Welcome to the Dollhouse: Men and Beauty Products

Back when pretty much the only men wearing makeup were either rock lords or Boy George, I privately came up with the guideline that if any particular piece of grooming was something women generally performed while men generally didn’t, I could safely consider it “beauty work.” Nail polish and leg-shaving? Beauty work. Nail-trimming and hair-combing? Grooming. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a useful guide in helping me determine what parts of my morning routine I might want to examine with a particularly feminist—and mascaraed—eye.

That rule has begun to crumble. Americans spent $4.8 billion on men’s grooming products in 2009, doubling the figure from 1997, according to market research firm Euromonitor. Skin care—not including shaving materials—is one of the faster-growing segments of the market, growing 500% over the same period. It’s unclear how much of the market is color products (you know, makeup), but the appearance of little-known but stable men’s cosmetics companies like 4V00, KenMen, The Men Pen, and Menaji suggests that the presence is niche but growing. Since examining the beauty myth and questioning beauty work has been such an essential part of feminism, these numbers raise the question: What is the increase in men’s grooming products saying about how our culture views men?

The flashier subset of these products—color cosmetics—has received some feminist attention. Both Naomi Wolf of The Beauty Myth fame and Feministe’s own Jill Filipovic were quoted in this Style List piece on the high-fashion trend of men exploring feminine appearance, complete with an arresting photo of a bewigged, stilettoed Marc Jacobs on the cover of Industrie. Both Wolf and Filipovic astutely indicate that the shift may signal a loosening of gender roles: “I love it, it is all good,” said Wolf. “It’s all about play…and play is almost always good for gender politics.” Filipovic adds, “I think gender-bending in fashion is great, and I hope it’s more than a flash-in-the-pan trend.”

Yet however much I’d like to sign on with these two writers and thinkers whose work I’ve admired for years, I’m resistant. I’m wary of men’s beauty products being heralded as a means of gender subversion for two major reasons: 1) I don’t think that men’s cosmetics use in the aggregate is actually any sort of statement on or attempt at gender play; rather, it’s a repackaging and reinforcement of conventional masculinity, and 2) warmly welcoming (well, re-welcoming, as we’ll see) men into the arena where they’ll be judged for their appearance efforts is a victory for nobody—except the companies doing the product shill.

Let’s look at the first concern: It’s not like the men mentioned in this article are your run-of-the-mill dudes; they’re specific people with a specific cultural capital. (Which is what I think Wolf and Filipovic were responding to, incidentally, not some larger movement.) Men might be buying more lotion than they did a decade ago, but outside of the occasional attempt at zit-covering through tinted Clearasil, I’ve seen very few men wearing color cosmetics who were not a part of a subculture with a history of gender play. Outside that realm, the men who are wearing bona fide makeup, for the most part, seem to be the type described in this New York Times article: the dude’s dude who just wants to do something about those undereye circles, not someone who’s eager to swipe a girlfriend’s lipstick case unless it’s haze week on fraternity row.

“Men use cosmetic products in order to cover up or correct imperfections, not to enhance beauty,” said Marek Hewryk, founder of men’s cosmetics line 4V00. Sound familiar, ladies? The idea of correcting yourself instead of enhancing? Male cosmetic behavior seems more like the pursuit of “relief from self-dissatisfaction” that drives makeup use among women rather than a space that encourages a gender-role shakeup. Outside of that handful of men who are publicly experimenting with gender play—which I do think is good for all of us—the uptick in men’s cosmetics doesn’t signify any more of a cultural shift than David Bowie’s lightning bolts did on the cover of Aladdin Sane.

Subcultures can worm their way into the mainstream, of course, but the direction I see men’s products taking is less along the lines of subversive gender play and more along the lines of products that promise a hypermasculinity (think Axe or the unfortunately named FaceLube), or a sort of updated version of the “metrosexual” epitomized by Hugh Laurie’s endorsement of L’Oréal.

