Male makeup signals a move away from rigid gender roles – but there's a catch

Arwa Mahdawi
Photograph: Jeff Gilbert/REX/Shutterstock

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Here come the beauty boys

Masculinity is getting a makeover. John Lewis, the British chain of department stores, recently announced that it is opening a permanent makeup counter for men. This follows a hugely successful trial in its flagship London store; demand for War Paint for Men, a range of male-focused cosmetics, was 50% higher than expected.

“We are finally starting to see men’s makeup become the norm and break the stigma that has been around for years,” said Daniel Gray, the founder of War Paint.

Male makeup hasn’t been entirely destigmatized. There’s a reason that the brand is called War Paint, after all. You’re not buying girly cosmetics, fellas, this is camouflage! But Gray is right; attitudes are changing fast. The male personal care market has grown exponentially over the past decade, and is expected to hit $166bn by 2022, according to Allied Market Research. Big brands have starting to cash in on the trend; the likes of Tom Ford and Chanel have launched male beauty products in recent years.

Social media has been a big factor driving this change in attitudes. High-profile male beauty influencers like Jeffree Star and James Charles, who became the first male face of Covergirl in 2016, have helped redefine the category, demonstrating that makeup isn’t just for women. The global rise of K-pop, known for its pretty boys in full faces of makeup, has further propelled the cultural shift.

The growth of male makeup is also linked to a broader shakeup of the gender binary. Younger generations are embracing gender-fluidity and there’s been an increased demand for gender-neutral fashion. According to Mintel, more than two-thirds of Gen Z males have said they’re interested in gender-free beauty products, rather than traditionally male packaging. So, when it comes to younger guys, War Paint may want to rethink its marketing strategy.

Generally speaking, the rise of male makeup is a positive thing. It’s a sign that we’re moving away from rigid gender role towards a more fluid future. However, there’s also a dark side to the trend. As male beauty standards evolve, men are under increasing pressure to conform to these standards, and are becoming more image-conscious than ever. Male body image issues are on the rise and studies suggest men are now just as likely to be insecure about their appearance as women. The only true winner in the rise of male makeup, it would seem, is capitalism.

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