What It Means to Be Manly Today

What does it really mean to be “manly”? According to the stereotype, a real man is “unemotional, strong, and stoic;” he’s a protector that doesn’t ask for help and never shows vulnerability. A “real man” wears clothes designated to him by gender norms, and his hairstyle matches the role placed on him, as well. However, research proves that these traditional expectations of masculinity can have harmful consequences on men. In this blog, we will explore the role of masculinity throughout history, its effects on mental health, and how ‘toxic masculinity’ is being dismantled in modern culture.

Changing Gender Roles in History

Ideals of masculinity have changed dramatically over time. As men have adapted to changing conditions, fashions, and shifting views about sexuality, the boundaries of manhood have also changed. It might be argued that men have long competed with themselves, encouraged to measure their behavior against that of a perfect model of masculinity.

Here’s a brief exploration of male gender roles throughout history:

Ancient Egypt

Egyptians Wearing Shentis

Pictured: Ancient Egyptian men wearing shentis, which are similar to skirts    Source: Fashion History

In Egypt, gender roles were fluid in terms of fashion, self-care, and makeup. Egyptian men often wore knee-length shirts, loincloths, or kilts made of linen. Both sexes also wore eye make-up, most often outlining their lids with a line of black kohl.1

Ancient Egyptian men had certain privileges similar to most traditional societies. However, there was not a huge disparity between the status of Egyptian men and Egyptian women. Both the men and women worked and earned wages regardless of their sex.2

Ancient Rome

Ancient Roman Men Wearing More Feminine Clothing

Pictured: Ancient Roman men wearing tunicas     Source: Pinterest

Fast-forward to the 1st century AD when Roman men were known to apply red pigment to their cheeks and paint their nails using an elixir of pig fat and blood. The basic garment for both genders was the tunica, with pants not being popular as they were considered impractical.3

Unlike Ancient Egypt, though, the social infrastructure of Ancient Rome allowed for men and women to be different socially, politically, and physically. Roman men were the most important in the household. They had more rights, more education, and more opportunities for outside jobs.4 

The Middle Ages

Men in the Middle Ages Wearing Tights

Pictured: Men in the Middle Ages wearing stocking undergarments with short hemlines   Source: Pinterest

In the Middle Ages, both men and women continued to wear very similar clothing. Male attire during this time was dominated by short hemlines paired with stockings worn as outer leg wear. Cosmetics were also still worn by men to stave off the appearance of old age.5

Men in the Middle Ages were known to be active, martial, and violent, and were considered the breadwinners and the most important people in the family unit. Women endeavored to please the men around them and were often subservient to their needs.6

The Victorian Era

Men in the Victorian Era wearing jackets and trousers

Pictured: Victorian men wearing jackets and trousers    Source: Vintage Fashions 

In the Victorian era, the clothing divide between genders really took off. Men commonly wore waistcoats, vests, and trousers, while women donned corsets and gowns. Makeup was also frowned upon for both genders as Queen Victoria associated makeup with the devil and declared it a horrible invention.7

The Victorians saw manliness as good, a form of control over maleness, which was brutish. Work was crucial to achieving this ideal masculine status, along with being spiritual and a faithful believer. As the head of the household, the ideal Victorian man was not only to rule but also to protect his wife and children.8

The 1960s to the 1990s

Freddie Mercury

Pictured: Freddie Mercury’s eccentric outfits    Source: Glam Rock

Celebrity culture and the media were incredibly influential in defying Western gender norms when it came to fashion throughout the 1960s to the 1990s. Freddie Mercury, for example, charmed the crown with his various eccentric on-stage costumes, while David Bowie confidently showed up in head-turning androgynous wear for red carpet and casual events.9

However, in the 1960s, men were still expected to be providers, fully engaged in the rat race while remaining upstanding citizens, fathers, and husbands. While women did work, men were still known to be the head of the household well into the 1990s.10


Men in Gender Fluid Fashion

Pictured: Gender fluid fashion is on the rise    Source: Twitter

In the past decade, fashion brands have increasingly produced gender-fluid collections to meet consumer demand. In fact, in 2019, 56% of Gen Z consumers shopped “outside their assigned gendered area.”11 In addition, many of the most popular online makeup artists are male, such as Manny Mua and Bretman Rock.