The ads themselves have yet to be released, but the popular video showing the prep for the ad’s photo shoot reveals what L’Oréal is aiming for by choosing the rangy Englishman as its new spokesperson (joining Gerard Butler, who certainly falls under the hypermasculine category). He appears both stymied and lackadaisically controlling while he answers questions from an offscreen interviewer as a young woman gives him a manicure. “That’s an interesting question to pose—’because you’re worth it,’” he says about the company’s tagline. “We’re all of us struggling with the idea that we’re worth something. What are we worth?” he says. Which, I mean, yay! Talking about self-worth! Rock on, Dr. House! But in actuality, the message teeters on mockery: The quirky, chirpy background music lends the entire video a winking edge of self-ridicule. When he’s joking with the manicurist, it seems in sync; when he starts talking about self-worth one has to wonder if L’Oréal is cleverly mocking the ways we’ve come to associate cosmetics use with self-worth, even as it benefits from that association through its slogan. “Because you’re worth it” has a different meaning when directed to women—for whom the self-care of beauty work is frequently dwarfed by the insecurities it invites—than when directed to men, for whom the slogan may seem a reinforcement of identity, not a glib self-esteem boost. The entire campaign relies upon a jocular take on masculinity. Without the understanding that men don’t “really” need this stuff, the ad falls flat.

We often joke about how men showing their “feminine side” signals a security in their masculine role—which it does. But that masculinity is often also assured by class privilege. Hugh Laurie and Gerard Butler can use stuff originally developed for the ladies because they’ve transcended the working-class world where heteronormativity is, well, normative; they can still demand respect even with a manicure. Your average construction worker, or even IT guy, doesn’t have that luxury. It’s also not a coincidence that both are British while the campaigns are aimed at Americans. The “gay or British?” line shows that Americans tend to see British men as being able to occupy a slightly feminized space, even as we recognize their masculinity, making them perfect candidates for telling men to start exfoliating already. L’Oréal is selling a distinctive space to men who might be worried about their class status: They’re not “metrosexualized” (Hugh Laurie?), but neither are they working-class heroes. And if numbers are any indication, the company’s reliance upon masculine tropes is a thriving success: L’Oréal posted a 5% sales increase in the first half of 2011.

Still, I don’t want to discount the possibility that this shift might enable men to explore the joys of a full palette. L’Oréal’s vaguely cynical ads aside, if Joe Six-Pack can be induced to paint his fingernails and experience the pleasures of self-ornamentation, everyone wins, right?

Well—not exactly. In the past, men have experienced a degree of personal liberalization and freedom through the eradication of—not the promotion of—the peacocking self-display of the aristocracy. With what fashion historians call “the great masculine renunciation” of the 19th century, Western men’s self-presentation changed dramatically. In a relatively short period, men went from sporting lacy cuffs, rouged cheeks, and high-heeled shoes to the sober suits and hairstyles that weren’t seriously challenged until the 1960s (and that haven’t really changed much even today). The great masculine renunciation was an effort to display democratic ideals: By having men across classes adopt simpler, humbler clothes that could be mimicked more easily than lace collars by poor men, populist leaders could physically demonstrate their brotherhood-of-man ideals.

Whether or not the great masculine renunciation achieved its goal is questionable (witness the 20th-century development of terms like white-collar and blue-collar, which indicate that we’d merely learned different ways to judge men’s class via appearance). But what it did do was take a giant step toward eradicating the 19th-century equivalent of the beauty myth for men. At its best, the movement liberated men from the shackles of aristocratic peacocking so that their energies could be better spent in the rapidly developing business world, where their efforts, not their lineage, were rewarded. Today we’re quick to see a plethora of appearance choices as a sign of individual freedom—and, to be sure, it can be. But it’s also far from a neutral freedom, and it’s a freedom that comes with a cost. By reducing the amount of appearance options available to men, the great masculine renunciation also reduced both the burden of choice and the judgments one faces when one’s efforts fall short of the ideal.

