Opinion

Maybe It’s Maybelline… Or Maybe It’s War Paint For Men

“War Paint … makeup for men.”

When the founder of War Paint went on Dragon’s Den in September 2019, he began his pitch by stating that he couldn’t find a brand that related to him “as a man”. From her padded executive’s chair, Deborah Meaden concurs, arguing that he’s done “a cracking job”, because “there’s a lot of men still who feel really uncomfortable about it all, you know, all that girl’s stuff”. Underneath both of these statements is the assumption that makeup is for ‘girls’ – or feminine men – and therefore the manly man who is, I stress, a man, needs something else. The way in which War Paint presents itself in its advertising is no different. In the preliminary pictures on their website, various muscled, pierced and tattooed men somewhat bafflingly put foundation on their faces like facewash – or, that’s what it seems, before the camera pans to the enormous skull ring one of the models wears – and the focus is largely upon the stereotypically masculine models rather than the product itself. This, we are told, is man – a warrior, buff, bearded and strong.

Despite his initial claims that his wish was simply to ease men into the world of makeup and to make them feel more comfortable in using it than before, the founder of War Paint for Men is only perpetuating the toxic and outdated ideals that created this limiting environment in the first place. War Paint? Is that what “real” men need? When asked in his Dragon’s Den pitch about market competition, Mr Gray argued that while brands like Tom Ford and Chanel have brought out men’s ranges, it doesn’t cater to the same area of the market. Using an alternative example, he explains, if MAC brought out a men’s range “it’s still MAC”. It is a startlingly astute observation that in one fell swoop exposes the poisonous masculine insecurity that Mr Gray has built his business upon. Such a comment is one that belongs to the mindset that teaches young boys that ‘men don’t cry’ – a mindset that has produced crippling levels of mental illness and a society in which men are three to four times more likely to commit suicide than women. At the risk of dictating what another gender needs (no comment), in 2020 men do not need to continue to subscribe to an outdated and poisonous concept of masculinity, but instead need to treat themselves and the concept of masculinity in a healthier way. War Paint is not the road to doing so.

We don’t need to look further to find other bafflingly gendered products that perpetuate the same toxic mindset. Perhaps best introduced in a twitter comment wherein “Bro gets $1.6 million investment from other bros because existing bottled water threatened his punk rock masculinity”: Liquid Death, the canned water, retailing at a smooth $1.83,  will ‘murder your thirst’. An advert on YouTube (which I highly recommend for both men and women despite the fact that this water is probably only for the very manliest of men) shows a liquid death can with muscled arms and legs brutally murdering each man – only men, of course – drinking a can of Liquid Death. Yes! Finally! An advert that really gets what being a man is about; blood, violence, war, blood and did I mention violence? Products that so blatantly market this unhealthy gender binary – Babygro’s that say “Sorry boys, Daddy won’t let me date until I’m 30” aimed for girls and “Ready to change the world” for boys – deserve to be consigned to the past. An environment in which when men wear makeup and it’s considered “girl’s stuff” unless it has ‘War Paint Makeup for Men’ emblazoned across the front is not one to which we should be aspiring. Instead, why aren’t we trying to cultivate a healthier attitude towards gender and identity, rather than clinging to outdated ideas of fixed gender perspectives?

A study carried out in 2018 asked young children to draw what they wanted to be when they were older, noting the differences between jobs picked by children from different classes and genders. The results demonstrated a strong difference between jobs that boys chose and those that girls chose, as well as differences between the aspirations of children from different backgrounds. To choose one aspect of the study, STEM roles, over four times the number of boys wished to become engineers in comparison to girls, and less than half the number of girls wished to become scientists in comparison to the boys in the same sample. However, what is striking is that two and a half times the number of girls wished to become doctors in comparison to the boys surveyed, and nearly four times the number of girls wished to become vets. This shows a marked increase in the inclination for a ‘caring’ role or career in comparison to boys which was applicable to all job sectors including STEM, whereas innovation or leadership roles were more preferred by boys. The gender lenses wherein caring is seen as a female trait and leadership is seen as a male one by children are in place from an incredibly young age and, worryingly, appear to be maintained into teenage years as reports from the ‘real world simulator’ KidZania confirm.

In 2020, what we need is to alter this tired black and white gender narrative, rather than perpetuate it with products such as War Paint for Men. While I don’t deny that there may be a stigma around male makeup use, as disappointing as that may be, the way in which to deal with it is not to feed into that narrative by profiting off a market niche created by male insecurities, but instead work to alter it. War Paint released a statement advocating an ultimately gender-neutral makeup marketplace, but in order to achieve that there must be ‘male specific brands also’. That is not how society should be going about this – we cannot show similarity by continuously reinforcing difference and separation; to begin to dismantle the binary gender perspectives that are so evidently still in play we need to reduce stigma, not avoid it.

Elizabeth Reynard

Elizabeth Reynard is the Senior Editor for the Opinions section of The Oxford Blue. She reads English Language and Literature at Trinity College and is going into her second year. When not in Oxford, Elizabeth spends her time in North Yorkshire and writing boring bios for herself and her editors.