Salon has an article up today on a slightly unusual topic: makeup for men. I remember a few years ago, some companies tried this out. And it was ruthlessly mocked pretty much everywhere that there was a platform from which to do the mocking. But apparently, the idea is making a comeback. Sort of.

It’s no secret that actors have been prone to powder their noses, but a growing number of high-profile guys are drawing notice for rocking suspiciously ruddy glows offstage. Alongside Efron, a bevy of pretty boys have been cited recently for egregious makeup application: John Mayer, Jesse McCartney, Ryan Seacrest. Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz, the world’s most approachable hipster and patron saint of “guyliner,” even gave a sober demonstration on applying eyeliner in People magazine a few months ago that would have made the late Tammy Faye Bakker proud.

So are we ready to embrace makeup on men? After all, the Beatles’ long-ish hair was once considered an affront to modest ’60s sensibilities. Or will men’s makeup go the route of the men’s skirt trend circa 2003 that never quite took off?

If foreign markets are any indication, we may be slathering on foundation soon enough. The U.K. drugstore giant Boots has started carrying a men’s makeup line, and H&M in London stocks mascara in its men’s section. In Asia, Japan’s Gatsby line of men’s makeup and South Korea’s Man Holding Flower line by Somang featuring “Color Lotion” are doing brisk business.

But the culture that gave birth to the rugged masculine ideal of the Marlboro Man may not be ready to reach for the blush brush just yet. A GQ survey in 2005 reported that “92 percent of men would not wear makeup even if it guaranteed them a more fulfilling sex life.” U.S. sales figures seem to confirm the ongoing resistance to men’s makeup. Tres Wilson, executive director of Clinique Global Treatment Marketing, said, “Clinique’s Skin Supplies for Men M Cover [a concealer that debuted earlier this year] and Non-Streak Bronzer products sell very well in Europe, much more so than in the U.S.”

Interesting.

You know, I think that the first liberal inclination might be to embrace a culture that accepts makeup on men. It would show a blurring of gender roles, an increased acceptance of varying genders and sexualities and a lack of concern about whether one might be called “gay.” These are good points, but I do have a slightly different take.

Here’s the problem: even men who are interested in makeup don’t generally want to be associated with it. Look at the ridiculous lengths that companies are going to to prove that you can wear makeup and “still be a man.”

Many men prefer to keep their makeup desires on the down-low, and cosmetics companies are happy to oblige, employing discreet packaging and butch names. Take Jean Paul Gaultier’s Brow and Lash Groomer: It is ingeniously designed to look like a pen. It’s also mascara. 4VOO’s impressive-sounding Confidence Corrector is a product better known as concealer.

Even the term “makeup” requires a makeover: The winning euphemism for men’s makeup seems to be “enhancement.” Jean Paul Gaultier refers to its line as “men’s aesthetic enhancement.” Sephora added a “complexion enhancers” category on its site a year ago, and Biotherm Homme’s Power Bronze line of concealer and tinted gel is touted as “instant skin enhancement.”

Here’s what this tells me: men aren’t interested in makeup to enact some kind of different gender role play. The idea is not to explore identity. The idea is that men are becoming increasingly unhappy with their natural bodies. This may seem obvious, but I think it’s important to not forget when discussing whether men wearing makeup is a good thing. Men wearing visible makeup as a form of fun or experimentation = good. Men wearing makeup only because they’re ashamed of how they look, and praying to god that no one knows = bad.

And sadly, more often than not, it seems like the second scenario is closer to what women do. Women aren’t very likely to hide their makeup use, anymore, (though there are still some who go for “the natural look” and fail to see the irony) but they are likely to wear their makeup as an “enhancement.” Generally, they’re covering up and feeling like their natural faces aren’t good enough (which is, duh, why it’s called concealer). That’s why I used to wear full makeup every day. And it is why I still wear foundation, despite my slow efforts to wean myself from it.

I think that the backlash also tells us something:

Even in the metrosexual age, dabbing concealer on a blemish is seen as an emasculating activity. American ambivalence about men’s makeup seems to run pretty deep, as GQ fashion editor Brian Coats can attest, “I just think it can be a scary thing for guys to wear makeup. I kind of understand that.” Coats believes makeup on men is not a good idea for the general population. “A guy should look like a guy. I think in general, guys just look better natural.”

Let’s put away the obvious misogyny and homophobia in the “a guy should look like a guy” sentence to focus on the one that follows: “I think in general, guys just look better natural.”

And, Captain GQ, what about women?

Well, we know what someone who writes for or reads GQ is likely to think on that subject. But it’s also reflective of a larger social view. Men are good as they are, women need fixing.

The fact is that women, “in general,” look better natural, too. Really, they do. But makeup and marketing and a million other social pressures have made us forget that.

Do we really want guys to forget it, too? Isn’t this just going to take the oppression of masculinity and change it into the oppression of artificial appearance? Of course, we’re nowhere near that point, yet.

Men may no longer raise a tweezed eyebrow at the thought of manicures and facials, but makeup still draws severe reactions. The aforementioned GQ survey found that 65 percent of men thought plastic surgery acceptable but that only 14 percent would consider using makeup for a 25 percent salary increase. It seems men would rather go under the knife than get paid to put on some makeup to cover up wrinkles.

Forget pay increases — women are often forced to wear makeup just to get and keep the job in the first place! And they do it. Fighting the man is all good and fine until your comfort of living directly hinges on a fight that is relatively unimportant. If makeup became the expected norm for men, I imagine that they, too, would change their tune.

And that’s not what I want. We’re pushing for equality here, but this is the exact wrong way to do it. Forcing ridiculous physical standards on men doesn’t make us “even” — it just makes us both fucked. Despite what MRAs say/think, my efforts towards equality do not hinge on making men’s lives worse. I just want to make women’s lives better.

When makeup is something that both men and women wear optionally as a form of fun self-expression, like dressing up or changing an outfit, instead of as a desperate bid to constantly look “perfect” and a way for companies to make money off of self loathing, I’ll be down with makeup for men. As it is, I don’t feel that it’s where we, as liberals/progressives/feminists, etc., want to go.

What do you think?

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{ 7 comments }

1 Kate October 30, 2007 at 10:58 pm

I think you make a very good point. The kind of men that expressive make-up would appeal to, often already do wear make-up. I feel like there are many more counter culture genres now where I see guys with painted nails, eyeliner, and lipstick.

2 sara no h. October 31, 2007 at 2:37 am

I also don’t want to see men becoming slaves to makeup as a way to hide their naturalness; I never got into it, so I’ve gotten flak in the past for nonconformancy, and really I wouldn’t want to put anyone else through that. Plus, makeup is expensive, and I also don’t want to put anyone through that.

Makeup for fun though? Hell yes, bring it on! I love eyeliner on most people, and as far as I’m concerned, anything that means I can spirit gum on some extra bits on days other than 31 October is a good thing. Heh :)

3 Mary Tracy9 October 31, 2007 at 12:02 pm

“Forcing ridiculous physical standards on men doesn’t make us “even” — it just makes us both fucked.”

You said it all. BRAVO!

4 dew October 31, 2007 at 3:14 pm

I think makeup looks disgusting. On everyone. So I probably have no place in this discussion, since I can’t even take the first step and understand why anyone thinks it looks good to glop sticky gunk onto his or her face.

5 Sayrah November 1, 2007 at 9:55 pm

On one hand, it would be amazing if men could quit being afraid of looking “gay” or “feminine” and be comfortable with wearing makeup. On the other hand, however, women are so obsessed with wearing makeup because it is the norm and they feel that they’re ugly without it. I would hate for men to end up like that, because men don’t really need makeup either. So instead of trying to get men to wear makeup like women, we should try to just get women to stop feeling that they need makeup.

6 rich November 1, 2007 at 10:06 pm

If you have seen American Psycho, there is a scene where Christian Bale describes in detail his facial care routine, including various lotions and facial masks. I remember it struck me as unusual, but nothing that made him less masculine. Taken in context with the whole scene where he’s obsessive about every aspect of his physical appearance, it was darkly comical. I wonder if you or anyone else who’s seen the movie had any similar thoughts.

7 Roy November 5, 2007 at 4:23 pm

As always, great anlysis. I think you’re absolutely spot-on. This isn’t about gender equality in any healthy sense, it’s evidence of the tend towards body loathing that is becoming more common in both men and women.

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