The Struggle of Painting Your Many Faces


In a May 2016 article for The Norwich Radical titled The Struggle of Painting Your Many Faces, Umber Ghauri reflects on their experience as an "agender, queer, Pakistani/arab/brown, feminist, perceived as a woman" make-up artist living their daily life, struggling with how to express their gender authentically.

Daily choices like clothing, hair and makeup, can be a constant struggle between what is labelled as assimilation and what is labelled as resistance for all marginalised people. Itcan feel so out of balance no matter what you do with your appearance. Someone is going to look at my undercut and depending on so many uncontrollable factors they are going to think a number of things; it’s a white alternative thing, it’s a weird tribal brown thing, it’s a queer weirdo thing, I had an accident/a prank was played on me. They’ll look at my clothes and my face and my body, trying to compute the rest of me.

Ghauri takes the time to unpack many the factors that influence both how people present themselves and how people are perceived:

I see how insecure people around me are about their self-image, as if they have deep secret questions about how they themselves appear. But marginalised people, living under global hetero patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism are all wriggling around trying to find a face that fits. 

Ghauri is wonderfully explicit about the physicality of how gender and culture intersect in their life:

My culture and my religion were never really mine when I was constantly aware of who was watching. The more Pakistani I was, the less of a girl I was in the eyes of the white suburban people I saw daily. Pakistani means hairy, smelly, backward, engaged at ten years old, to them. For them to be involved with me meant that I had to be ‘different’, that despite my skin and family they had to see me as white, or colourless to compute me as a whole person or a person they could relate to.

To me though, being a Muslim Pakistani girl raised by women was entirely different. It was fragrant, singing, peeling vegetables and tossing rotis while we discussed at length how terrible men are, what was for dessert, was there enough salt in pakoras? After dinner it was sitting in the bedroom, still chatting while my mother threaded our upper lips one by one. Those were Sundays.

In closing, Ghauri traces both the magic and the grief of seeking authenticity:

Every day, I try to make a version of these smells, voices, and people on my body, on my face. It’s never quite what I want it to be, it never feels honest enough or beautiful enough. ... But then when it strikes me, I feel the constantly moving image of who I am as a blessing. ... Some days I’ll stretch out my queerness here and my desiness there, pull out a little masculinity and I’m all set. Other days I only have the strength to stretch my queer arm but not my Pakistani one; the combinations vary, the result never consistent, like the person. On those days I know my mother was right, I am always too extraordinary for them to understand...

Read Umber Ghauri’s The Struggle of Painting Your Many Faces in full, and follow them on Instagram.

You may also enjoy Tahnee Jackson's response to this article: A Face That Fits: Expression on the Brown & Queer Side of the Spectrum

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