Man Made up

Most seventeen-year-olds are applying to college, or scheming to pilfer some of their parents’ liquor cabinet without getting caught—not acquiring 860K Instagram followers and landing a major makeup modeling contract. That’s just seventeen-year-old James Charles. In October, makeup monolith COVERGIRL announced that Charles would be their first male model, or what some have called their first “Coverboy.” Charles’ contract represents how society is becoming more accepting of men in makeup. Men wearing makeup is not a new or novel concept; they’ve been wearing makeup for decades: David Bowie rocked bright blue eyeshadow and coral lipstick, Steven Tyler still wears his signature smudged black eyeliner, and of course there’s the drag community and its artistry. When some people think of men wearing makeup, they probably think of men in drag, performing in extravagant makeup—false lashes, dramatic eyeshadow, full coverage foundation, contour, the works. However, men in makeup go beyond those in the spotlight. So many men, of all sexualities, wear makeup on a day-to-day basis—and you may not even notice.

On the double-edged sword that is the Internet, there is a strong community of male beauty Instagrammers and YouTubers reaching a wide audience of all genders. Some like James Charles have captured the attention of hundreds of thousands with eye-catching makeup looks. YouTube tutorials by male artists range from extravagant to simplistic. In his “Fat Bitch Friday” series Tim Owens, aka “Skelotim,” transforms himself to match the packaging of snacks like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Smucker’s Uncrustables sandwiches. Meanwhile, Jake-Jamie Ward, or “Beauty Boy,” offers more practical advice, like how to apply foundation over acne and facial hair.  

Beyond teaching their audiences how to properly blend in contour or set undereye concealer, they also teach self-acceptance and self-discovery. In Patrick Starrr’s “The Power of Makeup” video (which has been viewed over 6.4 million times), he says, “I want to let you guys know that I love you and it’s okay to be yourself.” In another video titled, “I Am a Man,” he addresses specifically menbut also anyonewho might be afraid to wear makeup. He says, “To those of you who are discouraged...if you want to wear makeup, do it...But I know it’s easier said than done.” He then advised on how to build up the confidence to wear makeup: finding a supportive community, and practicing to see what works for you. His positive message reach manyhis YouTube channel currently has 1.8 million subscribers, while his Instagram has 2.6 million followers.

Male makeup artists show us you can rock stubble and razor-sharp winged eyeliner. They also remind us that makeup is not a necessary chore to remediate flaws, but rather it’s a tool for creative expression. Watching Starrr transform himself into a shimmery, iridescent alien in a Halloween tutorial is nothing short of magical. Makeup is captivating, transformative, and overall fun; things that shouldn’t be limited to just one gender.

The makeup industry is taking notice that there’s a huge market in men. COVERGIRL was not the first makeup company to feature male models. For example, Milk Makeup and Anastasia Beverly Hills have had multiple male models in their advertisements. As the cool kid company, Milk offers a slew of innovative products: holographic highlighter that gives the holographic Pokemon cards of your childhood a run for their money, eye vinyl pens that make your eyelids glisten and glow, and face gloss that’ll make your face so shiny (in a good way) that you’ll look extraterritorial. Yet, perhaps one of the more groundbreaking aspects of Milk Makeup is their advertising. They feature models of all genders—some with gapped teeth, or shaved heads. One of their recurring models is Thistle Brown, a male stylist and artist from New Zealand.

However, there are negatives tacked on to this progress. Like their female counterparts, male makeup artists endure online harassment. Bullying is unfortunately a constant, regardless of gender. Except that with male makeup artists, the harassment is unsurprisingly homophobic. Scrolling through the void of YouTube comments, most of the negative posts aren’t necessarily founded in blatant hatred, but rather in ignorance. “Why does a boy wear makeup like a girl?” writes one user. A man wearing makeup challenges the status quo, and some have problems adjusting to the unfamiliar.

Makeup may be liberating for many men, but wearing makeup in some communities can pose a risk. There’s a theme among comments on male beauty videos: men saying that they would love to wear makeup but live in a conservative household or community that wouldn’t accept them if they did; or boys who want to wear makeup to school but are afraid of being bullied by their classmates. In some YouTube and Instagram comments, men ask if wearing makeup makes them gay. “No,” numerous people reply. But these responses don’t always translate to the real world behind the screens, with people judging other’s sexuality based on appearance, including whether they wear makeup or not.

A male COVERGIRL model and a supportive online community of male makeup artists is not going to erase the ingrained homophobia and sexism in our society. But it’s a step in a more positive, accepting direction where all genders can wear as much or as little makeup as they desire.

Photo by: Allison Nguyen