Today, perhaps more than ever, a man can be whomever he wants to be. He has the choice to become more than a caricature of what a man is “supposed” to be. We are also seeing men take on roles that were once designated solely for women. For example, the US now has its first-ever Second Gentleman in Douglas Emhoff.

But while we’ve come a long way in dismantling gender norms, the perils of the age-old gender roles still have a firm grasp on many modern men.

The Pressures of Being Manly Today

As well as being PRIDE month, June marks Men’s Mental Health Awareness month, a time to bring representation to the issues that men face in terms of their emotional and mental wellbeing. According to a 2015 survey, around 10% of men in the United States navigate depression, but less than half have sought out treatment or support.12 This may be due to the ingrained idea that having feelings or symptoms of mental health conditions and asking for support is less masculine.

James Rodriguez, LCSW and Director of Trauma-Informed Services at the NYU McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research, says, “It’s difficult for some of my male clients to just relax, breathe, and be calm. Traditional masculinity can lead to bottling things up. Some even directly express the belief that they cannot let their guard down for fear of losing their edge.” 

Many therapists are combating this view, encouraging men and masculine folks to center their mental health. For example, James Harris, LCSW and founder of the movement “Men to Heal,” tries to break down the stigma surrounding mental health through clinical work in his book, Man, Just Express Yourself: An Interactive Planner Guide for MEN, Young and Old.

Still, mental health professionals and advocates stress that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution and that every person comes with a different set of experiences and backgrounds.

“When we talk about traditional masculinity or harmful masculinity, it’s important to do so without stereotyping men. We must recognize that masculine identity intersects with race, class, culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, and a host of other identities that vary by each individual,” says Rodriguez.

Because of this, it can be useful for intentional conversations around healthy masculinity to be culturally competent and specific. One prominent example is Jayson K. Jones, social worker and assistant director of the McSilver Institute’s Clinical Education and Innovation Department at NYU.

Jones founded and hosts a podcast called Black Boys & Men: Changing the Narrative, in which he discusses with others the copious stereotypes and expectations placed on Black boys and men, including those around masculinity. 

Like Jones, advocates often highlight the importance of reaching young men and helping them redefine what masculinity means.

“With young men, in particular, traditional masculine ideology may lead them to engage in riskier health behaviors, such as alcohol or drug misuse, driving at high speeds, or engaging in violence,” says Rodriguez. “It can also result in eating poorly, avoiding doctors, or otherwise not attending to their own health needs or seeking help when something is wrong.”

Brands Challenging Perceptions of Masculinity

Major brands have launched campaigns reflecting the nuanced uniqueness, sensitivities, and vulnerabilities of ‘the everyman’. Here are examples of male brand campaigns that have challenged previous perceptions of masculinity:

Schick’s “Be You. No One Else Can.” Campaign

Schick Be You No One Else Can Campaign

Pictured: Schick’s “Be You. No One Else Can.” Campaign   Source: Forbes

Schick launched the “Be You. No One Else Can.,” campaign to combat the fact that research showed that 2 out of 3 men felt pressure to “act like a man” and don’t believe the media shows an accurate depiction of men.  Schick is implementing the campaign as part of a major rebrand, which focuses on men’s individuality and self-expression.

Schick commissioned a study showing that 8 in 10 men don’t want brands telling them how to be an individual, while 85% report that they prefer to see real, ordinary men in ads. Moreover, Schick’s new positioning is informed by its finding that 81% of men would prefer brands to celebrate them for who they are instead of asking them to change.

You can check out the campaign here

Dove Men + Care’s “#DearFutureDads” Campaign

Dove Men + Care’s “#DearFutureDads” Campaign

Pictured: Dove Men + Care’s “#DearFutureDads” Campaign    Source: Ethical Marketing News

Dove Men + Care launched a campaign called “#DearFutureDads” that frames modern masculinity by the way men care. Within the campaign, Dove Men + Care championed paternity leave for all dads. 

