Why don't men wear make-up?

Digital / breaks

There are quite a few women who “do not dare to leave the house without make-up” - and have no problem admitting this, and even extensively ...

There are quite a few women who “don't dare to leave the house without make-up” - and have no problem admitting this and even talking about it in detail. The expansive Tax Free Shops at the airports, which cannot be overcome by any international changes in goods tax, demonstrate the massive and differentiated range of cosmetics that meanwhile (always together with perfumes) meet this need. You can see men in the tax free shops, but most of them are still buying the present for their girlfriend or wife that they only remembered shortly before the end of the business trip. You can't be completely wrong with lipstick or skin cream, while the products for male use only take up a comparatively modest segment of the shelf space. Somewhat shyly, men like to call the perfumes they have created "aftershave," as if their use could be justified in connection with a more hygienic function.

In the duty free shop (and of course not there alone) we encounter a twofold, gender-specific asymmetry. Make-up is assumed to be used exclusively by women. And women alone do not need to hide the fact that they use perfume to make the presence of their bodies more attractive. How can the two asymmetries be explained? I just want to mention the politically correct objection to these questions that men today have long been free to put on make-up, for example, without really going into it - of course this applies to our present day, but without changing the fundamental difference or even to explain.

In order to get on the trail of answers, answers, I want to send first that will hardly get beyond the status of complex hypotheses, one has to go back a long way. Because the first answer that many women gave, namely that they are concerned with covering up traces of imperfection on the surface of the skin, is certainly not convincing. That would also apply to men, especially to those men who (like me) cut their skin while shaving three out of seven days of the week. The better answer begins with an observation by Charles Darwin, who has the gesture of genius because it turns something quite natural into the start of surprising insights (I owe the reference to Darwin to the work of my friend Winfried Menninghaus from the Free University of Berlin) . Darwin has noticed that only humans live among the genera related to them with a body surface barely covered by hair. Darwin suspected that such nudity had become established more evolutionarily as a sexual attractiveness and thus reproduction-enhancing peculiarity. Only a few human body parts have hair or are surrounded by hair, the head and - in contrast to the neighboring animal species - also the genitals are visible. Nudity and its attraction become the basis for a potentially endless game of concealing and showing the skin, for which the most diverse pieces of clothing are used and to which clothing as a cultural phenomenon primarily owes its existence.

All of this applies to men as well as women. Only the different degrees of intensity with which the possibilities of bare skin are used are gender-specific. Naked torsos are generally attractive, but this applies to a greater extent (and probably only with a few cultural exceptions) for female torsos, which are exposed much less often. On the other hand, the hair growth ban obliges women much more consistently than men for their body surface. Gender asymmetry based on nudity only begins with the fact that women - apparently in all historical epochs and all cultural contexts - should be further removed from the related animal species than men. One could also say that within the human gender difference, the man always has the more “animalistic” part, whereby the virtual place between the sexes of “normality” is placed differently. If nudity provides a first prerequisite for erotic attractiveness and the gender asymmetry it enables constitutes a second level, then a third dimension stands out, where the asymmetry of the second level is infinitely varied within certain limits. In certain contexts, men only appear more animal-like when they grow more hair - for example in the shape of a beard. But to feel attracted to a man with hair all over his body, we would see as a pathology as much as a woman who cares for her beard growth. Here the existence of limits to the scope for variation becomes clear. On the other hand, it has only made some men erotically more attractive - probably only for a few decades - if they shave their scalp hair (a slowly expanding bald head would have the opposite effect).

On the female side, such variations are in the foreground, much more clearly than with the men, the suggestion of those places of nudity that should remain covered until the moment of erotic intimacy. In traditional Japanese culture, this applies more to the neck than to the breasts, which explains why it is part of the ideal image of a geisha that she plays the game of concealing and revealing around the neck (and not on the front of the body) unfolded and intensified through the use of make-up. Make-up does not produce an effect of naturalness (or even animality) for a part of the bare skin surface, but rather transforms it into a zone of artificiality. There have been times and cultures where make-up techniques increased the beauty of the female face because they made it look like a mask and a sculpture - in the end, the equivalent of a thing. That must have been the case in the Egypt of the Pharaohs, also in early Rome (“a woman without make-up is like eating without salt,” wrote Plautus in the second century BC) and then in the Italian cities of the Renaissance.

Structurally, most of these rules recur in the use of non-body-produced smells in the staging of physical presence. The basic requirement of attractiveness is also there the zero level, i.e. the elimination of all primary body odors - in complete contrast to the related animal species. On a secondary level, both emphasized artificiality (this also applies here to geischas, whose art includes the composition of individual fragrances) as well as steps back into animalistic naturalness ("don't bathe, I'll be home soon," was that) can be played out Message which Napoelon had his lover Josephine Beauharnais conveyed by a messenger on his way back from a battle). However, the gender asymmetry in smells is in principle less pronounced than in body painting. This may explain why there is (in contrast to Maje-Up) an industry for “male fragrances” today, which is only slowly emancipating itself from the hygiene premise of “aftershave”.

All of this reads, is to be feared, very abstract and dry for a blog that is supposed to bring phenomena of everyday eroticism into view - and I want to dampen the tract-like tone a bit. In any case, the attempt to understand make-up and perfume as gender-asymmetrical cultural phenomena, based on Darwin's intuition about nudity, has led us into a world of multiple possibilities for variation and nuances - rather than to the discovery of striking contrasts and contours. Sometimes new variants and nuances with locally greater or lesser intensity appear all of a sudden and shift within a few years (I just suffer a bit from the fact that - especially on the American West Coast - the tolerance towards clear perfume effects is reduced, based on all kinds of health Arguments). Perhaps, however, it is generally true that in terms of make-up, the extent of the gap between the sexes remains more or less constant through all variations. In the bourgeoisie of the late nineteenth century, the touch of artificiality for female faces was already disparaged - and at that time the convention of the beard (as a rudiment of the animal) dominated. So both gender practices had moved to the side of "naturalness". In the twenties of the twentieth century, however, female make-up could hardly be artificial enough - and make-up for men was considered (almost) acceptable.


Posulates of "naturalness," we see, depend no less on historically changing conventions than tendencies towards increased "artificiality." And nighttime aggressively displayed is no more effective in principle than its suggestion brought forward by multiple concealments. At some point in the future, men will certainly need make-up again.


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Why men do (not) need make-up

By Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht

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