Regardless of the success of the renunciation, it’s not hard to see how men flashing their cash on their bodies serves as a handy class marker; indeed, it’s the very backbone of conspicuous consumption. And it’s happening already in the playground of men’s cosmetics: The men publicly modeling the “individual freedom” of makeup—while supposedly subverting beauty and gender ideals—already enjoy a certain class privilege. While James Franco has an easygoing rebellion that wouldn’t get him kicked out of the he-man bars on my block in Queens, his conceptual-artist persona grants him access to a cultural cachet that’s barred to the median man. (Certainly not all makeup-wearing men enjoy such privilege, as many a tale from a transgender person will reveal, but the kind of man who is posited as a potential challenge to gender ideals by being both the typical “man’s man” and a makeup wearer does have a relative amount of privilege.)

Of course, it wasn’t just men who were affected by the great masculine renunciation. When men stripped down from lace cuffs to business suits, the household responsibility for conspicuous consumption fell to women. The showiness of the original “trophy wives” inflated in direct proportion to the newly conservative dress style of their husbands, whose somber clothes let the world know they were serious men of import, not one of those dandy fops who trounced about in fashionable wares—leave that to the ladies, thanks. It’s easy, then, to view the return of men’s bodily conspicuous consumption as the end of an era in which women were consigned to this particular consumerist ghetto—welcome to the dollhouse, boys. But much as we’d like to think that re-opening the doors of playful, showy fashions to men could serve as a liberation for them—and, eventually, for women—we may wish to be hesitant to rush into it with open arms. The benefits of relaxed gender roles indicated by men’s cosmetics could easily be trumped by the expansion of beauty work’s traditional role of signaling one’s social status. The more we expand the beauty toolkit of men, the more they too will be judged on their compliance to both class markers and the beauty standard. We’re all working to see how women can be relieved of the added burden of beauty labor—the “third shift,” if you will—but getting men to play along isn’t the answer.

The Beauty Myth gave voice to the unease so many women feel about that situation—but at its heart it wasn’t about women at all. It was about power. And this is why I’m hesitant to herald men spending more time, effort, and energy on their appearance as any sort of victory for women or men, even as I think that rigid gender roles—boys wear blue, girls wear makeup—isn’t a comfortable place for anyone. For the very idea of the beauty myth was that restrictions placed upon women’s appearance became only more stringent (while, at the same time, appealing to the newly liberated woman’s idea of “choice”) in reaction to women’s growing power. I can’t help but wonder what this means for men in a time when we’re still recoiling from a recession in which men disproportionately suffered job losses, and in which the changes prompted in large part by feminism are allowing men a different public and private role. It’s a positive change, just as feminism itself was clearly positive for women—yet the backlash of the beauty myth solidified to counter women’s gains.

As a group, men’s power is hardly shrinking, but it is shifting—and if entertainment like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and the Apatow canon are any indication, that dynamic is being examined in ways it hasn’t been before. As our mothers may know even better than us, one way our culture harnesses anxiety-inducing questions of gender identity is to offer us easy, packaged solutions that simultaneously affirm and undermine the questions we’re asking ourselves. If “hope in a jar” doesn’t cut it for women, we can’t repackage it to men and just claim that hope is for the best.

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27 Responses to Welcome to the Dollhouse: Men and Beauty Products

  1. Shybiker says:

    Your two conclusions (in paragraph 4) are exactly right. And important to realize, to clear away confusion.

    The post is exceptionally well thought out and written.

  2. SamanthaPink says:

    You make a great point. I don’t think that this is helping men test our gender roles at all, because there are very few men who will try colored make-up. I feel like this is just going to blow up into a big controversy.

  3. DAS says:

    Do I wear make-up? Yes, to be honest I do wear make-up (i.e. tinted sun lotion). But does this mean I am somehow subverting gender roles by doing “beauty work”? Not at all — because there is a big difference between rubbing some tinted lotion over my face and checking to make sure it looks even and spending ten or more minutes in front of the mirror because you know that if you go out without applying full make-up you will be viewed as un-professional looking or as somehow being improper.

    And the interesting thing is, the people doing a lot of the gender norms enforcement are women. For example I think my wife actually looks better with no or minimal make-up (and I suspect most men would agree), but if she were to go to certain places (synagogue, work-related appointments, etc) without “proper” make-up, it would be other women who would treat her differently.

