Should Men Wear Makeup?: The role of marketing in the cosmetics industry

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Today we see makeup as mainly used by women and in many work settings, women are expected to wear makeup and are considered unprofessional if they don’t. Why? It’s seen as a standard of looking “clean” and put together. However, men are almost never expected to wear makeup for work – save for performative roles like news anchors, actors and models.

Many arguments circulate makeup and what it should be used for — is it to cover imperfections, is it an art form or is it deceit? Why and how women wear makeup is a highly controversial topic already — but what about men? 

If you are a woman and wake up with a newly formed zit on your forehead on the day of your job interview, you know it’s not a big deal because you can easily dab some concealer on and go to your interview looking your best. However, it’s not that simple for men. It is far from socially acceptable for a man to wear makeup — other men consider it “too feminine”, and many women see them as “less masculine”. It’s a classic example of toxic masculinity and misogyny at play— men under the pressure to be hyper-masculine or risk being ridiculed for being, God forbid, like a woman.

While these stereotypes are perpetuated in everyday situations, there’s a larger force at work when it comes to why makeup is often considered to be “for women”— the beauty industry. Cosmetic marketing is undoubtedly geared toward women. While makeup brands may not outright say ‘this product is for women’, can you think of a single time you’ve seen anything but a woman’s face blown up on a makeup brand’s promotional poster? Whether it is the packaging, store placement, or advertising, the beauty industry knows that sales will always boil down to the target market they appeal to the most. Most companies are not concerned with the societal impact of their branding strategy — products will only sell to those who believe they need it, and it is much more cost-efficient to direct marketing toward women who are constantly nudged by societal standards into owning makeup products and wearing them. 

But while bigger makeup brands and stores may not see value in catering to a market with no demand, some men do and they’re doing something about it. Stryx and War Paint for Men are two distinguished brands making a splash in a pool that they are determined to create: men who see makeup as something they too can benefit from. 

As War Paint founder Danny Gray states, “You may not be used to seeing the words ‘men’ and ‘makeup’ in the same sentence, but that’s because there’s never been anything like this for us before. The truth is we also struggle with skin concerns, whether a spot that refuses to budge or an uneven tone, and we also deserve to feel good about ourselves internally.” 

Some might argue, “Makeup is inherently gender-neutral — why can’t men just wear the concealers that already exist? Why do men need a different packaging just so they can buy it? Aren’t you just doubling down on the idea that men should hide their makeup because it’s too girly?” While it is true that nothing is stopping men from walking into their local CVS and purchasing makeup, how likely is that to happen? These companies strive to craft a safe space for men to experiment with makeup without feeling embarrassed or intimidated by cosmetics. 

In the long run, the goal is encouraging men to feel no shame regarding cosmetics and to no longer feel emasculated when using makeup. Stryx makeup is “made with men in mind” and gives men a chance to privately explore cosmetics. They emphasize the importance of education by providing simple one-minute video tutorials showing men how to apply the products step-by-step. Thoughtfully presented products can act as a gateway for more men to get on board with the idea and break norms over time.

As more men purchase makeup products, see their friends wearing it and become more closely acquainted with the conversation surrounding makeup, I think it will give men a whole different perspective and help them recognize that wearing makeup is a choice! It should be a choice for men to wear makeup if they want, and a choice for women to not wear makeup if they do not wish to.

Companies should recognize that there is a huge gap in the market that is just waiting to be tapped into. Makeup companies hold an unmatched amount of power to dictate these rigid cultural attitudes — after all, what is American culture if it weren’t for our dedication to consumerism? Thoughtful marketing can make a big (and believe it or not, positive) difference not just for successfully selling cosmetics to men, but to make widespread shifts in societal expectations and make a deeper, permanent change in the issues revolving around harmful gender norms.  

With the normalization of men wearing makeup, men would become a significant consumer demographic and cosmetic brands would evolve their image to meet demands. No longer would makeup be exclusive to women, and men could better understand that no one should be judged for their choice to wear makeup or not. Eventually, all department stores, makeup outlets and cosmetic brands should aim to appeal to anyone, regardless of their gender, by increasing representation in their marketing and definitively establishing makeup as truly gender-neutral in the minds of generations to come.

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