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Boys Do It Better: Yes, Black Men Are Wearing Makeup

Judge me if you must, but I’m addicted to the latest season of “Iyanla: Fix My Life.”  There’s a point to this, I promise…

One particular episode featured seven brothers who survived everything from crack addiction to abondonment—it honestly broke my heart. These men somehow were able to rebuild their family despite growing up in a system, which, to say the least, let them down on a multitude of levels.

As a beauty editor, I’m typically locked into hunting for trends in unusual places. What was a “trend” within the Mitchell brothers? Two of them confidently wore makeup on camera. No, I’m not talking about Daniel Kaluuya rocking Fenty Beauty at the Oscars—think full face beat complete with brows on fleek, contour and perhaps a little lip gloss.

It made me stop and think: How closely is makeup tied with masculinity, especially in the Black community? For many (including some of you reading this), it is still considered a major taboo, but I struggle with why. At the center of it all, isn’t makeup just another form of self-expression or art?

(Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

“Interestingly, thousands of years ago, starting in ancient Egypt, Rome and parts of Asia, it was actually common for men to wear makeup, and this was often associated with traditionally masculine characteristics like power and status,” CoverGirl SVP Ukonwa Ojo shared with me via email.

“Yet, through the years and in more modern times, makeup has become increasingly associated with femininity so far as for that to become the cultural norm. The representations we see of makeup-wearing individuals in media, film and television are predominantly female.”

Yet still, it’s hard for many of us to grasp why men would want to rock products in 2018. “The reason people can’t correlate masculinity with makeup is simply that we have been taught that makeup is a thing that belongs to women,” explained beauty entertainment influencer Kenneth Senegal, @Heflawless.

“We’ve been taught that a man can’t pick up something as feminine as makeup or that women can’t pick up something as masculine as a football. Gender roles have been so forced down our throats that we started giving items such as ‘makeup’ gender roles too.”

Mainstream (read: white) America has embraced the so-called “Boys of Beauty” much more quickly than their Black counterparts. In 2016, CoverGirl broke the mold by naming now 18-year-old James Charles as its first male ambassador. The next year, YouTuber Manny Gutierrez, a.k.a. Manny MUA, signed on as a face for Maybelline, and shortly thereafter, 10-year-old makeup prodigy Jack also made waves in the industry.

Yet, the only POC who has gained a bit of traction is Gary Thompson, a.k.a. Plastic Boy, who starred in a L’Oréal Paris makeup ad—the catch? It was in Europe.

(Photo: Kenneth Senegal/HeFlawless via Instagram)

The question remains, is all this “representation” authentic or a marketing ploy? “I feel that it’s authentic to an extent,” says Travis “Stahr” Milan, @StahrMilan.

“The [brands] that are including males are still not including the Black males that make beauty what it is today. You can easily go online and check out many Black males (PoeticDrugs, HeFlawless, and The Plastic Boy) killing makeup beside myself, but we never get a chance to show our work—all you see is white boys!”

Interestingly enough, hard facts are proving otherwise—male interest in makeup is growing rapidly. According to MAC Cosmetics, male customers represent seven percent of their base, most of which are professional MUAs and part of their PRO Artist Membership. They’ve seen a +26 percent growth in 2017; now represent 34 percent of all PRO members (+12 percent in the past four years). While they don’t create products by gender, best-selling items in their lineup include Prep + Prime, Strobe Cream, Skin Refined T-Zone Treatment and a few others.

“All ages, all races, all genders in all that we do from the start of the brand, and this won’t change,” says Estée Lauder Companies Executive Group President John Demsey. “Men have long been involved and featured in brand campaigns since the brand’s early inception (Rupaul, Elton John, Johnny Weir (holiday collection in 2011), Brant Brothers, Ricky Martin (Viva Glam), professional makeup artists like James Kaliardos. We’ve been working with boy beauty influencers for quite some time—like Patrick Starrr, Jake Warden, Manny MUA, Gabriel Zamora just to name a few.”

