Most celebrities start practicing makeup techniques at the age of 10, when they’re given primers and lip gloss. Long before they master contouring, contouring is usually a verb, and every woman has a friend who was bullied because they had weird wrinkles. That feeling is why Chelsea Reynolds is obsessed with body painting — not just for herself, but for girls and women across the country. She uses makeup to transform herself, creating stories of transformation and insecurities.
But it’s not the makeup — it’s what she’s putting on.
Reynolds started body painting at the age of 6. She stopped the practice around college because she wanted to “have that lifestyle where I was able to own and focus on the art without the weight of society crushing down on me.” When she returned as a faculty member at American University this year, she fell in love with body painting again, and started teaching students how to create intricate visions of themselves.
“Any girl or boy’s dream is to see themselves in some kind of art form. We’re doing this on television, we’re doing it at home on a screen, how do we get a little bit of that?” Reynolds said. “And that’s what makeup is about. As a woman, as a black woman, as a disabled woman, how do we inspire ourselves and people like myself. There are so many challenges and so many barriers to so many women that it’s very refreshing for me to be able to inspire girls to feel brave and beautiful and do something with their life.”
The young girls we talk to have incredible questions, mostly about how the body looks in paint. Reynolds says that when she was younger, she had a word for it: pussy. She lived the “pussy” impression for much of her life and sometimes said she wished she looked like a lady instead.
“I was a very busy teenager because I was excelling in art as well, but my mom definitely wouldn’t let me run around like my friends were running around,” Reynolds said. “My mom felt like, ‘You’re smart, you’re artistic, you should get to be like a lady with that voice and that face.’”
But where she used to struggle with self-acceptance, Reynolds says now that she owns her body in paint, she realizes that it’s just a canvas. She even has a new nickname for it: paintbrass.
It’s because, Reynolds says, one morning she decided to use paintbrass as her excuse to run around like she had always wanted to. She joined a paintbrush workshop with the goal of feeling more confident in herself and show off a different, dancier look for her modeling job. As she stood in front of hundreds of people, dripping paint on her face and body, she could feel the changes in herself, and the joy was infectious.
On her way home, she looked in the mirror and said, “I’m right here and I just did what I’ve been wanting to do, for a long time.” She is a paintbrass.