James Dobson and Andrey S, owners of the viral beauty account @beautybendersoffical are doing just as their account handle implies. Bending and challenging the status quo of beauty standards in a fun and progressive way. Colleen contributor, Tautahi Subritzky, speaks to them about how this account came to be, where they find their inspiration and a little more about their goal to degender the beauty industry.
Can you both give us an introduction into who you are and what you do?
J: I’m James, and I have a clothing label called Jimmy D and I also started Beauty Benders with Andrey. Beauty Benders encompasses an Instagram account, a TikTok, and a short-lived YouTube channel, and we also write about beauty & skincare for Stuff.co.nz and Sunday Magazine. Instagram is more of a visual mood board of beauty looks that cross all genders interspersed with our own looks – it’s a great reference if you’re looking for makeup inspo for a night out. We also try to stay on top of the fashion weeks and show our followers the latest men/whoever beauty looks. TikTok is us mostly with an augmented face filter doing stupid shit and getting bombarded with hate – we had one TikTok that went semi-viral with 4.4 million views of me in full Beauty Benders glam feeding a cow. So yeah, it’s… diverse.
A: We basically keep track of all the hottest, sexiest and funnest experimental makeup and collate it all together - in a way a mood board of degendered, avant-garde beauty essentials.
How did @beautybendersofficial come into existence?
J: Just prior to covid we started pushing ideas of gender with our fashion and I think we were both like, why do all these ideas of gender-bending stop at the neck? We had a few awkward experiences at makeup stores and just wanted to connect with like-minded people and provide inspiration for people like us – lockdown provided the perfect time to dive in. The whole concept of Beauty Benders is to de-gender makeup and encourage people to be fearless and creative with it – makeup shouldn’t have rules or gender.
A: We are a lockdown baby. We didn’t have much to do at the time and started having video sessions together dressing up and playing with makeup, which for both of us, who kinda worked in fashion, was the frontier of self-expression at the time. Finding inspiration was a bit tough - beauty looks on social media were very homogenous at the time, and every tutorial sounded like a recipe - cut crease, cut brow, cut cheek… pretty and precise but not very exciting or interesting for us. So we started a mood board in a way, for looks that inspire us and make us want to dress up and have fun.
Outside of the realm of social media, where do you find your beauty inspiration?
J: Sometimes music videos can be pretty inspiring (there was a pretty increds look on Smashing Pumpkins Billy Corgan in the Ava Adore video that I stumbled across the other night) but I think the best looks happen when you just fall in love with a product and build a look around that.
A: There are so many cool creatives out there who challenge the notions of what beautiful means. Fashion week runways are quite good too - I often get inspired by the vision and then translate that into a makeup look with my own twist.
What is it about a particular beauty look that makes it worthy of being highlighted on your account?
J: I always think the best posts are ones where I’ve seen something and before I know it I’m re-posting it – so in that sense it’s something that I haven’t seen before, it feels fresh, authentic and expressive. And I think if I see something and it starts turning cogs in my head, and I wanna try it out on my face then I know our followers will wanna see it too.
A: Checklist of points that make beauty bend for me: Does the look go beyond the traditional usage of makeup: maybe it’s an unexpected use of colour or a challenge to the current trend - like an underdrawn lip or maybe a messy eye? Does it go against the cookie-cutter trends in an over-saturated makeup world? Does it challenge the norms? Is it worth highlighting? Does it make me want it on my face NOW? If the answer to most of these is yeah, then it’s a keeper.
Who do you look up to in the beauty and hair industry? Why?
J + A: There are so many! British designer Matty Bovan is someone that wears makeup in a really authentic way – you can tell they just get stuck in with their fingers and there’s a joyfulness to it. Inge Grognard is a complete makeup visionary. For hair, we love the wig work of Yumiko Hikage & Tomihiro Kono and for runway, Gary Gill does pretty incredible stuff.
What’s the best part of connecting with your followers?
J + A: We have built connections with some incredible people via Beauty Benders and have had some inspiring convos with some of our makeup hero’s in the DM’s – that’s pretty cool. But what’s even cooler is when someone messages us and says that we inspired them to try out a lewk, that’s super cute.
What are your favourite beauty and hair products to use when you’re putting together a @beautybendersofficial ‘look’?
J: Sensorium Brow engineer – it’s a product you can brush through your brows to give them a bleached look, I did bleach my brows for a bit but this is way less commitment! I love Nars Light Reflecting Foundation for a pearly glow. Some MAC or Miss Fame loose glitter. And some cheap hair tracks that I thin out and glue down with Prosaide.
