Maybe he’s born with it: ‘boy beauty’ cannot be concealed

James Tsitiridis
Maybe he’s born with it: ‘boy beauty’ cannot be concealed

By Zoë Eitel

Though he knows it’s not entirely healthy, Brock Langel uses glitter hairspray on his face to add a bit of shimmer and contrast to the matte black lipstick he wears that almost matches his black hair.

While he used a thick “emo” eyeliner when first exploring makeup in eighth grade, now Langel typically goes without. He said he likes to use a hard, quick technique to apply his makeup rather than a daintier approach. 

Langel, a freshman fashion studies major who doesn’t necessarily consider himself a “beauty guru,” typically uses makeup to complement his outfit for the day. His black lips coordinate with a green long-sleeved shirt with a black turtleneck over it, cut in an uneven diagonal hem across the middle of his torso. His gray and white, smoky-patterned pants have a splash of red on one leg.

“[Makeup] puts me together,” Langel said. “It’s not like I’m craving beauty so much.”

The popularity of YouTubers and Instagram-famous “beauty boys” like Patrick Starrr, Manny Gutierrez, who announced his partnership with Maybelline Jan. 3, Jake Jamie and James Charles, who was named the new face of CoverGirl Oct. 11, 2016, have made it more acceptable for men to wear makeup to reject gender norms, complete a look or create a character. But mass acceptance is still elusive. For most men, wearing makeup while identifying as male still carries a stigma.

In an Oct. 24, 2016, study by internet-based market research firm YouGov on male makeup, 50 percent of the nearly 2,500 men and women surveyed said they negatively view men wearing makeup on a daily basis.

That means some male makeup wearers are likely to experience backlash. Sophomore theatre major Noah Spiegel-Blum said he has watched people move seats on the train so they didn’t have to be near him while he was wearing makeup. Spiegel-Blum typically only wears makeup on the weekends while going out and said his “looks” are more accepted in Boystown than in other neighborhoods or on public transit.

“They just cannot believe the thought that a guy is wearing makeup,” he said.

Though experiences like that do hurt, Spiegel-Blum said it does not deter his love for makeup. 

He typically goes for an androgynous look that fits his character, Novaczar Fox, with a contoured face to accentuate his cheekbones. He said he is inspired by looks of the citizens in the Capitol in “The Hunger Games.”

“It’s something they’re not used to seeing every day, and it’s different and exciting,” Spiegel-Blum said. “I like to be a part of that. I like to give people a new take on reality.”

Men wearing makeup dates back to ancient Egypt, where both sexes wore kohl around their eyes in attempts to ward off evil. Ancient Romans wanted paler skin to signify a life of wealth instead of working outdoors in the sun, so they powdered their faces to make them lighter. Men in the upperclass French and English societies wore heavily powdered faces, and King Louis XIII wore makeup around his eyes and rouge on his cheeks.

The latest resurgence of male makeup started in Asia. In South Korea, the men’s grooming industry—which includes skin care and shaving as well as cosmetics—was valued at $1 billion in 2015 with a projected growth of about 50 percent in the next five years, according to a 2015 study by Euromonitor International.

Many K-Pop stars and Asian celebrities wear makeup products such as foundation, eyeliner and eyeshadow, which has caused more Americans to become more familiar and comfortable with the idea of men wearing makeup, said David Yi, founder and editor of men’s beauty and grooming website Very Good Light.

“In Asia, we don’t see K-Pop stars as being any less masculine or any less sexy because they use an eyeliner,” Yi said.

Millennial celebrities like Jaden Smith and Young Thug use fashion to test gender roles with skirts and dresses, breaking barriers in dress that has led to a conversation about it being OK to break those barriers with makeup as well, Yi added. 

As a generation, millennials are redefining and often rejecting traditional concepts of gender and the expectations that come with them, said Barbara Risman, a professor of sociology at University of Illinois at Chicago. The popularity of makeup among men is consistent with that. 

“For some millennials who are pushing back against the constraints of gender—which constrain both men and women—wearing makeup is one of those ways to play with gender, to show they aren’t constrained by old stereotypes,” Risman said.

Risman, who has studied both straight and gay millennial men who wear makeup, noted that the practice is less about sexuality and more about the rejection and questioning of gender roles. 

“Makeup has no gender; makeup has no sexuality,” Yi said. “It doesn’t make you any less of a man for wanting to express yourself through makeup.”

Drag queens led the way for makeup use to be introduced to men in the LGBT community, and celebrities like David Bowie and Boy George made the idea more feasible for men who didn’t want to craft an entire drag persona to wear a makeup look. 

However, acceptance of the practice is far from widespread in the LGBT community. Spiegel-Blum and Langel both said wearing makeup is often seen as a turnoff or looked down upon by other gay men because it is too feminine.

Spiegel-Blum even started posting more masculine-looking photos on gay dating apps because of the negative reactions he was receiving. Because of the comments, he often waits until he knows people well before he lets them know about his love for dramatic makeup.

“[Makeup] is a hobby for me—it’s performance,” Spiegel-Blum said. “I don’t understand why it’s such a turnoff. The idea that it can’t be worn outside a feminine category is awful.”

Fashion and cosmetics labels Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs both unveiled lines of makeup and grooming products specifically for men in 2013, but smaller, independent companies were ahead of the curve.

MËNAJI, an advanced men’s skincare company, was founded in 2000 for industry men and bought and repurposed for the mass market in 2010. The company sells functional rather than transformative makeup including concealer and anti-shine powder packaged under labels like “911” and “Camo.”

President of MËNAJI Pamela Viglielmo said in a Feb. 2 emailed interview that marketing the products under those terms make them easier to understand and use. 

“You only have a few seconds to make a first impression,” Viglielmo said. “Likewise, you only have a few seconds to teach a man how to cover up pimples.”

Started in 2010, Formen carries similar products such as concealer and anti-shine powder. Andrew Grella, CEO of Formen, said large companies coming out with male makeup lines and spokesmen shows that there is a market for these products, but marketing them can be a challenge.

“In North America specifically, there’s still a stigma associated with trying to put your best face forward, and using those products is kind of a taboo,” Grella said.

Many things associated with women are stigmatized, Risman noted, which translates to men who like those same things being stigmatized as well.

Though Risman said there is no tangible number to represent how many men today are wearing makeup in their daily lives, she said it is a growing market that will continue to expand because of the potential to make money from it in a capitalist society.

Instead of being discouraged by the lack of acceptance for male makeup, Langel is heartened by signs of change such as James Charles as the first  model for the makeup line is moving things along.

“The boy beauty movement is a movement; it’s not just a trend; it’s not just a niche culture,” Yi said. “This movement is only getting bigger, and 2017 is the year it’s going to explode.”

Spiegel-Blum said he thinks there are more men who are interested in makeup and want to try wearing it but are scared about what people would think, which he considers unfortunate.

“What are you scared of?” Spiegel-Blum asked. “Are you scared of looking beautiful?”