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Men in lipstick

By MONIQUE TODA, The Philippine STAR Published Sep 12, 2021 5:00 am

When I read that China is now banning “sissy” or womanlike men from television and is now espousing more masculine role models, the first thing I thought of was the global popularity of K-pop idols and some Korean celebrities with gender-fluid looks.

Chinese broadcasters are now forbidden to feature “niang pao,” a derogatory and slang term referring to men dressing and behaving in effeminate ways.

This call for “national rejuvenation” by President Xi Jinping also includes limitations in gaming, “vulgar” social media stars, and internet companies. Their focus will be on Chinese traditional, revolutionary and advanced socialist culture, which is a sort of morality guideline by the government.

But I am here to talk about makeup — to be specific, men in makeup.

 In the Eighties, there was Prince, who was always fully made up.

People in my generation used to call men who took care of their looks and were fashionably dressed “metrosexuals.”  Similarly, a “dandy” is defined as a man devoted to style and appearance. The word originated during the 18th century and is a shortened term for “Jack-a-dandy,” referring to a conceited fellow.

The current rise of ‘beauty boys’ is attributed to the general acceptance and effectiveness of male makeup endorsers. There is a substantial market segment for male skincare lines and makeup.

So this male preoccupation with looks — and shall I say, beauty — is not new. Perhaps it is more accepted now, that’s all.

 Men in ancient Egypt wore lipstick and dramatic eyeliner to communicate wealth and status.

A short history of men in makeup starts as early as 4000 BCE in Egypt. According to “The Fascinating History of Men and Make-up” by Amanda Montell on, “Egyptian men used black pigment to create elaborate cat-eye designs. Dramatic eyeliner was customarily worn to communicate wealth and status.”

Men wore some sort of makeup as well during Ancient Rome, Elizabethan England, 18th-century France, and my favorite era:  the Eighties. Think Prince, Michael Jackson, Boy George, Billy Joe Armstrong of Green Day (a favorite), and various punk and rock stars.

It was during the reign of Victoria I when makeup got a bad rap as being only for the vain and shallow. This belief then developed through the years and ended up consigning makeup to only women.

The current rise of “beauty boys” is attributed to the general acceptance and effectiveness of male makeup endorsers. There is a substantial market segment for male skincare lines and makeup.

In the west, there are  popular campaigns promoting new products for men. But it is in the east where the male makeup trend really takes off. According to a report on CNN Style in March 2020, South Korean men lead the world’s male beauty market.

 Good-looking and charming Korean actor Kim Seon Ho in Hometown Cha Cha

Recently, I was watching the K-drama Hometown Cha Cha starring good-looking and charming Kim Seon-ho. I couldn’t help but notice his lipstick. It was very obvious and, to be honest, I was a bit distracted wondering what shade or color it was.

 King of K-pop G-Dragon with popular actress Seo Yea-ji in a mascara ad

King of K-pop G-Dragon, who is known to push gender boundaries, endorsed red lipstick for males back in 2014. It was quite daring, but it still came off as masculine on him. The legendary idol also had a mascara ad with popular actress Seo Yea-ji.

 V from global sensation K-pop boy group BTS

K-pop idols have really added to the acceptance in blending femininity and masculinity through makeup. Just look at global sensation BTS. They have full-on makeup with eyeliner, shadow, blush and lipstick. They even launched their own collaborative makeup line.

 The Bobbi Brown serum foundation sold out in Korea reportedly because of beauty ambassador Kai from famous boy group Exo.

Sexy Exo member Kai was the beauty ambassador of Bobbi Brown and his favorite serum foundation sold out in minutes. Definitely the younger generation has no problem accepting the male made-up look. In fact, they embrace it.

 Handsome Lee Dong Wook was the face of Chanel’s first makeup collection for men called Boy de Chanel.

Handsome Korean actor Lee Dong Wook, known for his role as the grim reaper in Goblin, was the face of Boy de Chanel, the brand’s first makeup line for men promoting foundation, brow pencil and lip balm.

 Top Korean and soon-to-be Hollywood star Park Seo-joon is another sought-after beauty ambassador.

Top Korean and soon-to-be Hollywood star Park Seo-joon is also a Chanel Beauty ambassador and was a spokesperson for cosmetics brand Laneige.

 Lee Jong-suk poses with a lipstick product that targeted women consumers.

Respected Korean star Gong Yoo was named the face of luxury skincare product La Mer last year and a couple of years ago, Lee Jong-suk promoted lipsticks, tints, cushion foundation, and more.

 Hot young star Song Kang is a beauty ambassador.

Song Kang, another hot Korean actor now, was the brand ambassador of Deoproce Philippines and Banilla Co. The list goes on and on. It looks like there are many beautiful boys nowadays.

This leads me to think, what is beauty, really? What standards for men and women are true? Does my lipstick look better on a man? Who is to say? So let me end this with the biggest cliché of all: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And this is the truth.