  4. Variety says:

    I think there is a lot of variability &ndash for example, I spend way more time on a day-to-day basis getting ready/grooming/managing body hair than my current girlfriend, but she spends more times in salons than I do, getting her nails/hair done every few weeks.

  5. benvolio says:

    The thing about the Hugh Laurie bit that immediately struck me was his seating posture, i.e. slouched back, splayed legs. That, my friends, is what primatologists call ‘dominance display.’ The message is ‘see my crotch? I’m so manly, I can taunt you with my forward-thrust denim-clad genitals!’ Which is a hilarious counterpoint to the whole ‘I think I may need makeup to look good, and if I don’t need it, well, I look good with it anyway’ message the dialogue would impart. No matter the text, the subtext is “manly manly man.”

    (Yes, his posture is partly the function of that chair, but as the only prop on set –besides the manicure girl sitting on a freaking cinder block– the chair has undoubtedly been carefully selected for its visual appeal, both textually and subtextually.)

  6. ArielNYC says:

    Very thought provoking, thank you.

    I think it’s the conflict of being a modern man. You kind of envy the social norm of eons past where wearing powedered wigs and dressing splendiferously was the way to go for men (assuming you head the means). At the same time you’re ever cognizant of the male privilege of being able to roll out of bed and get ready to work in less than 10 minutes.
    I actually would be happy to just get back to the mid 20th century where wearing a hat was a matter of course. I think you could make a very strong argument that man fashion could use a little pendulum counter swing.

    I understand there’s the probem of fashion a class marker and that shifting toward more male “aristocratic peacocking” will undo the egalitarian progress of years past. I suppose we could all adopt the Mao suit for maximum comfort and egalitarianism, but wouldn’t it be an incredibly boring world? Is dressing men in dowdy clothes that much better? Besides, you can argue that men nowadays peackock with fancy cars rather than with fancy wigs or fancy tailcoats. Is that progress? I think ultimately the desire for differentiation is not really going to go away. Might as well make it a more dandy world.

  7. Mr. Kristen J. says:

    To be honest, I haven’t given beauty work much thought in the context of masculinity. Thank you for giving me some additional food for thought. I’d say this is more support for the idea that beauty work is a means of enforcing class dominance through conspicuous consumption. I would argue that the Renunciation only worked for as long as it has because many men did and do consider their wives as ornamentation – consciously or unconsciously – signaling their social status. If wives-as-signals of social status are unavailable, it stands to reason that men have to find other methods of signaling. I.e., expensive cars, clothes, gambling, and now possibly beauty work.

    I’d guess its probably a wash for men overall, but clearly a blow to class equality. Now, in keeping with gendered norms I must go apply moisturizer while using dominant displays to avoid the implication that I am not a manly, manly man.

  8. William says:

    I think context really matters here. Yes, men might engage in more attention to grooming, they might buy products made by L’Oreal, they might wear clothes which are traditionally identified as feminine or engage in traditionally female pursuits, but they’re still men and their actions still happen in the context of masculinity.

    I think an example is useful here. I’ve long been a fan of the black metal scene. Performers in this odd little subgenre put a lot of effort into their appearance, elaborate make-up has been a part of the aesthetic from the early days and the costumes take the metal-and-spikes look to a comically peacocked extreme. One of the big bands in this scene until very recently was an act called Gorgoroth and their frontman was a man named Gaahl. Pretty recently Gaahl came out as openly gay. He dated a young and fairly effeminate fashion designer, was involved in the production of collection of women’s clothing, and made his career wearing make-up onstage.

    Gaahl has also been to prison twice for acts of extreme violence. Shortly after he came out someone called him a homophobic name and needed to be hospitalized as a result of Gaahl’s reaction. Both his on-stage persona and his off-stage identity is bound up in a hyper-masculine presentation. His ability to do things which are not traditionally considered masculine is the product of his ability to masculinize activities. Gaahl doesn’t subvert gender signs, he appropriates signs through his (sometimes overtly violent) masculinity.

