Blog Writing

Male Polish

Breaking society’s gender norms one “beauty boy” at a time.

“This 17-year-old male makeup artist is the new face of CoverGirl” the BuzzFeed headline read last Thursday afternoon on Twitter. At first, I was slightly taken aback. What did I just read? I immediately went to CoverGirl’s Twitter page and found the tweet below.

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With it, James Charles a high school senior at Bethlehem Central High School in Bethlehem, New York was announced as the first male brand ambassador of the 55-year-old cosmetics company, CoverGirl.

At this discovery, for some bizarre reason, I felt the need to jump out of my desk at work and run around the office telling my bosses and coworkers all about the news.* In this instance, I don’t think I would have been able to articulate why James’ contoured and freckled face with the purple COVERGIRL text below it made me so happy. However, reflecting on this moment, my elation was most likely an expression of gratitude for the fact that another guy was breaking barriers and being appreciated by mainstream media for being himself rather than conforming society’s rigid gender norms. And to a lesser extent, I was excited because I saw myself in James.

Yes, I know I’m not a teen, award-winning, makeup artist with 745 thousand followers on Instagram, however, I do think I love the glitz and the glam almost as much as the CoverBoy. My sister jokingly calls me Mr. Magpie as I am always attracted to the glitter. Take for example my most recent shoe purchase, these bedazzled Steve Madden slip-ons I found at a consignment store in Northwest Georgia last month for $30. I just couldn’t resist.

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Something else I can’t resist is a relaxing mani-pedi with a girlfriend; a fact I am frequently made fun of for. Most plausibly because instead of opting for the more masculine clear coat the nice Asian ladies try to force upon me, I prefer to boast a bold statement color that matches my current mood. Every time I go through this process in my glorious massage chair, I contemplate why this is a “girls” activity? When did painted faces and decorated nails become feminine? As far as I know, these activities have no correlation to female genitalia and do nothing more than enhance the aesthetic and overall personality of a person.

Much of the disdain for what I’ll call ‘‘beauty boys” in the United States appears to have its roots in conservative Christianity. There have been many articles and books published on this topic in the last year surrounding biblical manhood.

As mentioned in Chandler Epp’s August Religion News Service article, How the Christian ‘masculinity’ movement is ruining men, he discusses how Darrin Patrick’s The Dude’s Guide to Manliness and James MacDonald’s Act Like Men: 40 Days to Biblical Manhood focus solely on necessity for young boys to have military strength and exert dominance at all times in order to fulfill God’s wishes for their manly lives.

However, as Epp points out, “The Christian Bible paints for us a view of manhood that is much more complex than these simple stereotypes allow. For every biblical reference to warriors like Samson or Saul, we read of characters like young David, a harpist, who through no power of his own defeated a giant. We meet Simeon, known for patiently waiting decades to see God’s promise revealed. Jesus himself notably refused to fight back, even giving up his life and physical body in a history-making display of spiritual strength.”

This is a point Nate Pyle seems to also support in his book Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood. In a 2016 interview with Jonathan Merritt on the feminization of the church, Pyle says, “This is nothing new. In fact, people have been worried about this since before the 19th century.” He even goes as far as to say the obsession with hyper-masculinity in American Christianity is one of the main reasons Donald Trump is so popular this election cycle. “Donald Trump with his promise to ‘make America great again’ sounds like a move back to the good ‘ol days when men were men” and everything was just “locker-room talk.”

These narrow opinions of male gender expression are then continually echoed in the portrayal of men in the media. Magazine covers boast sexually appealing guys with bulging biceps and well-defined chests, rarely giving space to the average twink or full-figured man. Not to mention men with more “feminine” aesthetics; with foundationed faces, highlighted hair and aqua acrylics. I can now understand, to an extent, the plight of women fighting to have short hair and wear pantsuits and still be called women!

Talking about and questioning these gender norms are important for promoting acceptance of different versions of ‘manhood.’ If they so choose, men should have the freedom to wear nail polish and makeup, stigma-free, and without compromising a part of their manhood. Call it Male Polish if it makes feel better, but hinder and be hindered no more my societies tight gender conforms. Remember James, the paint suit and the power of breaking barriers.

*I’m grateful that I work with an inclusive, understanding events team at an amazing institution.

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