Artist, designer and model Silas Waller lives in New York and attends the Fashion Institute of Technology. Keep up with him on Instagram.
I regretfully didn’t have a lot of early experience with makeup. It wasn’t that my parents wouldn’t have supported their son experimenting with it. It was that I felt too self conscious to be that experimental at such an early age, especially going to school in North Carolina and feeling pressured to present myself similarly to the other boys in my class. I did have a few formative moments, though. I remember one day in kindergarten, I was supposed to be watching a movie with my class, but instead my friend Maya and I hid behind our desks and painted our nails. Our teacher smelled the polish and caught us, and called our parents. Thankfully my parents weren’t too upset about the whole thing; they knew I loved painting my nails. We actually used to have a family tradition of everyone - my mom, my dad, my sister and I - painting our nails when we’d go to the beach every summer. Little moments like those definitely helped me feel more comfortable and worked to shape the growing relationship I now have with makeup.
I’m so fortunate to have grown up in a household where my gender expression never felt forced upon me. I had a dress-up bin of princess gowns that I would play in, and the walls of my room were painted pink while my younger sister’s were yellow. I was never concerned about expressing myself at home, but school was a different story. The gender climate of the public schooling system, and of North Carolina in general, was far less accepting. I was always torn between presenting myself in the way I actually wanted to, and toning it down for fear of being ridiculed or rejected. All of my friends were girls because they were the ones who were most supportive of my more feminine attributes and personality traits, so I naturally gleaned a lot of makeup knowledge from being around them. Even though I only dabbled in makeup myself, it felt like it added dimension to the parts of my gender expression I was still experimenting with. Now, having moved from North Carolina to New York City, makeup has become a regular aspect of my gender expression and continues to offer new ways for me to play with who I am.
As a child, the people who were most beautiful to me were always glamorous women or Disney princesses. I thought, if these women are who I see as beautiful, then I’m obviously straight. I had yet to realize that beauty and sexual attraction didn’t have to be the same thing, and I had also yet to realize that what I saw in them was actually just what I wanted to see in myself: the ability to be that glamorous, to wear a dress and fancy jewelry and have my makeup done. People used to tell me they loved my long eyelashes and talk about how ‘beautiful’ they were, then apologize for calling a boy beautiful and say “handsome” instead. This kind of stigmatized the notion of boys being beautiful to me, and made me feel like even if I did put on a beautiful dress, beautiful jewelry and beautiful makeup, I would never be beautiful as a boy. But now I’ve realized that beauty isn’t binary, and I appreciate how beautiful people of any gender can be.
As I mentioned, my friends were all pretty experienced with makeup and I learned a lot through observation, but they weren’t the ones who physically taught me how to use makeup. I’m still pretty inexperienced, but throughout the past year I’ve had a lot more hands-on practice. My friends and I are always getting ready together to go out in the city, and seeing all of the amazing looks people are able to create has inspired me to start actively trying to engage in makeup more. The friends I’ve made while attending the Fashion Institute of Technology have been the ones to specifically drive me to experiment with makeup, and the ones to lend a helping hand when I need one.
Being so new to such a big and diverse city has been incredibly inspirational, and I’m still inspired by the life around me everyday. It’s in the architecture, the people on the street, the food, the experiences. It may sound cliché, but New York City feels so rich with inspiration and I’m trying to soak as much of it up as I can. I also look to my friends and am always inspired by their creativity and their passion.
Photos by Josh Cadogan