I love dressing up. Creating the perfect outfit, spending some extra time carefully applying my makeup, and seeing the vision of myself in my head come together is endlessly satisfying. I have always been passionate about makeup and fashion, discovering the wonders of eyeliner in high school and since then delving deeper into the beauty industry. I would spend excessive amounts of time watching makeup tutorials and fashion look-books on YouTube. Growing up, I was continually drawing inspiration from these content creators, and the runway photographs I would see on Tumblr. To this day, I take pleasure in carefully researching the best foundation application method or how to style certain pieces. I expend effort that to some may seem wholly superficial and unnecessary. To me, this careful construction of the way I look is integral to my identity and gives me self-confidence.
These interests are often construed as “girly” and shallow by the mainstream media. This meant I often felt ashamed about how much time and energy I put towards them as I moved through high school. In addition to this shame, I was simultaneously passionate about the sciences. I did well academically and am now a proud Biology major. It was hard for me to consolidate the two sides of myself that seemed to be polar opposites. This was compounded by the current push for women to go into STEM fields. While this is a positive and valuable movement, it made me feel as though going into a science-related field was the only way to have a meaningful impact on society. By choosing this path, I felt as though I was also choosing one side of myself. I should not be so invested in beauty and fashion if I want to apply myself in the sciences – or so I thought.
This may seem like a foolish dilemma to some of you. What’s the big deal?
Just accept that you are a multi-faceted person like everyone else and move on. Although I would often tell myself this whenever I questioned my opposing interests, I never seemed able to believe it wholeheartedly. What helped me finally learn to accept myself and find validity in the aesthetic were female Youtubers whose content inspired me. TheLineUp is one channel that I discovered early on in university and have loved since. Founded by Maya Nilsen and Julia Dang, and now just consisting of Julia, this channel produces some of my favourite fashion content on YouTube.
From cinematic look books to creative thrift flips, TheLineUp always exceeds my expectations. Julia Dang was one of my first role models as a woman who loves both fashion and science. In one of her videos, she revealed that she studied industrial engineering at university and found programming fascinating, with math always being her favourite subject. If she wasn’t a “fashion person,” she says, she would actually be an engineer. As of now, she has successfully started her own sustainable clothing brand called DANG STHLM. Sarah Cheung, or sacheu, is another creator whose makeup and skincare videos I love. In addition to these, she has made videos about philosophy, which she studied, and her time on a debate team. She has also spoken about how important it is to take post-secondary education seriously and do your best to excel. Sarah and Julia showed me that there is, in fact, room for artistic passions alongside academia.
One creator who puts into words what I had struggled with about my interests is Ashley, better known as best-dressed. She produces impressive fashion content on YouTube and has her own jewelry line. In one of her sit-down videos, she discussed the concept of cultural capital, which she learned about while in film school. In the video, she says that women and teenage girls do not hold cultural capital in our society. This means that interests stereotypically ascribed to men, such as sports and action films, are considered good taste. In contrast, entertainment made for women such as romantic comedies and makeup are considered superficial and not intelligent. She mentions trying to be the “cool girl” growing up by rejecting these supposedly inferior interests in order to avoid seeming basic, a negative descriptor almost exclusively applied to women. I know I definitely tried the same thing in elementary and middle school, until I realized that I did enjoy those things and wanted to participate in them. Ashley’s video opened my eyes to the fact that stereotypically female interests are often looked down upon, even if not overtly. She and many other content creators inspire me by exploring these interests without shame, and with striking creativity.
While not all of the content creators I mentioned are necessarily interested in science, they all have strong academic backgrounds unrelated to their channels’ content. There seems to be a misconception, one that I subconsciously held, that being a woman in fashion or beauty precludes you from being academic. These women showed me that this is definitely not the case. You can pursue these artistic interests without reducing your impact, and without having to give up dissimilar ones. They showed me that there is artistry in makeup and fashion and that they can be powerful tools to uplift and inspire you. They offer a medium in which to express yourself using yourself as the canvas.
It is true that the fashion and beauty industries have negative impacts on the self-esteem of young girls. However, that topic deserves a more thorough discussion beyond the scope of this article. While I am not denying the flaws in these industries, I am instead here to talk about their value in my life. There is artistic merit in these interests, and no one, including yourself, should make you feel bad about them. Beyond that, these interests are plain fun! For anyone that needs to hear it, I remind you that it is ok to love choosing an outfit while also being fascinated by the sciences, with neither passion being superior to the other. In short, it is ok to be both artistic and scientific – a simple truth that has evaded me for far too long.
HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: Illustration by Alicia Tatone / Animation by Linda Shirar