Earlier this month, beauty brand CoverGirl made headlines for debuting its first “Cover Boy,” YouTube and Instagram star James Charles. The move was rightly hailed as progressive by many media outlets. And Charles’s CoverGirl status is also highlighting the increasing number of men who are using their make-up skills to gain social media fame. As Broadly noted earlier this year, in addition to Charles, there’s Patrick Starrr, Jeffree Star (no relation), Manny Mua, and Kurtis Dam-Mikkelsen (better known as his drag persona, Miss Fame), to name a few.
But as thrilling as it is to see men abandoning antiquated ideas about masculinity, it is worth noting that many of these male makeup pioneers, including Charles, are gay men. This identity may give them more freedom to gently bend (or outright break) expectations around gender expression. Meanwhile, straight men who wear makeup are still few and far between. There was Prince, of course, and other artists and musicians like goth icon Robert Smith have also been known to don lipstick and eyeliner. But that’s about it. Furthermore, straight men who embrace beauty products tend to be viewed as provocateurs, freaks, or dogged by rumors about their sexuality (see, again, Prince, David Bowie, and Robert Smith). Despite the admirable efforts of the short-lived metrosexual movement, most straight men still view the use of beauty products to enhance their appearance as taboo.
That’s because, strides towards gender equality aside, we’re still a pretty misogynistic society. Men who embrace femininity are much more likely to be mocked than, say, a woman who’s a “tomboy.” After all, gender stereotypes, which are designed primarily to create arbitrary and binary power rankings, affect men as well as women. This nasty bit of sexism holds both men and women back by creating arbitrary societal standards of beauty and gender. At the same time, it discourages men from an activity that can be fun, empowering, and a great source of personal expression for men, regardless of their sexual orientation.
The rise of pop feminism has dovetailed with complicated and often contradictory opinions on makeup. Some women find it feminist to break out the eyeliner every morning while others—notably Alicia Keys—believe it’s braver to go bare. But at its most basic level, makeup is an art form like painting, only you use your face as the canvas. Personally, I always find it a little thrilling to see how a little spot of color or shading can change me into an entirely different person. While the medium might be associated with “girly” looks and colors, there’s no reason to limit one’s self to a traditionally feminine color palette. Makeup can be whatever you want it to be—and who doesn’t want to have that kind of freedom?
Similarly, makeup for men isn’t just about drag queen aesthetics or the dramatic styles favored by James Charles (although those are pretty fun). It can also be used in subtler, and less obvious, ways, to improve your appearance while still presenting a “natural” look (i.e. the sort of look most makeup wearing women craft for everyday outings).
Bothered by adult acne? Dealing with dark circles under your eyes? Wish that clean-shaven look lasted longer than a few hours? Women have been using makeup to obscure their imperfections for ages; it’s high time men were let in on a few of these beauty secrets. (Also, it’s an established fact that everyone looks amazing with a little bit of eyeliner. Just ask the ancient Egyptians.)
And then there are the political implications. Earlier this year, a much-discussed study revealed that women who wear makeup at work are often paid more. This suggests that so-called “frivolous” purchases might actually be a career investment. But that’s cold comfort to those who don’t care for the hassle. Plus, do women really need another burden placed on them in the workplace?
Obviously, the best solution would be to stop correlating a woman’s worth with her external appearance. But since that seems unlikely to happen any time soon, why not at least share the burden equally? And if men find themselves put out by the hassle and expense of having to look “professional,” maybe they’ll start to develop a greater appreciation for what many women go through on a regular basis. A girl can dream, at least.