The Polarising Male Beauty Gurus

When you press play on their videos, you’re greeted with their bubbly personalities, their false lashes fluttering as they welcome you to their channel. As they smile, lipstick frames their whitened teeth. As they talk, delicately placed glitter on their eyelids shimmers under their studio lights. These are the current reigning makeup gurus of the beauty scene – and they’re boys.

Expensive foundation is blended into their stubble, and they adjust their backwards baseball caps with fingers sporting acrylic nails. They are the new breed of boy beauty bloggers, and with the most influential becoming the faces of traditional makeup brands like CoverGirl and Maybelline, it’s clear these men have made their (beauty) mark.

“It’s smart. Males have been using makeup and taking care of their skin for decades. So why not use this medium of social media for males to talk to males? It makes perfect sense,” Dr Edwina Luck said, a Senior Marketing Lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology.

Androgynous makeup mogul Jeffree Star, 31, launched his own makeup line, Jeffree Star Cosmetics, on Black Friday in 2014.

Since then, his brand’s Instagram account has garnered 3.8m loyal followers, his line now featuring liquid lipsticks, highlighters and eyeshadow palettes.

While Jeffree’s gender bending persona polarises the masses, it’s arguable he has paved the way for fellow male beauty gurus to earn the same cosmetic recognition as their female counterparts.

Fast-forward two years from Jeffree’s launch and makeup juggernaut CoverGirl announces James Charles, a 17-year-old self-taught beauty YouTuber from New York, is their first male CoverGirl.

“Meet @JamesCharles; makeup artist, boundary breaker, and the newest COVERGIRL!” the brand said on Instagram.

“All of our COVERGIRLs are role models and boundary breakers, fearlessly expressing themselves, standing up for what they believe, and redefining what it means to be beautiful. James Charles is no exception,” CoverGirl said.

While James only began his online presence a year before signing with CoverGirl, it was a bold and genius marketing decision on the brand’s behalf, proving just how quickly the beauty landscape can change.

“Males are interested in their appearance, but may be embarrassed to go to a real store to ask for advice. Here they can do it in the comfort of their own home, or on the bus trip home,” Dr Luck said.

Matt Hey, a 21-year-old YouTube personality from Sydney and the man behind the channel Alright, Hey! has had his fair share of stressful shopping experiences. As a boy interested in makeup, the normalisation of males like James Charles becoming the face of beauty brands is a surreal change.

In his video My Thoughts on James Charles Being a Coverboy, Matt said “I could not be happier that CoverGirl has a CoverBoy. 100 percent a step in the right direction. It’s the smartest thing that CoverGirl has ever effing done.”

“I obviously am a boy who wears makeup so I feel passionately about this” Matt said. “I see ads on TV, in the shops, at Priceline and all of them are targeted towards women. And there are so many males wearing makeup. I actually suffered in Priceline a lot of stress and anxiety because I really wanted a makeup product, and I specifically remember going up and being like ‘oh my god that’s so nice let me look at this’, and on it it said ‘girls only!’”

“As for James, I think that’s such a cool success story,” he added.

It doesn’t stop there. Makeup giant Maybelline New York followed suit, using 26-year-old beauty YouTuber Manny Gutierrez, popularly known as Manny Mua, as the face of their new Big Shot mascara in January 2017.

“Manny represented the ‘boss’ beauty attitude in this mascara campaign like no one else could,” Anne-Marie Nelson Bogle, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Maybelline New York, said in a statement.

The beauty boys are also besties, with Jeffree and Manny already collaborating on a limited edition collection for Jeffree Star Cosmetics. It’s a refreshing change from the female faces that dominate glossy advertising campaigns.

Kereti Te Tai, a 19-year-old male makeup artist at Brisbane’s Sephora store, welcomes the representation.

“As a male artist in the makeup industry, I’m proud to see men breaking down barriers and have their audiences accept and embrace them and their individuality.”

“It’s amazing being able to see makeup lovers thrive regardless of their gender.”

