Make-up & masculinity

Written by Diogo Baptista

Glossed lips and bronzed cheeks are a statement and a mark of distinctiveness, but also of inclusiveness. Will a man wearing make-up ever be a hundred percent socially accepted?

 Mishel Peters has always been candid about his experience with wearing make-up. The now 22-year-old works as a freelance make-up artist and part-time employee at the cosmetics store MAC. With almost 7,000 followers on Instagram, he shows that make-up is not just a matter of gender.

From pragmatic to passion
At the age of thirteen, Mishel started wearing make-up to hide the bags under his eyes. He simply wanted to get a boost of confidence and kick his low self-esteem. “It has not always been about self-expression”, Mishel says. Initially, he started experimenting with concealer to even out his skin tone and to hide blemishes. Then he moved onto eyebrow pencils and finally started experimenting with eyeshadow and contouring at the age of eighteen. Now, he feels comfortable in his own skin: “I am extremely confident and I feel empowered when I wear make-up in public. I believe that many people look at me, but don’t say anything because I am a tall and a confidence-showing man. I think they might feel intimidated at times”, he explains. Mishel has experienced some negative comments in the past, but most of the time, strangers are curious, ask questions and compliment him on his looks.

Mishel started doing the make-up looks on himself and then he would wear them to dinners and special occasions. As soon as he started posting his own make-up looks on his Instagram, brands such as NYX, Too Faced and Tarte Cosmetics would put the 22-year-old on their PR list and send him all kinds of make-up. With the different sponsorships, Mishel got the opportunity to build his kit. As his collection of cosmetics got bigger, Mishel started working independently and would organize bookings for different occasions. Now his Instagram profile serves as a business platform displaying his style and skills.  

Baby steps in the industry
Mishel is one example of many that show how the male-grooming business is growing exponentially. Luxury brands such as Chanel, Tom Ford, and Marc Jacobs are considered as creators of this new male landscape, having launched new cosmetic lines specifically for men in 2018. Chanel’s first make-up line for men featured foundation, an eyebrow pencil and brush, and a lip balm. 

Still, the beauty and skincare aisles are clearly divided between men and women products. “Women prefer to have a product that has a sweeter scent. Men on the other hand like a natural or strong scent”, he says. Mishel elaborates on the fact that it isn’t necessary to label make-up differently for men and women. “Everyone has a different type of skin, different taste and expectations – regardless of their gender.” On the other hand, he understands that in terms of marketing, it is a contributing factor for men to embrace their tendency towards beauty care and feel more comfortable buying an item that is marketed towards men. Mishel believes it won’t be long before other make-up brands join Chanel and co. in producing male-focused beauty products or larger cosmetic brands start developing campaigns and formulas that meet their male customer’s wants and needs. 

Society split between biased opinions
Acceptance of men in make-up is ushering in a new era of masculinity, fed by actors, influencers, and YouTubers such as James Charles with over fifteen million followers on Instagram and Jeffree Star with over twelve million followers. Such internet celebrities are helping to redefine the cosmetic industry. “I think people of our generation have different views on gender norms and standards. Sometimes I get approached by guys who ask me to show them how I do my make-up.” 

Although boundaries between men and women wearing make-up are coming down, we still live in a culture of toxic masculinity that restricts what’s acceptable and what’s not. “I do understand that for some people I look less masculine”, he says. Mishel doesn’t correspond as to why the concept of a man putting on make-up and creating a canvas for self-expression would make you less of a man. 

With this in mind, most young people are being more tolerant towards gender benders. Michel stresses the importance of having visibility of men in make-up as a key driver for wider acceptance. “It’s not about making it necessarily the norm or a dominant trend, but at least to make it more common and accepted in society. The more men wear make-up in public, the more others will feel a boost of confidence and not feel like they’re taking a great leap of faith. And that’s the whole point.” As gender becomes less defined with the years, make-up and masculinity are no longer mutually exclusive either. 

 “Instagram is a platform where I show who I am and what I stand for. I get most of my job inquiries through Instagram, but it is also a societal display to promote make-up among men and incentivize other guys to feel comfortable with the concept as well.”