Violent threats & dirty stares: Men who wear makeup in S'pore share their experiences

Not only do these men wear makeup regularly, they also actively discuss and share about their makeup interests on social media.

Mothership | February 07, 2021, 08:36 AM

By Sally Gloria Manik and Xavier Ow

Makeup: Foundation, concealer, bronzer and more.

These are some of the many products people — typically women — use to refine and enhance their appearance. And they are also what Kevin Brendan Raj Kumar and Xaveir Yeung Sai Wai use on a day-to-day basis.

Though charismatic and confident, both men have faced dirty looks and stares in public because of what they choose to put on their face.

Yeung was introduced to makeup through freelance acting jobs since he was 14.

Seeing how a makeup artist worked on set, he was inspired to try it out himself, starting with learning how to cover up minor skin issues.

Now, at 20, he wears makeup not only to conceal, but also to accentuate his features, and as a form of self-expression.

“As cheesy as it sounds, I think makeup chose me...As someone who has done performing arts in the past, I somehow still gravitate towards makeup as my form of art to express myself.”

Kevin, 25, first encountered makeup in a similar way, as a theatre performer seven years ago.

“I was always very interested in looking my best and grooming,” he said. “Eventually it was like ‘hey, I want to look less tired today, or I want to fill in my brows today.’”

Just like Yeung, Kevin also uses makeup as a way of expressing himself.

“To quote queen Ari, ‘I want it, I got it'," he said, referencing a line from a song by singer Ariana Grande.

"Because some days I just want to, and that’s reason enough for me.”

Today, Kevin runs a TikTok account with over 11,000 followers, where he shares makeup-related content with his audience daily.

Yeung also runs an Instagram account dedicated to makeup and skincare, where he shares tips on things like choosing the right eyeshadow and colour-correcting.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Xaveir Yeung 楊世威 (@xaveiryyy)

"Boys don't need to wear makeup."

When Kevin first started wearing makeup, he had to draw his brows and put on blush discreetly, because he wanted to avoid the parade of questions that would eventually lead to comments like, “Boys don’t need to wear makeup.”

Kevin's friends, in particular, could not wrap their heads around it.

"They were like, ‘Bro, why are you wearing lipstick?’” he recalled.

It took some time for him to realise that his choice to wear make up doesn't affect anyone else. Today, if someone were to question him, his retort is simple:

"Yeah, I’m wearing a bit of makeup, why?"

Kevin knew that his interest in makeup would cause him to get into entanglements with his loved ones. So, for the first few months when he wore makeup, he kept it a secret — wearing minimal products to avoid questions from the people around him. (Photo: Courtesy of Kevin Brendan Raj Kumar)

“Why don’t Singaporean men get the free pass to slap on a little concealer and brow gel like the beautiful K-pop idols do? Wearing a little bit of makeup doesn’t make you any more or less of a human being,” he said.

Eventually seeing how makeup really worked in improving his looks, Kevin's friends came around, and even started asking for makeup advice.

Yeung has been on the receiving end of criticism, in part due to his choice of makeup which borders on flamboyant.

"Some people will come to me and say that they think I wear too much makeup and ask me who I'm trying to impress," he wrote on Instagram.

"Like um no one? Do you know how much my full face of makeup cost? Why would I wear it to impress anyone?"

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Xaveir Yeung 楊世威 (@xaveiryyy)

However, he also has a group of supportive friends who come to him for makeup advice, because they recognise his aptitude for it.

“Every time I do a different look, they would be very supportive and also suggest I try other more bizarre looks and ideas, so I am pretty sure that they are okay with it."

His best friend, 20-year-old Nur Nadzirah Binte Mohamed Nizam had this to say about his choice to wear makeup:

“It is perfectly normal to wear makeup, as long as one is being comfortable and confident about it. I am very proud of Xaveir for continuing to do what he likes over the years!”

Through makeup, Xaveir was able to experiment and develop his creativity, allowing him to create a variety of looks to share on social media. (Photo: Courtesy of Xaveir Yeung Sai Wai)

Online threats and double standards

Without a doubt, men wearing makeup is still a very divisive subject. Kevin, in particular, has had his share of hate online.

Someone once said to him: "If I see you outside, I'll hit you."

“I can't imagine typing some things that people can type. Some people are really brutal," Kevin said.

While his fears of being beaten up by a stranger are very real, Kevin said that he chooses to control how he reacts to such threats. After all, he cannot control how other people behave, he added.

"I'm just wearing makeup because it makes me feel good. That's all. It's nothing deeper than that. It's not about religion. It’s not politics. It's really so surface.”

Yeung pointed out the "horrible" difference in beauty standards between men and women.

“It’s the same as styling your hair and dressing nicely. You just want to look good. So why is makeup a bad thing?"

Just as women are held to a high standard for their appearances, men have been increasingly subjected to scrutiny as well, Kevin said, adding that there are makeup lines for men and cosmetics advertisements that target men in Korea and Thailand.

It may be some time before the idea of men wearing makeup gains mainstream acceptance.

In the meantime, Yeung hopes that his social media content will contribute to a change in mindsets.

“I want to be a voice, and use my platform to speak up for different issues. Not just men wearing makeup, but like how guys have feelings, guys can cry."

Looking forward to a future where men who wear makeup will no longer be subject to social stigma, Yeung said, "The only way to change is to be open-minded.”

Top images via Kevin Brendan/Instagram and Xaveir Yeung/Instagram. Quotes were edited for clarity. 

This piece was produced as part of Republic Polytechnic's media practicum module collaboration with Mothership.