In Conversation with Beauty Benders
The ancient Egyptian men were some of the first in the world to explore makeup with kohl eyeliner, it actually wasn't until the more recent mid-1800s that beauty products became commercially genderised... And as 2023 approaches, we're seeing makeup take a more genderless turn. Remix editor Amber caught up with the local boys behind popular social account @BeautyBendersOfficial (Andre & James) to understand more about their mission to degender makeup, how they like to avoid the cookie cutter connotations and their take on the ‘ugly makeup revolution’...
What is the definition of a 'beauty bender'?
We were just trying to think of a name for our social media accounts that was kind of tongue-in-cheek (based on the beauty blender) but also showed our approach to beauty and bending the rules around makeup. Bender is also a British slang word for queer people, so there’s also an element of reclaiming something offensive there. I’ve never thought there would be such a thing as A beauty bender, but as we grow our online presence I love the idea that we might inspire a little army of beauty benders!
Tell us a little bit about what you do?
In our day lives Andre works for a tech company and I run a clothing brand. Beauty Benders started as an Instagram account that has evolved into a beauty mood board – a mix of our own looks, runway makeup we love, and inspiring people of all genders that use makeup as pure self-expression. We also dabble with YouTube and our TikTok has about 12k followers – TikTok is more about a hyper-stylised look, we use a filter that makes our faces look augmented, and for some reason, we keep falling into conservative US algorithms that think we actually look like that. We enjoy opening up people's minds as to what makeup can look like with ideas of gender removed. Beauty Benders has also allowed us to do a little bit of beauty and skincare writing.
When did you first get into beauty and why?
Andre and I always really enjoyed getting dressed up and toying with ideas of gender through our clothing but I think we got to the point where we were like “why is this stopping at the neck?”. A friend of ours put us in what I guess would be considered drag, and we both became really interested in makeup and the techniques around it, but were less interested in drag and more the creative potential it had. Beauty Benders arose out of our desire to find like-minded people and to find inspiring looks outside of the traditional boys in makeup like James Charles and Manny MUA which felt very cookie cutter…
What was the turning point that gave you the confidence to express yourself with beauty?
I think for me it was a gradual pushing out of my comfort zones – starting with some low-key complexion products then experimenting with eyeshadow, going to queer and inclusive club nights like Filth & Nympho gave me the confidence to push it even further. But in saying that, the first few times going out with lipstick on was challenging… I remember struggling with feelings of shame afterwards, I think it goes to show how strong those societal binaries run even for a queer person working in fashion.
Was there someone that inspired you to explore it further?
I think for me fashion designer Charles Jeffrey really inspired me initially – he creates such a fully formed world around his label, from expressive makeup, looks through to every detail of the clothing.
The word makeup itself has feminine connotations, do you wish to change this concept or embrace it in your play?
We’re definitely not about taking makeup and making it MASC, I think it’s more about a dance between embracing a femme energy but also completely degendering the idea of makeup. At the end of the day makeup is just pigments and oils, how these things got gendered is kind of weird…
What are your favourite beauty looks and regimes?
I guess I love looks that are a bit more raw and undone – like when you have a full face of makeup and halfway during the process of removing it it can look really cool. If I’m going out I love a little bit of patchy glitter around the eye, huge lips and I always glue in stringy lengths of hair. If it’s a slightly more chill event, I love a slightly bruised looking eye, using reds, browns and black with a little gloss on the lid.
And your favourite products?
Stila ‘Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick’ in ‘Beso’ or Nars ‘Powermatte Lip Pigment’ in ‘Just What I Needed’ are my go-to lip colours. Nars ‘Light Reflecting Foundation’ for my base and anything Pat McGrath. I also love the Sensorium Brow Engineer for a faux-bleached brow vibe.
90% of beauty marketing focuses on targeting women, but are there any brands that specialise in being, or promoting themselves as genderless?
I’m really impressed with Halsey’s brand ‘About Face’ and the recently relaunched Haus Labs – they’re creating products with a lot of creative potential and showing them to all genders. But even brands like Valentino, Urban Decay, Tom Ford and Mecca have created imagery on diverse genders which is super encouraging.
A lot of international fashion labels champion genderless makeup in their runway shows and campaigns, do you have any personal favourites?
I’m always looking at whatever shows makeup artist Inge Grognard is keying – she works with designers like Balenciaga, Dries van Noten, Diesel and Walter van Beirendonck and is a complete makeup visionary.
Tell us a little bit about the ugly makeup revolution and your thoughts on it?
Ester Magyar of the Instagram account @uglymakeuprevolution was one of our earliest followers which was incredibly flattering as I think she’s really opened up people’s eyes to the creative potential of makeup. Sometimes I think you need to push things to the extreme in order for people to think ‘Ok I might not want to glue tiny safety pins all around my eyes but maybe I can get a bit creative with some glitter’. It also came about at a time when makeup was peak insta-glam – everyone was cutting their creases, contouring their whole faces and just generally trying to look like a Kardashian, so the idea of being liberated from all of this and actually just having fun with makeup felt really important.
On your instagram you repost bold beauty looks from around the world, when creating a beauty look on yourselves, do you like to shock, or is it more to express or simply play?
It’s not really about shocking people for me, it’s about imagining a world where if I could leave the house being whoever I wanted to be without fear of judgement (or worse!) what would that look like? I think my best looks come when I get into the zone and just play.
We love that you're championing to degender makeup, but it must be said NZ is a fairly conservative country - to its detriment - what do you believe it will take to turn preconceptions about 'men in makeup' around?
I think we’re not about saying every guy should wear makeup, in the same way that we’re not saying every woman should wear makeup, I just think everyone should look at it as a tool for self-expression. And the only way we’ll create change is by being visible!
How do you like to celebrate?
I love to celebrate with a table of incredible food, lots of good wine, fun DJ’s blasting a mix of pop and sexy techno, disco and industrial music wearing hot new makeup and clothes and a locked door.
How would you creatively explore beauty for a 'celebration' look?
When I think of a celebration I think of an explosion of confetti or a glitter cannon, so I would wanna look like I had been doused in glitter from above – comb glitter through some hair extensions and do patches of glitter in the inner and outer corners and a huge red lips.
Any secret beauty tips or tricks for summer we should give a go?
I’m seeing a lot of glued-on piercings right now, so buy some cheap studs and some Prosaid and have a play – all of the fun of having piercings without any of the pain!