Behind the 'Beauty Boys' Movement
With millions of followers on Instagram and YouTube, the stars of a new movement that celebrates makeup for men are being signed up by the big brands
Gabriel Zamora first became interested in makeup because he wanted his eyes to look bigger in photos. He found a tip online that “white eyeliner in your water line gives off the appearance [of bigger eyes]”. So he bought his first item of makeup. Now he has more than 181,000 Instagram followers, his own YouTube channel and is part of the growing “beauty boys” movement.
This community of men and boys experiment with defining their brows and highlighting their cheeks, and then share their looks and makeup tips on social media. For Zamora, the culture is about “every guy that has wanted to feel more confident in their appearance and had a revolutionary thought that makeup isn’t just for women”.
The beauty boys themselves are just the ones leading the charge – “the original person who thought outside the box and has helped others do the same”. And, increasingly, they are being invited to front big-name beauty campaigns.
Last month beauty vlogger Lewys Ball became the latest, winning a role in Rimmel’s London campaign. In January Maybelline named another YouTuber, Manny Gutierrez, as its first male ambassador, and last October CoverGirl, the beauty brand perhaps best known in the UK for its affiliation with Tyra Banks’s show America’s Next Top Model, announced that a 17-year-old makeup artist from New York, James Charles, would be its first CoverBoy. Zamora himself is an ambassador for M.A.C Cosmetics.
They are not short of followers – Charles has 1.4 million on Instagram, Gutierrez has more than three million subscribers on YouTube and Ball more than 150,000.
Men wearing makeup has a long history – from Boy George to David Bowie, Prince, the whole of the 1970s glam rock squad, Russell Brand and pop-punk bands such as Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance. There is also a long tradition in the world of drag. Zamora says: “Men in beauty have the most to gain from ‘drag makeup’ because we can learn how to properly colour-correct our facial hair.” Women owe a debt too: “Every girl that does glam makeup has a link to drag makeup. Kim Kardashian and Lilly Ghalichi were the first to make drag makeup mainstream.”
But while most beauty boys nod to drag queens as trailblazers, many are keen to stress the differences. As CoverGirl’s Charles told the New York Times: “Boys in makeup are boys in makeup. When you’re a drag performer, you’re a boy in makeup performing as a female.” Ball says that when he first started using makeup “it was not known for many guys to be wearing it other than drag queens; it made me feel really self-conscious”.
What you might think of as traditional “drag makeup” – with its heavy lip liner, ample glitter and luxuriant false eyelashes – belongs, for most, in a world more rarefied than that of the new-school boy beauty. One thing that’s different about this new makeup movement is the everydayness of it – it’s the same makeup that’s traditionally worn by women, called the same thing and applied in the same flicks and coats, to the same ends.
Patrick Simondac is one of the most influential, with 2.4 million followers on Instagram, and is all about inclusivity. The looks he creates are “an attainable fantasy for women and young girls … beauty boys create looks girls can recreate at home”.
Jake Jamie, 25, a UK-based vlogger who has just been signed by L’Oreal, has made it his mission to de-gender makeup, launching a #makeupisgenderless campaign last April. “One day future generations can grow up in a world where makeup can be enjoyed by all sexes without question or judgment,” he says. Ball thinks it’s already happening: “The world we live in now is much more accepting of individuality, people are now encouraged to be whoever they want to be, and that’s really positive.”
Simondac says: “Men are wearing makeup now because of the digital age. You can connect with someone else online and feel normal.”
This shift comes at a time when gender fluidity, particularly among millennials, is picking up steam; gender norms are being cast off and the idea that blokes should be blokes is being rejected. Big names, from Orange is the New Black’s Ruby Rose to The Hunger Games’ Amandla Stenberg, have talked openly about their gender fluidity.
Fashion has long played with gender boundaries, and the recent rise of androgyny, and now unisex, are just the most recent iterations of a long tradition. Recent designs by JW Anderson, Demna Gvasali and Shayne Oliver have all prodded the bounds of gender. Think back to when David Beckham rocked a Jean-Paul Gaultier sarong in 1998 – controversy was well and truly stirred.
Now we’re starting to see men in skirts as no big deal, or at least much less of a big deal, with the likes of Jaden Smith’s skirted appearance in Louis Vuitton’s “womenswear” campaign last year (though to preface “wear” with “women” at all starts to feel archaic in the face of Smith’s devil-may-care attitude to gender). It might still cause a ruckus if Frank Lampard stepped out in a dress, but the tectonics are certainly shifting.
We have not arrived at this point, where men are CoverGirls, overnight – men’s relationship with makeup has been recast for decades. In the noughties particularly, makeup, or rather “man makeup”, moved further towards the mainstream and away from glam rockers. This was the era of the metrosexual – a word first used in print by journalist Mark Simpson in 1994 (though it wasn’t until a 2002 essay naming Beckham as its figurehead that it took off around the world). It was the era of manscaping and boysturiser.
A 2005 headline ran: “Blair’s makeup bill tops £1800”, referring to the former prime minister. In 2008 UK high street beauty giant Superdrug launched its Taxi Man range, complete with guyliner and manscara. In 2013 it went high fashion, with Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs launching male cosmetics ranges.
But what we are now seeing is something else – something post-metrosexual: “man makeup” is losing its appendage; it’s just makeup. Which is why people identifying as men are becoming the faces of Rimmel and Maybelline to sell mascaras and concealers.
Zamora thinks the fashion for men fronting makeup campaigns is here to stay. But, he says, the dialogue will change: “Headlines will be more about who is the new face for a brand as opposed to what gender is the new face for it – the gender stigma will go away and makeup will be a normal to all men and women.”
— The ObserverShare this: