For some, a lipstick is just a lipstick. But for others it is a source of power, creativity and expression. In our Power Faces series, we will explore the relationship between strong women and the makeup they choose to wear – or not. Our newest topic, in collaboration with Target Beauty, is Enam Asiama, a 25-year-old model and advocate in Ghana who currently lives in London. This story was told to Jennifer Mulrow and edited for length and clarity.
My first point of contact for beauty was my mother. She was hyper-femme and everything had to be very stylish with bold prints and full make-up. I grew up and saw her prepare for special occasions – mainly in the church. Church, especially in Africa, is such an enormous culture in itself. I sat down and looked at her doll, and I would be mesmerized, so eager to help her choose new eye shadow colors to try.
I recorded my mother’s love for beauty and even worked as a makeup artist during my gap year. It is hard work, and if you always want something good, it can sometimes drive you crazy. I don’t think I was ready for that. But that’s how I ended up in the modeling industry. Many photographers on the set would say, “Oh, I’d like to photograph you. You look great.” I also have a pretty daring personality, which helped.
I was born and partially raised in Ghana until I was 9 years old and we moved to Birmingham, England. I grew up in a Christian family, so many things I saw in the area of beauty were about modesty and elegance. The culture in Ghana is that women must look and behave like women, and men must behave and be like men. I feel that it transcends worldwide.
The beauty standards in Ghana have changed a lot. It was one of the first places in Africa to ban bleaching when it was such a common part of Ghanaian and African culture at the time. The lighter your skin was, the more beautiful you were. People treated you differently because of your closeness to whiteness, which means that you came together more stylishly, richer, more educated, and well. That is the culture in which I grew up.
My baseline for measuring my beauty came from words used to describe me as a child: “fat bombom,” “obolobo,” and so on. I had fairer skin and was physically much larger and taller than my peers, for which I was sometimes teased. My parents have always taught my brothers and sisters to concentrate on our upbringing as a means to rise above, as their parents taught them.
As an adult I have had time to form my own understanding of beauty while part of the damage is healed. I am a black, African-British, fat, weird and feminine person. I happen to fall under labels that are considered undesirable and are not worthy of real protection. I am humble and saddened by the limited amount of representation for people who look like me, but I believe that representation can start with me.
COME AS YOU ARE
I eventually moved to London for college and decided to stay because I felt I could express myself better here. Being in England is a huge contrast to being in Ghana in terms of the things I saw and the kind of people I was around. In London I am always looking for areas full of life and different cultures and diversity.
Much of who I am is influenced by the drag queer scene. When I first moved to London, the people around me took on a strange nightlife. The way you dress for a night out must come through with a look. Consider: multi-colored eye shadow that matches your colored eye contacts; glossy vibrant lids on sticky, bold lips; bent eyebrows that are drawn to almost touch your baby’s hair. However, there was no pressure to look or act in a certain way – you just come as you are. I have noticed that many people wore bold makeup, had big hair, or had a specific personality that was quirky and weird. I finally felt like I belonged.
I have adopted my mother’s attitude to be hyper-femme, but hanging out with the people I am doing now, who do not play gender standards, has shown me that it is good to tap into my masc-side. For me, that means putting less pressure on myself to look in a certain way and be more dominant in what I want from myself and what I want for the people around me – to be performative about strength.
With makeup I tap my hyper-femme side by creating colorful eyebrows, exaggerated lips, smoldering smoky eyes or graphic shapes. I even like to use flowers or draw hearts or stars with glittering shadows to be the center of attention, not just on arrival. I use my masc-side and try to keep it simple: light concealer instead of foundation, tinted lip balms and natural-looking blusher, simple mascara without eyelashes. I still keep my lips exaggerated, but in a classic, brown hue without shine. I feel that my hyper-feminine side will always play my more masculine appearance, for balance.
I feel that everyone must fall into activism at least once in their life. So much of what I know about society is not doing and not doing this. Do not wear this and do not look like this. I am a stubborn person, so I used all my stubborn energy to take over the world by showing who I am, show my character and tell people that it’s great to focus on positivity and to be a light and a voice in someone’s life.
If you are a good person and have great intentions for others – and for yourself, in the first place – it will be expressed as this goddess energy. That is such a huge, driving force in who I am and what my platform represents. That is what beauty is all about.
In the neighborhood of many creative people, I have heard so many stories from people around me who strive to make the media more inclusive of black people, something that has been missing the longest. I think if I bring that energy, especially as a big black person, I can be part of the struggle for inclusiveness for every type of person there is. I will forever promote the agenda that Black is beautiful and that fat people are worthy of visibility and love.
I feel most like myself in theatrical and editorial makeup that includes lines, colors, textures and shapes – all with unplanned, 3D or freehand designs. I believe that makeup is art, and when I put on makeup to go out, it’s like working on a piece of art. I like to have color choices, like with this retro 80s colored eye shadow. It takes a touch of green and pink to a whole new level.
When I am on set, the makeup brings this energy, a driving force. I feel visible and I feel seen. All my intersections – black, queer, femme, fat – all these different minority groups come together and create this one bubble of power. It is like being seen and hearing now.
I feel most confident in Hollywood glamor makeup: golden bronze eyes, black-winged lining and a dark red or burgundy lip – like the bold, dark brown lip look of today that complements my equally brown skin. My makeup must be around diva. I want your soul to be taken away. I want people to feel that their souls are about to be taken away before I walk out the door. And when I walk by, I want it: “Oh my god, who is she?” And I’m so fond of ENAM!
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