Societal stigmas around taking leave, fear of repercussions at work, and lack of paid leave often prevent many dads from staying at home. This campaign sought to change the conversation and demonstrate how paternity leave is important for all: children, men, women, families, and society.

The campaign also encourages dads to visit the brand’s website for information and resources for those considering taking paternity leave, which can be found here.

You can check out the campaign here.

Philips “Makes Life Better” Campaign

Phillips Makes Life Better Campaign

Pictured: Philips “Makes Life Better” Campaign   Source: Ogilvy

Targeting men in the male grooming category, the new Philips campaign, “Makes Life Better,” features the Mieskuoro Huutajat (“Shouting Men”) of Oulu, Finland in a performance of orchestrated shouting (in Finnish with English subtitles). 

The “Makes Life Better” campaign is unique as it creates a contrasting image between the seemingly aggressive act of shouting and the calming, reassuring words that reveal a multi-dimensional modern man. In a press release, Philips says the campaign is themed around making life better for men by creating an environment for them to be true to themselves.

You can check out the campaign here

Celebrities Flipping the Script on Masculinity

Though the healthy masculinity and gender fluid bandwagon has been slow to start, there are quite a few celebrities who are starting to get the ball rolling, such as:

Harry Styles

Harry Styles

Pictured: Harry Styles for Vogue    Source: Carbon Magazine

Harry Styles is all about breaking gender barriers when it comes to fashion; he loves to experiment with his look. In November 2020, Harry made fashion history when he fronted Vogue as the publication’s first solo male cover star, in a Gucci gown no less. Before that, he turned heads when he freed the nipple at the 2019 Met Gala. 

In an interview with L’Officiel, Harry said, “Many gender borders are falling – in fashion, but also in music, films, and art. We no longer need to be this or that; these parameters are no longer as strict as before, and it gives rise to great freedom. It’s stimulating.”

Jaden Smith

Jaden Smith

Pictured: Jaden Smith    Source: BUNow

Having grown up under the scrutiny of the public eye, Jaden Smith hasn’t been afraid to experiment with his identity or style, and when asked about his often gender fluid clothing preferences, Smith told GQ, “I feel like people are kind of confused about gender norms. I feel like people don’t really get it.”

Jaden utilizes his platform as a public figure to effect social change and deconstruct ideas of toxic masculinity so that, as he explained in an interview with Nylon Magazine, “In five years when a kid goes to school wearing a skirt, he won’t get beat up and kids won’t get mad at him.” 

Terry Crews

Terry Crews

Pictured: Terry Crews    Source: Dame Magazine

Terry Crews has been a constant advocate for healthy masculinity, whether it’s as his current character Terry Jeffords on NBC’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, where he plays a sensitive, emotional police sergeant and father of two girls, or through his prominent presence in the #MeToo movement. He sets a great example for men, showing that it’s completely okay to be hard on the outside and soft on the inside.

Jonathan Van Ness


Pictured: Jonathan Van Ness    Source: Hears Tapps

Jonathan Van Ness, The Queer Eye breakout star, captured everyone’s hearts with his hilarious one-liners and that iconic mustache, but he’s also been on a public self-love journey. Along the way, he’s upped his fashion game by donning a plethora of gowns and skirts at industry red carpet events, such as this look, which he said was intended to “f**k a gender norm.” 

PRIDE and the Beauty of Fluidity 

Culture had previously been slow to change, but today, with our non-stop news cycle, social media feeds, and celebrations like PRIDE, minds are changing faster than ever before. PRIDE month, especially, has shown that masculinity is a spectrum that no one can characterize.

Today, we have the opportunity to consider individual differences and the growth we’ve shown in dismantling age-old definitions of masculinity and femininity. It’s more acceptable for men to feel unashamed when showing emotions and vulnerability; they can have pride in being themselves, including their own version of “manly.”

