Being creative has a considerable impact on mood and overall well-being. This has been proven repeatedly by psychological studies, so it may not come as a surprise. You’ve probably experienced it too. When we make things, we feel inspired, empowered, and revitalized.
I write a lot for Byrdie about the different ways we can immerse ourselves in various crafts, hobbies, and disciplines to enhance the quality of our lives. Because makeup has such a strong tie to visual art, identity, and self-expression, the art of cosmetics is super interesting to think about through a mental health lens.
I talked to four makeup artists with various stylistic backgrounds to discover the ways their makeup journeys have impacted their emotional wellness. Some common themes became quickly evident: The solo time required for makeup artists to practice on themselves and master their techniques can induce a state of profound calm and mindfulness. Additionally, all the artists I spoke with reported having self-discovery experiences the more they experimented with different looks. These meaningful experiences—rewarding alone time and empowering self-transformation—enabled cosmetically-inclined creators to trust their own capacities for survival throughout some of life’s most trying trials.
Brandyn Cross, they/them
When did you start doing makeup?
High school. I went to an all-boys Catholic School in Trinidad, West Indies. My mom has dark circles under her eyes and always brought up how she gave me this “curse.” She was the one who taught me how to cover them up. But then she would tell me not to let anyone see me wearing makeup, which that began the constant second-guessing of myself. I was never made to feel like I was accepted just as I am. But if I followed the rules, then everyone should be happy, right? The first time I wore concealer under my eyes to school, I was terrified. However, people complimented me that day, and no one really knew why.
When did you find your flow as an artist?
It took me years to finally discover what it was that made me special. As an artist, having a signature “thing” helps, but it’s tricky because I love creating in many different ways and through many different mediums. Part of being an artist is working for my innate desire to create. I learned through trial and error and am thankful to all my wonderful friends and coworkers who not only let me use their faces as practice but would each teach me something new as well.
How has makeup art helped you through tough times?
When I moved to Los Angeles from New York City, it was just before the pandemic hit. I left a stable salaried job to pursue my dream of working in commercial/print—and even maybe landing a spot on a TV show. With the country going into lockdown, I picked up my camera, turned on all the lights that I had ever bought, and started filming myself turning look after look. It was here, playing around with more fun and avant-garde looks, that I discovered a deeper piece of my identity that I never had words to describe prior. That year of “playing with hair and makeup” showed me when I had so much joy presenting and embracing being more femme.
I am a Non-Binary, Gender Non-Conforming Queer Black and Brown Person. I am so grateful for the joy that comes with feeling found.
Jared Lipscomb, he/him
When did you get into makeup as an art form?
During the summer after high school, I met creative friends who introduced me to things I didn’t know about—like pop art. I was instantly inspired by Andy Warhol and Divine as well as Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. I began doing drag, exploring art, gender, performance, and being comfortable in my own skin. From glitter lips and fuschia cheeks to cheap wigs and giant heels, I felt badass. I was a regular at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, spending my 19th, 20th, and 21st birthdays in that special club alongside so many other nights. I loved to stay in character and cause scenes. The concept of drag makeup is the basis of great makeup in general, so it was a great starting place, especially as I began to love the feeling of how pretty I looked when I did my makeup nicely.
How has makeup contributed to your sense of resilience?
When I was diagnosed with leukemia at 31-years-old, I was at a career-high—making the most money I’d ever made and working with a diverse roster of celebs. I hadn’t lost sight of the “art,” but I was definitely viewing it in an unhealthy way. So when that was forced to come to a halt, I was lost. I didn’t do makeup for nearly two months while I got my induction chemo.
Then I found that with my bald head, I loved the way I looked with makeup on. I could get away with wild winged liners out to my ears if I wanted. The routine of applying makeup was comforting. I’m very big about zoning out when I do makeup. I pretty much require music in all instances. I tend to listen to surprisingly mellow tracks. My go-to playlist for all of my 2020 makeup looks was probably Norman F*cking Rockwell by Lana Del Rey; the forlorn California end-of-summer vibes fit perfectly with my forlorn end-of-summer cancer diagnosis. I always made sure my skin looked radiant; I would experiment with a ton of looks—bold eyes, bold lips, bleached brows, you name it. But, I would always keep my skin glowing and blushed. I needed to see that healthy glow and flush of vitality in my cheeks. It convinced me that I would be better again and that I would be the “old me” (whatever that means) again.
