw myself off a cliff.


Gina Gemini | @ginageminisg

What was it about drag culture that first drew you in?
There are many things that attracted me to drag culture, like the idea of pushing boundaries and making a statement regarding politics, religion and society. But mainly what has kept me nested to the culture itself is the sense of family it brought.

When did you first start experimenting with makeup, and what were some of your key influences when first starting out?
Some people call it an experiment, but I thought of it as a calling. It all began with a little young gay boy breaking into his sister’s room, rummaging through her stuff hoping to find toys, but instead, found her eyeshadow palette. I was unsure of what it was and why the colours stained my fingers, but I knew it was pretty. Years later I joined a Malay dance group and learned the proper techniques of application. From there, I stepped into doing makeup for others and freelanced as a makeup artist.

I am grateful that I had great mentors that taught me the proper techniques, but whenever I decided to get creative with my style and look, I always looked to various stage makeup creations from theatrical productions and fashion. I am highly influenced by the Cirque Du Soleil and Kevin Aucoin.

What does drag and the process of transformation mean to you?
Getting into drag is always a workout, what with all the cinching of the waist and tucking… but generally, I find it therapeutic. It calms me and keeps me centered after a stressful day of work. When I am completely in drag, I put that high-strung, anxious man for a short nap, and let out a sassy and quirky alter ego out into the world.

There are plenty of recent makeup trends and techniques that have actually stemmed from drag culture. How does it make you feel when people aren’t aware of this, and are actually crediting it to celebrities such as Kim Kardashian instead?
It is saddening that proper credit is not given, but personally, I am glad that people are utilising the techniques properly. What can I say, drag culture is what sets trends.

What is cultural appropriation to you, and would you say that the current maximalist makeup movement is appropriating from drag culture?
Cultural appropriation can be cringey — but if it is done in good taste, then that’s where it shows that we are all willing to look past our differences and embrace the beauty in said differences. Also drag culture is about self-expression and being comfortable with yourself. If glittery and bold yellow eyeshadow; blinding highlight; and overly drawn lips make you live out your fantasy, then so be it. At the end of the day, we can only start by loving ourselves first. Just look at the great celebrities like Cindy Lauper, Madonna and Lady Gaga. They are all artists touting self-expression in their own fields, and have grown to become icons.

Shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Race are largely responsible for the integration of drag-specific terms such as “beating your face” into everyone’s lexicon. What are your thoughts on people casually using just slang in everyday life — and using such terms despite not knowing where it originated from?
While the widespread linguistic trend comes from the blending of slang in queer Black and Latinx communities in the Ball culture (aka the Drag Scene), the use of it often gets blurred out from the point of politics and its complicated history. Back then, when being gay was considered a cardinal sin, there was a need to have our own “language” to covertly communicate, especially for people of colour because they were often marginalised.

While the show has been largely responsible, there are also other factors that have contributed to the acceptance of use of “slang”, for example — there are more open-minded and accepting allies in the community, and there is more equality for those who are marginalised. Ultimately at the end of the day, if you are an avid user of “gagging”, “spilling the tea” or even “opulence”, don’t forget to “thank a queen”.


Eva Le Queen | @eva_lequeen

What was it about drag culture that first drew you in?
Initially, it was all about the transformation aspect. And, the idea that my femininity — that I grew up feeling very insecure over — was celebrated when I am in drag.

When did you first start experimenting with makeup, and what were some of your key influences when first starting out?
My fascination with makeup began in secondary school. But it wasn’t until I undertook a course in Hair and Makeup Artistry at Cosmoprof Academy that I really took it seriously and explored. There are no particular influences that come to mind — I mostly focused on learning how to soften and feminise features through makeup.

What does drag and the process of transformation mean to you?
It is an ever-changing, ever-evolving process. Every stage of growth is no less beautiful than the other. I remember the first time I transformed and came out in broad daylight dressed in drag. My brows were as high as my temple; my contour was out of place; and my breasts were too wide apart. But I also distinctly remembered how I felt like the most beautiful creature in the universe at that exact moment.

There are plenty of recent makeup trends and techniques that have actually stemmed from drag culture. How does it make you feel when people aren’t aware of this, and are actually crediting it to celebrities such as Kim Kardashian instead?
Drag and makeup are both forms of art, and as such, it is my belief that art should not be policed. Sure, there might be some works that belong uniquely to a person. But makeup has long-existed, beginning thousands of years ago and tracing back into the time of Cleopatra. Chances are, thousands of other people, drag or not, may have already discovered techniques or other unconventional ways of doing makeup. I’m saying this from both a drag queen and a professional makeup artist perspective.

What is cultural appropriation to you, and would you say that the current maximalist makeup movement is appropriating from drag culture?
I do believe that different aspects and forms in art can share similarities and still be distinctly their own. In the same way that some genres of dance adopts movements from one another, but still appear unique. Appropriation is a word that is used loosely these days, and it’s sad because people tend to only have a suface-level understanding of the matter. Drag is more than just makeup. Drag is political. Drag is a vision of LGBTQI+ liberation movement. Drag is empowering and inspiring and can be shared by all.

Shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Race are largely responsible for the integration of drag-specific terms such as “beating your face” into everyone’s lexicon. What are your thoughts on people casually using just slang in everyday life — and using such terms despite not knowing where it originated from?
There is a term that kids on Twitter use for this, and it’s called ‘gatekeeping’.  It happens when a group becomes overly possessive of things particular to a demographic (like K-pop stans or Swifties) that they claim ownership of ideologies that originated from them. As an artist, this is not how I envision drag to be seen. If people use such terms while being completely oblivious to its drag-related origin, I find that it doesn’t change the impact of drag and LGBTQI+ culture to these people’s lives. It is by learning to share, that our beautiful drag culture can be appreciated and represented by all.

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