    A less aggressive example can be seen in the marketing materials for products like Utilikilts, Hugh Laurie’s wide pose, or even David Bowie’s hypersexual attitude. I think what we’re seeing in this trend towards men’s grooming is as much marketing companies selling masculinity as it is any actual shift in what defines masculinity. Axe’s entire business model seems to be built around the idea that their products will make you more manly. Old Spice has been fairly explicit in that sales pitch as of late. I think what we’re seeing here is the argument “if you use our products you will be so masculine that you can act like a girl and still be the manliest man on the block.”

  9. Bitter Scribe says:

    I once heard of a salon that tried to market manicures and pedicures to men by calling them “hand detailing” and “foot detailing.” Don’t think it worked.

  10. L says:

    (Certainly not all makeup-wearing men enjoy such privilege, as many a tale from a transgendered man will reveal, but the kind of man who is posited as a potential challenge to gender ideals by being both the typical “man’s man” and a makeup wearer does have a relative amount of privilege.)

    I think you mean transwoman here in place of ‘transgendered man’.

    Very interesting post!

  11. Z S says:

    “But in actuality, the message teeters on mockery”

    That is because Hugh Laurie is a comedian, not because he’s just super manly. Mockery is what he does – see his entire career besides “House”, including interviews on eg Leno since “House” began. Also “Hugh Laurie” and “working class” in the same sentence made me chuckle – Mr. Laurie went to Eton, alma mater of Prince William and I believe 6 members of the current British Cabinet, including Prime Minister David Cameron. So there was nothing for him to “transcend” class-wise, as he is as upper class as it gets.

    As a posh person, he had better be tongue in cheek while talking about beauty, or he faces social evisceration – he has no social license at all to groom in public. That’s the privilege/burden of the middle class male, or of new money (see: David Beckham). For a British aristocrat, male or female, to be seen to make too much effort with their appearance is considered nouveau, trival, and (gasp) American. It also reads as “townie” instead of country – that is, not a useful person. Getting a manicure isn’t too far off such abominations as driving a red Ferrari instead of a 20-year-old Landrover, or wearing a designer coat instead of a battered old Barbour jacket. Indeed the more the brilliant Mr. Laurie is seen to have “sold out” to Americanization, being “in trade” (fine to be an actor, but to make quite so much money at it…?!), and abandoning comedy and his original “authentic” fanbase, the more important it is for someone of his class background not to take personal grooming seriously. The video subtext is, “I’m terribly sorry about this manicure business old chap, but they offered me a giant wad of cash, don’t you know, and I’m afraid the stately pile needs re-roofing, hasn’t been done since George III I’m afraid, what what?”

    That said, this post was interesting to me as it said something about how this plays in the US. America’s class system, while different to Britain’s, is grossly under-discussed, and I admire this site and this author for actually talking about it.

  12. @ArielNYC: Heh, yes, I did wonder if between this post and my previous one if it seemed as though I believed we should all walk around in gray gunny sacks and hoods. As it happens, I do! Well, no. I think that ornamentation is a human desire and I don’t wish to rob anyone of it; I just worry that so much discourse on fashion focuses solely on its supposed freedoms, or on the exclusivity of high-end fashion versus the democracy of lower-end versions, that we lose the restriction aspect.

    As for other forms of peacocking–cars and the like–I don’t see that going away to be replaced by fashion. I see fashion becoming an added burden. There’s also something about wearing your class markers on your person that could be potentially transformative as far as receiving judgment, but that’s just a thought.

    @William: Fascinating examples here; I didn’t know enough about the black metal or goth world to really get into what makeup use there signals, so I’m glad you pointed out that even a man in full makeup isn’t necessarily subverting gender markers.

    @L: Thank you! I changed to “transgender person” to be inclusive of people along various points; much appreciated.

    @ZS: I’d wondered how U.K. readers would respond to the Hugh Laurie stuff–thanks for putting this out there. So that’s interesting that in the upper classes there’s no freedom for men to groom; here in the States I’d say it’s quite different, though obvious grooming is often left to striving classes or new immigrants, speaking again to conspicuous consumption.

