Within the UK the suicide rate is 3 times higher in men than women. Makeup artist Athena Paginton has created a special project in collaboration with Samaritans to raise awareness for mental health in men.
beauty athena paginton
Athena the project is stunning… can you give us a bit of background on how it came about?
Thank you. As somebody who has personally experienced the extremities of mental health in males, I’ve become very aware of the sensitivity surrounding this subject, as this is exact reason why I worked so hard to make this project happen.
Samaritans is the only mental health charity in the UK where you can access help 24/7 free of charge. Their vision is that fewer people die by suicide, and that it can be prevented by reducing distress and crisis that can lead to this result, and increase support for those in need.
For the last 8 years I have been working with mental health charities; this year I chose to use my online platform to help break the stigma of mental health in men. The rise in social media has resulted in a daily routine for millenials of checking online, before checking themselves… Which is why launching this project for the purposes of social media only was so crucial.
What has the response been so far to the project?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive! A lot of stories were shared in the first few days alone, it created a safe space for young men to discuss mental health, whether they are personally experiencing it or are a friend/family member seeking advice on how to help. It’s exactly the response I was hoping for.
How did you approach each look?
Casting is always extremely important to me. Choosing a diverse group of models was integral to this project in order to create a true representation of males in the UK. As an illustrator I wanted to take the same approach I do to my artwork. I decided to draw all of the designs out, firstly without face charts – I designed over 20 prints, and once casting was confirmed I allocated the final designs to whom I felt it matched.
At Beauty Papers we often ask artists if they feel editorial has a social responsibility, and this project seems to be an amazing example of that.
Yes I believe that editorial holds a huge social responsibility. Every image that is created makes an instant impact on the viewer. This is why it’s so important to apply positive influences within the arts. There are many aspects to these responsibilities that still need to be changed – whether it’s an image glamorising mental health, glamorising drug use, not representing POC, not representing all genders and sexualities on the spectrum, sexualising young models who aren’t of age, or promoting fur/cosmetics tested on animals. Primarily, it’s easy to point the finger and blame either the production or client, but we must remember that we each hold a responsibility within that team, so if something doesn’t feel right – know that’s it’s okay to speak up for what you believe in.
Alongside the images on Instagram you speak about your brother’s suicide. Working in the fashion industry when we ‘share’ online it is often a very constructed ‘BTS’… This is very personal and very real. Is that scary?
When discussing the topic of suicide, it’s important to be educated on what may be triggering for those struggling with mental health, which was the main thing I was apprehensive about. Samaritans have released ‘Media guidelines for the reporting of suicide.’ As a result of the guidelines and this being a personal subject, I found this very healthy. To stay true to yourself on social media should come first and foremost, however I don’t think it is necessary to share everything . Allowing a reader to receive basic information to know that they too are not alone in this, is sometimes enough. For me, sharing only what can be taken as a positive influence or creating a platform for change regarding a difficult subject is the most mindful approach I can achieve on social media.
To accompany the images you write “Societal expectations of masculinity is warped” – we often talk about the beauty expectations placed on women but what do you think we expect of male beauty?
Male ‘beauty’ and acceptance is based highly on external elements. Society expects men to be athletic, muscular, to not wear makeup or be free to express themselves through their fashion choices. These expectations hold a heavy impact on those within the LGBTQI+ community especially. Such distorted outlooks can lead to over-exercising, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, depression and other mental health problems. As mentioned before, this is why it’s up to us to take action, and those with a platform or privilege to speak up about such issues. The more that we cast men of colour, men in drag and men of all body shapes, it will help lift the pressure to conform to such social standards.
What do you find beautiful in men?
Vulnerability. My best friend Brad has taught me the most about this – over the past 7 years he has shown me what it is to be beautiful. Emotional, vulnerable, or empathetic qualities do not define a man as weak, it makes them strong. To allow yourself to be open is a scary journey but the most empowering path one could choose to take. I will always thank Brad for constantly pushing the boundaries of stereotypes within society, and for always being so unapologetically vocal about subjects that hold sensitivity.
Yes I believe that editorial holds a huge social responsibility. Every image that is created makes an instant impact on the viewer. This is why it’s so important to apply positive influences within the arts
Male ‘beauty’ and acceptance is based highly on external elements. Society expects men to be athletic, muscular, to not wear makeup or be free to express themselves through their fashion choices
What other big conversations do you think we should be having within the fashion arena?
Unfortunately, we are in an industry that caters for a high demand of disposable consumption. We should be looking into environmental and ecological factors of the fashion and cosmetic industries. The consequences of ‘fast fashion’ are now being globally exposed with the damages shown in oceans; where plastic pollution has reached its highest. Taking responsibility is the next step: choose your brands, clients, and teams ethically. Try opting for glass bottles in cosmetic products instead of plastic, or clothing that steers clear of synthetic microfibers such as polypropylene, these small steps will make a huge difference for the planet!
In your work you often literally paint people’s faces … would you consider it a trademark? Where does this approach come from?
I’d call it a trademark yes – it’s all I know how! I’ve drawn my entire life, I used to struggle a lot with communication and I would turn to my artwork to speak for myself. It’s a beautiful thing to now be in the position where I can both create, and vocalise my thoughts into reality.
Do you remember the first face you painted?
Yes! It was my best mate in school, we were 14 and she came over one Friday eve, I ended up staining her face bright pink… She had to go into work for her Saturday job the next day looking like a beetroot. It wasn’t the last time I ended up staining her either – little did she know there were years to come!
For our last issue the theme was Vanity … what does vanity mean to you?
Vanity is a subject I am faced with everyday within my career. As a makeup artist, my approach to the application of makeup is very minimal in terms of skinwork. I haven’t had foundation in my kit for nearly 2 years now and I only conceal where necessary. I take advantage of the opportunity to reveal scarring, or what some may call ‘flaws’. On a daily basis we are shown images of ‘perfect’ skin, makeup, and altered features from surgeries. I will continue to exclude vanity from the inside of the industry, out. Makeup is a tool that is used for both creativity and play, and I will always continue to celebrate that aspect of cosmetics.
Within the UK the suicide rate is 3 times higher in men than women. Let’s all practice being mindful about what may be triggering for yourself and/or others. Choose your friends, activities, music and arts with knowledge they hold positive influences. Call Samaritans 24/7 for free (UK): 116 123
Photography Piczo at We Folk
Beauty Athena Paginton at Bryant Artists
Hair Kiyoko Odo
Interview John William