'Warpaint: Makeup For Men' Beautifully Highlights The Fragility of Masculinity
In a cultural moment where the questioning of gender roles is gaining acceptance, does makeup really need a masc makeover?
Photo via War Paint: Makeup for Men.
The other day I had the misfortune of coming across the emerging brand Warpaint, a cosmetics line for men. It was dressed up in the typical prison of masculinity: all black tactical branding, modeled primarily by hyper masculine men covered in tattoos with a penchant for skull jewelry and humorless, dead-fish smiles.
I imagine that the pitch meeting for the brand was not unlike — and perhaps, a direct descendant of, this episode of Corporate, where a male cosmetics line is pitched. Let's not forget that Corporate is a Comedy Central satire.
Breaking down the promises of the brand itself is easy. I reached out to cosmetic chemist Stephen Alain Ko for his take on the claims the brand makes on their website: that skincare ought to be gendered, that some ingredients work better for men, and so forth. He refuted all of them. “Skincare this specifically gendered misses out on the nuances of individuals. There are currently no scientifically researched topical cosmetic ingredients that specifically target a male or a female. These formulations would be suitable for a man, a woman, or anyone who would like to purchase them. The main change is the packaging and fragrance.”
Upon further investigation, skincare aficionados on Twitter also discovered Warpaint may have plagiarized portions of their brand copy from skincare consultant website The Skin Nerd. Besides the allegations of plagiarism being troubling in and of itself, the irony is that the argument they appropriated stemmed from The Skin Nerd’s explanation that men should actually be using the same skincare as everyone else.
I compared the ingredients in several of the brand offerings to the lists of other, non-gendered cosmetics, and they contain the same family of ingredients. Warpaint foundation is actually the same exact formula as the Fabulous Base from Look Fabulous Forever…..which is actually a brand geared towards older women.
This is a poetic example of how brands market turnkey products wildly differently. Turnkey products, for those unfamiliar with the industry term, refers to products fully formulated and packaged by private manufacturers that are available for repackaging for people who want to have their own brand. It is another term for outsourcing. It is a very common practice, though the examples are not usually so comically public.
I’m not crucifying Warpaint (simply) because I find their advertising tactics embarrassing to the point of hilarity—this kind of marketing is actively harmful towards queer folks and other people who present against the grain of traditional masculinity. Warpaint is a brand for men uncomfortable with people knowing they care about their appearances and who are concerned they will be seen as lesser for it. That casually reinforced gender binary is far more problematic than the makeup itself. In a cultural moment where the questioning of gender roles is gaining acceptance, do we really need to butch up makeup to protect an imagined conception of masculinity?
The idea that men need their own niche in the cosmetics industry isn’t a new one. The male grooming market reached $57.7 billion dollars in 2017. Men’s grooming has included cosmetics like concealer and foundation for literally decades, and brands like Tom Ford and Clinique have had full lines dedicated to men across skincare and makeup for years. The modern man isn’t a revolutionary for deciding he wants to conceal his beard acne, either. King Tutankhamen wore eyeliner, Louis XIII made wigs a huge trend in his courts, Babylonian warriors in 3500 BC painted their nails before battle, and people roasted Alexander the Great for his love of cosmetics in historical documents constantly...and then he colonized their lands.
Warpaint is a brand for men that want to take care of themselves, but presumably think sharing beauty products with the women in their lives is gross and could possibly weaken their hormones, because that’s obviously how science works. It is a brand that only uses “tough” ingredients meant for capital-M Men, like tea tree oil, never mind that tea tree oil is an ingredient used for a variety of needs across genders, from coughs to bug bites to acne. The misdirect of promising ingredients that are catered specifically to men's needs assumes the men listening know nothing about skincare and would never know that all the ingredients promised are neither exclusive nor proprietary. It buys into the premise that differences between genders are essentially biological, though the solution it presents is a cultural farce that proves otherwise.
But then, the target market for these products isn’t necessarily a well-educated beauty consumer, just an intensely insecure male one who would never want to be seen in a Sephora without a woman to hide behind. The kind of man that buys Warpaint would probably buy Liquid Death, that $1.6 million dollar idea a former Netflix creative director dreamed up that simply repackages tap water into PBR -like containers, because god forbid people know you’re choosing to be sober in an alcoholic environment. Products like Warpaint and Liquid Death force us to remember that masculinity is a prison, but a distinctly profitable one.