Makeup, Gender and Identity

October 26, 2015

Lately, I’ve been seeing a trend in the makeup industry that reflects a shift in social and cultural norms. And it’s a herald of things that are yet to come.

But first. Before I get into that, you should really watch this video.

No, really. Don’t read ahead until you’ve watched it!!


dot dot dot….

….. did you watch it yet?

Ok, fine. I can’t stop you from reading ahead.

Anywayz, the above video is a fun and playful ad by Shiseido, a Japanese cosmetics brand. Perhaps many of you have already seen it floating around on the internet. Which means it’s probably already been spoiled for you.

Side rant: I hate when gimmicky click-bait headers ruin the fun! Of course you’re going to expect the video to have a twist and predict the shocking outcome when you’re primed with revealing giveaways like “You’ll never see this coming!” or “You think you’re walking into a classroom full of girls! But guess again!” Ugh. Way to ruin it.

Moving on!

What I’ve been noticing a lot recently is this: Men and Makeup.

Men wearing makeup is nothing new. Egyptian pharaohs were pretty heavy handed with the kohl eyeliners. And today there are men whose professions call for wearing a bit of foundation and mascara.

What’s remarkable is how makeup companies have been pushing this trend of men wearing louder and brighter makeup in their marketing.

Take for example this MAC photo of a man with a full beard, flawless skin, and dark smoldering eyes. The image is striking because of the playful contrast between the masculine (ie. beard) and the feminine (ie. makeup).

Subliminally, however, there’s something else going on. There’s a statement being made. And it’s saying, Why not? Why shouldn’t men be able to have fun with makeup too?

I like this trend where makeup is enjoyed for its creativity by everyone.

Makeup was originally referred to as face painting. And that’s what it is. It has the power to transform.

Makeup is a tool not just for beautifying, but also for fantasy and illusion. It is art. And I don’t understand why it should remain a plaything only for women.

Side rant: I’m into guys who wear eyeliner. And maybe I’d be into dressing my man in lingerie and sprinkling loads of glitter on his chest. I don’t know. I don’t know what I’d be into. Because these kind of things are just not done.

It’s not that I think MAC, Shiseido or other beauty companies are doing anything revolutionary. They are, after all, profit machines and they are not going to rock the boat if it means losing customers. But the fact is, they’ve become confident enough to pass off advertisements that would have caused so much outrage a few years ago.

To me, it’s a signal that a cultural shift has happened. One that’s more open to blurring the lines of gender. And I think that’s a positive thing.

Because, really…

What is masculine? What is feminine? And why do we continue to insist on staying within these defined boxes? And why should we keep forcing others to stay inside the box with us?

I’ve always thought that androgyny is the future. And that our attachment to socially constructed identities is based on flimsy grounds. There may come a time when it’s normal to wake up and decide that today, I’ll be a boy! Or maybe the concept of being a boy or girl won’t even exist anymore. And we just are.

Who really knows. I don’t know. But I do know it’s important to keep imagining other possibilities.

There are new horizons for our culture and society to explore. And I want to see where all of this is going.

4 thoughts on “Makeup, Gender and Identity

  1. helene

    Interesting, I had never come accross those adds before. I have to say, I think the shift towards the recognition of more gender neutral standards and transgender people is great! Even though I’m not really into men with eye line, I can see the beauty in these pics

    1. Kareen

      I agree! Allowing our perspectives to shift towards something more inclusive is always a positive thing. I do like being feminine, but it’s also good to step back and see that our ideas of what feminine or masculine means is not written on a stone tablet.

  2. Rae

    I’ve been seeing more men wearing makeup lately. They’re still a minority, though. Just last week, I saw a korean guy who I think is wearing bb cream and a little bronzer.


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