‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Changed Beauty and Taught Us The Joy of Gender Ambiguity
I work in the beauty industry and have for just over 19 years. A number of years ago, just after the recession in 2008, the beauty landscape went through a seismic shift, due in large part to RuPaul’s Drag Race and YouTube. Teenage Millennials searching for a safe space to connect with friends could do so over social media. Facebook and YouTube then in their infancy, offered Millennials the opportunity to express their most secret selves, away from the prying eyes of parents and teachers.
LGBTQ+ adolescents, perhaps already aware of RuPaul’s Drag Race, took to YouTube to recreate the looks that expressed something deeply essential about their innermost selves. Aside from drawing the attention of others in the LGBTQ+ family, they also attracted a large audience of cisgender preteen girls.
I’m not a data analyst and I can’t tell you how this happened or the order of it. Did Drag Race come first? Did YouTube influencers? So often things that hit the zeitgeist come along simultaneously and there’s a certain synergy that creates momentum for a trend. What I can tell you is that I was working at a makeup counter at Nordstrom and suddenly young girls, with and without their mothers, were pouring in wanting to contour the youth out of their bright young faces and reshape their perfect little noses. They longed for lashes, winged liner and highlighter to shine all the way to the Andromeda Galaxy. I thought it odd that they wanted to look like the men who looked like women. Now I understand. They sought total transformation and an experience of the transcendent.
I don’t blame them. Drag queens, some of the most beautiful women in the world, make their own rules and explode with an unapologetic celebration of feminine sexuality. Unencumbered by the impoverished imagination and gender rigidity of mainstream culture, they seem to possess a kind of other-worldly confidence, poise and supernatural ability to rise above this world. Because, of course they do. Before now they operated in secret to protect themselves from harmful laws and life-threatening violence, often from their own…