In a capitalist society, "gender equality" sometimes means "men can have their physical insecurities exploited for profit, too." As such, cosmetics companies that have spent the better part of the last century convincing women that their products will make them presentable enough so that maybe another human might love them someday have turned their sights on men. The only problem? Men who wear makeup hate it when companies call it makeup. Welcome to the age of hismetics. Of manup. Of anything but the girly stuff that girls use because they're girls.
Annoying (inevitable) neologisms aside, designing packaging for man-makeup has presented a challenge to cosmetics manufacturers. Men want to be pretty, but they don't want other people — like the person behind the cosmetics counter ringing up their $200 worth of Kiehl's products or, I don't know, their roommates or girlfriends or snoopy bathroom cabinet investigating sexfriends — to know that they want to be pretty. They want to be men, manly men who forded the river with their oxen without the whole fucking thing collapsing, men who cut down trees and can carry more than 100 pounds of buffalo meat back to their wagon trains and did not die of dysentery before they arrived at the end of the Oregon Trail. But they want to do it all with faces softer than a baby's ass and more taut than a tambourine played by the prairie skirt-wearing percussionist in a twee band that they don't listen to because they're men, damnit. Real, beautiful men.
In order to combat the collective fear of catching girl cooties from touching pink things, cosmetics companies have gotten creative. First off, they never call their products "makeup." Pink and gold packaging, like the sort of packaging that might hold pretty lady things for ladies, is also out in favor of packaging that mimics the design of alcohol bottles, of cigar boxes. But unlike excessive alcohol or cigar consumption, which makes you drunk and smelly, these products smooth wrinkles, darken brows, "even skin tone," and beautify — no, wait. Manify. No word yet on whether anyone's working on a $80 cuticle cream that's dispensed via a glass gun, but that's got to be in the pipeline.
Stores are also working to welcome men (and their money) into the pink aisle by calling it something with the word "MAN" in it, decorating it like an old timey barber shop, and making everything look like it was hewn from a single log. Ye Olde Face Emporium & Dry Goods Shoppe. Ulta is calling its version "The Men's Shop." CVS is going with the more casual "Guy Aisles." Macy's went sporty with its "Men's Grooming Zone" (because they have zones in football! And basketball! It's not girly; it's got sport words!). Nordstrom has moved men's cosmetics from the makeup department and into the men's furnishings area, ostensibly to remove risk of girl germs, but also, in the words of Jennifer Kovacs, Nordstrom's national merchandise manager for fragrances, "Men are just more comfortable in their own environment, away from makeup and pink." The No Homo Sto'.
And just as "action figures" is another term for "dolls for boys," so too is The Men's Shop just Broseph and the Amazing Technicolor Eyeshadow Palate. But as silly as it seems, consumers are responding positively to the gendered distinction between cosmetics — in 2006, sales of men's toiletries hovered around $2.2 billion annually, but experts predict that figure will swell to $3.6 billion by 2016. Men really don't like using products that are "for women." Anecdotally, I once had to convince a Vitamin K-intolerant ex boyfriend that taking Vitamin K-free prenatal vitamins wouldn't cause him to grow breasts and spontaneously menstruate, even though the bottle was pink and contained very swirly, girly writing and a picture of a baby.
That retailers are eager to address their male customers desires is expected and could be construed as encouraging. But assuming that women who buy makeup totally love the way things are currently set up — grinning ladies in lab coats offering unsolicited samples of Jessica Simpson's newest perfume, large, open floor plans so everyone can see you compare labels on two identical flaky scalp shampoos — isn't necessarily accurate. Maybe it's time for the entire makeup counter to get a makeover, not just the dude section.
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