Is Female Appropriation a valid claim?

YouTuber and beauty influencer James Charles doing Kylie Jenner’s Make-Up
©James Charles

Just a quick glance at the trending page on YouTube can give you a taste of the impact male beauty influencers have on the video-sharing platform, as well as the whole beauty industry of today. Generating billions of views and millions of subscribers, names like James Charles, Jeffree Star and Brentman Rock are taking over the industry by storm and turning it on its head. Whether it’s through innovative make-up tutorials, posing on the covers of magazines and billboards or teaming up with the hottest make-up brands on the market for a new collaboration, these individuals are redefining the beauty scene with their every move.

But of course, with such influence, male beauty artists often find themselves surrounded by disapproval and negativity, which mainly aims to reinforce dominant ideologies about gender. Such criticism specifically targets male beauty gurus’ way of expression through make-up, through relying on outdated stereotypes about masculinity and femininity. The conventional belief that make-up is to only be worn by a woman, as a necessary tool to showcase and enhance her woman-ness, has been around for centuries and unfortunately continues to exist in the present day. Men straying away from masculinity and wearing make-up definitely does not fit in that worldview, which results in such claims, that go so far to even accuse male beauty artists of “female gender appropriation”, comparing it to the notion of “blackface”.

Blackface is the occurrence of people incorporating specific make up and style elements in order to make themselves appear as if they are black, which is purposefully deemed racist and unacceptable in today’s society. By using this comparison, critics state that male beauty influencers follow a similar trend – using make-up to transform themselves into women, thus invading the sacred territory of womanhood.

There are however a few major problems with this statement. Firstly, the female gender and femininity as a concept does not require make-up in order to exist. Despite the fact that society has told us differently for many years, women do not need make-up in order to prove their woman-ness. Moreover, this automatic assumption that make-up and femininity necessarily walk hand in hand is just a product of these outdated norms and ideologies. Make-up does not belong to the female gender and it does not exist in order to only serve as an indicator of femininity.

Jack, a UK-based beauty influencer, does a make-up tutorial using only British brands

Secondly, on the topic of “gender appropriation” and comparing men wearing make-up to blackface, these are two entirely different approaches. Blackface is about giving the power to the privileged group in society to negatively take advantage of and parody another race. Make-up allows any individual to positively express themselves through a dance between colours and styles, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.

The main purpose of make-up is often misunderstood or lost in translation – bottom of the line is that the actual reasoning behind it lies in self-expression and art. Male beauty influencers continuously reinforce that and challenge gender stereotypes, slowly breaking through all those established barriers in society. Make-up helps you understand that you don’t have to fit in any existent norms of femininity or masculinity and that your identity should have no limits to express itself.

James Charles creates an anti-Valentine’s Day make-up tutorial
©James Charles

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