THE ART OF APPLYING MAKEUP has always fascinated me. From what I have observed, makeup is used to express different things for different people. For some, a touch of foundation or lipstick is pure vanity and for others it’s political self-expression. For years now, this experience has been one that’s only expected of, and marketed to, women. However, the beauty industry is slowly being liberated from old-fashioned, patriarchal standards, and makeup is getting a broader, more expansive definition.
This can be attributed to the undoubtable influence of the LGBTQI+ community, who continue to challenge cultural expectations and gender norms – affording new life to certain gestures and performing acts that push the boundaries of normalised gendered behaviour. Let us not forget how pioneers such as Sylvester James Jr. and Prince famously brought forth gender transgression aesthetics to the mainstream. To date, a number of cosmetic brands have started dabbling in producing genderless campaigns with products for all skin tones and gender expressions. Their campaigns celebrate queer exquisiteness, all while fostering a more inclusive image of beauty.
I often also think about the influence of the cultural phenomenon that is soap operas on masculinity and how they unintentionally ignited a sense of acceptance for those who were deemed “extra”. The genre’s stars’ camp bitchiness over the decades has garnered the a cult following. Stars like Sophie Ndaba, Pamela Nomvete and Michelle Botes were for many young queer African men, Bette Davis-like gay icons.
Manhood is a dynamic process that historians tend to contextualise according to their own interpretations and biases. If we put the concept of masculinity in Southern Africa into perspective, it is clear that any argument about manhood is tethered up to a three-sided view of African masculinity: one that corresponds to the image of the hyper-sexed Black stud (Mandingo), the threatening black male fighter (Shaka) and the emasculated black man, victim of racial hierarchy.
The African male body is constantly under major scrutiny and thus many black men have learned to live up to a harshstandard that has denied them the opportunity to really be down to earth with themselves. They have to be cool,especially amongst their friendship circles, and their behavior must follow an unyielding code of coolness in order to gain acceptance. If they dare veer from the expected coolness and not act in a prescribed way, their peers are often quick to ostracize and label him as weird or gay.
Our culture tends to teach us that manhood is about domination, control and greed. However, being raised by women, I was taught otherwise. I learned that real masculinity doesn’t come at the expense of another’s well-being. My version of masculinity is built on sacrifice, love and compassion—a lesson that has proven invaluable to me in my craft, and hopefully someday, as a husband.
To me, the image of a secure and assured black man embraces both the masculine and the feminine. If we think about it, what we know to be gender dates back hundreds of years and is rooted in many flawed ideas. Black men have throughout the years been seen as the unintelligent, aggressively sexual beings whose animalistic desires are directed at society’s paragons of beauty and virtue, white women. While issues of gender are a challenge acrossraces, black Africans more often find themselves stuck in this suffocating gender-box that doesn’t fully encapsulate our complexities and nuance.
Plainly said, the toxic notions of masculinity we’ve been fed by society for so long can be unlearnt. If we all embraced our complexities with contradiction and complication, our lives would be fuller and unmatched. The likes of Little Richard and David Bowie paved the way for men to take lead and live their best lives as the best versions of themselves.
More than just a fashion statement, more than just being a rebel for the internet aesthetics- seeing femininity as the close friend of masculinity, when clothing our bodies in paradoxical fashions can simultaneously shed the expectations automatically placed on us by being born African, black and male.
Creative Direction & Words by Tanlume
Photography & Art Direction by Giancarlo Calameo Laguerta
Make Up by Ole Sabrina
Styling by Puisano Sane
Nails by Ludo Chalashika