The misconception that usage of cosmetics was exclusively aimed at females started circulating in the 19th century.
As a matter of fact, in 3,000 B.C, Egyptians of both genders would wear makeup such as kohl and red ochre to enhance their features. In ancient Roman and Greek culture, cosmetics and perfumes were used by men and women to mask the signs of ageing. In the 1500s, England initiated the 'porcelain face' trend, using mercury powder and white lead to outline aristocratic social status. From the 60s to the 80s, artists like David Bowie, KISS and Mötley Crüe were seen wearing eyeliner and lipstick on stage as a symbol of rebellion towards the conformism of society.
Mainly, long was the route – and many were the obstacles – that makeup had to get passed to obtain the recognition it has today. However, the stigma that it has always only targeted women has never truly existed – and if it did, it lived for a brief period.
The real question, however, is why are beauty standards changing now?
One of the main reasons is attributed to Generation Z (anyone born between 1997 and 2012), that according to a research conducted by WGSN, is slated to be the single largest group of consumers worldwide in just a few years.
Defined by fluidity and individuality, Gen Z values diversity in all of its forms and demands a less rigid definition of masculinity and gender identity. As demonstrated by a survey conducted by Pew Research Center in 2019 that runs on 10,000 Americans, "59 per cent of members of Generation Z said forms that ask about a person's gender should include options besides "male" and "female," compared with 50 per cent of millennials (ages 22 to 37 in 2018) and 37 per cent of baby boomers (54 to 72 in 2018)."
Hence, in a society where inclusivity reigns supreme, it is necessary for beauty companies to pivot towards gender-neutral products.
As explained in WGSN's report 'Gen Z: Building New Beauty', "The purchasing pathways of these educated, eco-conscious shoppers are directly determined by ethical practices and messaging, and they strongly believe that a brand must take responsibility for both its social and environmental impact".
Although it is relatively quick for brands to implement a gender-fluid marketing strategy, it is not as immediate to respect and follow gender-inclusive values at the core of the organisation. "If you are doing branding campaigns in June but don't live those values, the marketing will come back to bite you," explains Filip Nemeth, Senior Vice President at the consulting firm AlixPartners. "Take a look internally and make sure that employees feel included and empowered the other 11 months of the year too."
This is why brands are always under scrutiny when it comes to launching a new line or collaboration in support of the LGBTQ+ community. Coming up with formulas and techniques suitable for all genders does not do all the job. The real turnover comes from understanding the psychological pressure marginalised individuals are put through when using makeup and work to defeat binary-gender stereotypes. In short, it is not about the variety of products that a brand can offer, but the story consumers can relate to when buying such products.
This is the case of Fluide, a makeup brand born from the idea to support the younger generation throughout their self-discovery journey. "I was really inspired by my experience as a parent of Gen Z teens and the activism of this generation with regards to LGBTQ+ and gender identity issues," says Founder and Chief Executive Laura Kraber. "I wanted to create Fluide to represent and reflect the diverse identities of teenagers today, support their self-expression, and offer an authentic, inclusive beauty brand to an audience hungry for new representations of beauty.”
Named after queer spaces around the globe like gay bars and queer-friendly beaches, Fluide products aim at celebrating the history of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as validating their voices.
Accountable for offering a safe space environment for the LGBTQ+ community are also Jecca Blac, Volition Beauty and Noto Botanics. With unisex packaging, a diverse range of models and a tone of voice that approaches every consumer in its uniqueness, it is unquestionable why gender-fluid independent beauty brands are on the rise.
Their visibility is also owed to social media, as it allows LGBTQ+ makeup artists, influencers and celebrities to act as spokespeople for companies. CoverGirl was one of the first brands to take the big step, featuring New York-based makeup artist James Charles on their cover. By disrupting the traditional standards of beauty, the American cosmetic label encouraged its competitors to work more closely with relevant LGBTQ+ personalities and consequently attract a younger target. Not long after, Maybelline announced Manny Gutierrez – known commonly by his Instagram handle @MannyMUA – to be the face of the Big Shot Mascara by Colossal campaign. This initiative became a catalyst as MAC Cosmetics, Rimmel London, Urban Decay and many more, began to boost collaborations with popular influencers like Patrick Starrr and Bretman Rock.
From contributing to the making of seasonal bespoke collections to launching their own cosmetic lines, the LGBTQ+ community represents a significant sales driver in the beauty market. Their influence depends on the purpose upon which they act, earning the trust and approval of the younger generation – committed to reframing outdated social constructs and gender binary systems.
Although the 20th century has seen a higher number of mass movements than any period since World War II, gender discrimination is still a big battle to win. However, the sincere effort Gen Z is putting into fighting against modern social boundaries is likely to set the ground for a more inclusive world.