Each day, we are exposed to countless makeup advertisements, from beauty gurus promoting their favourite products on social media, to L’Oreal telling us we’re worth it through our television screens. But how often do we consider makeup without deviating from the feminine concept? After all, it’s the Clean Girl aesthetic, and as Maybelline says, it’s maybe She Who’s born with it. Not him.
Not to mention the ‘no makeup’ makeup look, or what we recognise today as the ‘Clean Girl’ aesthetic – a Tik Tok trend entailing yet another female beauty standard which took millennials by storm.
Although the beauty industry is undeniably female-dominated, makeup has never ‘belonged’ exclusively to women. Men have been wearing makeup throughout history. In fact, the earliest records of men wearing makeup date as far back as 3000 BC in China and Japan. Men would wear natural substances to create a form of nail polish, symbolising wealth and status.
Moreover, in ancient Egypt, men used black pigment to create cat-eye designs as a symbol of masculinity— heavy eyeliner was worn too, once again attesting wealth and status.
Even the Romans wore lip paint to indicate their social ranking throughout 100AD. In 18th century France, wigs were popularized by King Louis XVI, who preferred to hide his premature baldness. He was also a supporter of makeup, whitening his skin with powder and concealing beauty marks.
Makeup has been worn throughout history to represent the very concept of masculinity
And yet today, there is a general stigma towards men who wear makeup. It seems ironic that men who wear makeup are not considered ‘masculine’, even though makeup has been worn throughout history to represent the very concept of masculinity.
So, when did makeup draw further towards one end of the gender spectrum? Why is it no longer associated with symbols of masculine power?
As makeup usage changed across sub-cultures, it is difficult to track the cause of the decline of male users.
But when we examine the events in England during the Middle Ages, we notice a shift in perspectives of makeup and religion. From the 1500s, a connection was forged between makeup and magical powers, spurred by Queen Elizabeth I. It became associated with witchcraft, with red lipstick becoming a mark of prostitution.
Makeup became closely attached to ideas about crime and sin
In such, the Church and the State condemned makeup as sinful, both for women and for men. However, in the reign of Queen Victoria, makeup became closely attached to ideas about crime and sin – men could even be arrested from wearing it.
The Enlightenment period saw the condemnation of drag, associating it with homosexuality which meant that makeup on men became a topic of taboo.
Even as little way back as the 80s, men who wore makeup were viewed as alternative and rebellious, driven to hide in underground clubs excluded from society.
Perhaps we can refer to recent studies to explore the lingering stigma today.
An Ipsos survey found that whilst 73% of males over fifty-one said that they would not use cosmetics, only 37% of males 18-34 were against it. Clearly, young men are showing an increased interest in grooming and looks, continuously demonstrating that the concept of gender is not restricted to biological sex.
We have advanced beyond the restrictive construction of stereotypical gender ideals
Prejudice towards men wearing makeup seems to be more prominent within the older generation, which shows how far we have advanced beyond the restrictive construction of stereotypical gender ideals.
With the erosion of hegemonic masculinity, our society today is more inclusive and diverse than ever- so what about him? What’s the difference between her and him?
One notable observation of the general reaction towards male cosmetic users is that when his eyes are lined or his nails are painted – it often leads to assumptions regarding his sexuality, his identity, his masculinity whilst she is not. In our heteronormative world, we have standards about what is regarded as usual, and when an individual strays too far from their stereotypical role – they are not classed into this category of ‘usual’- despite there being a growing market for men’s makeup.
Companies such as Stryx and War Paint for Men market makeup specifically for males but must be discreet in their advertisements. For example, Stryx is “redefining men’s cosmetic and skincare products. We engineer discreet products for men, so that men can easily and comfortably look their best.”
Moreover, Alpha Male Cosmetics founder Anttoni Lopez states, “The fact is that most men who wear make-up are not doing so to feel like women. They simply want to cover scars, discoloration and/or everyday blemishes.”
Stryx’s and Lopez’s words indicate that whilst the most famous male beauty gurus such as James Charles and Bretman Rock are positively encouraging gender fluidity through their creative expressions, most men who wear makeup prefer to do so subtly. They wish to retain a masculine ideal. The problem is that the desire to be ‘masculine’ is still viewed in conflict with wearing makeup as it still possesses a feminine name.
And yet, not just one type of man wears makeup. It is not reserved for just homosexual men, nor is it only used by the man who wishes for it to be as unnoticeable as possible. Iconic starts such as Prince, Bowie and Mick Jagger and all exhibited a flair for cosmetics which expressed a fusion of masculine-feminine creativity.
It is no secret that male actors and celebrities such as Leonardo Dicaprio, Simon Cowell, Johnny Depp and more wear makeup too showing visual creativity is not an inherently female expression.
The truth is, makeup is not exclusive to one sex or gender, and it never has been. We could maybe all be born with it, and we are all worth it. As the Western world embraces the death of gender stereotypes, society will become more comfortable with the fact that makeup is for everyone.
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