It makes perfect sense that CoverGirl would choose a beauty blogger with a following on YouTube and Instagram as their newest brand ambassador. What might have been less expected is that this blogger is a teenage boy. James Charles, 17, is the first male ambassador for CoverGirl, and one of a burgeoning group of male makeup obsessives who are sharing their passion online.
Charles was profiled by Marie Claire earlier this year, alongside Patrick Simondac, Manny Gutierrez and Alexander Rivera, in a piece entitled The Beauty Boys of Instagram. “The boys in beauty aren’t blurring gender — they’re expanding it,” write Koa Beck and Lauren Valenti. “Their unfurling of masculinity to include more variation and more expression is a valuable — even necessary — movement at a time when our country is having increasingly heightened conversations around gender. Their re-envisioning of what we consider to be ‘male’ is a reminder that, for too long, masculinity has been kept in a rigid box, to delicate to touch or reinterpret.”
“You now see brands using LGBT individuals as brand ambassadors in ways that could not have been imagined 10 years ago,” says Sam Pierce of Ogilvy. “That’s not to say that controversy has gone away, but using LGBT influencers as ‘token’ is no longer the norm.”
Not that we should now automatically expect a slew of male beauty brand ambassadors; there is sometimes a rather cynical undertone of “been there, done that” when it comes to progressive marketing. A well-received campaign featuring diverse models does not necessarily translate to an on-going mission or ethos. A growing number of brands across different categories have embraced gender-neutral campaigns in the last year or so, although some have faced criticism for creating ads with novelty-based appeal as opposed to truly incorporating fluid notions of gender into their brand values.
“Having a gay male ambassador represent a makeup brand on National Coming Out Day isn’t just coming out of the closet, it’s burning it down,” writes Phillip Henry for Mic. “That said, how about we, and I’m just spitballin’ here, maybe have a trans woman first?”
It’s a common enough issue that ostensibly stems from good intentions. Far too often, representation of the LGBT community is truncated so that all we see in the media are white gay men. Social privilege and unconscious biases play a role here, and the unfortunate fact is that trans visibility is a tougher pill for some audiences to swallow. But Henry raises the valid point that before reaching out to men, beauty brands should be making the effort to ensure that all of their female customers, including trans women, feel valued and included.
According to Digiday, there is no solid data on just how many men buy makeup, and so it is assumed that the majority of beauty customers remain women, who might not necessarily look to a male spokesmodel as somebody whose aesthetic they want to emulate. That means there is an opportunity here for beauty companies to hire trans models and makeup artists, whose artistry and more conventionally feminine-inspired looks might inspire cisgender customers while also cementing what the brand stands for.