A: Beauty - I love the Tom Ford ‘Fucking Fabulous’ lipstick that James got me! I also love my PMG eyeshadows and blushes. I also love my Dior highlighter. I guess I am a Taurus… I also like that one Catrice foundation from The Warehouse! That’s my Gemini rising.
Hair - I love a wet look so I often use gel - the Motorcycle Gel by R+Co gets me wet and hard.
Try to hide or try to highlight a hickey?
J: Highlight - glue some tiny crystals around the edge of it.
A: Match the colours to your eyeshadow, get inspired by the texture and the shape and draw that up to your eyes.
Hair extensions. Hot or not?
J: Very obviously HOT.
A: Hot. Tape them to your head or glue them to your baseball cap.
Glitter or gloss?
J: Glitter. Gloss can move and hair extensions can get stuck in it.
A: Both, and mixed together.
Lips or eyes?
J: Ideally both, but if I had to choose…. Eyes.
A: Hmm that’s a fun one. I’d like to think that I usually only focus on one, but I definitely go overboard on both usually.
Top or bottom? (lol)
J: ; )
A: I’m not into lashes.
What’s your favourite smell?
J: The perfumes I’m working on, and the smell of a hot iron.
A: I love leather and cherry, fresh laundry, basil and iris.
What’s your most frequent online purchase?
J: Makeup or skincare in some form…
A: Shoes lol and maybe like, eyeshadow palettes.
It’s clear from what we see on @beautybendersofficial that you don’t abide by the “rules” of gender norms. Is there an objective that you hope to achieve with your account?
J: We just want anyone that wants to wear makeup to feel emboldened to do so and we’d love to see more genders & sexualities represented in beauty imagery. We’re not about saying everyone should wear makeup, but we do think anyone that wants to should see themselves represented. And beauty of late has been very prescriptive and formulaic, we’d like to see this change too.
A: I want to see people having more fun with makeup.
There have been a handful of brands over the years that have focused on selling the idea of “makeup for men” (more often than not their focus is about hiding the fact). What are your thoughts on this?
J + A: We’d love to see more men represented in makeup imagery – when we first started going into makeup stores we felt like complete outsiders, spying a few campaigns on the walls featuring men would have made us feel a whole lot more comfortable. We also find it really funny when you see really cutting edge fashion designers/labels showing the fruitiest menswear but there is NO obvious beauty look… like they think that would make it too gay? In a lot of ways we think makeup on men is one of the final frontiers… it’s quite confronting for a lot of people and brands.
Face filters go hand in hand with social media apps nowadays, how do you think face filters are affecting realistic beauty expectations?
J + A: I mean our TikTok is basically built around using a very augmented, plastic surgery-esque filter so we don’t personally have a problem with more extreme filters – what we do think is slightly more dangerous are filters that subtly tweak the face, remove pores and general imperfections – these are deceiving for the viewer and could make the user feel too self conscious to be seen without.
What lives on your shower shelf?
J: A Q+A Hyaluronic Acid Cleanser, Kevin Murphy Scalp Spa Scrub, and some generic body wash.
A: Tronque body care!
We’ve all had a hair look from the past that we look back on and cringe. What was yours? Can we have photo evidence?
J: My hair (when I had hair) grew out in two wavy sheets, like an A-Frame house. I feel like I never really had my hair moment lol.
A: Ooof, I mean I had my fair share of frosted tips in the early 2000s. There was also that one time I was doing like, a bowl cut that I thought was kinda Eastern European-esque, but then that ‘Alejandro’ video came out and I think a lot of people thought I was a Gaga die-hard fan. Which I am, in a way. I think people were calling me Alejandr-ey behind my back.
Any hair or beauty concerns? How are you dealing with them?
J: I have very sensitive reactive skin, but as I’m committed to wearing sunscreen on the daily I’ve found double cleansing has really helped to clear up my skin and remove every trace of sunscreen at the end of the day – I’m really loving the Emma Lewisham Illuminating Oil Cleanser at the moment and I just use the Q+A Hyaluronic Cleanser, it’s super cheap and my skin seems to like it. The Ren Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic really transformed my skin and reduced a lot of redness.
A: James's makeup is my primary beauty concern… Nah jk I love him <3. I’m kinda acne prone, so I try to use salicylic acid and topical retinoids but sparingly. Very easy to overdo it and “burn” your skin off.
What’s on the horizon for @beautybendersofficial?
J + A: We’re keen to jump back on the YouTube wagon again soon, and maybe some interviews with some of our makeup crushes will be popping up on the insta sometime soon…