Gender roles aren’t set in stone and are as adaptable as culture; ever-changing and always progressing. While gender roles have always had a seat at history’s table, the time for a change is finally upon us. Your gender doesn’t define you; you do.

What are your thoughts on the evolution of gender roles, especially those relating to masculinity? Let us know in the comments.


References:,women%20were%20rarely%20involved%20in. [1][2] [3][4],treated%20with%20respect%20and%20admiration. [5][6],morals%20would%20wear%20obvious%20makeup. [7] [8] [9][10],free%20fashion%E2%80%9D%20brand%20Phluid%20Project. [11] [12]

Men and Makeup

Not long ago, a man’s grooming regimen consisted of soap, shampoo, cologne, and shaving cream. Today, the men’s beauty market is a billion-dollar industry, estimated to grow to $18.92 billion by 2027. Men are now open to using a variety of products, including facial cleansers, exfoliants, serums, moisturizers, and most recently, cosmetics.1

The modern era has sashayed in broadening non-binary acceptance of products previously only advertised to women. Thanks to a focus on radical acceptance that breaks stereotypes and gender norms, men in makeup are now celebrated, not scorned. While cosmetics are becoming more commonly used by men beyond the stage and screen, an astonishingly long history of men wearing makeup is noted across ancient cultures around the globe.

Men’s Makeup Throughout History

The earliest records of men wearing makeup date as far back as 3000 BC in China and Japan. Men during this period used natural ingredients to create a sort of nail polish, which was a sign of status and wealth. Additionally, the earliest archaeological discovery of makeup tools used by men was found in China. It consisted of a “portable” makeup box with a bronze mirror, wooden comb, scraper, powder box, and small wooden comb.2

The “portable makeup” box and its components

Pictured: The “portable makeup” box and its components
Source: New Han Fu

Ancient Egypt

The striking cat eye makeup look is rooted in ancient Egypt. Men would rim their eyes in black to emulate cat patterns as a sign of wealth. They also wore pigments on their cheeks and lip stains made from red ochre.4 Makeup was an important way of showcasing masculinity and social rank.

Egyptian men and women wearing makeup

Pictured: Egyptian men and women wearing makeup
Source: Oasis Academy Temple

Ancient Korea

The Silla people believed that beautiful souls inhabited their beautiful bodies, so they embraced makeup and jewelry for both genders. Hwarang, which was an elite warrior group of male youth in Silla, wore makeup, jade rings, bracelets, necklaces, and other accessories. They used face powder and rouge for added pigment to their cheeks and lips.5

The guessed image of a Hwarang

Pictured: The guessed image of a Hwarang
Source: Glamour Flare

Elizabethan England

The Elizabethan Era heralded the look of flawless skin. Men wore powder all over their faces to whiten the skin as a sign of wealth, intelligence, and power. However, cosmetics during the period were highly dangerous due to the presence of lead in the majority of products. In many cases, these cosmetics led to premature death.6

Man donning the lead face powder

Pictured: Man donning the lead face powder
Source: Byrdie

The Victorian Era

From 4000 BC to the 18th century, men wore makeup every day for various purposes, traditions, and simple enjoyment. This changed when Queen Victoria associated makeup with the devil and declared it a horrible invention.3 Soon, makeup was perceived as feminine, thus vilifying its use by men, narrowing the depiction of masculinity.

Men’s Makeup in Modern Times

More recently, counterculture male personalities wore makeup as an act of rebellion. Rock stars, punks and goths would wear eyeliner, nail polish and other makeup for flair and self-expression. Today, male beauty influencers give tutorials on themselves rather than on female models. The negative stigma of men wearing makeup that was implanted during Queen Victoria’s reign seems to be dissipating. Men are now celebrated by progressives for wearing makeup and embracing the freedom to be and look how they desire.

