The exhibition First I Have to Put My Face On originates from an interest in beauty labor and emotional labor, and how the combined efforts of this labor result in how many of us create our identities and present ourselves to society at large. The beauty industry is ubiquitous, and yet beauty labor remains largely invisible or purposefully hidden from those who do not partake in it, the age old phrase being “Don’t ever let them see you applying your lipstick.” Where does beauty labor take place? In bedrooms, bathrooms, salons, doctor’s offices – mainly behind closed doors. This labor is private, and shared solely with trusted professionals or friends – the act of “getting ready before going out” is done together only with the most intimate of companions. “Putting on one’s face” also relates to the self-disciplinary tactics and emotional control that women must use in public, in romantic relationships, and in the workplace in order to be respected or treated as equally as their male counterparts. The artworks in First I Have to Put My Face On explore the human body in relation to the products and procedures included in performing beauty labor, as well as refer to the spaces where these activities occur, and the risks and repercussions of extreme skin/body cosmetic augmentation. It is challenging to take a side on the topic of beauty labor, and whether or not to participate, embrace, condemn, or attempt to escape it. On one hand, the amount of time, money, and emotions spent for self-presentation can feel utterly oppressive, as feelings about one’s outward image affect moods and influence opinions of self-worth. One can notice the surge in empathetic internet memes about this topic – one in particular includes various images of female celebrities who allegedly cosmetically altered themselves with an overlaying text that reads “Don’t worry – you’re not ugly, you’re just poor.” The sentiment that these celebrities bought their beauty and that the only underlying difference between you and them is monetary is supposed to be comforting. On the other hand, presenting oneself in a way that one chooses can be liberating and equally as confidence boosting – one can’t help but feel empowered by watching Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty make-up tutorials for example. Just now I took an elongated break from this text to scowl at an aggressive cystic pimple on my chin and work out the different strategies on how to wipe out every trace of its existence before the opening of this exhibition. Whether or not this physical self expression is a result of conditioning by societal norms and fashion and beauty advertisements is difficult to say, as one can find themselves in a trap. Those who appear to wear too much makeup or show signs of body alterations may suffer the same negative reactions from peers as those who don’t attempt to change their appearance at all. There is a pressure to appear beautiful yet equally “natural” and conceal all efforts it took to get that way. Thus, First I Have to Put My Face On is as much a critique as an exposure and acknowledgement of beauty labor in its many forms.
— Christina Gigliotti