Beards and Lipsticks

Though very common through history, what changed during the course of time that made men wearing make-up a taboo?

During one of my visits to Delhi a few months back, I saw huge ad hoardings for an online shopping portal all over—the campaign showed a tall and handsome man wearing a beautiful nose ring and make-up. To me, it was an unusual, striking and strong image! Some of you may think of it as bizarre. Honestly, what’s more bizarre to me is that despite being in the beauty industry for long, I don’t get to read, hear or even see people and industry veterans talk about men’s association with make-up. First, those who think or believe that make-up is just for women definitely have their head in the sand. For those asking why I say that, let’s get the conversation started…

It’s in history
Long before make-up was tagged as feminine indulgence, it was used by men of several ethnicities. From Romans to Egyptians and Asians, men used cosmetics for aesthetic enhancements. Make-up was deeply rooted in Egyptian culture; it was unusual for Egyptian men to leave homes for work without their eye make-up on. They used pigments to create elongated almond-eye shapes. In fact, the colour on their nails indicated their power and status in the society. Rouged cheeks and lips were common too. Romans were particular about their skincare. Use of fragrant oils and mud baths were a part of their everyday care ritual. Midway through the first century A.D., using make-up also became common with Roman men. Use of powder to lighten complexion, rouge and, nails coloured with a blend of pig fat and blood were all there in the beauty books of Roman men.

It’s interesting to note that even in Indian history, both genders used make-up to accentuate their beauty. While kohl was the most popular product with Indian men, (which is still a common practice in some cultural groups), they also flaunted bindis (which is now considered vital only for married Indian women) for spiritual purposes. With such frequent use of make-up by men world over, at what point did it become gender-specific? Breaking the shackles and standing up for what he does, is Jason Arland, Senior Manager of Artistry, MyGlamm; we spoke to him about his thoughts on men donning make-up. “I don’t consider men wearing make-up as an evolution; it was always present but not accepted or showcased this openly,” says Jason.

Things are changing
While researching for this story, I came across an article by a news anchor who described how he carried a make-up kit to work and learned to do his own make-up before facing the camera. In his story, he explained how men applying make-up sounds like an unreal thing but on the other hand, he saw specific make-up products for men in beauty department stores. It was an indication that things are changing…well, I am not talking about complete acceptance in the society but at least the discussion is on the table now. Talking about the current scenario, we encountered a ‘historic’ moment recently when James Charles was named the face of the brand, CoverGirl. That was indeed a groundbreaking decision by the brand to end stereotypes. I also came across some of the biggest YouTube influencers which are male make-up artists. With all this happening around the world, it made me think what’s keeping us from talking about it. The biggest stars of Bollywood and Hollywood have always been wearing make-up to look flawless on screen, but never were questioned or asked about their look in the media or the press. I’ve noticed that the media writes heavily on the same topics for women—about their hair, make-up, skin and about artists associated with them. Maybe if men were questioned in the same manner, the shift would be at a faster pace,” Jason explains.

Now trending
Brands, while conforming to the trend of men wearing make-up, are coming up with specific product ranges for men. As usual the West is way ahead in this, India, hopefully, will soon catch up. “Boy beat is a trend that I am living for! It is all about having your brows on fleek and sculpting your features with some shimmering highlight! I hope this trend never goes away,” says Jason.

He further explains the need of the hour, “I expect the Indian beauty industry to be more supportive of gender neutrality. It can do better than targeting men with products meant only for hair, fairness and fragrance. There is a wide scope of make-up for men too. While I see the shift, I hope that the change is not just visible to artists like me, but advertised and presented a little more openly and tactfully to all men.”

Though his words sound comforting, I, honestly, am not yet convinced. While discussing this topic randomly with my male colleagues and friends, the reactions I got affirmed that even if they are willing to accept other men wearing make-up, they will never be able to try it themselves. No matter how appearance-concious they were, the idea of using make-up in their own routine would not be something they would try.

That stresses my mind with just one question, why?