Model & Activist Munroe Bergdorf Used To See Beauty As A Means Of Survival — Now It's Just For Fun
Hailing from Essex, Munroe Bergdorf is a model and activist who regularly appears on national and international television news to comment on race, diversity, gender, and LGBTQ+ topics. Her writing has appeared in Grazia, i-D, them.us, Paper Magazine, The Evening Standard, The Guardian, Stylist, and Sunday Times Style. She is also the newly appointed LGBTQ+ editor for Dazed Beauty and will be part of this year’s OUT 100.
As a queer, transgender, black woman of mixed heritage, my beauty journey has always run adjacent to both understanding myself and how I navigate day-to-day life. For a long time, especially during the earlier days of my transition, I saw makeup as a tool for mental and physical survival. It allowed me to begin seeing myself as a physical manifestation of how I had always felt internally. As with many women, as I grew into my womanhood, my relationship with beauty changed. I began to see it less as means of survival or blending in and more as a way to celebrate and emphasise the woman that I had become.
In this chapter of my life, beauty, to me, is more focused around skincare and protecting radiance and vitality. As somebody with a particularly hectic schedule, consisting of late nights, irregular work/sleep hours, and lots of dehydrating flights, I'm mindful that if I don't look after myself and take preventative measures, I can end up looking tired. This then has a knock-on effect as a lot of my work consists of being in front of a camera, so I end up having to wear more makeup to mask the tiredness, which, of course, isn't great for my skin. So day to day, my main objective is hydration, vitality, moisturisation, and trying to maintain a healthy glow.
It's more than "trying to look good." For me, my beauty routines are an effort to be good with who I am and how I feel in my body.
I would definitely say that my beauty routines are heavily intertwined with my self-care. I make sure to set aside time to pamper myself in real, nourishing ways that allow me to feel confident in my rawest state, without makeup. My beauty routines give me a sense of calmness and, as weird as it may sound initially, one-on-one time with myself in the mirror. This is a chance for me to feel comfortable with what I see reflected, to remind myself that partaking in these beauty rituals is an act of love for my body and soul. It's more than "trying to look good." For me, my beauty routines are an effort to be good with who I am and how I feel in my body.
I tend to steer towards beauty brands and products that make me feel empowered in who I am, rather than ones who sell me a dream of "who I could be." I like to invest in products that I know work, and don't mind paying a premium for quality — provided that I'm not funding a socially unconscious or unethical brand. Do they use a wide variation of models? How do they draw in their customer base? Are they sustainable? What communities do they support or offer their platform to? Questions like these often help me determine which brands I will invest in.
On an average day, I try to wear as little makeup as possible. So I focus on skin prep, primer, a tinted moisturiser, and a light powder foundation. I follow this with some setting spray, mascara, and Glossier's Balm Dotcom in Birthday. I wear Palmer's Coconut Oil leave-in conditioner in my hair and usually slick it back. This generally takes around 30 minutes — it could take 20, but I get sidetracked easily. For full glam, I like to set aside 90 minutes. I hate to feel rushed if I'm going for a more detailed look. I usually wear wigs to protect my natural hair and also because I like to change up my look. I get these blow-dried once a week, which saves me time styling them myself. When I'm getting ready, I like to pour myself a cup of tea, put on some Cardi B, light my favourite candle, and really get into the mood. I feel like it sets the tone for the hours that follow.
I feel that in the UK especially, the body positivity movement has done so much to open all of our eyes to how advertisers and brands were profiting off of women's insecurities for so long. It makes me so happy that in the age of the internet, we are so much more aware of this and now when this happens, we see it being called out on a wide scale. Women want to feel like we are good enough as we are, and as a result, we want to support brands that believe that, too. So when I see darker skin tones being catered to in the same way as lighter skin tones; transgender models being featured alongside cisgender models; curve models and disabled models being cast in a non-tokenistic manner, this makes me see the brand as more of a holistic entity, that they also believe that beauty is only skin deep and that we are good enough as we are.
I've never really been one for rules when it comes to makeup. I've always enjoyed taking risks, especially so when I first started wearing makeup full-time at 19. I definitely have my look when it comes to my glam, which is a smokey brown eye, a nude/brown lip, bronzed full-coverage skin, and a winged liner complemented by some stacked fluffy lashes by Minxx Cosmetics. Other than being curled up on the couch with a sheet mask on my face — Dr Jart+'s Rubber Mask is my favourite — and spritzing myself with Glossier's Soothing Face Mist Rosewater Spray, this is the look that makes me feel the most content. I feel empowered, strong, and like me with this look. I always enjoy trying out new looks on shoots — seeing how a makeup artist interprets my face is so interesting to me. I try to watch them doing it as much as possible to pick up tricks and tips along the way.
If I could give my younger self some beauty advice, it would be to stop striving for the unattainable standards that are making you feel less than you are. Everything that you need is inside of you, so focus on products that allow that energy to shine through. Beauty shouldn't be a mask — it should be a medium that allows us to feel like our best selves. Of course there is a transformative quality to it, but for me, I just want to feel good about the body I'm in, good about who I am as a human, and confident in how I show myself to the world. My relationship with beauty is a journey of self-care, a way of life, and a continuous process of learning to love the body that I'm in.