Seventeen-year-old climate change activist Jamie Margolin often spends her days protesting, doing public speaking gigs, writing op-eds and books, suing the government, and of course, attending high school. As the founder and co-executive director of Zero Hour, an international youth climate justice movement that started in 2017, Jamie has led youth climate marches in over 25 cities around the world, encouraging and educating her peers on all the different ways they can fight for a “livable future.” In 2018, Teen Vogue named her one of our “21 Under 21” young women and femmes changing the world.
The Colombian-American teenager admits that it was “existential dread” that first drew her to climate issues, as she was growing up in Seattle, Washington. “I learned about its impact through documentaries, news...and looking out my window at the subtle yet at the same time not-so-subtle destruction of the Pacific Northwest and our natural lifesystems,” Jamie tells Teen Vogue. If you follow her closely, like we do, you’ll notice she is frequently seen at protests and other events using makeup as a form of expression, writing things with eyeliner or lipstick on her face and arms. Naturally, we wanted to sit down with the activist and learn more about her relationship with beauty.
Teen Vogue spoke with Jamie about how she uses makeup as a form of self-expression,
including wearing shimmery eye shadow, and being a queer, conscious consumer.
Teen Vogue: When you were growing up, did the women in your family have a relationship with makeup or skin care? Did that have any impact on you and how you came to understand your own beauty?
Jamie Margolin: The women in my family, on my mom's side, we're all Colombian. My dad’s side is Jewish and white. So mainly I heard about beauty from my Colombian side, and it was mostly that we have naturally good skin. I was never told to use creams or anything like that because the women in my family have naturally soft and clear skin. We don't have to do anything to it. I was never told to wear makeup, and my mom always discouraged me from wearing it. But when I did start wearing it, I didn’t do it because I felt I needed to look beautiful; I used makeup as a form of self-expression.
Now my relationship to beauty is that makeup isn’t a necessity, but it's a thing that you can use to express yourself. These days I usually wear makeup, if I feel like it, for speaking opportunities or interviews and protests, but I don't wear it on a daily basis. When I'm doing something special, putting in my contacts and all that, I like colorful eye shadows. If I'm at a protest, I'll usually write something on my face with eyeliner. I didn't have eyeliner [at the Climate Change March in New York], so I decided to do it in red lipstick. Now I’ve found my look. Usually I’ll use makeup not to hide a certain part of me so I can be presentable, but more to make a statement and say something. Usually if I'm not wearing a statement, it's not because I don't have anything to say. Or it's because I'm tired and busy and I just wanted to get up there. There's so much on my plate. So I’ll only do my makeup if I have time for it.
TV: What products do you use? Do you have any favorites?
JM: No, I just wear whatever I have. Being an environmentalist, I'm not a person who consumes a lot at all. I've never bought the same product twice. I think I only went into Sephora once, and bought something that lasted a long time.
TV: When did you start using eyeliner to write things on your face?
JM: The first time I did it was in 2018, the day before the Climate March in D.C., and then a photo of me wearing that was used in the New York Times and I decided, I'm just going to keep doing this because it feels good and it feels right to me. Mostly I write either Zero Hour or #ThisIsZeroHour. It's a quick, easy phrase, and I don't have to spend a lot of time doing it. It’s the name of my organization, and it’s a consistent message about the climate crisis, but I think as opportunities come up, I might want to start writing different things.
TV: How has your queerness impacted your relationship to beauty?
JM: It really has, because I'm feminine, but not super girly feminine. I like to feel elegant, beautiful, and queenly, but not princessy, if that makes sense. I feel like that's also part of using eyeliner to write on my face — it’s a campy, strange, queer thing to do. So I try to own that. A lot of times queer folks are serving a look, so it’s important to me to honor that culture.
For me, makeup is very much tied to my queer identity. I feel extra queer when I'm putting on my makeup, and it's a source of pride because people always think of makeup as someone doing it for the male gaze. So I’m trying to break out of that norm and, like, I don't care what anyone thinks, and I'm doing it for me. I also feel a connection to LGBTQIA+ culture, ballroom culture, like Pose and Paris Is Burning. I feel a sense of pride when I wear it.
TV: Are there any cultural figures you look up to for seeing beauty as a form of creative expression?
JM: Indya Moore. I like that one day they might wear a suit, and then a flowy dress the next day. They’re just very free in their expression.
TV: Do you ever plan looks ahead of time?
JM: I only plan my look ahead of time if I’m attending something major, like the MTV EMA awards. If not, I usually just show up and say what I need to say. And if I have a little more time, I'll pull on lipstick or something. So right now, for an event, I think I'm going to wear my organization's T-shirt with some elegant pants and shoes, and writing on my face and on my arms and hands. Often I try to match my eye shadow to whatever I’m doing and wearing, and wear that with mascara and either a red lip or a pink lip. If I have time, I’ll wear winged eyeliner, and I usually go all out with the highlighter.
TV: You’re a senior now; do you have any ideas for what you want to do next year?
JM: I'm applying to colleges right now. I'm going to study political science, communication[s], and public policy. I want to be elected into office one day and be, like, the gay AOC. But I am a very artistic, creative person, and I also write. I have a book coming out next year, called Youth to Power: Your Voice and How to Use It, so I'll be promoting that. But I also want to write novels and screenplays. Maybe on the side I'll take some screenwriting classes.
I want to make change in the real world. I want to make a difference. But maybe before I start running for office, I also want to make things. I know I can be an artist and an activist at the same time. My activism, out of being born for environment and climate justice, but then my art form ties to the queer side of me because I'm a big advocate for representation of queer women in media, and that lack of representation is super harmful for everyone. Hollywood can watch out as much as Capitol Hill.
TV: Can you tell us more about your look for the recent MTV EMAs? How did people respond to it at the event?
JM: I knew that the MTV EMA pre-party and the red carpet were going to be full of cameras and eyes would be on me, and I didn't want to waste that privilege of people looking my way by simply dolling myself up. If eyes and cameras were on me then I was going to use that spotlight to spread a message and make people pay attention to something important. A few days before the red carpet, I saw the news of the Keystone pipeline spilling over 380,000 gallons of crude oil in North Dakota, and I was outraged more people weren't talking about it.
So for the red carpet I asked the makeup artist that MTV provided to make my eye makeup look like I was crying oil, and write "We Can’t Drink Oil" on my face. Then I got eyeliner and asked my friend to write #THISISZEROHOUR on one arm and NO PIPELINES on the other arm. I dressed up in all black. The look was meant to emphasize and raise awareness around the Keystone pipeline leak, and how pipelines and fossil fuel infrastructure in general only cause pain, suffering, and destruction to people and the earth.
Because the eye makeup and lip makeup was so black and dramatic, when I was on my way to the carpet I got a lot of stares and people asking questions, and it showed that the way I expressed myself was having the exact effect I wanted it to because it sparked a conversation about oil and the keystone pipeline spill every time. The whole MTV EMA red carpet look was done with zero budget and no new clothes, and planned in just one day, after I heard about the spill. The heels, the pants, the shirt, the earrings — I've had them for more than a year. I'm not a big shopper; I use what I have to create art. Moving forward, I want to continue communicating the issues the world should be paying attention to.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue