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Make-up for men: a progressive expression or just a stunt?

Written by Beauty

On 2 January John Lewis & Partners became the first high street outlet to have permanently opened male beauty products to its stores and online.

The concession is run by ‘War Paint For Men’, a brand founded by Daniel Gray in November 2018. The brand was developed by Gray to overcome body dysmorphic disorder, wherein one worries about their appearance regularly. He uses makeup to deal with his insecurities. He emphasises his brand is not about perfection, but of building self-confidence through their appearance.

‘War Paint For Men’ was supported by two investors from BBC’s Dragon’s Den for £70,000, with a 12% share in the business. It was successfully tested in January on John Lewis’ Oxford Street store. The demand has exceeded 50% higher than the company’s expectations. This recent announcement raises questions about the male body image and cultural gender roles.

The concept of men wearing make-up is nothing new. It traces back from 3000BC onwards as men used plant-based products to paint their skin and fingernails. Ancient Celtics also painted their bodies in blue to represent ferocious fighters and was feared by Romans.

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In recent years makeup has been transformed by ordinary YouTube stars. James Charles started his own makeup tutorials at the age of 16, illustrating how to do complicated contoured looks and completely changing his appearance. Charles has accrued 16.7 million subscribers and was the first male cover for CoverGirl. The increasing recognition of makeup in the LGBT+ Community expands further to makeover series such as Queer Eye and RuPaul’s Drag Race. In 2019, David Beckham wore a teal eyeshadow for the cover of Love Magazine. Make-up now is as a symbol for self and artistic expression by breaking gender boundaries and redefining societal standards of beauty.

‘War Paint For Men’ has encouraged the expansion of make-up to the male demographic. From the outset, the brand deconstructs the stigma surrounding make-up and masculinity that has lived throughout decades. Make-up was usually targeted for women and men who subverted such mindset were deemed flamboyant. In department stores, cosmetics were usually seen in women’s counters. This positioning reinforces binaries and signifies make-up as a feminine product. This historical shift suggests a demand for wider representation for gender fluidity within more products.

However, the binary is not fully denounced. The term ‘war paint’ conjures visions of armour, camouflage and strength. This encapsulates how make-up can be liberating, whilst simultaneously echoing traditional masculinity. The brand becomes ironic with its aim to give men some choice. It generates values that men ‘must’ aspire to be. The words ‘for men’ limits spaces for experimentation, liberated from any social constraints.

‘War Paint For Men’ offers a good beginning to challenging gender stereotypes. It highlights that men are also interested in beauty and skin care. It is an outstanding start to normalising male beauty products and enhancing positive self-image. By raising awareness on this topic, the rigid meaning of masculinity can be provoked, so the future generation do not have to face them.

Last modified: 27th February 2020

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