Though many people use makeup as a part of their everyday lives, some folks take its transformative properties to another level. In many cases, the results can be completely magical, like this glowing skeleton makeup or this MUA’s trippy illusions. But sometimes, the application of makeup as a well-intentioned artistic statement can inadvertently play into larger cultural conflicts.
This appears to be what happened to the makeup artist behind the Instagram handle @paintdatface. In a since-deleted post, the user put up what appears to be a very pale white woman model as a “before” image, and then an “after” where she appears totally unrecognizable in makeup many shades darker, brown eye contacts, and a head wrap. People began decrying the image as blackface.
The original caption exclaims:
“DISCLAIMER. I want to clearly express the sincere place I am coming from with this transformation. As an artist and visionary, I can become bored of the ‘glam’ and done-up looks that we find all over social media, my page included. I struggle to remain challenged, and as a result of that, my posts have become more manufactured than authentic.
This is a transformation that I’ve been holding back from releasing for a while now, solely because of the fear I’ve had of people turning it into a racial scandal against me. THIS IS NOT ABOUT A RACE CHANGE. This is about one woman acknowledging, embracing, and celebrating the beauty of another woman’s culture. I believe we live in a society nowadays that seeks any reason to stomp around town with a picket stick in their hand, fighting ABOUT something, rather than FOR something (and yes, there is a difference!).
I didn’t want this to become another reason to stir up negativity. This is, by far, the proudest I’ve ever been of my work and I’m so fortunate to have created it with @annathorsell, who trusted my vision from the very beginning.”
There is a lot in this statement to break down, but the main gist of @paintdatface’s comments is, “Can’t makeup be used to express appreciation and a celebration of another culture’s beauty features?” The tentative answer is yes, but like anyone using blackface for a Halloween costume of a black character, intention doesn’t somehow absolve an individual of the practice’s roots in a long, brutal history.
Social media users took an immediate dislike to both the original image, as well as @paintdatface’s long-winded caption:
After going private for a bit, @paintdatface reopened his account, deleted the original post, and updated with a new post further explaining his process behind the “transformation”:
“The transformation that I recently posted of a woman transformed into a woman of another culture has been highly criticized by those who don’t understand the message. I deleted the post, not because I had regret or saw wrongdoing, but because of the negativity social media turned it into.
It’s been assumed by most that my intentions were to transform my model into a black woman. Truth is, my intentions were to keep the look vague enough to be relatable to many women of different cultures, but the true inspiration of the overall look came from my Cuban heritage. Although I am saddened by how many people are angered, I can’t offer an apology for my artwork and for what I find to be beautiful.
The transformation came from a place of love and was not about mocking one’s race, but rather about celebrating it. I am so proud to be illustrating a woman representing several cultures along with their achievements, beliefs and histories. Art is interpreted differently by all and sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but making this world a better place starts with our mindset – thinking positive, showing love and practicing unity.”
“Showing love and practicing unity” are admirable goals. Unfortunately, only the theory behind his image appears inclusive and celebratory. In practice, perhaps he’d have less trouble explaining how darkening a model’s skin is culturally-uplifting art if he’d featured more originally darker-skinned models in his previous work.
Follow Lilian on Twitter.