Making Faces

explores society’s changing attitudes towards men wearing makeup

“It’s no longer taboo for men to wear skincare and beauty products.” Thank God for that. Of course, I’m not quoting myself: these are words of wisdom from cosmetics goddess Charlotte Tilbury. I must admit, I’m new to the trend. But it all stemmed from a strange, acne-ridden place: while on holiday in Sydney in December, my girlfriend and I spent a lot of time at a MAC makeup counter – and it wasn’t for her.

Yet there was scarcely a better $38 (AUD) spent in my life. The marvellous, high-end concealer I bought was able to turn back the tides of puberty in a way that Pokémon Go never could. Better still, I was more attractive for it: behold a real-life Photoshop, a life hack which I couldn’t believe that so many men still refuse to take advantage of.

Or do they? My Australian makeup artist begged to differ. “Don’t worry, I know loads of men who do this as well”, she said in reassurance as the skin tests began. I didn’t believe her sales talk at the time. Or maybe MAC makeup is so good, she was right and nobody can bloody tell. My grade-A bloke of an older brother didn’t question my airbrushed complexion (hence I survive to tell the tale).

But there clearly is demand for it. Astonishingly, when Alex Dalley started ‘MMUK MAN’, his own makeup company geared exclusively towards men, he went from investing £1100 in a discontinued line of Calvin Klein foundation, to raking in £1m a year in sales. Prominent figures such as Tom Ford have also seized the moment to capitalise on this quiet yet bustling market, releasing men’s makeup lines of their own. While Charlotte Tilbury hasn’t gone this far, she’s released a brilliant tutorial on how men can achieve an ‘undercover’ natural look with a surprising array of suitable products.

Of course, ‘undercover’ isn’t exactly the look many proponents of men’s makeup are going for. Unabashedly radical in his opposition to established male aesthetic norms, beauty vlogger Manny Gutierrez became Maybelline’s first male spokesperson after building a following of over 544 000 on Twitter, releasing makeup tutorials often surpassing 2m views. In them, he adorns bright eyeshadow, plentiful amounts of mascara, thick eyeliner and refined, ‘on fleek’ eyebrows.

Admittedly, it’s not the look I’d go for. Wearing makeup, for me, is essentially to ‘play the game’ and project, on the whole, an acceptably clean-cut, yet still masculine image. Aware as I am of being complicit in reinforcing gender norms, which I recognise are socially constructed, I’m simply not courageous enough to pioneer their demise. Nonetheless, this entire trend, consisting of individuals much braver than I am, undermines the notion of masculinity as an absolute.

Nowhere has this been clearer than the tirade of abuse Gutierrez has received. Conservative blogger Matt Walsh has effectively summed up the opposition: in lamenting the success of Gutierrez and similar men, he entitled his rant post: “Dads, We Can’t Expect Our Sons to Become Real Men If We Don’t Teach Them How”. It strikes a surprisingly anti-corporatist tone, accusing companies such as Maybelline and CoverGirl of having “co-opted femininity… turning it into a grotesque sort of mask, something that can be worn when the mood strikes and removed just as quickly.”

Walsh has a right to be frightened. The conservative concepts of ‘family values’ and, I quote, “real men” (as opposed to “real women”) are facing an existential crisis, should men like himself not be allowed to teach their children gender norms. But why lament its loss? If makeup serves as a mask of femininity, a refuge from the toxicity of ‘lad culture’ and permanent aggression, then so be it. Our new leader of the free world serves as a permanent reminder of how poisonous unfettered testosterone can be. God knows people need a refuge from that – not to mention that it would infuriate his second-in-command.

Maybe Walsh could raise his kids into submission, and prevent them from wearing makeup altogether. Nobody’s doubting his intentions there. Maybe being in such close proximity to my single mother’s makeup bag conditioned me to pick it up myself several years later (hello, Daily Mail headline). Regardless, the root causes no longer matter. Gutierrez’s father in fact works as the vlogger-turned-model’s manager, and was quick to defend his son from the condemnation of Walsh and others. Perhaps, then, this paves the way for a new notion of family: one that cultivates individuality in their children, rather than the idea of family being under threat from the destruction of such norms as Walsh holds dear.

