Makeup meets Masculinity

Why do men seem so uncertain about makeup? Taran Warner wonders.

Aaron Christopher Nayagam is an eighteen-year-old self-taught makeup artist. He does makeup on a freelance basis for communions, confirmations and weddings.“Growing up, I was taught that makeup wasn’t for men. Occasionally I would ask my mother for some. Once she applied lipstick on me and I was really happy about it. The next time I applied it myself and she was not pleased. She sat me down and explained that makeup is meant for women to enhance their beauty and their features”, he says.

Nayagam wondered why this was the case and nobody had any answers. He was around fourteen at the time. This prompted Nayagam’s interest in makeup and he would do it at every opportunity he got. His makeup was done in secret. He would stay up, late in the night, doing his makeup. “I would only do it after ensuring everyone was asleep and I would lock the door. I was afraid of what my family would say if they found out,” he recollects.

According to him, “Makeup is meant to enhance what one already has, no matter how masculine or feminine one is. We as a society created those concepts to bifurcate people. I thought to myself that if women can use makeup to enhance their features, then why can’t men?”

Nayagam went to a friend’s house and practised makeup there. “I was also inspired by makeup artists like Pat McGrath and Charlotte Tilbury, whose videos I watched around this time.”

While choosing this path however, Nayagam has faced a lot of discrimination. This was why he kept it a secret from his family initially.

Aaron Christopher Nayagam is an eighteen-year-old self-taught makeup artist. He does makeup on a freelance basis for communions, confirmations and weddings.“Growing up, I was taught that makeup wasn’t for men. Occasionally I would ask my mother for some. Once she applied lipstick on me and I was really happy about it. The next time I applied it myself and she was not pleased. She sat me down and explained that makeup is meant for women to enhance their beauty and their features”, he says.

Nayagam wondered why this was the case and nobody had any answers. He was around fourteen at the time. This prompted Nayagam’s interest in makeup and he would do it at every opportunity he got. His makeup was done in secret. He would stay up, late in the night, doing his makeup. “I would only do it after ensuring everyone was asleep and I would lock the door. I was afraid of what my family would say if they found out,” he recollects.

According to him, “Makeup is meant to enhance what one already has, no matter how masculine or feminine one is. We as a society created those concepts to bifurcate people. I thought to myself that if women can use makeup to enhance their features, then why can’t men?”

Nayagam went to a friend’s house and practised makeup there. “I was also inspired by makeup artists like Pat McGrath and Charlotte Tilbury, whose videos I watched around this time.”

While choosing this path however, Nayagam has faced a lot of discrimination. This was why he kept it a secret from his family initially.

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Aaron Nayagam displaying an ashy makeup look.

Picture Credits- Aaron Nayagam

“Sometimes people would spot makeup residue on my face and ask me why I was doing this to myself. Once a lady at church asked me about the eyeliner and eye shadow I was wearing. I asked what it had to do with her. She replied that this is a church and one has to be holy and pious. I just walked away.", he recounts.

However, he doesn’t take any of this at heart. “I don’t take any of it too personally because even though it is 2020, I know that I am in India and the society here is close-minded. They will take their time accepting men wearing makeup. I try to make them understand a point of view which is different from theirs, and to look beyond their prejudice.”

Weddings are one area in which Nayagam does a lot of makeup. He generally does makeup for brides. "Most grooms I've encountered are hesitant to put makeup on. However, some of them let me apply it after a lot of convincing from family friends. On the whole, they are quite resistant to it."

If there is one thing Nayagam wishes men knew about makeup, they should first try it. “There is this stigma that the moment you try on makeup, people assume that you are a homosexual, which makes no sense at all.”, he says. “Schools should teach children, especially boys that it is okay to express yourself in any way you see fit. Only then will they be more comfortable using makeup. They are constantly taught that showing emotions for example is a sign of weakness and therefore feminine which is not true at all. They should be comfortable expressing themselves however they want.”

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Shaurya Batra, a costume stylist and makeup artist, has also had a fascinating relationship with makeup. “I don't think there is any relationship between makeup and masculinity as such, they are too very different concepts. According to me, makeup is for everyone. I don't believe in makeup being only for certain people. I have been in the film industry for a very long time and I know that every guy, no matter how masculine or macho he is, has to wear makeup on camera. Makeup is everywhere. It’s an art form and a personal choice.”

His line of work is fairly relaxed about it. Batra adds, “The film industry is quite open-minded. I am a stylist so I'm usually in the costume department. Makeup and costume go hand in hand. I’ve been in the room where makeup is done. I would see men who are makeup artists apply makeup on themselves and come to work. Other men look like they’ve never worn makeup in their lives, yet they do amazing makeup on others! Nobody judges anyone for it. I have gone for many shoots wearing makeup so I'm comfortable wearing makeup around my colleagues.”

