Dr. Mosley says it’s common for abuse survivors to experience a sense of shame about their experiences. During her work on a community-based study in Detroit with sex workers of all genders, Dr. Mosley witnessed many participants taking pains to hide their wounds from the world, masking bruises with makeup, glasses, hats, and clothing.
“[When Heard speaks about] never wanting to go out in public with bruises showing, I think [it] speaks to both the internalized stigma of being a survivor of violence, and how victims feel very deeply that they are personally responsible for bringing that violence on themselves,” she says.
Something some of the trans women included in the study repeated to Dr. Mosley still haunts her. “Almost all of them had survived intimate partner violence, and I remember two women in particular who said something along the lines of: ‘I knew I had become a woman when my male partner started beating me,'” she says. “There’s something in our society that really connects being a woman with being abused, to the extent that trans women we were interviewing who were survivors saw that as a fundamental criteria of being a woman in society.”
Before Katey Denno was a Los Angeles-based makeup artist, she spent a decade as a social worker in Virginia, The Bronx, and Washington, DC. Part of her job included covering up clients’ bruises using the only thing her shelter had on hand — kids face paint.
“Most people felt shame and embarrassment and were sickened that they were wearing this experience on their external [body],” Denno says. “People felt ashamed [and would wonder things like] ‘Why do I let my children bear witness?,’ ‘How come I didn’t see the warning signs?,’ [and] ‘How come I’m still in love with this person?'”
There were times clients did not want Denno to cover their bruises — sometimes they’d let their wounds show in an attempt to convince doubtful friends and family that the abuse actually took place. Or maybe, like Heard, they were going to court to prove their abuse, and thought it might sway the judge or jury into believing them.
“I always wished that [the abuse] hadn’t happened, but [covering bruises] also solidified for me that makeup can be very powerful,” Denno adds. “This gave me the opportunity to show someone that even in this moment, you have the ability to control your external appearance with ease, and that’s going to make you feel better in the moment.”
Covering my own bruises didn’t feel like an act of control. I was one person before the abuse, and I’d become another by the time I felt the powder puff brush against my skin. But as I spent an hour or so Googling “what shade corrects bruises” and trying to teach myself color theory, I had one flash of understanding: life doesn’t have to be like this. My mind whispered this mantra until I finally had the courage to believe it.
I don’t think I would have gotten to higher ground if I hadn’t experienced the demoralization of having to figure out how to cover a bruise. I’ll never forget the shape of that compact and the soft feeling of its padding against my skin. I can still close my eyes and feel the product’s plastic in my hands. I have been trying to remember the brand name all week, but, like Heard, I struggle to remember.