My Life As a Drab Queen: Thoughts on Makeup

I sat in my car a few minutes before 11 a.m. this morning and watched one of those wonderfully Athens scenes: on one side of Hancock Street, tidy white families hurried up the hill to the Methodist church service while on the other side of Hancock, two glamorous drag queens welcomed guests to brunch at The National. Jacqueline Daniels and Yasmine Alexander serve on the board of the Boybutante AIDS Foundation, which has raised over $800,000 for AIDS services in Northeast Georgia. My kind of people, plus brunch.

Yasmine Alexander and Jacqueline Daniels. Photo by Josh Payne for Boybutante AIDS Foundation.

Yasmine Alexander and Jacqueline Daniels. Photo by Josh Payne for Boybutante AIDS Foundation.

Even though I spent all day in bed with a stomach ache yesterday, I wasn’t about to miss brunch with Bryn and Jill. So I slapped on some stretchy clothes and put my hair in a pony tail…as usual. But as I sat there in the car, knowing that these queens had been painting up for HOURS to get ready for the show, I figured I could at least put in a teensy effort to look festive.

I reached in my purse and unzipped the makeup pocket. I’m surprised there weren’t cobwebs blocking the zipper. I haven’t worn makeup for months. I put on a little bit in the car on the way to Daddy’s memorial service, and when I turned around to speak to the kids, Carlos grinned in wonder and asked, “Mama, what you do to your face?”

I drew a narrow black line across my upper lids then skooshed the corners a bit with the tip of my finger. I considered the “Wine With Everything” lipstick but thought that might be a bit too steep of a leap, so I dug around in the bottom of the bag to find a Burt’s Bees with a little bordeaux tint to it. Two lines across my eyes and a swipe across the lips and I made my way down the sidewalk. There are drag queens…and then there are drab queens, like me.

Most of my rebellion against makeup is that I think it’s ridiculous that I have to draw lines above my eyes or color my lips to be considered “finished” or “dressed” in this world. In the words of writer Erin McKean:

You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.

I’m not saying that you SHOULDN’T be pretty if you want to. (You don’t owe UN-prettiness to feminism, in other words.) Pretty is pleasant, and fun, and satisfying, and makes people smile, often even at you.

But some of my disuse of makeup has come from seeking out invisibility. I’ve been depressed lately and my therapist has pointed out before that I recede into black clothes, pony tails, and blank face when I want to disappear. That’s my Drab Queen attire.

I don’t know if it was hanging out with drag queens, or with my friends, or the mimosas, but I got in a really good place this morning. Jill and I talked about writing, Bryn smooched everyone in the house. I clutched my pearls while Lacie Bruce proved that she’s got all the right junk in all the right places:

Lacie Bruce gettin' all about that bass. Photo by Josh Payne for Boybutante AIDS Foundation.

Lacie Bruce gettin’ all about that bass. Photo by Josh Payne for Boybutante AIDS Foundation.

Looking around that room, I realized that nobody there gave a shit about whether I painted my face or didn’t paint my face. Not my old friends, not the strangers, not the artists who had been painting for hours. Nobody cared whether I had more junk in the trunk than I did twenty years ago. People were there to enjoy themselves–having some fun for a great cause while Peter Dale served brunch. And all I had to do to participate was….participate.

After the show, we hung around on the sidewalk so the restaurant crew could prepare for the afternoon seating. We talked about 80s hair and Aqua Net. We talked about the vagaries of boobs and gravity. That led to talking about our grandmothers. The delightful Lori Divine told how her grandmother could roll a Virginia Slim’s 120 from one side of her mouth to the other as she painted on her blood red lipstick. Then Jacqueline said, “One thing I love about drag is the Coty powder. It reminds me of my grandmother.”

Oh. My. Goodness.

Just the other day, I was thinking about Grandmama Eunice and that little round cardboard box of Coty powder that she kept on the edge of the mantle in the dining room, right next to the makeup mirror and the good light from the tall window. She wouldn’t have left the house without her lipstick on straight and a little dusting of powder. I wanted to smell that powder again because that’s what she smelled like when I hugged her.

That moment on the sidewalk was beautiful, because of the makeup. I love how if you talk to anyone and tell stories long enough, there’s always that moment of connection. Where your story and my story cross paths and we learn that we have something in common, even if it’s the smell of our grandmothers’ face powder.

