A particular genre of YouTube videos that both delights me and aches my single heart is Couple Challenges. It is endearing to see a clueless boy trying to put makeup on his nervous girlfriend who would want nothing more than to save her eye shadow palette from his grubby hands. What always gets me though are the dark horses who manage to do a great job and are intrigued by the whole thing themselves. I do have to point out that these videos always feature the most ‘manliest’ of men and barely any ‘soft boyfriend’ energy. I, however, am of the opinion that the idea that men are bad with makeup and grooming is more fiction created by the gatekeepers of culture than fact.
Indian men have, unfortunately, fallen prey to the double standards society holds when it comes to who gets a stake in beauty practices and grooming. Admit it; most men would be ridiculed for slapping on a chapstick; an action generally reserved for women. Because men don’t get dry lips, right? A well-groomed man is usually seen as vain or “too feminine,” giving young bullies the right to pick on their peers for looking good. Goth boys who shopped for black nail paints in anonymity have their own terrible tales to recount.
This makes no sense to me since ours is a culture that has always embraced androgyny. The figure of Ardhanarishvara shows the essence of life is a mix of feminine and masculine energies, blurring the lines of what ‘should’ be. From Kathakali dancers wearing costume makeup to Muslim men using kohl to line their eyes, we aren’t complete strangers to men adorning themselves with war paint. This is true for other cultures too. We are very familiar with white powdered faces of English men from the Elizabethan period who used makeup as a show of wealth and power. Fun Fact: Men in ancient Rome used red pigment mad e from pig’s blood and fat to stain their cheeks. Feels wasteful to forget such flamboyance on the part of a select few men, IMO.
Modern times have managed to transverse the limits of a stage or one’s religious beliefs. There are now many acceptable avenues where men have freedom of expression with face paint. The LGBTQ community thrives on its spokespersons being unapologetically fabulous and when someone like drag performer Sushant Digvikar steps into a party with a perfectly beat face, we cheer on. Young women who go nuts over the K-pop boy band BTS do not care that these men have pink blush on, breaking the traditional mold of what an attractive man should look like.
Beauty gurus like James Charles, Bretman Rock or even someone polarising like Jeffree Star have managed to create giant empires with their content and product lines. This begs the question, why is makeup still so tabooed for desi men?
Feminism at its core is a movement that talks about equality for all… and that very much includes men. A generation that holds the core value of equality is made up of people who believe in total freedom of expression for all gender identities. If we are now being offered the same position in the armed forces (according to a new Supreme Court ruling), our fellow men should be allowed full-coverage foundation for special occasions, without being chastised for it.
Brands are taking notice of the millennial man’s newfound obsession with self-care and beauty. I, for one, don’t mind men stepping up their beauty routines. I can’t take yet another shampoo-conditioner-body wash combination bottle on my next Tinder date. Plus, if I could find a guy to match eyeshadows with on a date, staying in on a Saturday night will become a thing of the past!