Colour play: Gymnasts Becky and Ellie Downie try out the season’s brightest make-up trends

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Sisters Ellie and Becky Downie don’t just share a talent for gymnastics, they both love beauty. So we asked them to put this season’s brightest make-up through its paces.

It isn’t just artfully twizzling on top of beams and gracefully flinging themselves between bars where artistic gymnasts Becky and Ellie Downie excel. The sisters both share another rather impressive talent: they can nail an even set of eyeliner wings… first time.

And it makes sense why: an innately theatrical discipline, beauty has played a key role in their lives since they first stepped out onto the mat as young gymnasts. The sparkly eyeshadows and scrunchies synonymous with their sport might not be their signature look outside of the gym, but this early exposure to the world of beauty has left them both with a soft spot for make-up, nails and hair styling. 

That’s why, when searching for beauty editors for the special Made By Olympians issue of Stylist, the sisters were obvious recruits.

We tasked them with bringing the season’s brightest, boldest make-up trends to life. But considering they’re both a dab hand with a make-up brush and can navigate their way around an eyeshadow palette like pros, we didn’t ask them to simply model the looks. No, the sisters became each other’s make-up artists too.

Below, Becky and Ellie give us an insight into their approach to beauty and we share how to recreate spring/summer 2020’s most playful looks.

Becky Downie, 28, Artistic Gymnast

Becky Downie made her Olympic debut at Beijing in 2008 and won two Commonwealth gold medals in 2014: one with her team and one on the uneven bars. She won silver at the World Championships last year.

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“I started gymnastics when I was seven. Back then, I used to make more of an effort with my appearance – glitter eyeliner was a massive thing for competitions. Make-up is important in standing out and finding your identity as a gymnast. If you look good, you feel good. 

“Nowadays, I keep my skin fresh and I like a winged liner. Mascara is trickier; you want your lashes to look nice, but if you hurt yourself and get tears in your eyes, it can run. As for brows, microblading was a gamechanger – Ellie jumped on that bandwagon before me.”

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“You have to be careful with face make-up as it gets really sweaty. For the World Championships last year, we wore navy leotards with white mesh arms. I wiped my face on my arm so much that by the time I got to the bar, I had orange shoulders.

“People think we get our hair and make-up done, but you do it yourself at the hotel before you go to the arena. Teammates help each other out; we used to have a girl on the team who was really good at braiding, so she would do all our hair. Scrunchies were a massive thing. For the 2012 Olympics, I did some of the leotard design with Stella McCartney and I brought up the topic of scrunchies and she said to me, ‘Why on earth do you want a scrunchie?’ It’s just a thing in gymnastics, but I don’t really wear one any more.”

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“When we were really young, our coaches told us there was a blanket rule that we couldn’t wear nail polish. Turns out, that was a lie. We would see gymnasts from other countries with nail polish and realise we actually were allowed. I never moisturise my hands because I do the bars. I have to keep my hands and wrists really dry, so I can’t wait until I’m retired to actually be able to use hand cream.”

Get the look

In the Pink

The easiest way to match eyes and lips is to use a lipstick for both. Apply Pat McGrath Labs BlitzTrance Lipstick in Fuchsia Perfect, £35, onto lips from the bullet and then onto the eye with an angled brush to sculpt a cat-eye flick.

Blue Crush

Use a dense eye shadow brush to sweep cobalt shadow along the eye crease, then use a clean fluffy brush to blend it out.

Ellie Downie, 20, Artistic Gymnast

In 2015, aged 16, Ellie Downie made history by becoming the first female gymnast to win an individual all-around medal for Great Britain at the European Championships, and then made her Olympic debut at Rio 2016.

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“It was because of gymnastics that I first got into make-up, but now I want to be a make-up artist when I retire. I love applying it. When I’m bored at home, I watch YouTube tutorials and practise whatever looks I come across. I even did a two-day course. I can do everything on myself but I need to get better at doing it on other people, and across all the different skin tones. I learned how to do a winged liner from Becky. She’s really good at it. I’ve spent ages watching her and trying to replicate her technique.

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“Beauty, to me, is feeling comfortable in your own skin, whether you choose to wear a full face every day or not. You should always choose to wear make-up for yourself, not someone else. I just like to feel nice. Before competitions, I give myself two hours to get ready, to make sure I look absolutely perfect and to allow time for if things go wrong, which sometimes they do. I go a bit heavier than my sister. I always do my eyes and lips to match my leotard – it makes me feel like I can go out onto the mat and conquer it. My favourite brand is Mac; I love all their lipsticks. I have a whole shelf of lipsticks at home, I must have 60. I love a gloss, too, especially Fenty’s.

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“Gymnasts are retiring much later these days, so they have more confidence to experiment with make-up and really show off their personalities. There aren’t really any rules, but if I went out there with a black lip, I’d definitely get some looks. I remember when everyone started doing a red lip and people said, ‘Oh, that’s a bit sexy, a bit out there’, but why shouldn’t they? At the end of the day, we’re women. We can do what we want.”

Get the look

Float on Air

Lifting your eyeliner a few centimetres instantly makes it feel more modern. Using NYX Slide On Pencil in Sunrise Blue, £6, draw the line slightly above the crease, so it doesn’t disappear when you open your eyes.

Purple Reign

Painterly swipes of colour are a key trend for s/s 2020. Hold your eyeshadow brush further down the handle to apply in a haphazard rather than laboured way.

Shoot Credits: 

Photography: Mark Cant
Hair: Annakay Simpson
Make-up Assistance: Adeola Gboyega
Nails: Sophie Harris-Greenslade at Emma Davies Agency using OPI

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