• PAOLO BALLESTEROS: A palate for palettes


    The use of cosmetics can be traced back to Ancient Egypt (c. 3150 – 31 BC) with men and women boldly putting color on their face. Their eyes were darkened using natural ingredients and essential oils, their lids were painted blue or green eyeshadows, and their lips shaded in red, orange, magenta, or blue-black.

    Makeup used to symbolize power and social class, rather than gender identification and sexuality. The bourgeoning influence of makeup across civilizations also transformed societies, even its purpose. As cosmetics were applied for its healing properties, it helped define the standards of the facial aesthetic.

    With social adaptations, brands emerge, a profession is made, and makeup continues as a normal practice among men and women. From a polished look, to the previous ‘no-makeup-makeup look’ trend, this form of art is here to stay. Nowadays, makeup artists are modern-day beauty architects: shaping smiles, painting confidence, and blending happiness. It is also a lucrative job for some—the names Joyce Bonelli, Mally Roncal, Carmindy, and many other international celebrity makeup artists get paid as much as $5 million in total sales (services, product lines, and endorsements included).

    But in the Philippine context, the art is elevated by the makeup chameleon himself, Paolo Ballesteros.

    Who knew that he would amass global recognition by working his way around his makeup palette? The TV personality gained traction by transforming himself into celebrity lookalikes such as Angelina Jolie, Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, and Beyonce, and posting his photos on Instagram. He got people talking about him and his makeup transformation and grabbed the opportunity to stand out in a cut-throat entertainment industry by doing something common but with a tinge of wonder and creativity. And the results are paying off.

    Mashable, PopSugar, and even Wonder Woman movie star Gal Gadot, whom Paolo also transformed into, were all thrilled to see his talent. From simply putting his passion to amuse his audience, he found an avenue for makeup to be taken seriously.

    Paolo also secured local major on-screen roles, the biggest and most remarkable was Die Beautiful in the 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival. It was the story of the joys and lows, the triumphs and frustrations of a young boy named Patrick, who eventually transformed into Trisha, who wanted to pursue her pageant dreams. A beautiful Paolo Ballesteros championed the impeccable looks of Lady Gaga and Beyonce, and other favorite divas during the funeral. Die Beautiful bagged an international award and nods from a conservative Philippine audience. This indicated that Paolo had cemented his career in Philippine show business.

    After Die Beautiful, the director Jun Lana announced he is working on a sequel, following the life of Trisha’s best friend, Barbs, in the up-and-coming TV series Born Beautiful.

    The problem, however, is the risk of being typecast as gay. Several other projects came for him since then—

    Trip Ubusan: The Lolas vs. Zombies, Barbi D’ Wonder Beki, Bakit Lahat ng Gwapo may Boyfriend, and the long-running Enteng Kabisote series all have Paolo portraying a stereotyped cross-dressing, one-dimensional Filipino gay guy.

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    Images from Paolo’s Instagram page

    Just as there is a threat that Paolo’s career may be limited by stereotyping, makeup artists are also prone to public’s superficial stereotypes. My first memory of makeup was during my kindergarten graduation photo shoot. I was five, wearing my toothless smile, my kachupoy haircut, and Tide-washed kindergarten shirt. My homeroom teacher hired beauticians (a new word added to my personal dictionary) and queued us up for bit of a powder and lipstick so that we would all look presentable.

    I only knew then that a grown man who dumped powder on my face and painted my lips was called a beautician. I knew they were not doing anything bad. But all I understood was that lipsticks didn’t taste like candy and they stained my teeth; that, and that the foundation was difficult to remove after a couple of hours.

    It is easy to equate makeup artists’ reputations to their sexuality, especially for a male makeup artist. Most people assume that for a male holding an eyebrow pencil, a foundation sponge, or an eyeliner means he’s automatically a baklang parlorista (a gay guy working in a salon). But what’s wrong with that? Does it mean today that men wearing makeup are automatically homosexuals?

    Paolo’s ingenious makeup skills did not intend to simply gain him popularity or belittle makeup artists. Paolo’s passion with color palettes, brushes, and lookalikes, imparts a bolder message: that he can be today’s face of Philippine makeup transformation and the art itself. That is not excluding the excellence of today’s top makeup artists—Juan Sarte, Bambbi Fuentes, Lala Flores, and RB Changco, to name a few. Together, they all make up the makeup circle (pun!).

    But seeing Paolo emerge into another celebrity is a creative take on the practice of doing make up. This sends signals to budding beauty architects to be proud of their profession, and garner respect from pursuing this career—because apparently, makeup is more than just a hobby or a profession. It is an art.

    Doing makeup is a gift not everyone has, and some do spend their hard-earned salaries to get certified. Here in the country, Makeup Designory is the leading school to learn various makeup techniques, from avant garde, bridal, fashion and high definition makeup styles. Trainings cost $25,000 to $50,000 to complete. Other makeup schools gaining popularity as well are Center for Aesthetic Studies, and the School for Fashion and Arts (SoFA).

    Some get lucky in the business of palettes, while others get trained professionally. With Paolo, the right amount of talent, luck, and timing made makeup his key to the door that led him to his status—and it should inspire the individuals in the beauty industry.

    The liberty and strength to promote the artistry through contours, lines, and shades could help professionals in the beauty industry to be proud of what they do. As spectators, we need to see beyond the heavy makeup. They are serious specialists doing tremendous ethical work, expecting the same respect and recognition from our peers. They make someone’s day and build someone’s confidence. These are brilliant individuals, regardless of gender and social class, who make beautiful things happen, literally, to our appearance. The patience, energy, and passion to look good and feel good is more than a stroke of luck.

    The talent of Paolo inspired me, and I hope we create a more accepting rather than tolerable environment for big and small professions. Times have changed for sure, and cosmetics and the art of it will stand the test of time. It does not matter if you’re simply starting in the industry or you’re the next makeup chameleon. The important thing is you have a palate for palettes. You can do your share of beautifying the world, literally and figuratively, one palette at a time.


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