This June is unfurling unlike any other. In just a few weeks—as has been the case with most of 2020—the world is imploding (for better and worse) around us. While canceled Pride parades as a result of COVID-19 put a solemn cast over a month meant to activate all things equality and love, the recent police murder of George Floyd, not to mention the murders of Nina Pop and Tony McDade, and the subsequent protests and universal unrest only exacerbate the somber mood. And let us be clear: We see you. We hear you. We stand with you.
As beauty lovers, we love the fact that makeup is for everyone, regardless of gender or race. In an effort to walk the talk for racial and gender equality—and to highlight just how creative the LGBTQ+ community is—we chatted with five male-identifying influencers doing their part to not only challenge gender norms within the beauty community, but promote inclusivity one lipstick, eyeshadow, and bronzer at a time.
Keep reading to learn how Angel Rodriguez, Danh Doan, Gabriel Zamora, Kingkiahh, and Rameses Reformado made their way to makeup, and how the process has changed the way they view the world and—best of all—themselves.
Growing up with a passion for art—not to mention alongside a family filled with glamorous women—Kingkiahh has always had an eye for beauty.
“As a child, my mother worked at Lancôme and always brought a bunch of makeup home,” he shares. “I was so interested, and often found myself sneaking to learn about it.”
His first hands-on approach to beauty—in which he attempted to alter his thick brows only to over-pluck and attempt filling them in so his parents wouldn’t see—ended up being the catalyst for where he is today: a beloved beauty influencer with over 70,000 followers on Instagram.
“This might sound weird but that pen really changed my life,” he admits. “I felt like it transformed my whole eyebrow when in reality it just fixed a problem that I created.” Nevertheless, once he realized how much of an impact filled-in brows can have, he went straight to YouTube to learn more. There, he discovered Stahr Milan, a black influencer who became his ultimate inspiration to start his journey toward learning the intricacies of the art of makeup.
“Being a black male in the beauty industry is challenging because a lot of brands put us in a box,” he explains. “They only thing we are good at ‘natural looks,’ when that isn’t the case at all. We can do it all, honey! They don’t show us the same love as they do others, however, that’s okay because that’s why I’m here to show the world that Black beauty boys are on the rise.”
Before becoming a major makeup influencer, Zamora had dreams of being an actor. While preparing for auditions, his acting coach told him that his eyes didn’t read the best on camera and suggested he find ways to use makeup to improve their on-screen appeal. And the rest was history. What started as dabbling in eyeliner and mascara quickly turned into experiments with filling in brows and getting hands-on with different eyeshadows and contouring techniques.
In navigating the snowball effect from acting to influencing, Zamora found that using makeup helped him better understand his own definition of beauty.
“I love that when I started wearing makeup out in public there weren’t that many guys wearing it, and today I see so many men and women wearing makeup both online and in public that makes them feel confident,” he explains. “The world isn’t at the place of full acceptance that I would like it to be but the progress that has happened in the last four years alone gives me all the hope I need for the future.”
Growing up with a Vietnamese background, makeup was never really an option for Doan since male makeup artists were considered taboo. “Luckily, I had the support of my close family who encouraged me to pursue my passion from a young age which ultimately led me to where I am today,” he shares.
As a makeup influencer who identifies as male, Doan feels both honored and proud to have a platform that allows him to not only share his love of makeup but challenge social stigmas and inspire other men to join in, too.
“Makeup to me is like a mask where I’m able to create an ‘alter ego’ to protect myself from social stigmas and any negative associations that men in makeup deal with,” he explains. “It definitely has boosted my confidence, however, it has also allowed me to love my natural self.”
After completing his studies in elementary English education at the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey, Rodriguez knew that despite his teaching expertise, he ultimately wanted to feed his love of art—a passion that began in childhood.
“After graduating and working as a teacher, my passion for the art of makeup only got stronger,” he explained, noting the realization as a turning point for his life. Shortly thereafter, he left his teaching job behind to work at a makeup department store.
As the weeks turned into months, and months into years, Rodriguez continued to hone his craft. Then, in 2019, he won Urban Decay’s competition, UDERS Got Talent, as well as the NYX 2019 Face Awards, earning the title of Puerto Rican Artist of the Year.
“Portraying myself with and without makeup sends a message to the world,” Rodriguez says. “A message that says that I accept myself just as I am, and at the same time I embrace all versions of myself that I am inspired to create with makeup. Each [makeover] is a part of me; a visual representation of myself (fantasy, glam, or natural).”
Beyond acknowledging how embracing himself has bolstered his confidence and given him purpose, Rodriguez shares the same sentiment for his fans. With makeup and skincare as his main focus, he enjoys having the platform to teach followers how committing to self-care can increase self-worth, and to inspire them to embrace the creativity that is within each person to create something bigger than themselves.
For Reformado, makeup isn’t just a means to look pretty—it’s the medium he uses in collaboration with his artistry to express himself authentically.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I faced a lot of judgment for my sexuality,” he shares. “It got even worse when I moved here to the United States when I was 15. I had to adjust everything. I did not know how to speak English at all—just basic words. People made fun of me. Not only because I’m gay, but also for my strong Filipino accent. It was very difficult because they made fun of me every time I talked, alongside my femininity. I couldn’t help but cry inside and pretend that it wasn’t affecting me.”
Fortunately, Reformado discovered makeup after his move and it’s provided light in what had been an otherwise dark world for so long.
“Working with makeup helps me spread my beliefs and heal on my own,” he shares. “It helps me let people—and myself—know that it’s okay to be who you are as a person—whatever size, ethnicity, or gender identity that may be. It’s okay to live authentically. It’s okay to be YOU, because, at the end of the day, there’s always going to be people out there that will judge and criticize you for who you are as a person. As long as you’re happy, you’re above them. That’s why I don’t ever plan on stopping what I do—what makes me happy—because it helps me remind myself and the people that are watching me to always acknowledge, love, and respect themselves for who they truly are.”
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