Along with being an administrator of Instabeautyau, Australia’s biggest Facebook beauty group comprising of nearly 10,000 beauty junkies, 22-year-old Kirsten Dubois from Sydney is a huge fan of men in makeup.

“I find them really interesting to watch,” Kirsten said, “I think because they are already breaking ‘traditional makeup rules’ per se, they aren’t as afraid to step out of their comfort zone or be honest in their personalities and thoughts as women beauty gurus can be sometimes.”

“Men who push social norms like this cop a lot of flack, so I have a lot of respect for them and it has taught me to just be me because, as a young Australian woman, I feel like if they can be confident in themselves then I definitely can too.

“Particularly Jeffree Star has been a big influence on that because Jeffree does what Jeffree wants and I kind of love it!”

However, with all the fans come the critics, and their hesitations towards the beauty boys’ online behaviour isn’t just skin deep, with all three men being involved in controversies.

As Jeffree Star’s popularity rose, old footage from his MySpace days resurfaced, in which he was recorded saying he’d throw acid on a dark skinned woman’s face to lighten up her skin tone.

Years later, he went on a SnapChat rant to his millions of followers, threatening to beat up female makeup artist Shayla Mitchell after she made a vague comment about him on her Twitter account. Keeping up?

If that wasn’t enough, in 2016 former friend and fellow makeup CEO Kat Von D, creator of Kat Von D Beauty, uploaded a video to her YouTube channel where she very publically disassociated from Jeffree Star.

In her video Jeffree Star: It’s so much easier to do the right thing, Kat explained how after a friend of hers created Jeffree’s brand logo for him, Jeffree never paid the artist and continued to use his work.

“The way that Jeffree chooses to live his life and treat other people is not something I personally agree with,” Kat stated at the start of her 13 minute video, which has been viewed over 8.9m times.

Jeffree’s 23 minute response video, DEAR KAT VON D: IT’S EASIER TO TELL THE TRUTH, has been viewed over 11.1m times.

While consumers are divided on their opinions about Jeffree Star, gradually more beauty influencers are taking a public stance against his behaviour and brand.

Brisbane beauty YouTuber Bella Fiori said in her recent ANTI-HAUL | Things I’m NOT gonna buy video that she won’t be supporting the brand anymore.

“I won’t be buying from Jeffree Star anymore, and I really hope I don’t get ambushed for talking about this on my channel,” Bella said.

“I just feel like a lot of drama surrounds him.

“Honestly, I would forgive and forget if he apologised, but he never has. The fact that there’s no apology and it continues to happen just turns me off the brand.”

Things have also been less than easy, breezy and beautiful for CoverGirl’s James Charles.

The teen landed in hot water earlier this year for tweeting “I can’t believe we’re going to Africa today omg what if we get Ebola?”

While James deleted the tweet shortly after its backlash, the damage was already done, with petitions for CoverGirl to drop James as a brand ambassador gaining traction.

“James Charles’ tweet does not represent COVERGIRL’s perspective,” the brand said on Twitter, “we agree his statements were inappropriate but appreciate that he has issued an apology.”

Maybelline’s Manny has also endured his fair share of drama.

Along with being best friends with the controversial Jeffree Star, indie brand Black Moon Cosmetics filed a lawsuit against the pair’s makeup collaboration, stating Jeffree and Manny plagiarised their logo.

While the duo escaped unscathed, it calls into question how far beauty brands are willing to go before parting ways with their problematic ambassadors.

“Celebrity bloggers get ahead of themselves and often power goes to their heads,” Dr Luck said.

“If any brand are going to use this type of medium, and celebrity blogger, where they don’t look at what these guys are going to post, write and say, then it is always going to be problematic.”

While Sephora’s Kereti acknowledges their questionable behaviour, he’s one of many who can’t deny the beauty boys’ unprecedented success.

“Although I’m not a massive follower of them, I can still respect their artistry and admire their work and products.”

Despite their polarising ways, the revolutionary impact of these men in makeup has sparked essential discussions on the complexity of the beauty industry, proving they’re more than just a pretty face.