  13. DAS says:

    As a posh person, he had better be tongue in cheek while talking about beauty, or he faces social evisceration – he has no social license at all to groom in public. That’s the privilege/burden of the middle class male, or of new money (see: David Beckham). For a British aristocrat, male or female, to be seen to make too much effort with their appearance is considered nouveau, trival, and (gasp) American. – Z S

    Interestingly, as far as I know, the “no social license to groom in public” aspect of being posh is a complete reversal of how things used to be in Britain (c.f. the comments in the post about the 19th century change in men’s fashions). In fact, I think in much of the US, there was a similar aversion to “old money” engaging in such “peacock-ing”. As far as I know, the South has been the (partial) exception as the Victorian-era “reform” of the upper-classes didn’t quite penetrate the South. Michael Lind has written about this, FWIW.

  14. William says:

    Fascinating examples here; I didn’t know enough about the black metal or goth world to really get into what makeup use there signals, so I’m glad you pointed out that even a man in full makeup isn’t necessarily subverting gender markers.

    A picture is worth a thousand words: Gaahl Performing Masculinity in makeup that I promise he spent an hour in front of a mirror perfecting.

  15. I’m reminded of Rudolph Valentino in the Twenties, the original Latin Lover (Even though he was really Italian) who became one of the first modern male symbols. These days, we’d probably call him a metrosexual. He relied on face powder and a manicured appearance and women loved it.

    A backlash began when an offended male found a face powder dispenser inside an upscale hotel’s restroom and wrote an indignant column about the end of masculinity. Valentino, his honor impugned, challenged the man to a duel, but the man would not agree. In desperation, he sought the noted newspaper columnist and wit H.L. Mencken, and proceeded to tell his side of the story. Tragically, he died before he could defend himself in print.

  16. Z S says:

    Autumn – I’m glad to be useful! I remember seeing a group of posh British men discussing news of a cure for baldness that worked on mice. They said that they’d like a safe reliable human version, but probably wouldn’t dare use it unless it was a side effect of something else (eg the way few complained that Viagra wasn’t a good heart drug!), because they anticipated being teased. I suspect they would use it if it became de rigeur, and brush it off as “well you have to look young in the business world these days”. Definitely America is different – I’ve noticed it a lot living there. I do wonder though whether you would ever see, say, a manicured-up Rockefeller or Astor? America has its aristocrats too, by another name.

    DAS – you are right that it is a reversal. I think there is something in the fact that the new plainer style came about when the new middle class suddenly grew up in tandem with the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700’s/early 1800’s- perhaps because it is more practical and these were self-made men who worked in trade, instead of traditional landowners. It is likely informed by the French Revolution (1789), occuring in response to the excesses of the French aristos whose emphasis on preening was seen as symbolic of their oppressive, wasteful ways. The Romantics rejected this, and were also first to adopt the plain dark suit as well as first to worry about what the Industrial Age was doing to the “innocent”, recently-rural working class. Possibly male non-grooming in England is a historic way of being both not-French and not-Oppressor.

    Amusingly the fashion for wigs went out because syphilis got less prevalent meaning people didn’t feel so much need to cover their syphilitic-induced bald heads!

    I suck at the HTML thing but some links for those interested in the history of male grooming in the UK. Only Wikipedia but fairly good:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fop
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dandy
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beau_Brummell

  17. R. Dave says:

    Really excellent post; thank you for writing it! I’m not sure I necessarily agree with your perspective in toto, but there’s much food for thought even in the parts I’m wary of.

    One point in particular that I wanted to comment on, though, is this:

    Male cosmetic behavior seems more like the pursuit of “relief from self-dissatisfaction” that drives makeup use among women rather than a space that encourages a gender-role shakeup.

    …By reducing the amount of appearance options available to men, the great masculine renunciation also reduced both the burden of choice and the judgments one faces when one’s efforts fall short of the ideal.

    While I certainly recognize that the more options men have to “improve” our appearance, the more we’ll eventually be judged by the degree to which take advantage of those options, I have to say that in the short term and speaking personally, I welcome having that option. I’m not interested in exploring the boundaries of gender roles or “peacocking”, but I would like to be able to cover up a zit or balance out my complexion from time to time without worrying that someone might realize I’m *gasp* wearing makeup. Without drawing any false equivalence to what women have to deal with, it is true that men are judged (often subconsciously) on their beauty, and it would be nice to have some options for enhancing it rather than just having to accept whatever hand nature deals us.

