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It’s a story about bad skin and low self-esteem that anyone can relate to: A vlogger, who uploads new videos twice a week to YouTube, began to wear makeup back in high school. “I struggled with acne,” the vlogger explained. “I was very sensitive when it came to my skin.” Wearing makeup, the vlogger told the Daily Dot in an email, “made me feel confident and helped me get through the day.”
The vlogger is Patrick Quirky, a Los Angeles-based men’s beauty and fashion expert. He recently started doing makeup tutorials since joining YouTube in 2008, making him part of the small but substantial community who film makeup tutorials for men. Quirky’s Nov. 26 tutorial, for example, teaching men how to contour—a highlighting technique popularized by the Kardashians—has over 12,000 views.
Type the words “makeup tutorial” into the search bar on YouTube and prepare to be overwhelmed. These are results that come up: getting pro looks with drugstore products, contouring, bridal looks, holiday looks, first date looks, smoky eyes, red lips. These first few pages of results have one thing in common: They’re all for women. That’s not exactly shocking. Makeup is associated with the feminine in most cultures and every major makeup brand markets itself exclusively toward women. When men wear makeup, it has either been as a costume, a joke, or more recently, a experiment on how the other half lives.
That is changing, slightly. The men’s grooming industry is expanding beyond moisturizer and face wash to color cosmetics. The designer Tom Ford, whose lipsticks are the stuff of legend, sells concealer and bronzing gel in his Tom Ford For Men collection alongside other men’s grooming items. Marc Jacobs, another designer-turned-beauty-guru, sells several products, including a concealer, on a section of his site called “Boy Tested, Girl Approved.” Clinique sells a bronzer for men (though a lot of the reviews come from women), and brands like KenMen, ForMen, 4Voo, Menaji and The Men Pen have foundations, concealers and other products specifically marketed towards guys. The packaging on these products are designed to appeal to guys with gunmetal colors, antlers, minimal options, and names like “LIPROTOCOL.”
Still, all the branding in the world will not address that most men were not raised in the makeup ether. They missed crucial bonding experiences where knowledge about beauty products and their application is passed along, like Mom teaching her daughter to apply lipstick and blot with a tissue. So when it comes to makeup, men need a little extra help. For women looking to change their appearance, there are no shortage of eager department store makeup artists ready to pounce with Allure‘s buzziest new mascara. For men, who may not be received at the beauty counter with quite the same reception, there is the Internet.
Brian Wang of Fremont, California, first began wearing makeup in mid-2013. He’s a typical men’s beauty product customer in that he uses makeup more for concealing effects than the enhancing ones. “I had noticed that the redness on my cheeks (due to rosacea) and my under-eye circles seemed to be enhanced in my videos, and I wanted to find a way to reduce the appearance of it,” he told the Daily Dot over email. Wang now reviews beauty products on his YouTube channel, RosendaleWrites, where his tutorials have gotten over 270,000 views.
Wang and Quirky’s goal is one many women seek as well—how to wear makeup while looking like you’re not wearing makeup. But while makeup tutorials for women often experiment with bright lipstick and colorful eyeshadow, Wang said most tutorials for men stick with the natural look. “I think most men, especially straight men, would feel somewhat embarrassed if others knew they were wearing makeup,” he said.
That certainly seems to be the case on online: There are “no makeup” looks for men, looks that are “natural and flawless,” and a lot of tips for covering acne. A few go a little farther, like showing how to fill in eyebrows or contour your face, but none go so far as teaching men how to apply a bold lip.
Getting past the hurdle of encouraging men to wear makeup in the first place is half the battle. According to Quirky, even when makeup is unnoticeable, straight men are still less inclined to try it out. “I typically don’t give makeup tips to any of my straight friends,” he said.
As men who openly wear makeup and advocate for others to wear it, too, belonging to this subculture can come at a cost. While many guys who post makeup tutorials online receive positive feedback, there are always those who say men shouldn’t wear makeup, or call the posters derogatory terms. Wang has gotten “negative feedback,” as he put it, for wearing makeup. And it’s not just anonymous commenters: Wang’s own parents gave him a hard time for painting his face. Fortunately, they’ve since come around, now saying he looks “sloppy” with a bare face. “Initially, they thought that I didn’t need it, and that I looked too feminine,” he said.
In an article about “gender neutral” clothing for young girls, author Audra Williams wrote in the National Post:
“If gender neutral clothes are only made for and marketed to the parents of little girls, it is less a sign of gender equality and more an indication of the misogyny that is so ambient in our culture. There is such a devaluing of anything traditionally feminine that we’d rather chuck it out triumphantly than ever demean our boys with it.”
The same goes for makeup. Girls are often empowered to not wear any (how many boy bands have told them they’re more beautiful without it?), and that’s great, but it’s still positioning the masculine as neutral. Girls can and do go makeup-less, wear jeans and cut their hair short and still be seen as girls. Embracing what society has labeled feminine is tougher for boys to pull off.
Quirky believes attitude is changing and that it is “becoming more acceptable” for either gender to wear makeup. “Our generation is so open-minded. We are so accepting of all different kinds of gender, race, sexuality and people are starting to truly become their authentic self with no worries,” he explained. “We are able to be ourselves and create our own ‘normal.'”
Even if that change is slow, makeup tutorials for men show that more guys than ever are willing to give it a shot. “The more men [who] start using makeup, the more it will become socially acceptable,” said Wang. And now, men can no longer hide behind the excuse that they don’t know how.
Photo via Natasia Causse/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Jaya Saxena is a lifestyle writer and editor whose work focuses primarily on women's issues and web culture. Her writing has appeared in GQ, ELLE, the Toast, the New Yorker, Tthe Hairpin, BuzzFeed, Racked, Eater, Catapult, and others. She is the co-author of 'Dad Magazine,' the author of 'The Book Of Lost Recipes,' and the co-author of 'Basic Witches.'