Men in makeup? It’s nothing new.
High-status men in ancient Egypt lined their eyes with black powder as a symbol of social rank. The Korean hwarang warriors are believed to have worn makeup and elegant uniforms. David Bowie wore a lightning bolt on his face, while punk rockers of the 2000s had guyliner.
But a man need not be from an elite class, a warrior, or a celebrity to wear cosmetics. More people around the world and across the gender spectrum are now catching on to the magic of makeup, whether it’s to look good in Zoom calls or to create art.
“I wear makeup because it makes me feel good,” Kenn Dayandayan told VICE.
Dayandayan, a 21-year-old content creator from Ormoc, Philippines, has around 97,000 followers on TikTok, where he posts makeup tutorials for men.
“It just became part of my grooming routine, like brushing [my] teeth or taking a bath.”
It appears that Dayandayan is not alone.
Japanese brand Shiseido reported a double-digit growth in one of its beauty lines for men during the pandemic and said that this is due, in part, to men wanting to improve their appearance in online meetings, AP reported. Even baseball star Alex Rodriguez has a makeup line for men. On TikTok, videos with the hashtag #boysinmakeup now have 225.9 million views in total, while those with #meninmakeup have been viewed 159.5 million times.
Videos with those hashtags show natural looks as well as more unconventional ones, like those of 29-year-old Johnstan Chua, a cosplay and special effects makeup content creator from Singapore with around 307,000 followers on the platform.
“To me, [wearing makeup] is about achieving a different vibe or aesthetic to express my creativity,” Chua told VICE.
He first tried makeup as part of cosplay, but today he also does it “as often as [he needs] to look good.” He said covering his dark eye circles and making his nose look sharper make him feel like he’s presenting a better version of himself to those around him.
Chua has observed a rise in beauty influencers who are men, and credits that in large part to K-pop. He said the increasing popularity of South Korean television and music videos, where men are shown wearing full makeup, helps people realize that makeup on men is not as strange as it may seem.
The popularity of K-pop is just one example of how pop culture has helped change perceptions of men in makeup. Some guys use other celebrities to argue that makeup is not just for women.
“The most masculine of men within celebrity culture wear makeup, so it confuses me why ‘normal’ boys may potentially feel emasculated by the idea of makeup and skincare,” Zak Heath told VICE.
Heath, 18, from Stratford-upon-Avon, England, posts natural makeup content on TikTok, where he has about 127,000 followers. He sometimes gets comments that say “makeup is for women,” “act your gender,” or “be a man,” to which he responds with videos of himself doing more beauty routines.
“These generalized hate comments, which imply that makeup is gendered or only for gay men, do really annoy me, especially when makeup for men is normalized within celebrity culture,” he said.
For Heath, makeup should be normalized as a way for anybody to feel like their best self, regardless of gender.
He said he has received multiple private messages from men who identify as straight and are curious about makeup. These men don’t necessarily want to look like they’re wearing makeup, but they do want to feel more confident. The other TikTokers VICE spoke to said the same, with men asking about everything from wearing eyeliner and mascara to filling in facial hair.
“Makeup is quickly becoming genderless,” Heath said, happy to see more men realizing this.
“I think that those who are confident enough in their own sexuality are able to express their own creativity and individuality a lot easier than those who continue to conform to society’s gendered expectations.”
Makeup can be a way for some men to fit into more conventional beauty standards while others see it as an opportunity to shatter expectations.
“I wear makeup not only to express my creativity and art, but also as an act of rebellion,” John Coronado, a 26-year-old professional makeup artist in New York, told VICE.
Coronado grew up queer in what they described as a “toxic masculine and religious environment” where they didn’t have anyone like them to look up to.
For them, putting on makeup feels like becoming their true, authentic self, without the mask that they feel society pressures them to put on. Coronado has around 251,000 followers on TikTok. They say part of the reason they post their looks on social media is to give queer kids in small towns more than what their immediate environments might provide.
“I want to ensure that the next generation of queer children in small towns who are lost and confused due to not being exposed to things outside of their community will at least be able to go to Instagram or TikTok and be able to see a wider spectrum of possibilities,” Coronado said.
Coronado has noticed an increasing normalization of men wearing makeup, citing new makeup brands created specifically for men as well as existing brands that now target men in their ads.
For these creators, wearing makeup is a way to put their best face forward, express their creativity, and inspire others.
“As we began to shift and ideologies began to change, we are becoming more accepting of this generation who are no longer putting the same gender norms on inanimate objects, products, and clothing,” said Coronado.
Follow Romano Santos on Instagram.