by Adam Stevens
I have the honor of interning at Khalil Gibran International Academy situated a hop, a skip, and a jump from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. As is the case with many adolescents, the love of pop culture is very present among the students. The students, inspired by their celebrity idols, will go to great lengths to access the latest trends in fashion, music, and makeup.
I was drawn to the students’ love of makeup noticing the excitement it created. The students at KGIA use makeup as a means to transform themselves into someone or something else. At times, this aesthetic transformation occurs several times throughout the school day.
I was immediately transported back to my own high school experience where I was introduced to John Powell’s Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? Powell’s book explores the complexity of sharing the true self and the fear that accompanies this reveal. Are the students using makeup to shield their true selves OR are the students using makeup to accentuate and explore a collection of selves already integrated within them?
This curiosity encouraged me to ask my supervisor, Rebecca Elkin-Young, permission to begin a ‘Makeup Mask-Making Group’ that would be facilitated during lunch periods. During lunch periods at KGIA, students gather in the ENACT office for a psycho-social clubhouse, and find a moment to breathe and/or connect with other students as respite from the chaotic high school rigors they encounter on the daily basis.
Students were asked to design mask makeup concepts on makeup face template using markers, colored pencils, and other art supplies. After they finished their makeup mask design, the students where given the chance to apply their designs to their faces using makeup samples provided by cosmetics companies. Upon completion of the makeup on to their faces, excited students gazed at their reflections in mirrors and cell phones. Ms. Rebecca and myself took this time to allow students to express what they saw and what they felt in both group and individual settings.
The ‘Makeup Mask-Masking’ group was well received by students, female AND male. Through playing with makeup, the KGIA students were given the chance to uncover and discover insights about themselves in a safe space. We noticed students create projections of future selves and also, played with the idea of fantasy and celebrity. We witnessed internalized emotions being externalized as students exhibit a great deal of bravery and courage. The ‘Makeup Mask-Group’ has become very popular at KGIA. The students have requested that ENACT hold the group as often as possible.
Rupaul Charles, female illusionist and Emmy Award-winnig host of Rupaul’s Drag Race shared a reflection, “A face is like a work of art. It deserves a great frame.” I am grateful to be able to hold a space with an extraordinarily supportive supervisor where we can create frames for our students to express themselves openly and honestly rehearsing and performing the individuals they wish to become and see in the world.