Batra’s mother is a makeup artist, so he was always exposed to makeup. “My mother was my first and biggest inspiration. Growing up, I was not sure if doing makeup was okay so I didn’t dabble in it while I was at home. When I moved out of my hometown and was a little more independent, I used my first salary to buy a bunch of makeup products. I didn’t even use that makeup for a long time. Makeup is hard and needs a lot of practice. I had no clue what I would do with it”

Shaurya Batra displaying a bold makeup look.

Picture Credits- Shaurya Batra

 

His main motivation to try makeup was his struggle with confidence. "Now I am an openly gay man, but for the longest time, I was in the closet. Therefore, confidence was always a major issue for me. In my late teens, I was consuming a lot of media where men used makeup and became more confident, such as RuPaul’s Drag race. I thought that if makeup could help with confidence for a while, why not do it. It helped me get in touch with another side of myself. Makeup has helped me gain so much confidence. Now that I put so much more content on social media, I need that confidence,” Batra says.

Drag was a huge influence on him. “When I was first exposed to this, my immediate reaction was not to do Drag or makeup. However, I was inspired by the amount of confidence it gave to those who did it. Sushant Digvikr, one of the first high-profile people in India to adopt a public drag persona, was one of my major inspirations. I went to one of his shows and met him in fact,” he says.

Batra says, “I face a lot of discrimination. However, I am blessed to have the support of my family and close friends. Even those I work with are incredibly supportive,” he says.

“A few of my reels on Instagram went viral. I am in India, so it would mainly be viral in this country. Indian audiences often have a more conservative mindset and don’t understand why a man would wear makeup. They leave laughing emojis and address me using derogatory names like chhakka,” Batra shares.

However, he affirms, “I have faced discrimination for being gay as well and it is all around. Surprisingly, support has always outweighed discrimination for me. Others are not so fortunate. I know many people who do not have the privilege of support.”

Batra wishes that people would stop taking makeup so seriously. “Not just men, but everyone needs to relax. Even when women wear it, people pass comments and say they are being excessive with it. I’ve grown up hearing so much judgment about makeup. Many say they support me but then ask me why I'm doing this. They need to take it less seriously. I'm not hurting anyone, except my skin at times perhaps.", Batra signs off.

Unlike Nayagam and Batra, Aditya Patil is not a makeup artist. A recent graduate of economics and sociology from St Xavier’s College in Mumbai, Patil recently started doing makeup seriously. “I was always comfortable with my skin color but have had a lot of acne since I was a child. I’ve always felt that if there’s a possibility to make yourself look better why not? Putting makeup is a personal choice, just like wearing clothes you like. I want to look good; it’s as simple as that. I don’t understand gender coming into this dynamic,” he says.

“There’s this entire bubble around makeup and how it is the complete opposite of masculinity. I think this is totally irrelevant and I don’t understand what makeup has to do with gender.”

His fascination with makeup goes back to his childhood days.

Aditya Patil with an experimental makeup look he did.

Picture Credits- Aditya Patil

 

"As a kid, I was always scared to put on makeup but I would sneak on my mother's products now and then, even if they did not suit me. It felt really good. In college also I got much more comfortable in my skin. In our sociology lectures we would deconstruct a lot of ideas," Patil says.

 

His makeup use was initially only to hide blemishes. Later, he began experimenting more with it. “I asked myself why I was restricting myself to certain notions of how makeup should be used. I decided that it would be better not to restrict myself and try new things with it.”

However, he has still had to restrict his makeup use to a certain extent. “If I’m wearing eyeliner, I cannot leave my house without wearing sunglasses. In our society, they draw a line. If you are wearing a concealer or foundation that's okay, sometimes people wear those products for special events. But if you put on things like eyeliner and rouge you will be looked down upon heavily,” he shares.

“I can’t do certain things openly until I am financially stable and living somewhere I can do it safely. If I was the only one facing the consequences it would be okay, it would be my issue to deal with. If I do it where I live right now, it won't just be me, but my entire family facing the consequences, which isn’t worth it.”

Though it has not been easy for Patil, using makeup has empowered him greatly and has been vital in his journey of self-discovery. "I wish people would extend their boundaries, not just in terms of exploring with makeup themselves but also to other's choices. If you don't put on makeup and are not fine with it yourself, please don’t restrict others. Intolerance in our country is a huge issue,” Aditya says.

“People should open up boundaries. When I started putting videos on Instagram, I realized that people actually notice small things like this. A girl told me I make bold videos and I told her my videos are nowhere close to bold! I am just doing what I love to do. I wish everyone irrespective of gender could explore and do what they want without fear of judgment.”

Aaron Nayagam, Shaurya Batra and Aditya Patil have all benefited greatly from their use of makeup. It has made them feel much more confident and comfortable. All of them believe that makeup goes beyond gender. At the end of the day, it's only a medium of expression. This gendered association only came about in the last two hundred years. Hopefully, it will cease to exist in the next two hundred years.

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