makeup lessons


Tricks and tips in mastering the art of feminine mystique/.

Chalk it up to spending a weekend night at a drag show. After lip-syncing along to Whitney Houston as the queens strutted through an audience of enthusiastic admirers, I realized there was a lot to learn from the art of drag performance. Mastering the balance of exaggerated femininity and tawdry humor, power and flirtatiousness, look-at-me bravado and love-me-please vulnerability takes serious skill.

So on a Friday evening, I stopped by The Cabaret in Over-the-Rhine to chat with former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Mystique Summers (née Donte “B*tch I’m from Chicago” Sims) to pick up a few tips “real girls” can use. I joined Mystique backstage in the dressing room, a wonderland of sequins, lights, wigs and mirrors — and enough makeup to make even the least girly girl feel like a kid in a candy shop. As she put on her face she said, “I’m all about bright colors and having fun and being bright on stage. I could spend 12, 13, 15 hours putting on makeup.” Clearly, I’ve come to the right person.


I ask Mystique about contouring, which, despite having watched numerous YouTube tutorials, I still haven’t managed to master. “Contouring is god’s gift,” according to Mystique. It’s a way to create shadow and de-emphasize certain features. It can make your face look thinner, your nose look smaller, etc.

To achieve the illusion, you’ll need a shading powder, a highlighting powder and a brush. For shading, Mystique suggests, “Black girls need a nice, healthy brown with a bit of burgundy; a light brown works for white ladies.” You could also try bronzer. To increase the contour effect and enhance the areas where light would naturally fall on the face, highlight your cheekbones and browbones, Mystique says to use a powder “one to two shades lighter than your skin.”


  1. Apply the contour powder to the perimeter of your face along your hairline, jawline and then under your chin to elongate. Next, hit the sides and tip of your nose with contour to make your nose appear longer and straighter, and then apply underneath your natural cheekbones, parallel to your jaw, to emphasize them.
  2. Use a buffing brush to blend, blend, blend. There shouldn’t be any obvious lines — everything should be a nice, subtle gradient.
  3. Focus on applying highlighting powder to the area around your eyes, your browbone, down the center of your nose, the top of your cheekbones, the middle of your chin and in a “V” shape from the middle of your forehead.


Applying false eyelashes is another makeup trick that stumps me, and it seems I’m not the only one. I’ve noticed quite a few women with asymmetrical tarantula-like lashes hanging from their eyelids, which is obviously not a good look — you need to use lashes that are at least somewhat realistic.

“The length they sell at Walmart and Walgreens is fine,” says Mystique. “The ones you get at the $1.99 beauty supply …” she trails off disdainfully. Apparently, that’s when you start heading into tarantula territory.


  1. Bend the lashes into an arc several times to make the band more flexible. You want a shape that will closely fit your lash line.
  2. Put a thin line of lash glue on the back of your hand and then dip the band of the eyelashes lightly into the glue. Let it dry for a few seconds until it’s tacky to the touch. “I use hair glue,” notes Mystique (which is not necessarily recommended for day-to-day).
  3. Start applying the lashes at the inner corner of your eye and work your way out.
  4. Finish blending your natural and false eyelashes together by curling them and adding a few coats of mascara.


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You don’t have to wear heels. However, if you’re teetering around OTR like a drunken mummy in your Kardashian-esque platforms, please take note: Getting your strut on in heels requires skill and skills require practice.

The best way to practice? “Put on your heels and vacuum,” Mystique advises. “That way, you’re walking, not thinking about your heels.”


  1. Practice on carpet and start small. “Start out with a three-inch heel,” says Mystique and work your way up from there.
  2. Think about putting your heel and the ball of your foot down at the same time. It should look and feel like your entire foot is hitting the ground in one smooth motion.
  3. Adjust the length of your stride. This is one of the trade-offs of wearing heels — it’s just not possible to walk as quickly as usual. A shorter stride puts less stress on your hips and calves.

Filled with newfound knowledge, I leave the dressing room to let Mystique finish getting ready for the show. The next day, she sends me a picture of her finished makeup look, all sparkling orange eyeshadow, violet lips and lashes for days. Admiring the photo, I’m reminded that a flick of eyeliner, a bold stiletto or a dramatic lip can accentuate whatever part of my personality is dominant at the moment. That “you can be anything” feeling I get from watching drag queens perform makes me feel powerful. And maybe that’s the most important lesson.