How Nigerian men are embracing self-expression through beauty and fashion
For femme men
For femme men
When I was 15 years old, a close family member pulled me aside to interrogate my frequent use of the vanity mirror in our family home. “What is your business with a mirror if I may ask? Isn’t it supposed to be for girls?” came my aunt’s concerned voice, as she chastised and berated me for caring a little too much about my physical appearance. The constant reminder that my care for my appearance was unnatural because I am a man was endlessly reinforced throughout my childhood and well into my adulthood. Here I am now, in my mid-twenties, yet still turning over fraught memories of that event in my mind, congratulating myself on how I got over such chastisement.
None of what I’d encountered as a growing young man is new. Recounting a similar ordeal at a much younger age to DazedBeauty beauty influencer, Enioluwa Adeoluwa, now popularly called Lipgloss Boy or Beauty Boy by his loyal 150k following, shared his experience of insensitive criticism about his appearance. “Growing up, I heard worse things even when I wasn’t wearing makeup, just because I’m effeminate, and so, why should I be bothered now?“ Enioluwa also shared how he’s found the beauty of authenticity as an adult and isn’t going to be giving that up anytime soon.
It’s no secret that gender perceptions can contribute to how a person cares for themselves. Much of society’s reaction towards male beauty standards is rooted in years of conditioning and social exertion which forced a heteronormative stimulus and lifestyle. The bulk of our reactions to certain things as adults are a result of the binary gender norms that were enforced when we were much younger. I may have found a way to manoeuvre through the cutthroat scolding, growing thick skin after years of hiding myself, but that should not be the case in society. It will therefore take a much more deliberate amount of effort to unlearn, learn and relearn these limiting perceptions of gender binaries.
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This sentiment has been echoed by men in the beauty industry for some time now. Actor and style consultant Denola Grey, who recently featured in an interview with Aunty Betty of Genevieve Magazine, for Linda Ikeji TV, shared that “I decided that I will not let their eyes be my cage.” His words immediately rang true, typifying the current attitudes that many effeminate men feel towards taking control of their self-expression. For many non-masc presenting men, words like this are very important in conversations because they lay, without any hesitation, the real-life experiences of how our patriarchal society enables and upholds the othering of femme-presenting and androgynous men. We have been conditioned to live a certain way, act a certain way, speak a certain way, approach situations a certain way, exhibit a certain form of lifestyle, and address situations from a very streamlined, acceptable perspective. As a result of this, anything that deviates from the norm has been attacked and ridiculed, affording non-masc presenting men very little space to occupy in the beauty and fashion industries and in society at large.
In regards to fashion, there is even less room for non-masc presenting men to express themselves without the constant belittling and enforcement of toxic masculinity. Despite more and more men turning to androgynous dressing, many who choose to express themselves through their sartorial choices are perceived to be homosexual, a crime that is punishable for up to 14 years in Nigerian society. Denola Grey once shared that “If you see somebody dress really flamboyantly or like just really vibrantly or with some flair, they automatically say, oh my god that guy is gay. But, he just has nice clothes and likes dressing up. I’ve seen people be afraid to express themselves because they are afraid of being labelled as gay persons.”
Besides how uncomfortable it feels to notice hateful eyes watching men who take a leap into androgynous styles of dressing, it is also denigrating to hear constant slurs and assumptions about the sexualities of those who seek to explore their looks. Although androgynous fashion literally involves the striking of a balance in style between the two most popular genders, it is safe to say that receptions from non-involved parties could pass as toxic when androgyny leans towards more feminine angles.
Africans, in particular, are guilty of this because of the ways in which we have been socialised to express ourselves as men in society. There’s an almost template-like perception of what masculinity should be perceived as, making generations go through deep and unreasonable fear of expressing themselves. “For many years, we have had people speak on our behalf, and try to force us into boxes. Finally, we get to express our culture, background and creative abilities through our works,” Adebayo Oke-Lawal, Founder and Creative Director of Nigeria’s leading androgynous label, OrangeCulture, once told OUT.
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Society determines what masculinity should be about. It holds such an enormous piece in today’s modern world, that it is placed with so much value. This has caused men to receive the most ridiculed experiences when they wear clothes that are “traditionally” for women. But men too want to look good.
According to Men’s Health, 1 in 4 men do not like how they look. As unfortunate as it can be for a continent with very numerous growing countries, Africa is also taking a lapse on this one. Besides how African men have to deal with the constant reminder of our natural virility, we also have to admire from the sidelines, other non-African male beauty influencers who are taking to their fears and fighting against the social pariah unjustly brought in by the system.
However, the world is currently transitioning into that age of freedom and expression. In Nigeria, with the rise of the alternative scene, frequently dubbed the alté scene, we’re coming into times where both androgynous and masc-presenting men alike are becoming freer with their self-expression. It is therefore very important that we begin to have very thoughtful conversations that challenge the status quo, especially in a time where gender normative living is still rampant. We should learn to normalise safe spaces for men and allow them room for conversation and actions that help to improve their minds and thought processes. It could be very therapeutic.
The fashion and beauty industries are particularly important because, for most African men [and women] these spaces offer a safe haven. It offers a platform that not only seeks to inspire conversations on cultural issues like activism, social conservatism and the likes, but also masculinity, femininity, effeminacy, and gender binaries. And as Adebayo Oke-Lawal tells Design Indaba,
Featured image credits/NATIVE