Anyone who spends just a few minutes scrolling through Twitter or browsing the homepage of YouTube is bound to find some kind of makeup video or beauty tutorial. Beauty is now big business — the industry as a whole is worth $445 billion — and online anybody can share their expertise. There has never been a better time to be a beauty aficionado.
Jacob Weitlauf is a self-taught makeup artist and student at the University of Utah. Weitlauf has created a variety of makeup looks for them and others, including makeup inspired by drag culture. They share their work on the Instagram account @makeup_by_jacob.
Weitlauf was interested in makeup artistry from a young age, but they grew up in a religious family in a conservative Southern town with few outlets for them to explore. They enjoyed doing special effects makeup on Halloween costumes, and Weitlauf later had the opportunity to create makeup design for a high school production of “Shrek the Musical,” which confirmed their passion for makeup.
Luckily, Weitlauf found a supportive community at the U, and this support allowed them to fully pursue makeup artistry.
“I got to a place where I was more comfortable with myself and had a better support system around me, and I really started experimenting with it on myself,” Weitlauf said.
Weitlauf’s budding passion for makeup complements their pursuit of other art forms. They are studying in the U’s musical theatre program, and they find their work in makeup is connected with their other artistic pursuits. After all, Weitlauf got their start designing makeup for a theatre production, and theatre offers plenty of opportunities to explore a wide range of makeup art.
They cite artists both directly and indirectly related to the makeup world as key influences, including Patrick Starr, Lady GaGa and RuPaul. Starr is an internet personality who achieved fame by posting makeup tutorials online — he now has millions of followers and his own product line. While Lady GaGa is not herself a makeup artist, Weitlauf still draws inspiration from “her boldness and commitment to a vision and a message.” RuPaul, meanwhile, is arguably the world’s most famous drag queen and a presenter on the popular reality television series “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” These diverse reference points demonstrate the way that makeup crosses over into many art forms, and how Weitlauf’s work ties into their own overall identity as a creative.
Weitlauf views their makeup as a vehicle of artistic self-expression, not unlike music, dance or theatre.
“I think one of the strongest purposes of art is for the artist to share their perspective to the rest of the world,” they said. “[Makeup is] a way I can show a part of me to the world.”
Weitlauf’s work has included elaborate drag queen makeup, and all of their work blurs gender lines while embracing both masculinity and femininity. Historically, drag culture has evoked strong reactions from many people, including intense criticism. Many who are already uncomfortable with LGBTQ identities are specifically critical of drag, opposing the form’s irreverent erasure of gender lines. In left-wing politics, some have argued that drag promotes a reductive and stereotypical image of femininity.
Weitlauf has considered these criticisms, but they disagree, ultimately describing drag as a “strong pillar of queer identity.” They said drag has roots in early gay activism, and drag allows people like them to “express themselves as their full true selves, whether that was gay or trans or femme or however they like to address themselves … I think that’s a really beautiful thing.”
In a society where gender roles are strictly enforced, deviating from the norm is an inherently political act. Weitlauf is conscious of this, and they understand how wearing makeup in a public sphere can function as a sort of protest.
“If I wear makeup to work sometimes I know there is a possibility, with the conservative population in Utah, that there could be someone who is not used to seeing a male-born person in makeup, or think it may be wrong,” they explained. “The only thing I can do is hope that they will give me the time of day to broaden their perspective.”
Unfortunately, Weitlauf knows that their use of makeup — and their queer identity in general — can lead to hatred and discrimination. When returning to their small, conservative hometown, Weitlauf does not publicly wear makeup for their safety. While they feel more comfortable wearing makeup in Salt Lake City, they still face occasional harassment online.
Sometimes, Weitlauf simply deletes the comments and blocks the insulting users. On other occasions, they reach out to the poster in attempts to educate them. When one person posted several hateful and negative comments on one social media platform, including homophobic slurs, Weitlauf messaged the poster privately, saying, “I’d really appreciate if you’d stop commenting on my stuff. I have come a long way in where I am and being able to present myself online. I know that’s not easy for some people, so if you’d ever like to talk or have any questions, let me know.”
While Weitlauf cannot necessarily stop every instance of hatred and bullying, they are committed to fostering dialogue and using their platform to peacefully discuss sensitive issues surrounding identity and gender.
Weitlauf has seen how difficult it can be to build the courage for men and male-born persons to wear makeup, as they didn’t wear it for many years. However, Weitlauf still recommends that any man who is curious about makeup move past that fear. They point out that makeup can be used to accentuate natural features, whether masculine or feminine. For example, contour and bronzer can be used to emphasize sharp jawlines and cheekbones. Weitlauf hopes makeup can be a vehicle for self-expression and embracing personal identity. To aspiring makeup artists, they advise a strong work ethic and a willingness to spend time honing the craft.
“Like anything with the arts, it is all about your commitment to it and what you want to make of it,” Weitlauf said. “You need to have a vision of yourself and not be afraid to explore until you find it.”