6 Beauty Lessons As Told By Music Hero, Beth Ditto
She’s the Gossip frontwoman and a bit of a fashion muse, but did you know that Beth Ditto is also a serious beauty junkie? Me neither, but now, thanks to an account of her history with makeup that she wrote for Vogue, I do. When she fell for beauty, she fell for it hard—like a hungover Olsen twin on black ice. The product that stole her heart? ‘Twas MAC’s Liquidlast Liner in Point Black.
Beth Ditto is teeming with beauty advice—and not hollow advice either, like which color shadow brings out your green eyes and cleavage. She grew up in the ‘80s, in an almost Edenic time, when MTV was just gaining ground, when people were still using Kool Aid to dye their hair, and before Taylor Swift had even been potty trained. Everything she’s learned about beauty and makeup are rooted in that era. It’s a time she’s rightfully nostalgic for, and one that we can learn quite a bit from. So grab your favorite eyelash curler, and plunge head first into her wise words—on beauty, femininity, and thin eyebrows.
Don’t underestimate the value of online beauty tutorials.
Don’t follow them blindly—contouring is not for everyone—but it is important to recognize the power of these online tutorials, which can reach people who might otherwise never have learned the art of a perfected eyeliner wing. Beth Ditto could have been one such girl; she grew up in Arkansas and might still be stuck in bible study if it weren’t for her mother, a “young rock mom,” as Ditto wrote, who made sure “there was always music in the house.” It’s because of her mom that she was able to escape her small hometown in Arkansas, with “lasting images of Cyndi Lauper and Michael Jackson, of Madonna and Human League and Boy George” nonetheless. Like today’s slew of beauty bloggers, Ditto’s mom gave her the tools to expand her knowledge and interests beyond her small, remote hometown.
Something to consider: thin eyebrows.
I might not be the best authority on trend forecasting—I associate an aching pain in my left knee with imminent rain—but thick eyebrows have been at the top of the beauty charts for about six years now, and I foresee a change in the horizon. And no, I’m not just saying this because of the waxing-related bald patch in my left eyebrow. I say this because thin eyebrows are starting to look more and more appealing.
Bear with me, if you will. On the one hand, of course, there’s Cara Delevingne. Jennifer Connelly. For the love of god, Natalia Vodianova. And yet, on the contrary: Pamela Anderson. Miu Miu SS15. Kate Moss shot by Ellen Von Unwerth. And finally, Beth Ditto, who made quite the case for thin eyebrows in her Vogue piece. “I pluck [my eyebrows] so thin you can’t tell if I have any at all,” she wrote. “Which lets me draw them back on however I want. It’s the coolest look, I think. When I see someone with no eyebrows, all I see is how much more room they have for eye shadow.” Preach.
Makeup shouldn’t be a burden—have fun with it.
For those who can say that their style has never changed—that they started collecting concert tees and ripping their jeans at the ripe old age of seven—I applaud you. But for everyone else—for anyone who has ever looked back on their heavily bronzed teenage years with revulsion—know that you’re not alone. Life is all about experimenting—about trying out different pastimes and hobbies, but most of all, trying out different identities. And there’s no better channel to do so than with makeup. Beth Ditto sees makeup not as a means to woo a man, but as a “tool for transformation, of really limitless self-reinvention that lets you try out identities and ideas.” And if it turns out that a look isn’t for you? “Wash [it] off…and start over.”
Wearing makeup is not anti-feminist.
A tip: wash away all eyeliner residue at night, as well as all preconceptions regarding makeup and feminism.
It’s easy to flat-out reject makeup as something “girly,” as an accessory to attract and ultimately please men. But to do so would be fundamentally and detrimentally naïve. Makeup is a tool to try out different identities; a tool, essentially, for yourself and no one else (see above). There is no one way to be feminine, just as there is no one way to wear makeup. Ditto, as a teenager—and before she was wholly and cosmetically enlightened—saw makeup as nothing more than an anti-feminist, man pleasing superfluity. “I fought this idea because I thought femininity, and that kind of femininity in particular, was giving in to the man.” Deep down she relished the time she spent experimenting with makeup, but resisted it because of its “anti-feminist” connotations. Ans so she would apply makeup “in secret and then take it all off before [she] left the house.”
It wasn’t until she was stumbled upon the Riot Grrrl movement that she began to see makeup differently. “Girls were picking and choosing pieces of ‘female’ fashion and twisting them,”—that is, taking makeup and effectively making it their own. Ditto wants you to let your armpit hair grow unchecked and rustle in the wind freely—but only if that’s what makes you happy. “Makeup, shaved legs, and dresses” Ditto says, “aren’t the enemy.” If shaved armpits or a hairless vagina is what makes you happy, you have no reason to be ashamed. “The true heart of feminism isn’t about meeting other people’s expectations around your body or your gender,” Ditto wrote. “It’s about putting on so much MAC Point Black and L’Oréal Voluminous Butterfly Mascara from the drugstore that it’s almost a joke if that’s what makes you feel comfortable.”
If someone puts you down, it says more about them than it says about you
Beth Ditto is like the big sister I never had (sorry Jessica). She’s forthright, matter-of-fact, admirably confident, and entirely unapologetic. She believes makeup is a tool for no one else but yourself. She believes that there’s no such thing as ugly, that there’s no fixed ideal or standard of beauty, and that you should feel bad for anyone who tries to tell you so. In the exceedingly wise words of Beth Ditto: “I’ve had a strong self-identity since I was fairly young, because, being a big person, I had to learn early on that what people say about you, and how they treat you, really says more about them than it does about you.”
Beware of irritants.
According to Beth Ditto, I should not have been punished for stealing my mother’s eyeliner at the age of nine. In fact, I should have been applauded for both that and my short-lived dalliance with hair mascara. Play with makeup, she urges, revel in it, and don’t, by any means, enforce any unwanted restrictions. But do remember that there are such things as formaldehyde and acids, and that those don’t mesh well with your tear ducts.
Photos by Christine Hahn, Ellen von Unwerth, Inez and Vinoodh, Riot Grrrl, Rex Features/Steve Eichner/WWD, LOVE Magazine, and Marc Broussely/Redferns via Getty Images.
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