Beauty retailer Ricky’s estimates that nine percent of their customer base is male. Karen Brandt, director of purchasing, cites an uptick of male consumers gravitating to the following: sheer foundations to even out skin tone (The Ordinary Colours), concealers and correctors (Ben Nye Coverall Wheel and Tattoo Wheel), cleansers/moisturizers (Murad, Peter Thomas Roth) and matte topcoats (OPI Nail Envy Matte).

(Photo: Markevious Harris/Poeticdrugs via Instagram)

Meanwhile, more and more unisex brands are emerging, all hoping to cash in on the growing category. Everyone from MMUK to Tom Ford Beauty to Milk Makeup are making up for lost time. One line in particular, Jecca Makeup, was created by makeup artist Jessica Blackler after she realized a void in the market for a cosmetics company that overlooks gender yet celebrates individuality.

“I believe brands such as Jecca are breaking down the stigma behind makeup by becoming more inclusive of everyone,” explains Jessica, who counts many transgender women as clients. “I believe in 2018 people are becoming more accepting of male makeup, however there will always be a segment that don’t believe it’s masculine.”

On the other hand, some, like YouTube personality and actor Justin Marcus, @Jay_Lindoo, find this idea problematic. “Makeup is one-size-fits-all! Making a ‘just for men’ makeup brand is defeating the purpose of having more heterosexual men wearing it, because it’s going to automatically be a ‘gay guy’ thing. I think brands now should be more inclusive with guys as models and especially ones of color to appeal to the urban community.”

Despite availability, lack of education seems to be an issue for men wanting to dabble into makeup, which is why David Yi, @seoulcialite, founded the male-centric grooming blog Very Good Light. “Guys have a lack of resources when it comes to a more masculine way of wearing makeup or even one that’s discreet,” he explains.

“There aren’t many references for men to actually see how makeup can enhance their physical appearance. For men in South Korea, it’s all about enhancing themselves. So BB creams are utilized to create the illusion of an even-toned complexion; eyebrow markers or gels create a stronger look. They did a survey of men, and most young college guys said that if they had zero time to get ready for school, they’d always put on a BB cream and do their brows before even brushing their teeth.”

(Photo: Travis “Stahr” Milan via Instagram)

“Social media is really starting to change [the conversation], but shifting long-held societal perceptions isn’t something that happens overnight, which is why –  in 2018 – we still have much more work to be done, even in light of recent positive change,” adds CoverGirl’s Ukonwa Ojo.

David, agrees, citing that the younger generation is much more progressive. “Today, young people from Gen Z don’t think along on these heteronormative lines. Rather, they’re free to express themselves how they want. To them, gender is dead. Makeup is still taboo for older generations for several reasons. Namely, wearing it must mean you are from the LGBTQ community (which scares a certain version of a guy) or that it questions your manhood.”

(Photo: Justin Marcus/Jay_Lindoo via Instagram)

It’s clear we have quite a ways to go when it comes to gender inclusivity within the beauty realm. Beyond our personal responsibility to be more open-minded, the media plays a large role in pushing the conversation forward.

“Have you ever saw a commercial on TV having a man say how this foundation fills his pores and how luminous he looks?” Markevious Harris, @poeticdrugs, asks. “Men wearing makeup is still not the typical norm to society. Brands should be more way inclusive! It shouldn’t take a pop singer (Rihanna) to let people know how many shades of Black there are.”

Which brings up a point—will it take a gender fluid celeb to change the landscape like Rihanna did with Fenty Beauty for women of color? Or can this new wave of boys of beauty create a cultural tsunami that forces us the rest of the industry to catch up. 

“It’s important for brands to make products that meet the needs of all types of people, regardless of their sex, how they define their gender, the color of their skin, or how they choose to represent themselves,” Ukonwa says.  

“And, for brands to feature imagery that spotlights this diversity, to challenge category, societal and cultural norms and show that there is no longer any singular definition of what’s beautiful.”

Until then, we can only hope that men are encouraged to express themselves, whether rocking a beard, bare face or full face of makeup. We know you have thoughts—so leave us your thoughts in the comments below.

Written by Janell M. Hickman

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