Exposing the myth behind men’s beauty
Written by Sabina Sysantos
The beauty industry is slowly opening its female-centric doors to another crowd.
The beauty industry has come a long way from having once thrived on the exploitation of women’s insecurities for profit. Within the last decade, we’ve seen a paradigm shift as women have worked to reclaim perceptions of what ‘beauty’ means and what purpose the industry serves in modern society. Women, along with queer communities, have come to place greater value in ideas of self-care and self-expression, and the ways that beauty products can reflect this beyond the superficial. Cosmetics are now offered as tools for exploring conceptions of oneself with a sense of agency, creativity, and freedom. And only just have we come to realise that these new understandings of the beauty world now also apply to those who had always been barred from it: heterosexual, cis-gendered men.
Men’s beauty is a growing industry that continues to expand as rigid gender norms collapse. The men’s personal care market has gone from relatively nonexistent to a booming industry expected to hit US$166 billion in 2022, according to a report by CNBC. More men have become open to investing in skincare, hair and facial hair care, non-invasive surgeries, and what perhaps has been the most controversial of all, makeup. What used to only be referred to as ‘grooming’, has now metamorphosed into full-fledged beauty — because yes, men are allowed to feel beautiful too.
Most notably, we’ve seen the expansion of Chanel’s makeup line to include Boy de Chanel. The line was first released in South Korea in 2018, and provided a humble offering of foundation, eyebrow pencil, and lip balm. Recently, the collection has been updated to include nail polish, concealer, eyeliner, and moisturiser that doubles as after-shave cream. As stated in their press release, Boy de Chanel aims to knock down traditional beliefs of masculinity and encourage men to “break free of codes and rewrite the rules.” Chanel isn’t the first big name to foray into ‘men’s makeup’, but it’s definitely helped set the pace of the industry.
A number of male-targeted beauty start-ups have begun to emerge within the last two years. Up-and-coming brand Faculty takes inspiration from streetwear culture and presents cosmetics in a way that’s already familiar to the modern male consumer: through limited-edition product drops. “We just want to make your daily skincare and nail kit really fucking cool,” states founder Umar ElBably. Then there’s New York-based label, Stryx, who runs with the tagline, “nothing wrong with handsome”. British brand War Paint is probably the most well-known among them, though perhaps infamously. The company continually receives backlash for problematic branding decisions that feel counterproductive and appear to perpetuate toxic masculinity.
Such issues come at no surprise while this facet of the industry is still trying to find its footing. It appears the main focus of male-targeted makeup brands is to introduce men to the concept of wearing makeup in the least threatening way possible; traditional ideas of masculinity are more or less still reinforced, in attempts to offset anxieties around feeling emasculated. Brands limit themselves to tightly curated product lines that don’t allow for the same creative play that other makeup brands do, and often use words like “discrete” and “undetectable” to market their products. They almost always specify that they are ‘For Menv when they generally contain similar ingredients and serve the same purposes as products that don’t.
It’s important to acknowledge the industry’s efforts to begin accommodating a group that had never been allowed to participate before. Though, as the formerly paradoxical concept of ‘mens beauty’ becomes normalised, we should only hope to see men feel comfortable buying whatever beauty products they may want, for whatever reasons they may have. Today’s leaders in skincare and makeup such as Fenty, Glossier, The Ordinary, Milk, Urban Decay and M.A.C have continually expressed that they are for any and every body, with men ranging from Ezra Miller to A$AP Rocky representing their male audiences. Brands like these have begun to progress towards a non-gender-specific beauty industry, and present an optimistic future for a generation of consumers who care less about labels and instead choose to define their identity on their own terms.