Do I blame growing up in a single-parent family for my experimentation with makeup? Categorically not – but I couldn’t care less either way. It’s got nothing to do with my sexuality, either (remember, I was trying on concealer with my girlfriend). I’d like to think it enhances my attractiveness. The very fact that makeup can be used to enhance entirely opposing – and, indeed, fluid – images of self is a powerful thing indeed.

There’s no doubt that Gutierrez’s success is to be celebrated. However, I highly doubt it will encourage the majority of men to come forward and share in a trend they may not view as their own. Remarkable it may be that the new face of CoverGirl is, in fact, a guy, pink eyeshadow is hardly the look your average cisgender, heterosexual man is going for. Even calling the trend ‘metrosexual’ alienates the majority of them from it – referring to it, misleadingly, as an entirely different sexuality reinforces the point. Makeup’s significance within the LGBTQ community ought not to come at an expense to other men trying it; an image change is greatly needed.

Yet I question why this hasn’t come about already. Markets ought to be quick to identify hidden demand, as well as changes in demographics (we’re hardly out working in the pits anymore). The ‘metrosexual man’ was invented decades ago, but it clearly isn’t a unifying concept. Calvin Klein shouldn’t have needed a small investment to get their men’s foundation out there. But it seems the providers are just as timid as their consumers, and so the cycle self-perpetuates.

This means, for this truly to catch on, men are going to need to be much bolder in admitting their hidden advantage. It may be a remarkably small minority for now, but even in show business, idols such as Tom Hiddleston stand to benefit. In fact, it was Nigel Farage who refused an interview on London Live, because they simply couldn’t provide him with makeup in time. Why should it not also be a necessity off-screen? I doubt Hiddleston or Farage (despite my doubts that he’d be an effective ambassador for the trend) have truly studied the ways of their makeup artist benefactors. Nonetheless, nobody would notice a difference either way – just a subtle, subconscious perception of improvement.

And that’s all men’s makeup boils down to. Rather than merely subverting the levels of masculinity one may identify with, it also serves to heighten and perfect. Calling it ‘metrosexual’, thus implying that it’s alien from heterosexuality, is only stacking the deck in favour of straight men who, quite frankly, don’t care about the judgement. I certainly don’t, and I certainly won’t hereafter.

Do I think Gutierrez is a good makeup artist? There’s no denying that, really, and his following proves it – but I probably wouldn’t let him glam up my own face. But that’s not problematic at all. Generalising makeup on men is how we got into this mess in the first place. The sooner the cosmetic arms race happens among men, the better: at least it means shameless pluggers such as myself are no longer benefitting unfairly.

Not to mention the world’s population of men could probably do with a facelift. It’s too often acknowledged that women put far more effort into their appearance – even if all men were to wear makeup, it would still remain the case. I’m certainly glad I’m not expected to shave anywhere on my body, and, given current preferences, I doubt it would add or subtract to my desirability. Though I don’t doubt for a moment that further trends may come about, and a ‘men’s shaving phenomenon’ may well lead to the next feature in a decade’s time. But you know what? Whatever levels the playing field ought to be celebrated. When women are openly acknowledging that the female form is more attractive to look at, I doubt there’s much primitivity in that. The simple fact is that they try harder. Men need to get a grip – on a high-quality brush, at that.

I’m hardly an A-lister, but I want to be one of the first to plead guilty: makeup works wonders on men. Had I not written this, it’s likely that nobody would have noticed the days I wear it. There is absolutely no shame in having an aesthetic edge, no matter how effeminate it may be deemed, over your sweatier, hormonal peers when stood next to them on a bench in Keller. Nobody even has to know. Nonetheless, the stigma surrounding men’s makeup is dying, slowly: you’ve just got to be bold/fabulous about it.

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