I might just draw two lines across my eyelids tomorrow in homage to these queens. I might be ready for the world to look at me again.

Yasmine, Bryn, Lori, me, Jacqueline, and Jill. Just gals hanging out and talking about makeup.

Yasmine, Bryn, Lori, me, Jacqueline, and Jill. Just gals hanging out and talking about makeup.

12 thoughts on “My Life As a Drab Queen: Thoughts on Makeup

  1. Kris

    Just after graduation from nursing school I lived with 2 drag queens in Atlanta off of Lindburgh. I never wanted for make-up. I was always dressed to the 9’s in someone glittery dress and had makeup and skin to die for. A Pot Luck brunch every Sunday afternoon was a blast. That’s when everyone scraped off their spackle and pulled he lashes off and just got real. I stopped wearing makeup for awhile after my stroke. It was hit and miss on where the products would land, so I thought I’d let my skin breathe until I got the use of my arm back. Wrong move. It seems that the products we have now are actually good for your skin. lol So I am getting chemical peels to undo the effects of non-use. Never again. I don’t wear a full face by any stretch, but I don’t want to look dead either. lol I never stopped doing my eyebrows because radiation (along with the Lupud) caused a huge oopsie that left me quite nekkid on the frontal plain.. I am of the age where moisturizer is indeed my best friend. 🙂

    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      Hahahaha…everyone needs to spend some time around drag queens! I was so grateful one time when Vivi got into my “Drumbeat Red” lipstick and COVERED herself in it right before Christmas Eve dinner. We had her in the tub and the soap wasn’t taking it off. I yelped, “Wait a second! Sasha says baby oil will take off ANYTHING!” She was right!

  2. Jennifer Meared

    Well written Ashley, of course. As a special needs mom or just a mom in general, “drab” is a common look for me. It goes well with my feeling of haggard. And funny it is my grandmother’s voice in my head saying ” you have to show up for these things”. She wouldn’t “show up” at the Piggly Wiggly without her pearls and lipstick. My Aunt gave me a box of her costume jewelry and it smells like her. I could just smell the coty powder when you said that. I may not go as far as my grandmother, but I do feel better when I “show up”. It makes me feel like “haggard” is not going to get the best of me.

    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      Oh, Jennifer. How I miss my grandmother’s jewelry boxes. Gay and I would spend Saturday nights draping ourselves in sparkly things, then Grandmama Eunice would let us pick out one pair of “earbobs” to wear to church! You are beautiful even when you are feeling haggard. I think you have the sparkliest eyes I’ve ever seen, just like your mama and your daughter!

  3. Laura Rogers

    This is great!!!! Loved my grandmothers Coty powder and her red lipstick… 🙂 I think of all that ‘stage makeup’ for one act plays and for Miss FRA… LOL!!! Remember those photos I sent you via FB a few months back??? My family just surpassed the one year anniversary of daddy’s death on Friday. Today is the one year from the funeral. Today last year was rainy and cold, today the sun is out with a little chill in the air… It’s a process Ashley… Love you!

    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      Girl, we did NOT know what were were doing with all that makeup! I have pictures of Brad Gregg with blue up to his eyebrows. I’m glad you got some sun today!

  4. Chris

    I thought I was the only one. I can still smell the Coty powder, but the box I bought online last year was not it! I was really angry and the box hit the wastebasket. That’s ok. Just means that my nose knows.
    And my eyes know when I’ve read a lovely bit of reality. Thanks, Ashley

  5. Alicia S

    I think you either love makeup or you don’t. I love make up, always have. I can remember in 4th grade passing around a black eyebrow pencil that a girl had brought to school. We would run a match under it to soften it and then we rubbed it on our eyes, oh to have a picture of what I probably looked like!

    I wear full face makeup every day. I’m my own drag queen! But I do it for me and I love it. My mom and my sister both dislike makeup, mom wears a bit of lipstick and she’s had her eyebrows tattooed on. My sister does the basics but ends up rubbing most of it off throughout the day.

    Me…I check my makeup all day, blot the oil, apply powder, freshen my lipstick. It’s as much a part of me as my brain. I am so jealous of Jacqueline! She is gorgeous!

    So glad you took your drab queen self to this great celebration!


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