Beth Ditto, lead singer of Gossip, has always done things her way. Her new Mac make-up range is equally original. She shares her beauty manifesto with Stylist
I really like make-up and I really like hair. I love it, actually. I could talk about it for hours. When I was little I would teach myself to French braid and sit there for hours, singing and French braiding. Being a child of the Eighties was amazing – Thriller came out, Like A Virgin came out – all of those albums were new. MTV was new. Remember the [Lionel Richie] Dancing On The Ceiling video? Everybody was like, ‘Oh my f***ing gosh, they are dancing on the ceiling!’ They just turned the camera upside down and everybody was blown away. I loved the way Priscilla Presley looked, I thought she was incredible. And Madonna’s mole – I thought it was fascinating that you could just draw on a mole! Then, around ’86 my hometown – Searcy, Arkansas – outlawed MTV so those images of pop culture are what stuck in my head. It was like being on a desert island, shipwrecked with those people. They’re powerful visuals, so I feel lucky for that in a weird way.
When I was growing up, to be a successful performer you had to be able to pull it all off. You had to be able to act, you had to be able to sing, if you didn’t know how to sing, you’d better know another way of making it work for you. Today, society puts looks over talent, but you could say the same for me. I remember when the record [Standing In The Way Of Control] came out in 2006, people saying, “Oh, she’s the coolest person”, and then others saying, “It’s just because she’s big”. But you have to put everything into context. You can’t put a blanket over everything and call it the same, because it’s not.
I feel really proud of people like La Roux and Tilda Swinton – people who have really made a look work for them that’s more about who they are and isn’t so gender focused. I love Adele so much, and it’s honestly not because we’re both big, I love that she’s a f***ing singer and that she just so happens to be beautiful. It gives me chills to think about it.
I grew up not wearing make-up at all. I was coming out as a lesbian and trying to make sense of what make-up was within feminism and questioning whether you could be particularly feminine and be a feminist – which was ridiculous. I had super, super short, black hair and a lip ring, I was really into that look. I still talked about make-up all the time, so the girls in high school would say, “Beth, will you do my make-up for prom?”. Some of those girls really thought I should go to beauty school so that was my plan.
“I feel really proud of people like La Roux and Tilda Swinton – people who have really made a look work for them”
Then music took over, accidentally. I moved to Olympia, Washington and discovered Riot Grrrl [the feminist punk rock movement] and for the first time, I embraced my femininity. We didn’t have money so the way we got make-up was by being very, very cheap. One of my all-time icons is Rachel Hawns, who was in a band called The Need. She used to draw her eyebrows on like Groucho Marx with a Sharpie – incredible. I remember going to the Safeway on payday to buy eyebrow liner and feeling f***ing rich. But if that’s your experience of make-up, it makes you really express yourself with what little you have. You had to be innovative. I would draw eyeliner on my lips, but I’d make it look red with blush. I bought clown make-up and Halloween make-up when it went on sale because it was so cheap. At the same time, I found similar people who were also fat but outspoken about the fact that it didn’t mean you were a second-class citizen. It was about feeling that the universe was yours. It was really beautiful. It felt like emancipation through make-up. It was like a coming out.
Collaborating with Mac on my first make-up collection has been my dream. With music, there’s a long timeframe, there’s a period of gestation – you do it, sit with it, let it grow and then give birth to it. But this make-up line was different, more immediate. I was like a kid in a candy store. It’s very colourful, but the idea is that it’s versatile.
I didn’t have money as a kid, and now I travel a lot, so it’s about taking several things and merging them into one. With the Shade & Smoke Shadow/Liner you have black, pastel blue and navy to play with, and the face palette has four colours which you can blend together to create a bunch of other colours.
I really enjoy make-up but I don’t think about it in terms of my image, or being competitive. I think about my body and my looks, but it’s not ever about what people are saying outside of me. I’m from the gay community, we have the same references, and so for the most part I get a positive response in terms of my looks and I appreciate that, because that’s what means the most to me. I want to do right by us – and them – because that’s where I belong.”
The Mac Beth Ditto Collection is available at Mac stores and counters and maccosmetics.co.uk from June