The 1970s and 1980s

During these two decades, men’s makeup was hardly mainstream. Instead, it was reserved for rock ‘n’ rollers and stars who gained notoriety by bending social norms, such as Boy George, Prince, and David Bowie. However, many of the most well-known male makeup artists began their careers in the 70s and 80s. Way Bandy started to work in the beauty field in 1967, followed by Kevyn Aucoin in 1982, and a plethora of others soon followed.7

Boy George wearing makeup in the 1980s

Pictured: Boy George wearing makeup in the 1980s
Source: Like Totally 80s

The Early 2000s

The concept of “guyliner” hit mainstream in the early 2000s. Pete Wentz, lead singer of the rock group Fall Out Boy, and countless other men lined their eyes in black to achieve a smoldering, bad boy look. The trend was most popular with rock bands and their followers.

Beauty brands began to launch “metrosexual” products specifically targeted to the man who wanted to look sophisticated, well-groomed and polished. Yves Saint Laurent, for example, released the male version of its best-selling Touche Eclat concealer in 2008.8

Pete Wentz wearing “guyliner”

Pictured: Pete Wentz wearing “guyliner”
Source: Marie Claire

The 2010s and Today

A surge of social media allowed male beauty gurus to share their makeup and makeovers on a grand scale. Covergirl and Maybelline broke the mold by introducing star influencers James Charles and Manny Gutierrez, respectively, as spokespeople for their mass color cosmetic brands. This mainstreaming of cosmetic-clad male influencers has helped to dismantle gender-specific beauty stereotypes.

Today, we are seeing more gender-neutral ad campaigns from high profile beauty brands like Milk Makeup and Fenty Beauty. Additionally, skincare has become less stigmatized, and this acceptance is slowly seeping into cosmetics.

Male Celebrities with Impressive Beauty Tips

From Cleopatra to the Kardashians, we have long been intrigued with the beauty secrets of powerful women. The truth of the matter, though, is that today men also offer impressive makeup and skincare tips. Here are a few:

Peter and Harry Brant

Models Peter Brant and his late brother Harry Brant have amazing makeup tips. The brothers received the majority of their pointers from makeup artist Pat McGrath, and they even call her, “Mother Makeup.”9 In an interview, Harry mentioned, “Mother Makeup never uses any brushes because the heat of your fingers helps products go on smoother.”10 The brothers launched their own MAC Brant Brothers Collection in 2015, which also includes an eyeshadow palette with shades that can be used for all areas of the face.

Pictured: Brant Brothers
Source: Ok! News

John Stamos

Actor John Stamos has been named one of the most beautiful men in the world, but he claims the real winner is his skincare routine. He allows 1 day a week for his skin to breathe sans makeup. On Sundays, he stays away from makeup and uses his favorite facial mask, which is the Bioxidea Miracle 24 Face Mask for Men.

John Stamos in men’s face mask

Pictured: John Stamos in the Bioxidea Miracle Men’s Mask
Source: Instagram


The members of BTS are avid skincare enthusiasts. According to Jin, J-Hope, and Jungkook, K-beauty sheet masks and a well-thought-out skincare routine keep their skin glowing. The group notes that toner, face cream, and drinking lots of water are essential to a beautiful complexion. Additionally, J-Hope says that he tries to see a dermatologist whenever he has free time.

BTS is also known for its edgy makeup looks. Recently, the group collaborated with VT, which is a K-beauty makeup brand that is known to marry effective ingredients with innovative scientific technology. There are multiple products within the VT x BTS collections, such as makeup brushes, toothbrushes, lip balms, hand creams, eyeshadow palettes, and more. To grab a product or two from the collections, click here.

Pictured: BTS
Source: Style

Manny Gutierrez

Beauty blogger Manny Gutierrez, or more commonly known as Manny MUA, has an abundance of makeup tutorials online where he shares a multitude of tips and tricks. A few of his pointers include:

  • Always moisturize before applying foundation to combat dryness.
  • Use a dampened beauty blender to avoid cakey foundation.
  • After your foundation is applied, lightly dab your sponge over your face to pick up any excess product that may be leftover.
  • Spray your face with primer water for a little extra hydration.11

To check out more of Manny’s pointers and to watch his full tutorials, check out his Youtube channel.

