In Asia, we are used to certain things being taboo. Men and makeup falls squarely into this category.
However, with evolving times and (slowly) shifting societal attitudes, the rise of social media has contributed to men feeling much more self-conscious about their appearance and feeling the pressure to fit those standards. It doesn’t help that women fawn over cookie-cutter perfect-looking Korean male celebrities.
So it’s only logical that a little dab of foundation here or a little swatch of concealer there could be the boost of confidence they need.
Take up-and-coming beauty vlogger, Jiang Cheng, as an example.
When he first tried a bit of concealer during his first year of university in China it gave him self-confidence and he was instantly hooked.
Now he is among hundreds of Chinese men sharing beauty tips online and cashing in on the booming male cosmetics industry.
“I found that putting on make-up is actually quite easy,” the 24-year-old said as he gently brushed his face with some foundation.
“Women may not fully grasp the concept of male make-up. If a girl puts on my make-up, they may not be able to achieve the effect that I really want,” Jiang said.
Every weekend, Jiang spends a couple of hours in front of his iPhone at his cozy makeshift studio in Beijing trying on the latest balms and blushes for hundreds of live viewers, who can simultaneously buy the products he reviews.
“This colour is not that outrageous that men can’t wear it safely even in a conservative environment,” he explains to his fans.
Online beauty stars form an enormous industry in China, with internet celebrities known as “wang hong”, or online stars, blurring the line between entertainment and e-commerce.
Companies like Alibaba and JD.com have launched live-streaming platforms that allow viewers to purchase on the go while watching videos. And cosmetics brands pay big money for online celebrities, almost always female, to review their new products.
But now the market and gender norms are changing, with cosmetics no longer seen as exclusively for women and male celebrities showing that it is okay for men to dab on a bit of blush.
Jiang says a firm that manages bloggers pays him around 5,000 yuan (US$730) per month to feature products from cosmetics companies.
Despite China’s conservative outlook, the male beauty market is expected to grow 15.2 percent in the next five years in China compared to an 11 percent global increase over the same period, according to research firm Euromonitor.
‘Little Fresh Meat’
With this movement of men and makeup gaining traction, many companies are eager to invest money to access their large following. Recently, even Chanel has followed suit and launched a makeup line dedicated for men set to release later this year.
Foreign firms like La Mer and Aesop work with video bloggers such as Lan Haoyi, known as Lan Pu Lan online, to promote their products to his nearly 1.4 million followers.
The 27-year-old spends up to 10,000 yuan ($1,460) a month on beauty products and says China’s ‘Little Fresh Meat’ – a term referring to young good-looking men – is spearheading this trend.
“We’re seeing more men in the media wearing make-up. This will naturally become the norm,” Lan said.
However, the discrimination Lan and other men face is still rampant in society.
Despite what appears to be social progress in many of the country’s cosmopolitan cities, the video blogger says he still receives hate messages and criticism for appearing in smoky red eyeshadow.
“‘Why would a man look like that? Why does a man need to wear make-up?’ These are some of messages I get,” Lan says, adding he has been called a “sissy” and other slurs.
For Jiang, the fear of being ridiculed by his own parents stops him from picking up the make-up brush in front of them.
“I don’t want to have conflict with my parents. We don’t see eye to eye, our values and concepts of life are different.
“I’m not saying that they don’t think me putting on make-up is bad or what, but they are just unable to accept the daily make-up routine for a man,” he says.
But Mo Fei, the executive director for Chetti Rouge, a Chinese cosmetics company targeting men exclusively, is hopeful that it will change over time.
“There will be more and more men who take more care in how they look and the demands will increase. Men in the East are more accepting,” Mo says.
He opened Chetti Rouge in 2005 with few products. Now the beauty company sells a wide variety of cosmetics ranging from foundation to lipstick solely for men and has moved the entire business online, showing that there is a demand from men for more makeup products.
“We saw potential in the market very early on,” Mo told AFP, adding that the company expanded to Thailand three years ago.
“It might be that men have accepted make-up. For men to browse products in shopping malls, may be for some men a little intimidating, hence the best way for them to buy is online, which is why our sales strategy is mainly on the internet.”
With this new surge of demand for male cosmetics, the dialogue for truly inclusive makeup can be opened whereby both males and females can reap the benefits and feel beautiful at the same time.