This is a tough article to write. Not because of the subject matter – on the contrary, that I find very exciting – but because I currently have longer nails than I’ve ever had in my life. They’re pink, and sparkly, and to many would appear, if not a little terrifying, then probably as something decidedly feminine. Not a soft, docile kind of femininity, but the kind that women have reclaimed in contemporary culture in order to reassert power that was withheld from them for generations. The kind that could gouge eyes out to a soundtrack of Cardi B and Billie Eillish.
Just a few metres away from where I’m sitting lies a bag filled to the brim with other potential weapons – tweezers, small scissors usually used to cut glue-on eyelashes. They’re nestled in between a variety of brushes, glues, and crayons that I use to paint on my daily war paint. As millennials, most of us probably grew up seeing the contents of that bag too, as an arsenal predominantly reserved for women.
Taking the time to apply make up, wearing killer nails that slip across computer keyboards and iPhone screens, or even following a decent skincare routine, has been called simultaneously empowering (by the people who do it) and disparagingly girly (by the people who don’t). The entire beauty industry has been divisive for generations, and built around a false dichotomy of masculine and feminine that doesn’t actually exist in the real world. Recently, though, I’m delighted to see that more and more people from all points on the gender spectrum are embracing these tools for their own, beautiful, self expression.
According to David Yi, founder of the publication Very Good Light and the skin-care brand Good Light, “gender has no place in beauty — cosmetics have no gender identity. Beauty is for power and to express yourself, and yet, if you walk down the aisle of any Target or CVS, it’s very gendered. One section is hyper-masculine and the other section is hyper-feminine…But I never felt welcomed in either — I’ve always felt displaced while shopping for beauty as if I didn’t belong there”.
That’s why he took it upon himself to start his own skincare line – one that could cater for anybody. More importantly, one that marketed itself as such. There’s no differentiating between products and branding designed to attract “masculine” or “feminine” consumers because there’s no need for that. We all have skin, after all, and it serves the same purpose regardless of how you identify.
Fortunately, he’s not alone. Other skincare brands are choosing to adopt a more gender-neutral marketing strategy – particularly smaller brands. Perhaps it’s easier to make swift changes when you don’t have to rag the weight of an entire international corporation along behind you, or perhaps brands like Yi’s are just closer to the changes that are actually going on, on the ground. Either way, it’s an exciting development.
It’s not just cleansers and moisturisers that deserve to be shared, though. All facets of the beauty industry should be more readily available to everybody. While cosmetics companies are catching on to this exceptionally slowly, one group that understands it well already is the LGBTQIA community.
“They’ve been blazing trails in beauty, fashion, and culture for centuries,” writes Cristina Montemayor for Very Good Light, “and the rest of us are just happy to ride on their coattails. Nearly every trend you see on Instagram today originated in drag culture, of which was mostly built on the backs of BIPOC individuals from the LGBTQIA community.”
She adds, “If you haven’t thanked a drag queen today for their contributions to modern society, this is your friendly reminder to do so now”.
Here’s the most exciting part about the LGBTQIA community turning beauty into something for everybody: If you’re a man, you don’t have to be a drag queen to reap the benefits. In fact, some countries, like South Korea, are already embracing make-up lines that are marketed explicitly for men (sure, they’ve still chosen a particular gender group to target their advertising but…baby steps). After all, as human beings, we all enjoy having clear, radiant looking skin.
Even without eyeliner and glitter, it’s evident that heterosexual masculinity is bending to suit our new societal needs. I mean, Harry Styles had girls drooling all over his glossy magazine covers, all the while wearing a dress. Granted, it probably doesn’t make a difference what he wears (or doesn’t), but the confidence with which men like Styles defy the norms laid out for them by oppressive societal standards is, undeniably, attractive.
“Masculinity, in the traditional sense, is just so, so outdated to the point where it shouldn’t even really be in the conversation anymore when talking about masculinity,” says TikToker, LoveLeo in this interview with Yi. “A lot of values of the post-war – what a man should be – it’s just so skewed and it just doesn’t apply or it shouldn’t apply to our current society at all”.
Hence, the rise of beautiful men coming in to reclaim what was withheld from them in the past. But more important than having the freedom to look beautiful, or even more important than being able to enjoy the therapeutic nature of applying make up – because it is therapeutic – is the way the dividing lines between us are being blurred. Notions of masculinity are no longer dictating how we behave, interact with, or read one another.
In a world in which we’re all free to wear whatever we like, and create art on our faces however we choose, we have one more thing to bring us together. I’m sorry, but I don’t give a damn about a beard or how much weight you can bench press (no shade, good for you), but wherever you are on the gender spectrum, you can be sure I’ll notice if your winged liner is flawless.
We deserve a world in which girls with cute nails, who spend time on their face aren’t seen as “high maintenance”, just as we deserve a world in which men are free to wear a skirt because they find it more comfortable (because it is more comfortable) or free to cover their dark circles with concealer without judgement. And ,with the growing popularity of beautiful men like Styles, and every member of BTS, as well as brands who realise that we all have the right to choose how to live, that world doesn’t seem so far away anymore.
Traditional masculinity is no longer the source of pride it used to be. Just as my sparkly pink nails are no longer reserved for women, or even drag queens (although if you need to type a lot for work, I don’t recommend them). Just look at Machine Gun Kelly’s killer talons at the 2021 iHeart Radio Music awards! And gentlemen, for what it’s worth, he’s dating Megan Fox. Do with that information what you will.
Yi writes that “just in the last five years, it’s been amazing to see different gender identities now being included and normalized within beauty. It’s a great thing to see people expressing themselves the way they want to, but I also think that there’s a long way to go”.
(Again, baby steps.)
So boys, don’t be afraid to take care of your skin and wear whatever the hell you please. Don’t let prescribed ideas of masculinity hold you back. If we all start ignoring the beauty industry marketing that tells us what we should and shouldn’t buy, eventually they’ll catch on.
A little advice from LoveLeo to anyone thinking about embracing their new, beautiful masculinity: “in general, it just feels a lot better to be comfortable in your skin and not have to keep stuff on the inside, or just see something really cool on someone and wish you could do it but then not do it. Like it’s just such a liberating, freeing experience to just do whatever you want to do and wear whatever you want to wear. Just be you”.