The Origins of Contour

A blog piece for Lengro Magazine's Beauty page, 22/09/2020

The Origins of Contour

I’m sure by now almost everyone who does makeup has heard of contour, even if you have no idea how to do it! Contouring is a makeup technique used to define, sculpt, and enhance the natural shapes of your face or body. In its simplest form, it can be used to quickly and effectively make your cheekbones sharper, your nose slimmer, or your jawline more defined.

This technique only became mainstream a few years ago when it was seen to be used by all sorts of celebrities – mainly the Kardashians. It is now used by every influencer, YouTuber, celebrity, and makeup wearer, whereas before it was a secret kept strictly by makeup artists.

But where did it come from? Believe it or not, the technique was actually popularised by Drag Queens. For those of you who are fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race (RPDR), this will come as no surprise. Drag Queens are known for their extravagant and dramatic looks, brought to you by the power of makeup and sheer willpower. They used techniques such as contouring to transform their face into a character; and these techniques were passed on by the word of mouth long before YouTube was a thing. This idea was borrowed from the theatre tradition – makeup was about completely exaggerating your facial features in order to create a new persona or character to play on stage, strong enough so that their features wouldn’t be washed out underneath the harsh stage lights – lighter shades to bring things forward and shadows to push things back.

They also use contour to accentuate or even create more feminine facial features including high, sharp cheekbones, a shallower brow bone, smaller nose, and larger lips. The amount of makeup used to create these features set them apart from women in the 20th century, as, unlike Drag Queens, most women at the time stayed away from extravagant makeup looks, favouring the more natural products. The idea of Drag, especially then, was not to be a woman, but to create a feminine character and to explore their gender identity.

Nowadays, more extreme makeup techniques are used by everyone, especially women, as they learn more and more about the limitless artistry that can be accomplished by makeup. Other popular techniques that were brought to you by Drag Queens include; cut crease eyeshadow, baking, overlined lips, ombre eyebrows, and highlighting, however, they are hardly even given the credit they deserve.

Before RPDR, Drag was a subculture limited to LGBT+ clubs in large cities such as New York, and unless you were part of the scene, it was widely misunderstood and not talked about. Since the Emmy award-winning show, the concept of Drag and it’s contestants have been thrust into the light, giving them a worldwide platform where they break down stigmas and stereotypes one episode at a time, educating the masses and having fun while they’re at it.

Drag can be anything you want it to be, with a lot of Queens wanting to look as female passing or “fish” as possible. For some, Drag has been a tool of liberation – of their personality, their confidence, and their identity. There are a few who, through Drag, have realised that they are in fact transgender, meaning that they identify as a woman. Examples from RPDR include; Peppermint, Gia Gunn, and Sonique. These women are 3 of many who have been brave enough to come forward with who they really are, and definitely fit this week’s theme of Powerful Women.

Thank you for catching up with this week’s Beauty Box! If you would like to learn more about Drag or RPDR, you can find all 12 Seasons on Netflix. There’s even a UK spinoff available on the BBC!

Who’s your favourite Drag Queen? Comment below! (Mine is Adore Delano)

Until next time,

Devina xx