Men Are a Little Invisible in MADE UP Campaign (Ironic, Because They're Rocking Lipstick)

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Oh corneas. You enable the majority of humans to see trees of green, red roses too, and think to ourselves: “What a wonderful world!” But you also make us beady-eyed crow people wont to ignore the true nature of individuals and situations because “Look… Shiny…”

University of Kansas student Brenna Paxton has received well-deserved props for MADE UP, a social experiment revealing the close link between visual indicators and notions of the feminine and masculine. To create MADE UP, Paxton photographed straight and gay couples after their typical “date-ready” beauty routine. She then asked each pair to wash up and re-perform this routine on their partner. The project’s tumblr page juxtaposes the “before” and “after” shots, and includes quotes from the couples reflecting on the experience.

Though MADE UP’s “About” section says the project is interested in how women and men visually perform gender, the lightning rod of discussion on the project’s tumblr page and across internet forums is women and their relation to makeup.

Bust.com’s coverage of the experiment closes by suggesting that it, “[proves] that many women are expected, by themselves and others, to look a certain way that doesn’t exist naturally.” Comments on the site ask whether it’s okay to think all women look better with makeup, and can a woman who wears makeup be a feminist. My question is, Why have men been left out of the discussion?

Online debates aside, the quotes featured on MADE Ups tumblr page would have us believe that even the men that participated in the project felt it was more about women and femininity than men and masculinity. It appears not one boyfriend had anything to say about the experience of wearing makeup. Nor did any of them want to float the reality that men take pains to look masculine, as new studies about grooming and the rise of male eating disorders demonstrate.

And why would they, when many Americans believe (explicitly or implicitly) that it’s not manly to question or have issues with standard notions of masculinity (particularly, I would venture, if the questioner is straight)? Femininity as problematic performance is old hat, yet it seems most of us are still content to see maleness as natural and far less nuanced. Women bitch, right? “Real men” accept things as they are.

When the men in MADE UP put on makeup, the “naturalness” of the male look is exposed as equally artificial and contingent on a set of visual indicators as femininity, because we suddenly see them as “effeminate,” when in fact, they are still men.

While it is tempting to make the conversation all about women, the larger point of MADE UP, to me, is that gender has a huge visual component, and we punish those who don’t perform it to snuff—be they men or women. When we don’t open up the dialogue to men, when we treat discussions of gender as if they pertain solely to women, both parties lose.