SyFy’s Face Off is the second reality TV competition I’ve ever exhibited real interest in (the first being a bewigged, tucked, six-inch-heel race to a rhinestone tiara), and thanks to my mom’s testimonial, my boyfriend and I started watching it in October and finished all five seasons in the time it takes Halloween candy to be forgotten in an over-abundant closet.
Akin to my confessions in several previous blog entries, there’s always been something incredibly alluring about the ability to transform oneself into another entity: to step inside both the psychology and physicality of someone else. And without the funds for those elusively reputable plastic surgeons or the gall to allow a Romani medium and her phantasmic constituents to possess you for the price of a green Ulysses S. Grant etching, makeup is the perfect vehicle for accomplishing said feat. With malleable facial features ripe for the morphing, makeup fanaticism came to me with the same gusto that impelled Claude Cahun to don a guise of androgyny, Martha Wilson to emulate the squinty, grey visage of Bill Clinton, and Leigh Bowery to manifest nightmarish acid trips in human form. Despite my odd childhood disinterest in the adult makeup my four-year-old sister idolized, once puberty hit my cocooned metamorphosis produced not a fully actualized butterfly but a chameleonic canvas upon which I would spend eleven years imagining an array of guises, utilizing this pliant mug of mine to artistic advantage.
Without any formal cosmetic training or a kit that exceeded thirty dollars, pounds of acrylic paint, wood shavings, and chip brush bristles were expended before I discovered nirvana in the form of a class description my freshman year of college. The heaven-sent Introduction to Makeup Design was a course harbored away in the production design department whose only prerequisite was the monk-like patience necessary to nab a spot on its coveted roster. Finally, after three years of waiting, becoming hopelessly smitten with RuPaul’s Drag Race one fateful all-nighter with my life-altering friend Erica, and discovering relentless idolatry in the form of Sharon Needles, I was admitted into Makeup Design my last quarter senior year. As if that turn of events wasn’t enough to make me click my heels in euphoria, happenstance scheduling conflicts enabled my Bajan bestie Logan to join the vanity mirrored mix, resulting in a more idyllic class configuration than I could have imagined. With this fortuitous development, I was ready to end my college education with a resounding, greasepainted bang.
But that was before I discovered that the usual Makeup Design professor had stepped down that quarter, and his replacement was an improv actor whose only experience courting the fair maquillage was in applying rudimentary black eyes for theater audiences whose vision was marred by distance and bright stage lights. As photo majors bent on creating conceptual, camera-ready designs that elicited either realism or hyper-fantasticality, Logan and I were less than enthused. Especially when the professor revealed the book he expected the class to teach themselves from.
If your eyes perceive four makeup designs befitting a festive elementary school parade and an overwhelmingly blue cast that is no fault of any scanner, then thank your lucky carrots: your eyes are very astute. I won’t bash the publishers for comprising this collection of what someone must have deemed a valuable tool for beginning cosmetology, but based on the fact that the lesson plans contained within this book’s pages only deteriorate in technical skill from the cover on, this is no educator for a class full of college students.
Fortunately, our professor, new to his academic profession and still unscathed by the autocracy that develops after too many impositions on the school board’s behalf, was incredibly lax about our approach to the curriculum. Fully aware that he’d relinquished his teaching duties to an outdated book, Professor Improv allowed us to do whatever we pleased as long as it involved our faces and Bill Nye’s cosmetologist cousin Ben.
Thus, the creating began. While the majority of the class dutifully practiced red pandas, burn scars, and oversized foreheads, my four-person offshoot of the room fathomed into existence living tree bark, geometric cubism, Cirque du Soleil reveries, reptilian scales, and, my personal favorite, the glue-sticked eyebrows and over exaggerated cheekbones of drag. Amidst this fascinating inventiveness, the boundless ideation of my peers encouraged me to bring in a new amalgam of inspiration on a daily basis, combining the evil queen of The Magic Flute with the traditional makeup of Kabuki theater, weaving together Native American symbolism and Maori tattoo patterns, experimenting with Nordic and African horn designs, and even going all-out scary she-male by emulating my screenwriter boyfriend’s incarcerated tough-gal character Sheila.
While the education I received certainly wasn’t worth the weight of my hefty tuition (a slight on the school’s behalf that could fill an entire blog entry of its own), the chance to utilize unfamiliar tools in an encouraging environment of like-minded creativity definitely had its merits. And with the numerous portfolios and theses I’ve crafted on the art of disguise and its psychological forbearance, the comparisons to Cindy Sherman my middle school oeuvre received before I even knew who she was, and the duped professors who’ve asked of my self-portraits, “Who’s the model, a friend?”, perhaps the experimental ambling of Intro to Makeup Design will get me one step closer to achieving Skin-Walker status… sans the murderous aura Native American legend associates with it. For the face and its many facets is a powerful tool, and as any prosthetic artist, title-hungry drag queen, or student rising in the ranks of production design could tell you, they don’t call that baby your money-maker for nothing!
