Male beauty influencers in India break gender stereotypes

Social media demolishes gender walls on beauty & makeup

Culture

October 24, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Male beauty influencers in India break gender stereotypes

Influencers like Jason Arland (left) and Shantanu Dhope (right) create gorgeous looks with makeup (Photo: Instagram)

The idea that men can also be interested in skincare and wearing makeup has always been shrouded in stigma and even seen as a kind of weakness. However, some social media influencers in the country are advocating for erasing rigid gender norms so that people can embrace their inner creativity regardless of restrictive societal stereotypes.

As in most countries around the world, India’s USD 11 billion beauty industry has always largely focused on women. Even when the target is men, attention is mainly limited to skincare, geared towards skin whitening or bleaching or making someone more ‘masculine’. Anything over and above is considered feminine and looked down upon. Moreover, the idea of men actually applying makeup is completely non-existent in the market, even though India’s entertainment industry has seen famous celebrity male makeup artists make a name for themselves, like Mickey Contractor and Vardan Nayak, and actors have donned makeup for centuries in cultural Indian performances such as Ramlila as well as in the immensely popular cinema industry.

However, there are signs of change here. Already, over the last five years, with the rapid growth of social media platforms like YouTube and Instagram, American male beauty gurus like James Charles and Patrick Starr have taken over the industry with tens of millions of followers, proving that when it comes to makeup, gender has nothing to do with talent, and desensitising an entire generation to the idea that men can wear makeup too. In India as well, especially since the influx of social media influencers over the pandemic, there has been emergence of some male content creators trying to normalise makeup for men and breaking the stigma around it.

One of the first Indian influencers to gain viral attention for this was Delhi-based Ankush Bahugana, whose short reels on how to correct and conceal under eye circles blew up, receiving millions of views and now bringing him to almost 800,000 Instagram followers. While Bahugana’s focus has been on normalising men wanting to look good and take care of themselves in subtle ways, other male influencers are using makeup to show off their incredible artistic talent, such as Deep Pathare’s vibrant, colourful creations and Shantanu Dhope’s glamorous eye looks, satisfyingly shot to each week’s trending tracks.

Bahugana’s Instagram handle, @wingitwithankush, showcases his experiments with makeup

Mumbai-based model and musician Jason Arland says his interest in makeup was sparked as a form of self-expression.

“I’ve been into makeup and beauty ever since I was a kid. I come from a family with a music background so I have been performing on stage as a dancer and musician since I was 5 years old, so I always wore makeup, it is the most natural thing for me,” Arland tells Media India Group.

Not realising the impact social media can have on audiences, Arland had initially started posting his creative looks makeup looks on Instagram just for fun, as a way to document his journey and life.

“I think I am very narcissistic. I think I am pretty and wanted to celebrate that and just show people me being my authentic self,” he adds, laughing.

Dealing with online hate

As more brilliant talent emerges from the woodwork, online social media hate as also affected some of these influencers. On Bahugana’s page for example, he challenges negative comments about men wearing makeup with humorous videos, asking his haters, “Is your masculinity so fragile that it gets hidden by translucent powder?”

“I guess I’m delusional, so if someone says anything negative, I automatically block it out. I do get hate comments online, but you will get hate all your life regardless of what you do. I do what I feel like and I feel extremely good about myself, so no hate comment or negativity has ever taken over my day – I don’t give that power to anybody,” says Arland.

Arland cites India’s rich and diverse culture as proof of how fluid Indian society once was, and that these rigid gender norms have been present worldwide, although finally a shift seems to be happening.

“I think it would be wrong of us to say that only Indian society has this negative perception or stigma around men in beauty. I think this world in general, even in the West, it is the same story, there are homophobic people and we live in a very misogynistic world. We have a long way to go but our style of aesthetic, Indian couture, the way we dress, men traditionally applying surma or kajal (kohl), putting mehendi (henna) when they get married, our culture is very fluid. Yes, we have toxic masculinity like any other country, but we are moving forward and breaking barriers. There are always going to be clashes along the way but women and trans people have paved the way for us,” he explains.

Deep Pathare’s creative look, inspired by the Trans flag (@justdeepdrama)

In some cases, although audiences, especially among India’s youth, are beginning to accept that men can wear makeup, it is often seen as only acceptable or “normal” for gay men. But influencers like Siddharth Batra, with his effortless blend of androgynous styles and everyday fashion, have used their large online platforms to show that men can be interested in experimenting with fashion and daily makeup looks regardless of sexuality. Batra explains that social media has undoubtedly played a massive role in changing initial perceptions and spreading awareness.

“I have had numerous DMs from my followers and I continue to receive them, asking questions on what beauty products to buy, how to use them. Many of these people, who, if I scroll up to their older messages to me, actually used to be against men being interested in beauty. In fact, when I started the hashtag #GuyBeauty (a dedicated beauty series on my Instagram), it had 3-4 posts. Today, almost 2 years since I started shooting the videos, the hashtag now has hundreds of posts. Something that started as just a name of a video series for me is now a term people use casually. I have never felt better about what I create everyday- conversations that lead to change of even the smallest degree makes me happy,” Batra tells Media India Group.

The influencers say that towards the end of the year 2021, perhaps it is time society stopped shaming men simply for exercising their choice to feel and look better about themselves, and allow both sexes to embrace beauty, skincare and makeup without being caged by gender rules.

“I am very proud to be a brown Indian boy who gets to do what I do; I am just living my narrative. A lot of people feel entitled [to spread hate] because they are simply uninformed and that’s why I like doing what I do, because I feel it helps people become more aware. I am glad that we are moving into a space where we are informing and educating audiences, we have come such a long way and now we have so many influencers like Shantanu, Deep, Ankush, so many people killing it out there. More men are wearing makeup and embracing it, call it a trend or call it anything, but the change is happening and I am so grateful about it,” says Arland.

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