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How Makeup Helped This Trans Woman Learn To Be Herself

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Photo: Courtesy of Aaryn Lang/Marcus Thompson.
Beauty is most often cast as fun, frivolous, and vain. And though in the larger picture, things like mascara, blush, and lipstick indeed seem lighthearted — it is the business of appearances, after all — there’s also something remarkably potent about beauty. While the conversation has been dominated (and rightly so) by the changing representations of beauty, we rarely hear about the therapeutic and, yes, sometimes life-changing effect it can have.

All this week, we'll be bringing you such inspiring tales of remarkable women who have used the power of beauty to cope, empower, heal, and survive.
You’ll find their stories are far from superficial. Today, meet Aaryn Lang, a trans woman who uses makeup to gain the confidence to be her true self.

Since starting the gender-reassignment process about four years ago, Lang, 23, has become a fierce advocate for transgender causes. Though she currently lives in Brooklyn, which is far more accepting of all types of people, she noted, that open-minded attitude isn’t what she has always encountered. Growing up in Columbus, Ohio, Lang stood out and had to “really learn how to be myself for myself.”

"Makeup came on my radar through my grandma. RuPaul and my grandma looked a lot alike when I was little. I was maybe only 5, and when I watched my grandma get ready — she loved her big, blond hair and her lipstick and her makeup — I thought I was watching someone on TV. I really loved watching her create herself.

"But as I got older, makeup truly started for me after seeing Kreayshawn in 'Gucci Gucci.' She and Lil Debbie had this really beautiful eyeliner on that I wanted to try. I started with eyeliner, and then I got into a little foundation. I would play in the bathroom. It wasn’t things that were necessarily 'beautiful,' but more fun. But as I went on, I did feel like there was power to it. Makeup is war paint — that’s how I think about it now. It paints a very pretty picture, but it also gives the wearer energy and confidence.
"I grew up in Columbus, Ohio; I was really noticed there. But I realised that I had to take power back — that I wasn’t just something to be looked at. I had to make people understand that I was different and not just a regular man at that point.

"My transformation started when I was about 19. I tried to cultivate myself, and cultivate this beautiful self. For me, the look I often go for [now] is really beautiful makeup; I want to look like Olivia Pope most of the time.

"The thing about a trans person who is a woman is that everybody else tries to define me. Being able to be in control of my looks is one way I get to define myself for myself. It’s very interesting because my mother is very prim and proper, and she’s very natural — she doesn’t wear makeup. So to see both my mother and grandmother, I’ve seen different possibilities of womanhood.

"That’s why I think I’m not a slave to beauty. I am obsessed with beauty and beautiful things in all forms, but I’ve really let it be something only to enhance rather than need. The finishing product is beautiful because the starting point was beautiful."


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