The role of makeup in the modern performance of gender

Empowerment through creative expression

BEAUTYcrew Beauty Editor / July 14 2021

Gender expression within the beauty space has been shifting dramatically in the last couple of years. Quite frankly, as it should. 

It’s time to ask ourselves why we are embroiling our sense of self in an outdated construct like gender. Especially when it asks us to consistently detach from our authentic expression of self, in exchange for rigid, uninspired, derivative depictions of the masculine and the feminine? 

Makeup is no longer just for women. There are entire  Instagram accounts dedicated to men with manicures (thank God, we did not know how much we *needed* this kind of content), and it is becoming clear that people – regardless of their gender – are tired of being dictated to when it comes to how they express themselves. 

Because, let’s be real; at its essence makeup is just grown-up face painting. So, why can’t we step into a space where anyone of any gender can pick up an eyeshadow palette? Pick it up and use it to express themselves –the same way in which artists have historically taken up their paintbrush – and create something that speaks to their current state of being?

We asked makeup artist and social influencer Michael Brooks, fashion editor, host and digital creator Denis Todorovic, and, makeup artist, content producer, model, and owner of BOCAJ Beauty, Jacob Stella, to speak to their experience navigating through outdated gender norms, how they use makeup to express and empower themselves, and what they hope to see eventuate in the space of beauty and gender in the future. Here’s what they had to say.

Michael Brooks (@the_brooksbrother)

Denis Todorovic (@stylebydeni)

Jacob Stella (@andthatsjacob)

Does gender expression factor in how you express yourself through your makeup? 

Michael: “In some ways yes and other ways no. As a cis man, I've learned that wearing makeup doesn’t fit into the ‘traditional’ idea of male identity. Some could say it would be contradictory to express my male identity through such a ‘feminine’ expression I suppose. But I don’t really believe that makeup is a gender specific thing.”

Deni: “Prior to coming out as non-binary just short of 12 months ago, existing in the world as a gay man impacted the way I approached makeup tremendously. It was only something reserved for parties, events like Mardi Gras or accepted in a night time/gay bar environment. Ever since I allowed myself the freedom to exist and express my gender identity authentically, makeup is now something I turn to as a form of self-expression, whenever I feel like it, [and it] has been liberating beyond words.”

Jacob: “I personally love to play with both roles of gender when it comes to makeup, although I'm always told that I should completely shave my facial hair when wearing a full face because it doesn't ‘look feminine enough’ or ‘clean enough’”.


How does this manifest in your beauty routine?

Michael: “In a way, I’m expressing that I’m comfortable enough in my gender identity to express myself however I want to. Sometimes this means incredibly glamorous makeup and sometimes it means it’s untraceable. What my audience typically sees online is a version of me that could be seen as ‘hyper-feminine’ and in real life my beauty routine is more of a spectrum of different expressions.”

Deni: “Whilst I identify as non-binary and lean towards feminine with the way I dress or the makeup I wear, I really love the masculine features I do have... With that being said I love to play with the juxtaposition of makeup alongside these traditionally masc features. Now that I wear makeup multiple times a week, I’m so much more committed to taking good care of my skin and have become a bit of a skin care junkie.”

Jacob: “I personally love playing with feminine and masculine stereotypes, sometimes I love to look more feminine and other times, more masculine. [But] I'm still Jacob.”


How has makeup reshaped the way you look at gender expression and identity?

Michael: “Makeup has always been something I’ve used to express myself, not necessarily my gender identity. I express different moods, personalities, or even use it just like an accessory. It can be worn the same way a nice piece of jewellery or nail colour is worn. It’s just a fun extension of things and colours I like. It also plays a big part in how the world perceives me.”

Deni: “It’s reshaped it entirely. Makeup has given me a tool to express externally the way I feel internally. It’s something I’m actually enjoying experimenting with – almost more so than fashion!”

Jacob: “Makeup is a way to transform. Whether that's internal (confidence wise) or external (to match our personality), we can use makeup as a way to express our creative flair that reflects true to who we are. It really is a form of Drag in a way – you can portray yourself to the world however you want with makeup, and there are no limits or boundaries, regardless of the outside pressures.”


What do you hope the future of gender expression looks like in the beauty space?

Michael: “The barriers within the beauty industry are expanding, but I want to see them broken… I want to see a high-end foundation campaign with all models that struggle with acne, scarring and hyperpigmentation. Frankly, I never want to see a ‘makeup for men’ collection ever again, I don’t understand why that’s necessary. I want to see brands market their products to everyone. And I mean everyone.”

Deni: “Ideally the future is moving towards gender neutrality. Whilst there are absolutely biological/hormonal differences to the genetics of our skin and the way they react to certain formulas, it would be incredible to see the beauty industry as a whole become more gender neutral. [Ie.] Featuring all gender identities in campaigns and advertising and allowing any human to feel like they’re welcome with a seat at this glorious beauty table we all find ourselves sitting around.”

Jacob: “I feel as though platforms like TikTok have really opened people's eyes to the diversity that we don't always get to see on a curated Instagram profile. It has been a breath of fresh air seeing these infamous 'TikTok E-boys' wear eyeliner and paint their nails black (or guy-liner for those who struggle with toxic masculinity lol). It normalises something that us in the LGBTQ+ community have been bullied RELENTLESSLY for, for years. I feel like it's a step in the right direction and I really do believe that the new generation are becoming way more accepting of those who are different, and more experimental with gender expression no matter how or what that may look like. We love to see it.”

Main image credit: @the_brooksbrother, @stylebydeni, @andthatsjacob

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Briar Clark got her start in the media industry in 2017, as an intern for Marie Claire and InStyle. Since then, her keen interest in fashion and beauty has landed her gigs as a Digital Content Producer and Beauty Editor with titles like Girlfriend, Refinery29, BEAUTYcrew and beautyheaven. She loves the way seemingly innocuous topics like skin care and style have the ability to put a smile on people’s faces or make them think about themselves a little differently. A big believer in self love and experimentation, Briar has made a point of becoming the Australian beauty industry’s unofficial guinea pig for unusual treatments and daring hair trends. When she’s not testing out the latest beauty launches, Briar is big on broadening her horizons, mostly in the form of food but she’s also partial to travelling to new destinations both near and far (and of course, allocating an extra bag to bring their best beauty offerings home with her).