In the first episode of the 2018 Netflix reboot of the hit series ‘Queer Eye’, grooming expert Jonathan Van Ness pulls aside 57-year-old divorcee Tom to walk him through his new skincare regimen. Tom, who suffers from lupus, has patchy skin redness on his face. Jonathan shows him a product called green stick and teaches him how to apply it to diminish the redness on his nose and cheeks, dapping it on discreetly and gently rubbing it in.
This moment might have seemed innocuous in a premiere episode full of personal revelations and a few tears, but it is symbolic of a rapidly growing trend around the world: makeup for men. Male cosmetics are on the cusp of having a moment. In fact, the growth of male cosmetics has outpaced women’s cosmetics since 2010.
But what distinguishes male cosmetics? What is driving this new trend and what does it mean for the larger, ongoing conversations about masculinity and body positivity?
Male cosmetics exist for the same reasons that women’s cosmetics exist. They allow men the opportunity to look and feel how they want to, take greater control of their physical presentation, and boost their confidence. Male cosmetics are designed to serve the same purposes that female cosmetics do – like evening skin tone, concealing blemishes, and highlighting features – and although many assume new or altered names for men (guyliner, manscara), men are ultimately buying the same products that women are.
The difference today is that cosmetics products are being specifically developed and targeted at men with marketing and branding campaigns. Chanel (Boy de Chanel) and Tom Ford (Tom Ford for Men) have both launched their own lines of male cosmetics, and early sales numbers suggest more is on the way.
These products are designed to appeal to some of the different image standards for men. Men typically opt for thicker, heavier eyebrows, for example, and have bigger pores. Products are also available to help men improve the definition of their beards or receding hairlines.
Male grooming is symbolic of our changing sense of masculinity
These shifts in the cosmetics landscape largely involve new efforts to target straight, cisgender men and bring them into the make-up fold, challenging conventional attitudes toward masculinity. Men suffer from many of the same insecurities about their appearance that women do but have long been societally conditioned not to vocalise these concerns. The growing willingness to wear cosmetics, particularly among millennials, speaks to a greater willingness to be open and frank about the image and self-esteem issues that trouble men.
Greater opportunities for self-expression and modification, however, will inevitably invite greater scrutiny. Will a renaissance for men’s cosmetics usher in an era of the same unrealistic beauty standards that heap so much pressure on women?
On another note, makeup has become an increasingly political form of personal expression and identification. Embraced by the transgender community as an effective means to identify with their gender identity, makeup is becoming less a tool to hide away flaws and more an avenue to better control how people present themselves to the world. The politics of body image can make examining the differences between benefits and risks of cosmetics and its broadening appeal a fraught affair. How this ongoing conversation pans out will likely determine whether make-up for men becomes a passing trend or if it’s here to stay.
The larger conversation about body positivity
Does the rise in male cosmetics run contrary to the similarly growing movement of body positivity? Many online body positivity activists don’t think so.
“Body positive women wear makeup all the time,” said activist Michelle Elman in an Instagram post on the subject.
The confluence between cosmetics and body positivity owes to the double standard of “makeup-shaming”, which sends the message that women are inauthentic when they wear makeup but ugly or lazy when they don’t.
Will men soon face the same double standards, or will men like Tom finally be able to walk the streets, greenstick in their pocket, and have no fear of judgement and mockery? Will we soon see more men using makeup to present themselves the way they want to be seen? After all, the message Jonathan Van Ness is sending on Queer Eye is not to hide your disgusting body behind a layer of paint. He is simply saying that it is okay to take pride in your appearance.
If this new trend results in heightened awareness and empathy toward the pressures, expectations, and impossible standards that women face daily, one can only hope.
For more thought-provoking content like this one, subscribe to the Zizacious newsletter today!