“You’re doing drag whether you know it or not” – how the drag community influenced the beauty industry

Kim Kardashian (kkwbeauty.com)
Kim Kardashian (kkwbeauty.com)

Have you watched Paris Is Burning.?The 1990 documentary about the LGBTQ and drag queen scene.

I'm sure you've watched at least one episode or complete season from the TV series Ru Paul's Drag Race.

Even if you haven't you would have noticed how drag inspired-hair, makeup, language and dress have become quite common in mainstream media. Social media influencers, movies and TV shows have all borrowed from and have been inspired by the once-fringe culture of drag.

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A documentary by ELLE.com called Beat, addresses some of the influences the drag community has had on mainstream beauty trends. The documentary, directed and produced by Angel Lenise, includes views from industry makeup artists, hairstylists and drag performers.

They address the influence of drag largely seen in the beauty influencer space that does not seem to reference drag as the source of its creativity.

Contouring and highlighting, creased eyelids and face beats are all directly linked to the life of drag. In the documentary, celebrity makeup artist, Renny Vasquez, dubs the adapted makeup techniques often seen on beauty influencers as “baby drag”.

Speaking about drag performance, makeup artist Tim Pearson says that the contouring and highlighting that has now become a global trend in beauty had a functional purpose in drag.

He says: “The reason why we would do highlighting and contouring is because when you’re on stage under bright lights, they have a tendency to actually blow out all of the features. So highlights pull things forward and contours push things back.”

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Frederic Aspiras, a celebrity hairstylist, adds why these beauty techniques were necessary in drag performance: “Drags are performers, they sweat, they dance, they earn their money every night and they have to look fierce, they have to look flawless. Every picture, every angle have to look great for every stage light.”

“That type of makeup translates to social media, what people want to look like is perfection at all times,” says Frederic.

The drag community have not only influenced pop culture and the beauty trends, they have also inspired the introduction of product ranges previously not widely available in the mainstream. Think Kim Kardashians KKW’s powder crème contour and highlight kits, Fenty Beauty Match Sticks and Killawatt highlighters and Kylie Cosmetics’ lip kits.

Drag queen entertainer Daniel R. Honeycutt says: “With the rise of YouTube makeup artists, people clearly being influenced by drag, it is a sign of changing times that there is acceptance in the world. Before, drag was taboo… I think it’s a reflection of progress that society is making.”

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What the documentary perhaps couldn't also tackle in detail was how the drag community has not only influenced the beauty industry and its trends, but how it has also influenced language within beauty and in society in general. Wired reports that, “Drag became a linguistic sponge in queer communities of colour”.

Rusty Barrett, linguistics professor and author of From Drag Queens to Leathermen: Language, Gender, and Gay Male Subcultures tells Wired that, “A lot of drag forms started among African American drag queens, which then spread and became widely appropriated.”

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But who influenced drag?

We know that, and according to Wired, the drag lingo can be traced back to Black American women in the 50s where “kiki” was onomatopoeia for laughter. “Drag has a language of resilience and snark, even as it embraces its feminine side. It can be emphatic or emotional or guarded.”

This language too has been attractive to social media culture such as Black Twitter, viral slang and memes, often seen in beauty online circles as well. “Yas Kween,” “slay us” and “hunty” are all familiar terms to us and have an obvious link to drag culture.

In the ELLE documentary, Renny Vasquez says, “I don’t think that the drag community gets the credit that they deserve for the trends that are happening right now all over social media and all over the world with makeup.”

“You’re basically doing drag whether you know it or not,” says celebrity makeup artist Sarah Tanno.

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