In a world where the acceptance and celebration of men’s makeup is slowly becoming the norm, there are still regions where stringent notions of masculinity and sexuality persist. Nigeria, with its history of legally enforced homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny, is one such place. The Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act of 2013, which penalizes same-sex relationships with up to 14 years in prison and also criminalizes any form of support or association, continues to cast a long shadow. This environment creates numerous challenges for individuals who defy traditional gender norms, from verbal abuse to threats of physical violence.
Yet, despite these obstacles, a group of Nigerian beauty influencers is courageously using makeup as a form of self-expression. They continue to defy societal norms even in the face of a proposed bill last year that sought to ban and criminalize cross-dressing in Nigeria. These influencers are not just breaking barriers but also inspiring younger generations to be unapologetically themselves.
One such influencer is Onyx Godwin, a 23-year-old model, actor, beauty blogger, and media personality who can be likened to the Marquise de Montespan of Nigerian drag. Godwin is a pivotal figure in the burgeoning youthquake of drag in Nigeria. When I spoke with Godwin via Zoom, they were wearing understated makeup: eyes accentuated with mascara, lips drenched in glossy shine, and a dazzling set of nails.
Godwin’s fascination with makeup began in childhood, playing with their mother’s makeup kit. They recall applying brown powder to their face and experimenting with vibrant eyeshadow on their eyelids. “I would strut around my compound feeling glamorous, unperturbed by any side comments,” Godwin shares.
Godwin officially embraced their glam persona in 2016 when renowned Nigerian blogger, Linda Ikeji, offered them a job as a red-carpet host for a TV event. This opportunity led to more hosting gigs at various red-carpet events in Lagos, where Godwin made a statement with bold dresses and striking makeup combinations.
Godwin is part of a thriving Nigerian drag scene that continues to flourish despite the oppressive Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act of 2013. In clandestine ballrooms, drag queens take to the runway and perform lip-synch battles to everything from Afrobeat to pop music, all vying for the coveted crown. These shows may be small-scale, but they bring together the LGBTQ+ community across various cities, generating support both in person and online.
However, these moments of celebration starkly contrast with the everyday reality that Godwin faces. “I don’t feel safe in Nigeria,” they admit. “The rampant homophobia I encounter is both alienating and emotionally devastating. I’ve missed out on numerous job opportunities, and finding new ones seems like an uphill battle. I’ve been harassed by individuals whom I couldn’t report due to the situation in Nigeria. The online threats are overwhelming.”
Despite these adversities, Godwin remains hopeful and sees makeup as a form of activism. “I believe that every gender-nonconforming individual who wears makeup is an activist, whether they realize it or not. They are continually challenging government policies, societal norms, homophobia, and transphobia.”
In conclusion, these Nigerian beauty influencers are not just promoting women’s beauty or showcasing their skills in eyebrow threading or eyelash extensions. They are using their platforms to challenge societal norms and fight against homophobia and transphobia. Their courage serves as a beacon of hope for others who may be struggling with their identities in an environment that is not yet fully accepting or understanding. They are changing the face of beauty one makeup look at a time.