Photography first became a prominent component of my life in 2003 when I decided to manifest the fanciful concepts of my illustrations in reality and recruited the technical aid of a tiny, auto-function point-and-shoot. But that pixelated, digital camera and an elementary photo editing software called ULead Express weren’t my only tools as I dove headshot-first into this new medium. A huge motive behind those early 72 dpi endeavors was the ability to actualize the characters from my imagination in reality using the Moon-Wood family affinity for costumes and makeup.
Putting tireless effort into creating and inhabiting the guise of a separate entity isn’t just a fond pastime though: costumes are admittedly the reason for my existence. My parents first met at a college Halloween party where my mom sported a cat suit complete with a homemade tail, ears, and makeup that would put the cast of Cats to shame. My dad, inversely, wore a gory Frankenstein mask through which you couldn’t see his handsome face (although the exposed forearms beneath the classic horror visage were enough to reel Maman in). And quite frankly, if young, coquettish Paul and Linda hadn’t been eager to take advantage of Halloween’s identity-morphing free card and suit up in a guise ulterior to their own, this blog would have a very different voice.
Although the college circumstances I met my boyfriend under weren’t even close to that archetypal 80s love story, I was reminded of the fact that I virtually owe my life to a catsuit when my man and I attended a costume party this past Friday. The theme was the impolitic subject of “gangs,” and in lieu of seizing the obvious inspiration of LA’s red, blue, or gold banners, my mind immediately went back to gang-savvy cinema and Broadway shows in which switch blade-toting thugs pirouetted their way to the kill and gang slogans went something like, “Do it for Johnny.” In my mind, the gangs that deserved imitative homage included the finger-snapping Sharks and Jets from West Side Story, Ponyboy Curtis’ macho denim crew in The Outsiders, Ace in his all-too-intimidating Hawaiian shirt and Eyeball with his coif in Stand By Me, and all the slicked pompadours of Grease. Yes, I realize I had a whole host of gangs to garner inspiration from merely by watching The Warriors, but rather than donning the green makeup and baseball cap of the formidable Furies or taking the Hi-Hats route and embodying a dastardly mime, I decided to emulate the classics. So my tough guy beau and I attended the party decked out in tight pants, high-tongued boots, a flannel rolled up to the shoulder on his end, and a leather jacket, Anita-of-Sharks-fame hoop earrings, lipstick, and a high-do on my behalf. Out we strolled from an uncharacteristic luxury vehicle (courtesy of Uber Los Angeles) into an LA house party where we were equally amiss in a sea of endless red and blue bandanas and a couple flannel shirts buttoned at the collar.
This phenomenon of appearing wholly overzealous when it comes to costumes is no new bone of contention for a Moon child though. We’ve experienced a life’s worth of bemused stares, whether cuchi-cuchi-ing all over a Latin American-themed party in Charo garb while everyone else sports sombreros and mustaches, spending hours epoxying plastic bullets into a bandolier to attend a costume party as a living Brian Viveros painting, breaking my teenage bank on every themed Homecoming dance, or garnering a crowd of onlookers while conducting costumed photo shoots in the enormous wall-length window that comprised my old bedroom. But this aversion to Party City all-in-one costume packages that results in endless hours of what sane people would consider unnecessary costume preparation is no fault of our own, and our obsessive-compulsive drive for authentic interpretation can be traced back to one progenitor: our mother.
With a B.F.A. in fibers and a lifelong flair for needlework, my mom is a homemade aficionado whose original costume designs would put McCall and Simplicity catalogues to shame if she ever decided to disseminate her patterns. Working as a third grade teacher for years, my mother became both an anticipated and legendary spectacle at her school’s annual Halloween parades, for which her perfectionism prompted numerous all-nighters in front of a sewing machine. The impressive results of these undertakings included characters like a Día de los Muertos Catrina bride, a revamped Maleficent (complete with shoulder-perched crow), and a life-sized praying mantis supporting a huge papier mâché-fabric head with large, multi-ommatidia eyes (all the better to beguile edible male mantises with).
But although we may stick out like over-dressed sore thumbs at every themed fête we attend, I have my mom’s tireless quest for perfection in homemade costuming to thank for a career in metamorphic self-portraiture that began long before I’d ever heard of Cindy Sherman, Claude Cahun, and Leigh Bowery. Since then, this inherited passion for costumes and makeup has enabled innumerable transformations for both photo shoots and costumed affairs alike. For when you invite a Moon sister to your costume soirée and inadvertently open her hefty wardrobe filled with wigs, jewelry, traditional Mexican huipiles, hand-me-down fur coats and hats from our Nana, those medieval gowns we had to wear to a great-aunt’s wedding, shoes of every heel height, patterns galore, authentic 80s Benetton solids, and makeup palettes that span the color wheel, you really never know what you’re gonna get.