American Culture: the Stigma Around Male Cosmetic Usage

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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While time has progressed, it has been established that over the course of history different cultures developed either binary or nonbinary societal constructs. The western society that is present today has just started to develop and accept a different construct of gender and while the evolution of people’s thoughts may develop at different times, the freedom of thought and speech that a country like America stands on allows for the beginning of the breakage from the binary way of life that has been established since America was founded.

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This does mean that this ideal mindset has developed easy and nor does that mean that many violations of gendered norms has gone over well with others who make up American society as a whole. The increasing amount of men who have dived into the realm of cosmetics has increased in the past twenty to thirty years after a few select men stepped up to express themselves without fear of judgement. Over a long course of time, makeup (or any form of cosmetic) has been seen primarily as an enterprise for females. The goal is to not only explain the history of cosmetics but also to apply emphasis to the ongoing evolution of men’s stereotypical usage of makeup and other forms of cosmetics.

The Timeline

Beginning around 4000 BCE, ancient Egyptian males used black pigmented makeup to create designs around their faces in order to bring a more commanding expression to their face, “the purpose was not to simply look more attractive—green eye shadow was believed to evoke the gods Horus and Ra to ward off harmful illnesses. Dramatic eyeliner was customarily worn to communicate wealth and status” (…). The application of makeup products started with Egyptians and their direct usage of it corroborated with their religion rather than what could be assumed as their vanity. Ancient Roman males tended to use makeup to enhance their features, they were “known to apply red pigment to their cheeks, lighten their skin with powder, and paint their nails using a stomach-turning elixir of pig fat and blood”(…). The trend for males to enhance their facial structure started with ancient Romans and is next really exemplified in British and French culture, while British culture during the Elizabethan era was focused primarily on heavy pale powder coating the face, French culture during the 18th century was centered on very extravagant wigs (…). However, “it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that makeup was relegated to one end of the gender spectrum” (…) and this was addressed solely by Queen Victoria I who banned makeup with the support of the Church of England. This is where a strong connection is made between makeup, vanity, and sin. The struggle between cosmetics and religious persecution caused the use of it to dwindle and “by the 20th century, makeup was seen as a girls-only pursuit” (…).

Masculine Expectations

The unbelievable pressure that women feel to stay young, refreshing, and brighter in American society has materialized in men in a way that is very new. The utilization of media in its entirety has conceptualized a vision for women to obtain in order to be successful in society and when that market became open for men in the same way, it showcased the ability to propagate and expand on what men believe to be expectations of them or even representations of who they want/must be as male figure. So, the change that this culture is going through, a culture where men are privileged with their masculinity in the aspect of “its retention to the unmarked or normative category, and thus the capacity to go unexamined”(…) has given way to a kind of market (television shows, social media, etc.) where men are shown and receive cosmetic help. The expectation for men is to accomplish the signified goal of showcasing virility, strength, intelligence through any manner, even through cosmetics. It is important to note that “the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, between 1997 and 2005 there was a 9 percent aggregate increase in cosmetic surgical procedures (such as buttock lifts, abdominoplasties, and lipoplasties) in men”(…) and although there is not a clear reason other than the noticeable attribute that if it may work for women (especially in the workforce) then it should work for men as well.


While the definition of masculinity became stricter as time progressed the development of modern-movie making, especially in America, opened up the ability for men to then start wearing makeup. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s where American society began to see the development of “metrosexuality”, a term that describes the emergence of “men’s self-presentation practices” (…). The modern-movie industry paved the way but as the 20th and 21st century progressed, there were many key male figures who brought the idea of wearing makeup to the public eye and not behind the screen. Musical artist Adam Lambert, beauty guru James Charles, and makeup entrepreneur Jeffrey Star are a few examples of men who wear makeup. However, they are not identified as metrosexual men simply because their sexual orientation is not heterosexual. It is important to make the difference between homosexual men and metrosexual men because “beautification and self-care have been conventionally associated with gay men and women, heterosexual “’metrosexuality’” represents a move beyond the constructive bipolar categorizations masculine/feminine and hetero/homo” (…). It is of extreme importance to take notice to the makeup of those who are a large part of the industry that pushes the movement for men and cosmetics. The majority sexually orient themselves as homosexual, examples including the men listed previously. Because of this known fact, it might be a given to say that a large part of the society may associate cosmetics and homosexual men together. The term metrosexuality has opened up a door for heterosexual men to shed this assumption.

Cosmetic Reliance

The visibility of the male body has become increasingly more displayed through media, because of this visibility (which can be attributed to a number of reasons such as feminism, the gay movement, etc.) has given way to men becoming more self-conscious. It has “generated concerns regarding the health, self-esteem, and body image of young men and boys. Men are presented with images that pressure them to look a certain way and have a particular body shape and size” (…). This has not only hit those who are described as metrosexuals but also gay men. While women have been dealing with this type of expectation of themselves for a very long time, it is a new ideal for men to obtain (in this day and age of American culture) in order to feel better and more confident in themselves. There are many examples of famous men who, in order to look the part and be the part particularly in the acting industry has gone through tremendous body changes for a role in the movie (i.e. Hugh Jackman and Chris Pratt). There are also many men who have accomplished living in the public eye with very outgoing cosmetic attributes whether it be makeup or procedures at the forefront of their lives. A good example of such a man is singer, songwriter, guitarist, Dave Navarro. Navarro is famous for wearing black eye makeup and is not afraid to display this even on his hit television show Ink Master. Another great example is music legend and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, David Bowie who used heavy makeup on his face even though it was very out of the ordinary and far from the mainstream norm during his career. The makeup usage by these men did and does not make them any less successful than they have already become.

Violating the Norm

The forefront of men in the spotlight who have strutted their faces with foundation, eyeshadow, eyeliner, and more without any restraint are the men who lead this movement and development of metrosexuality into new areas of American culture. Dave Navarro, Jeffrey Star, Adam Lambert, and James Charles are all males who, despite their sexual orientation believe in the heightening and usage of cosmetics to enforce a higher standard for men to obtain in order to be successful (because no doubt they are successful). While it is important to understand that cosmetics are not necessarily as heavily pushed onto men as a stigma that has to be integrated into their everyday lives as much as it is with women, it is still certainly an option.

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American Culture: The Stigma Around Male Cosmetic Usage. (2020, Apr 10). Retrieved from