From baking to contour: How Drag set today’s beauty standards

The influence of drag queens in the world of beauty has been constantly overlooked. With a showmanship and campiness that’s unlike any other, why aren’t we giving enough yasss-es to our drag mothers?

When RuPaul’s Drag Race sashayed it’s way into social consciousness in 2009, the show went on to become a pop culture phenomenon and brought drag culture to its prime once again. The cast of the show all embody a fierce and opulent character, all “beat” up in hefty layers of foundation, contour, mega-long lashes, and overdrawn lipstick.
But other than the weekly avant-garde runway looks, the process they undergo as they are getting into full drag is just as interesting. While they chatter or argue about their lives in their tinted pink workroom, you can’t help but notice the intricate methods shown on camera as they apply make-up. Unlike YouTube videos, there are no instructions. But observing them in their own procedure is still as fascinating and educational.

The cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 11

The process is somewhat familiar: drawing the whole face with foundation, highlighter, and contour, and blending them aggressively. But who knew rubbing purple gluestick all over your eyebrows was an actual trick?

A still from Drag Race contestant Miss Fame for a video for Cosmopolitan

Now on its 11th season, the Emmy-winning reality show rose into prominence at a time where the beauty industry has seen a stream of young and online famous trendsetters, each setting their own standard for the audience to take inspiration from. Kylie Jenner made everyone pout while more men are now stepping out in full beat. And as we saw it, it was a total game-changer.

From left: Jeffree Star, Bretman Rock, Patrick Starr, and Manny MUA

But long before we were highlighting for the gods, drag queens have revolutionized their own specific ways of making themselves outrageously gorgeous and over-the-top. When women back then wore make-up in the lightest coverage possible, drag was the complete opposite. The queens, usually gay men, are smothered in layers of foundation and highlight. And if women use these to enhance their beauty or hide imperfections, drag queens use this as a mask for theatrics. Every feature is meant to be emphasized. Hence, bold, striking looks such as glittery eyeshadows, big lips, and big hair were some of the accentuating points.

Lady Bunny, Misstress Formika, Sweetie, Anna Conda, and Tabboo! in the Pyramid Club dressing room in 1992

The History of Drag and The Kardashian Effect

In a mini documentary produced by Elle Magazine in 2018 called, BEAT. Contour. Snatched. How Drag Queens Shaped The Biggest Makeup Trends, the doc looked at how the underground drag queens pioneered beauty trends that would later be inherited by the social media generation today. Men broke gender barriers decades ago by dressing in women’s clothing for entertainment (it was believed that Shakespeare used to say the phrase “enter Dressed As Girl” to male actors which later evolved into “drag”).

This includes interviews from Drag Race season 9 winner Sasha Velour—who also served as consultant for the project, former cast member Vivacious, and even make-up artists, who discussed the evolution of the New York drag scene, and the real pleasure of “re-structuring the face into something new”, as pointed by Sasha Velour.
It was also revealed that the pancake make-up was applied so that stage lighting wouldn’t blow out the drag performers’ features. As explained by make-up artist Tim Pearson. “Highlight push things forward and contour push things back”, and must project all the way to the back.

The Kardashians’ contribution to the popularization of drag methods into the heart of the mainstream was also part of the discussion. The highlight and contour method obviously changed Kim’s (or everyone, for that matter) life in only a matter of selfies, spawning millions of make-up tutorials and establishing a multi-million Kardashian beauty empire. But according to drag queen and historian Linda Simpson, even Kim Kardashian’s make-up artist admits that she “borrowed” contouring from the drag world.


Kim K’s Instagram contour selfie posted in 2012

Drag in Pop Culture

The media didn’t shy away from taking notes from drag. From musicians to classic movie characters, here are some of our favourite drag moments in history.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Tim Curry absolutely nailed campy transvestite scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter in this horror musical comedy which later became a solid cult classic on-screen and on-stage.

Tim Curry absolutely nailed campy transvestite scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter in this horror musical comedy which later became a solid cult classic on-screen and on-stage.

Queen – I Want to Break Free (1983)

All four members of the British rock group Queen dressed up as suburban housewives inspired by Coronation Street. Due to the band’s unconventional take on the now classic hit, the music video was banned in America at the time of its release.

Tootsie (1983)

Dustin Hoffman plays New York actor Michael Dorsey who has failed in landing roles due to his unprofessionalism. Unable to find a job, he dressed up as a woman named Dorothy Michaels for a soap audition and later gets the part.

The Little Mermaid (1989)

One of Disney’s most iconic villains Ursula was inspired by drag legend Divine both in appearance and manner.

Paris is Burning (1990) 
This groundbreaking American documentary film chronicles New York City’s drag and LGBT culture in the 1980s, as well as the exploration of race, gender, and sexuality.

Kinky Boots (2005)
Based on a true story, this British comedy-drama film tells the story of Charlie, a young shoe factory owner who befriends drag queen Lola who he formed an unlikely partnership with in order to save his struggling shoe business.

What is your favourite drag-inspired beauty trend? Let us know in the comments below.

RELATED: An interview with Drag Queen, Intra Venus: ‘I’ve always been a little cross-dresser!’


Text: Audrey Vibar

Images: Reality Blurred, Cosmopolitan, Linda Simpson, The New York Times, Movie Poster Warehouse, Bustle

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2019 Irina Gorskaia

Leave a Reply