The face that greets you on one of Patrick Starrr's YouTube videos may at first be confusing. Broad and round, the features are clearly those of a man, adorned in carefully applied makeup. But the makeup is not drag. Instead, it's a heavy layer of beautifully applied foundation, blush, eyeliner, the works—the look you might see on a girl out one night with her friends, but applied on a person who is a man.
"For those of you who don't know, I'm a boy," Starrr says in a video called "My Cinderella Story | My Makeup Journey." He goes on to explain: "My whole platform as Patrick Starrr is: I am a boy who wears makeup. And if I can do it, you can do it, too!" Starrr's first YouTube video was posted just three years ago. Now, he has over 900,000 subscribers and a curated nail polish collaboration with Sephora.
Myspace icon, singer, and makeup artist Jeffree Star, 30, recently released a line of liquid lipsticks that are so popular they seem to be out of stock more often than they are available. Kurtis Dam-Mikkelsen is perhaps better known as Miss Fame, a drag persona with a YouTube channel devoted to makeup tutorials and transformations. Miss Fame is currently on a national tour known by the hashtag #paintedbyfame; the video of Fame making over Jeffree Star has garnered nearly 600,000 YouTube views. YouTuber Manny Mua launched an eye shadow palette with Makeup Geek after just over a year of making YouTube makeup tutorials. In each of his videos, Manny tells his viewers, "You guys know the drill. If you guys don't like this video, if you guys don't like me, please—don't fucking watch it!" In other words, men are shaping the high-end makeup-verse.
With artists like Lady Gaga explicitly referencing the influence of drag on their work, plus the rise of androgynous models and genderless fashion shows at London Fashion Week, gender in high-end fashion has long been fluid; those influences are now bleeding into makeup.In the age of the Kardashian–Jenners—whose makeup artist admits to drag influences—and Instagram photos—where the heavier the makeup, the better the pic—women seem more and more drawn to extremes that show up well on camera—like the extremely contoured cheekbones that drag queens have long excelled at sculpting. The trend is so prominent that it even has its own naysayers, like makeup artist Wayne Goss, who uploaded a YouTube video called "INSTAGRAM IS TURING [sic] GIRLS INTO DRAG QUEENS!" Linking to a video by Miss Fame, Goss complains of the influence drag is having on mainstream makeup trends. "This is a man transforming himself into a woman," Goss says. "Men are trying to transform into a heightened female form, but you already have that! You already have that in your face because you're female!"
Techniques like contouring the cheeks and nose, highlighting the cheekbones, baking—where a heavy layer of white powder is used to set the under-eye area and then brushed away—and what Goss calls "Instagram eyebrows"—which begin lightly and grow in intensity over the highly intensified arch—are all designed to exaggerate certain features, helping a man look more like a woman. "The sharpness it creates on a man (who's turning himself into a woman) is wonderful, but often on the female form it takes a pretty woman and makes her look harsh, often masculine," says Goss in one of his videos.
But for others, the influences of drag on mainstream makeup are something to be celebrated rather than sneered at. Miss Fame is a 30-year-old makeup artist who did a stint on RuPaul's Drag Race. Like the other beauty boys, when he's not Miss Fame, Dam-Mikkelsen is very much a guy. "I'm physically identifying as a man when I'm talking to you," he said when I caught up with him on the phone.
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But when he transforms into Miss Fame, she is the feminine essence par excellence, a classic bombshell of great stature; think old Hollywood meets 90s supermodel. "When you meet her, she's there, she's luxurious, she's glamorous," Dam-Mikkelsen says. She's maternal, opinionated, and always larger than life, Dam-Mikkelsen adds. "Doing drag is not just about putting on makeup because it's fun," Dam-Mikkelsen explains. "When I'm in drag, it's a heightened sense of myself. I'm channeling something beyond me." And it's that grandness, that beyond, that people today are hungering for and connecting with.
In other words, it's not just about makeup. It's about going on a journey, channeling something greater. As Dam-Mikkelsen puts it, "If you're going to take that amount of time to create the beauty, you kind of have to slip into a trance." Say you're going out with your girlfriends: You put on your music while you're getting ready, hyping yourself up into that energy of a night out. "Same goes for me when I get into drag," Dam-Mikkelsen explains. Those hours of preparation are very ritualistic. "There's something profound to it."
"Pulling that energy source in" happens when you go out with your girlfriends just as it does when you wear drag, says Dam-Mikkelsen. "My drag is safe enough for somebody going out to say, 'Oh my God, I want to look like that,' but then I relate to the deeper reasons for why people adorn themselves. I can grab the youth or people having fun with makeup, but unknowingly, they are having an experience that's much deeper. They are lured by me for deeper reasons."
As for the infiltration of drag into mainstream makeup, Dam-Mikkelsen says, "I do see a lot of girls doing drag makeup, I know a lot of YouTubers doing extreme makeup. It looks really beautiful, but it is very heavy-handed. They are contouring and highlighting in a way that drag has done for generations. Drag's been around for a long time!"
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For Dam-Mikkelsen—unlike for Goss—women using these heavy-handed, drag-inspired makeup techniques are tapping into something ritualistic and transformative, creating a larger-than-life persona just like he does when he transforms into Fame. "It's not that they need that much makeup, but it's the fact that makeup is transformative," Dam-Mikkelsen says. "There's a power in makeup."
In other words, it's a different standard of beauty. Rather than the "clean beauty" Goss advocates, these men are promoting the idea that makeup can be forceful rather than just pretty; it can be creative, rather than just corrective. It's a lesson women have been learning from drag queens for a long time, and now female beauty vloggers are learning it, too.