Makeup/Fake-Up - Women in Prison

Along with so many others, I am anxiously awaiting the third season of the Netflix series, “Orange Is The New Black”. As a woman, I am fascinated with the storyline focus on the relationships between and among women, with men serving only as secondary characters.   As a makeup artist, however, I look forward to watching the show to see how the inmates’ images are physically portrayed; it is clear that a handful of women place great value on the enhancement of their appearance, even though there are virtually no men to impress. From watching this show and the character development, I wonder: (1) Why would women even think about hair and makeup while incarcerated? (2) How are they able to create that vivid red as well as achieve texture as and color, with limited or no available cosmetics?

(1) Why do women in prison wear makeup?   The enhancement and adornment of natural beauty has been with us throughout history, as evidenced from Ancient Egypt to the present. The same reasons that compel women who are not incarcerated to wear makeup must apply to those who are in prison; fake up has become part of the prison culture. Makeup is magical; it creates a feeling of confidence and control, regardless of the situation or scenario. Since makeup is also an art form, it is a way of expressing individuality, as well as adding excitement to a dull routine, which would be increasingly important to women who are all wearing the same, ill-fitting clothes and shoes, and are locked in the same routine and facility, day in and day out.

The addition of makeup (or Fake Up) on certain characters of the Netflix series is certainly not accidental: In fact, in Season Two, the sadistic prison guard, George Mendez, returns and one of his punishments is to remove all of the makeup, or fake up, from the women’s personal possessions.

Clearly, the decision to color (or not color) the hair of the character, Galina (“Red”) Reznikov, symbolizes her power and inner strength within the system, while the bold, bright red lipstick of Lorna Morello, the actress who portrays the innocent, but “jilted bride” conveys a feeling of hopefulness and beauty while waiting for that (imagined) wedding date. The glasses of the female love interest, Alex Vause are quirky; yet add an element of mystery and distance to her character. The main character, Piper Chapman, uses the commissary for mascara and lip gloss in an attempt to make herself feel attractive to her disillusioned fiancé, Larry Bloom. As Piper spends more time in prison, and it is clear that she is no longer desired by her fiancé, her appearance becomes increasingly hardened and disheveled.

As the TV series corroborates, the purpose of makeup at both the commissary and the in-prison salon, operated by a transgendered inmate, also includes an element of female/interpersonal bonding with the other inmates; the prison is their community and their appearance identifies and yet unifies one to another.

(2) How to create makeup with limited resources?

It would be pretty safe to assume that inmates have limited or no access to hair and beauty products. While federal facilities may offer bronzer, lip gloss and liquid concealer for purchase at the commissary, state and county facilities may typically only provide mascara and eyeliner. Using food products, coffee grounds and grease or Vaseline, however, inmates may choose to continue to maintain their individuality and feeling of self-worth by creating their own makeup (“fake up”), with food, lotions and other available items.

Eye/cheek makeup: in desperation, prisoners may use a colored pencil or markers for eyeliner. By using a hard, colored pencil, a liner and eyelid color may be achieved, at the expense of the irritation of the delicate eyelid skin. More resourceful women will break the colored pencil, crush the color into a powder, and add it to the eyelids with some added baby powder. Yet another way of creating eye shadow with both texture and color, is to use any glitter from greeting cards, and/or the ink (preferably in color) of a newspaper ad, such as T-Mobile (hot pink).

For hair gel, as well as for lip and cheek stain, inmates have used, not only the colored pencil/baby powder concoction, but also Jolly Rancher candies; they soak the candy in a cup of hot water, and add available body cream for application on the hair or on the skin (without cream) to add color to the cheeks/eyes. Another popular candy is the peanut M&M: again, inmates use hot water to release the colorful shell of the candy to create a lip stain and/or cheek stain; the leftover peanut of the peanut M&M can be crushed and used as a facial mask. Skittles, Jell-O and/or Crystal Light are more options for adding color to the drab prison routine, either with water and grease or vaseline, or as a dry powder mixed with baby powder.

Where there seems to be few to no government-issued regulations regarding the  use of makeup, it is indisputable that fake up plays a key role in the prison lives of women - Hopefully neither I nor the reader will ever have the opportunity to learn, first hand, how to best enhance  features and express individuality while incarcerated!

Some Resources: up

Simone Weichselbaum for The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering criminal justice