Chelsea Manning’s essay about the power of makeup is required reading

Chelsea Manning is out of prison and rebuilding her life. As she navigates the world as a free transwoman and political activist, she is utilizing the power of makeup, calling it “an expression of [her] humanity” in an exclusive essay for Yahoo Beauty.

Chelsea Manning first became the subject of international news when, while serving in the Army in 2010, she leaked documents about the Iraq War to Wikileaks. In 2013, she was sentenced to 35 years in prison, convicted under the Espionage Act. Following her sentencing, Chelsea Manning immediately came out as a transgender woman. While in prison, she attempted suicide twice and endured solitary confinement. After seven years of imprisonment, then-President Barack Obama commuted Chelsea’s sentence, and she was freed in May 2017.

Since her release from prison, Chelsea Manning has shared her new life on Instagram — documenting everything from mundane daily activities, to her political activism in the era of Trump, to her self-expression through makeup and beauty.

In Chelsea’s essay for Yahoo Beauty, published today, she talks about owning her identity and harnessing femme power.

For Chelsea Manning, bold and fearless makeup is an extension of her identity; it’s part of how she claims her space in the world.

She begins the essay by remembering where she was when President Trump announced (tweeted) his transgender military ban. Only a few blocks away from the White House, Chelsea gathered with other protesters in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Then, she took a picture — calling trans people and trans allies to action, and revealing her lipstick.

Of the picture, Chelsea writes, "I put on my dark lipstick, and I choose my lipstick colors carefully. I’m not just saying, 'I like this edgy color.' This is an expression of my humanity. And beauty, to me, is self-expression."

She describes her usual makeup routine, as well as her style inspiration (cyberpunk movies) and the products she wants to get better at using (eyeshadow). Chelsea explains that trying new makeup is part of her freedom, and part of finally being in charge of her life.

"Now that I’m out and free, I love experimenting with makeup...I’m wearing a lot of bold lipsticks, because I’m trying to make bold statements: I’m here and I’m free and I can do whatever I want."

Chelsea continues, writing about how trans and queer folk need to guide their own movement in order to achieve justice:

"I really believe in this notion that we can’t have anybody speak for us. But what’s happened over the last 20 years is that the queer and trans community has depended on people who are not queer or trans to speak for us in places of power, whether that’s a state legislature or a courtroom. We need to show up and speak for ourselves now more than ever."

Many people have wondered if Chelsea will ever work in the government again, and perhaps run for office. She has not completely discounted the idea, but she is taking it one day at a time, settling into her new life as a free person in a new apartment.

"People ask if I’ll eventually run for office and be that voice, but the truth is I’m not ready to make bigger decisions just yet...I need to buy a couch and a coffee table first."

Most importantly, Chelsea wants us all to know that the person we see on her Instagram — happy, free, and fighting for justice — is the person she has always been. She writes, “Everything I’ve gone through has just strengthened my sense of self and my sense of who I am.”

Read the rest of Chelsea Manning’s essay on Yahoo Beauty here.

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