Manny Gutierrez for Maybelline

Pictured: Manny Gutierrez for Maybelline
Source: Bored Panda

David Yi

The founder and editor-in-chief of Very Good Light, David Yi, recently wrote a book titled, Pretty Boys: Legendary Icons Who Redefined Beauty (and How to Glow Up, Too.) in which he explores self-care and wellness. He states that feeling beautiful transcends time, boundaries, and binaries.12

On his blog, Very Good Light, almost all of the posts provide skincare and makeup tricks. In one recent article, he offers tips for your best summer skin, which are:

  • Use an exfoliator to help reduce oiliness that tends to get worse during summer.
  • Find a foaming cleanser for your skin to help with oil control.
  • SPF always!
  • Avoid retinol in the summertime because of increased sun sensitivity.
  • Opt for lighter makeup, such as a tinted moisturizer.

Click here to view more of Very Good Light’s tips and tricks, and check out David’s skincare line, Good Light, that’s all about beauty beyond the binary.

Pictured: David Yi
Source: ONS

Are Men’s Beauty Needs Different From Women’s?

The belief that men’s skin is drastically different from women’s is what many believe to be the culprit behind the unspoken partitioning of the beauty cabinet. Structurally this is true, but Mumbai-based dermatologist Dr. Madhuri Agarwal believes that the skincare requirements for both genders aren’t all that different. According to studies, Dr. Madhuri Agarwal says, “Men’s skin is 20% thicker, 70% more oily, 40% more sweaty than women’s skin.”13

It has also been proven through research that male skin contains more collagen, thus it can retain a tighter, firmer appearance. The collagen content of male skin declines at a constant rate over time, while female skin declines faster later in life, especially after menopause. Thus,  female skin thins out more dramatically than male skin.14

Male and Female Skin Thickness Over Time

Source: Eucerin

Dr. Madhuri Agarwal also mentions, “Environmental exposure, stress levels, and testosterone can also cause a variance from women’s skin. However, the ingredients for treating skin problems will be the same, such as salicylic acid for acne. The only difference is men may require a higher percentage or higher frequency of product usage as compared to women.”15

4 Gender-Neutral Brands To Love

More brands are moving away from traditional norms for greater inclusivity, diversity, and representation. Celebrating people of different sexual orientations and gender identities is becoming more common within the beauty industry. Here are 4 gender-inclusive beauty brands worth noting:

  • Fluide: A vegan, cruelty-free, paraben-free cosmetics brand built for all skin tones and gender expressions. Fluide also donates part of its sales to LGBTQ+ organizations.
  • Noto: Founded by a queer womxn, Noto is a gender-neutral, multi-use beauty brand that is committed to self expression and representation. Though it claims that its packaging is bio-degradable (ahem, it’s not), Noto’s dedication to equality and acceptance is exemplary.
  • TooD Beauty: TooD Beauty’s founder, Shari Siadat, created the brand to break beauty standards and celebrate everyone for who they are. The label’s clean products can be used anywhere on the face, hair, or body.
  • Byredo: Ben Gorham launched Byredo’s cosmetics line in 2020 after concluding that fragrances shouldn’t be classified based on gender, so cosmetics shouldn’t either. The brand released a range of makeup products claiming pigments for all skin tones.

Humanist Beauty Herban Wisdom™ Facial Oil

Humanist Beauty believes that beauty products shouldn’t be gender-specific. Our Herban Wisdom™ Facial Oil is for everyone, no matter what gender or race you are.

We created the Herban Wisdom™ Facial Oil to feel like a soothing sanctuary on skin. It can be applied to visibly repair, deeply nourish, and diminish signs of stress on your skin twice daily. As part of your holistic regimen, it can also be used on pulse points and other skin externalities to help aromatically calm and soothe your mind, body, and soul.

To grab your bottle, click here.

References: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5],her%20beauty%20and%20societal%20exploits. [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13][15],has%20a%20tighter%2C%20firmer%20appearance. [14]