What do you see in your future?
In the future, I want to speak about the role of beauty when it comes to survivorship, starting over, and second chances. I would like to offer solutions to keep beauty products off animals and as clean and green as possible. I would like to work with brands that value giving back to the community and celebrate queer culture. Most importantly, I want to be an artist known for the good I do when I’m not applying makeup.
Ayeshah Nashua, she/her
When did you first fall in love with makeup?
I didn’t start doing makeup until I was 19. I was a massive tomboy all my life. But I remember watching Stacie Orrico’s “More To Life” music video when I was eight years old and being obsessed that she could make herself look like so many different people. That video was my fantasy. I always wanted to be the sort of person who could just transform into different identities.
How would you describe your style?
My makeup is huge and exaggerated. I have been practicing for years, and I operate on a “more is more” basis. I always use body paint, and I like to blur the lines between cosplay and drag. I am not bothered about looking “pretty” in an ethereal, Disney-princess like manner. I want to look beautiful like an evil stepmother. I want all my looks to vaguely remind you of Ursula and the Corpse Bride rolled into one. I want my “flaws” to be assets.
I am unconventionally beautiful. Society isn’t a fan of my crooked Arab nose, but it enhances every look I do and brings them all together as one narrative. I’m fat, so my characters are fat. I have a K-cup chest, so my boy characters are gender-bent.
How has makeup helped you through tough times?
I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in 2018. My life before medication was a cycle where I could never hold onto a moment or a feeling, and everything felt like “too much.” I felt like I was living a double life because on the surface, I was trying hard to portray myself as laid back, easy-going, and low maintenance. But inside, I was on the verge of a mental breakdown. Something that helped me cope throughout the dark episodes and the manic episodes was sitting in front of a mirror with my body paint collection.
I found the action of painting my face to be a grounding exercise; it helped me process my emotions and dissect the thoughts I had tangled up. It also helped me to watch my face transform into somebody new, see that my identity could be transformed and that I was more than just my body. I could be anything I wanted to be.
Being able to create a portfolio of my art myself and being able to tell the world who I was, have control of the narrative instead of people viewing me as “that BPD girl” felt so liberating.
I am now medicated, practice yoga, and look after myself. My mental health is under control but still has flare-ups. I’ve learned that BPD is rarely curable, but it is manageable, and it has become something I like about myself. I am loyal, passionate, impulsive, and see these traits as positives.
Brenda Lubin, she/her
When did you fall in love with makeup?
I really got into the application of makeup when I was 20 years old during my recovery from foot surgery. I was on bed rest for six weeks and was left with nothing but time. So, during my healing, I decided to teach myself. I watched so many tutorials and practiced on myself almost every day. With so much downtime and loneliness being stuck home, it was truly my therapy.
I would take pictures and have photoshoots. You would have thought I was going somewhere, but in reality, I was just in my bed.
What was a takeaway from your learning process?
Sometimes following step-by-step techniques doesn’t work for everyone. You have to find your flow and do what you like. I used to struggle with applying lashes. I think it’s important to voice what you’re not the best on. For example, when I do my client’s makeup and we get to the lashes part, I’ll say, “Applying lashes isn’t my forte, so this may take a while.”
Shockingly enough, most of my clients go right ahead and apply it themselves, and it ends up saving us both time. The moral of the story is if you’re struggling with an aspect of your craft, take your time to get it right. If it’s an ongoing struggle, voice it. Your help may be right in front of you. They do say it takes a village.
How has makeup helped you through tough times?
One of the toughest times of my life has been this pandemic we’re all facing. I went from wearing makeup every day to work to now wearing no makeup and a mask.
That alone has robbed me of my inner joy because doing makeup is therapeutic to me. Plus, I didn’t realize how insecure I was without it. Quarantine life has forced me to be more comfortable bare-faced. My life philosophy with makeup has always been “Be good, look good, and feel good,” but this mantra has a different meaning since the pandemic. The “be good” aspect is that no matter what happens in life, always remember to be a good person to yourself first and others. The “look good, feel-good” part used to mean when you look good, you feel good. Now, I feel that it means you should feel good about yourself and do what makes you feel good—no matter what that looks like to you. When you feel good, that exudes to looking good because you feel happy within yourself. And a little glam always helps too. Overall, I want people to realize their beauty not only physically but emotionally.