  18. CassandraSays says:

    Coming back to this tomorrow when I have more time!

    I often work with guys who wear makeup (goth bands, Japanese visual kei bands), and I grew up in the goth subculture, so I’ve never thought of makeup as something that only women wear. There’s a long tradition of subcultures in which men wear it too. And yes, it is in some ways used to signify transgression, but it’s also used by some guys just because they find joy in self-adornment. (This is part of why a lot of feminist discussions about women and self-adornment feel so alien to me.)

    Some makeup signals “feminine”. Some signals “subversive”. Some signals “I belong to X subculture – if you do too then come talk to me”.

    Also, have you seen the Shiseido range for men? When they first launched it they had a big pop star who’s a former visual kei guy as the face of the brand (this guy, if you’re curious – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gackt), but the product isn’t intended for performers so much as for just regular guys who want to look more attractive.

    Historically speaking makeup (and self-adornment in general) wasn’t a specifically feminine thing, and I like to think we’re beginning to move back in that direction. I certainly hope so, because I do love a beautiful, flashy man in eyeliner.

  19. Athenia says:

    You make an excellent point about the class issue.

    But I also wonder too if this isn’t more about men’s relationship with each other rather than to women. My boy toy just bought an eye roller for the bags under his eyes. He also uses lotion and chapstick. It’s not exactly make-up, but I find it interesting that a “young, fresh, energetic” look is what concerns him. Like, it seems very much connected to work rather than attractiveness.

  20. Hypatia says:

    Correction– Transgender men do not use makeup. All the trans men I’ve ever known have sought to eliminate femininity from their lives, and resented having it imposed on them when they were growing up.

  21. @DAS: Looking forward to checking out Michael Lind–thanks!

    @William: !!!

    @Comrade Kevin: Valentino was reputedly the first person to be called “sexy” in the sense of “sexually appealing” instead of “sexually aroused.” Interesting that his manicured appearance could incite the term to be used that way. (And great anecdote!)

    @ZS: Thanks for the links–the sort of hangover of the British class system that wormed its way over here is different, but it’s helpful for us Yanks to be informed on this stuff.

    @R. Dave: Thank you–that’s my goal in general, not to persuade anyone to arrive at my point of view but to provide food for thought. It’s good to hear from men on this–that, yes, you ARE being judged on beauty (a point I glossed over in this essay to get at the heart of my argument). And in that way, of course it makes sense that many men would want to take that option–I mean, women who don’t wear makeup still might want to cover a blemish. In any case, it’s making me think of the height issue: Men are rewarded more for height than women, and it’s something they CANNOT help. Overall women’s bodies are policed more than men’s, and while certainly I think that we’re sort of born with a body size that we can’t manipulate, there is more room for adjustment there than there is for height. I wonder about the enforcement of both the things a man can’t help (height) and the things he may soon be able to be seen as having some control over (cosmetics), and what space that will force men into.

    @CassandraSays: Interestingly, the Japanese market didn’t come up in my research, and looking back on it I’m now surprised. Poking around for numbers, I see that male cosmetics in Japan make up a larger market segment than they do in the U.S., so it’s particularly fascinating that they chose the route of having a spokesperson who was already known for wearing makeup. I don’t know how well that would fly here (I mean, Johnny Weir aside, and he wore makeup more as an actor would and less as a persona) because of our ideas on masculinity–I wonder if the deeply encoded subcultures of Japan ironically allow for more permission in this area? I really don’t know.

    In any case, I’m glad to hear (albeit secondhand) that makeup-wearing men in some subcultures are wearing makeup for the sheer pleasure of ornamentation. Because as much as I might be conflicted on my own use, there is something about that act of visually punching up parts of myself that I want to highlight that feels joyous, proud–and nobody should be robbed of that. I don’t have a lot of experience with subcultures with makeup-wearing men–thanks for contributing your experiences with them into this discussion.

    @Athenia: That totally makes sense to me. I hate it when you hear people say that women wear makeup for each other, not men, because that short-circuits the issue–but there’s something to it. We’re aware of the pressures, energy, and cost that go into creating a look; it makes sense that men might sort of be on a sly lookout for one another as well.

