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Chelsea Manning Wrote a Powerful Essay on Beauty and Self-Expression

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Chelsea Manning wrote a poignant essay for Yahoo Beauty about how makeup helped her embrace her identity.

The Army soldier was sentenced to 35 years in military prison in 2013 for sharing classified documents with Wikileaks. After her conviction, she came out as a transgender woman and won the right to receive hormone treatment in prison. She was released from prison in May after President Barack Obama commuted her sentence.

“Being closeted often put me in situations where I couldn’t concentrate or even think straight,” Manning said. “Now I try to be bold.”

Manning, who recently posed for Vogue‘s September issue, said that experimenting with makeup allows her to vividly express herself. When she went to protest President Donald Trump’s transgender military ban announcement last month, she chose to wear a dark lipstick.

“I’m not just saying, ‘I like this edgy color.’ This is an expression of my humanity,” she said. “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.”

She added that embracing her identity takes on new significance in this political climate, as some lawmakers push legislation — including the controversial “bathroom bills” — aimed at limiting transgender rights.

“I really believe in this notion that we can’t have anybody speak for us,” she said. “We need to show up and speak for ourselves now more than ever.”

Read the full essay on Yahoo Beauty.

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Write to Samantha Cooney at samantha.cooney@time.com