  22. DouglasG says:

    Thank you for raising some new perspectives, although it’s far too late for me now, and the post actually makes me feel more like Miss Bates than ever. But there’s a weird sort of empowerment in embracing being beyond beauty work because no amount of effort will make one look anything other than grotesque, and in being very definitely Off the Shelf.

    You’re absolutely right about being short as well. It basically immediately put me on the Not-Bound-For-Success track, and would have made it pointless for me to try to prettify myself even if that option had been open in my time.

  23. CassandraSays says:

    @ Autumn – It does seem to me that men in Japan are given a lot more wiggle room as far as being allowed to self-beautify without having their sexuality or masculinity questioned than men in the US or Europe. It’s not just makeup – flashier clothes are also OK, and the way the Japanese media depicts male celebrities leans a lot more overtly sexualised than anything you really see in the US outside of gay culture or little pockets of subculture.

    I think Shiseido chose that particular guy as the face of the brand for a while not so much because he’s known for having worn makeup in the past as because he’s famous for being really good looking and appealing to a broad range of women (and gay men, but I don’t think they were taking that into account as much in terms of the ad campaign). He also does advertising for a lot of other beauty-related products, and actually the way he’s used in advertising in general is a good illustration of what I mean about men being more overtly sexualised in the media in Japan. The ad below, for example, is for a cellphone service, so targeted at a mainstream audience. (Mildly NSFW – he’s naked, but the genitalia is blurred out.)

  24. @Cassandra: Love! And we absolutely wouldn’t see men sexualized in that particular way here. Interesting that we had to come up with a special term like “metrosexual” to wrestle with what seems to be just fine in another industrialized culture. It’s an interesting flipside to the conspicuous consumption that accompanies some groups of marginalized men in the States–male grooming tends to receive more attention in Latino communities, for example, than in would in white men with similar demographics in other ways.

  25. CassandraSays says:

    It is weird, isn’t it, how resistant American culture is to any sexualisation of men? I was trying to think of similar advertising in the US and all I could come up with was Calvin Klein underwear ads, and that’s for underwear, so…hard not to make it a bit more overtly sexual. When men are overtly sexualised here we usually seem to feel the need to pretend it’s a joke (see the Old Spice ads), as if women looking at men in a sexual way is so unacceptable that it can only be done with a side-order of “but we’re just kidding, kind of”.

    I really think it’s a major force warping gender performance in the US, this idea that women are for looking at and men are not. And it influenced het relationships in all kinds of ways, most of them bad in my opinion.

    The term metrosexual always bothered me because of the implied judgement. And it wasn’t just from men – I saw a lot of women mocking men seen as metrosexual too, which is particularly troubling from feminists, because if we’re going to question ideas about how female gender performance is created, it makes no sense at all to then act like male gender performance is natural and just happens to fit a pattern that American culture is comfortable with.

  26. Jackie says:

    CassandraSays:
    Coming back to this tomorrow when I have more time!

    I often work with guys who wear makeup (goth bands, Japanese visual kei bands), and I grew up in the goth subculture, so I’ve never thought of makeup as something that only women wear. There’s a long tradition of subcultures in which men wear it too. And yes, it is in some ways used to signify transgression, but it’s also used by some guys just because they find joy in self-adornment. (This is part of why a lot of feminist discussions about women and self-adornment feel so alien to me.)

    Some makeup signals “feminine”. Some signals “subversive”. Some signals “I belong to X subculture – if you do too then come talk to me”.

    Also, have you seen the Shiseido range for men? When they first launched it they had a big pop star who’s a former visual kei guy as the face of the brand (this guy, if you’re curious – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gackt), but the product isn’t intended for performers so much as for just regular guys who want to look more attractive.

    Historically speaking makeup (and self-adornment in general) wasn’t a specifically feminine thing, and I like to think we’re beginning to move back in that direction. I certainly hope so, because I do love a beautiful, flashy man in eyeliner.

    Me too I love feminine looking men, I want more of them, moarrrr!

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