Couples Swap Makeup Routines For Powerful Art Project Examining Gender


Makeup is a huge part of how most feminine-leaning individuals perform gender on a day-to-day basis. So huge, in fact, that most people rarely think about it in any kind of critical way; it becomes invisible. And when we do think about it, we often say we are wearing it “for ourselves,” as if such a decision could ever be made in a vacuum.

Personally, I’m not losing too much sleep over the fact that I sometimes put pigments on my face, either for fun or because society tells me to. But that doesn’t mean we should never think about what purpose makeup serves in the constant construction of gender roles within society.

Enter the MADE UP campaign, a project by University of Kansas art student Brenna Paxton, which seeks to make people do just that by getting couples to pose for portraits wearing each other’s daily beauty routines. Not all of said couples are heterosexual, but all of them have a partner who is more traditionally “masculine” and one who’s more “feminine.” The resulting photos are lighthearted but thought provoking, a good combination for any visual project. Here are some of them:


Paxton also did interviews with her subjects, questioning them about how the project, and wearing makeup in general, made them feel. The answers she got from women were not too surprising, for example:

“I feel like I wear makeup because I’m supposed to, because it’s just kind of the accepted thing to do. I mean, I enjoy doing it when I’m going out and stuff, you know, doing fun things. But the everyday thing…I just feel like I have to. So it’s just kind of the world I’ve been raised in.”

(This is not surprising because it’s how a lot of women I know feel about makeup.)


The more surprising answers came from the men, most of whom had probably never thought much about makeup before:

Paxton: How does it feel to have makeup on for the first time?

Man: It feels like I have my war paint on. I’m ready for battle but I don’t know what I’m fighting for.

To see the rest of the portraits, visit

(Via Bust)

Photos: Brenna Paxton

Share This Post:
    • Tania

      I wear make-up because it makes me look less tired. I rarely wear much beyond eye makeup, though.

      I do like the war paint comparison. That’s how I feel when I wear more than my basic, everyday stuff.

    • Katy Hearne

      I love wearing make-up. Whatever. It makes me feel pretty, goddamnit. Anyway, I LOVE this. love it. For three years I’ve been trying to get my boyfriend to let me put make-up on him, just for funsies on a quiet Sunday at home. No luck. These women are lucky

    • Anonachocolatemousse

      I don’t wear makeup on a daily basis, I sometimes do if I’m going out at night. But most of the time, it’s either sleep in or put on makeup and I always choose sleep. My comparison photos with my husband would be very boring. :)

    • Samantha

      Make-up is fascinating because as much as there’s a societal component, it’s found throughout cultures and time periods in history. We’ve decorated ourselves in some form or another since we’ve been social. It hasn’t always been limited to women, but they’re predominately the ones that use it. I love this project, though. It’s very interesting to see something so routine placed in a new light.

    • Holly

      I used to not be able to leave the house without makeup but I’m much lazier now. I also just have one of those faces that seem to absorb all of the effort and make it disappear. I’m so envious of those women (most women) who can put a bit of makeup on and look amazingly different. I think that’s fun. Anyhow, my husband has let me put makeup on him several times because for some reason I find it incredibly delightful. Then I get sad because he has super long eyelashes and looks better in makeup than I do.

    • Eileen

      I like the war paint comment, too. I rarely wear any makeup (more out of laziness than out of taking a stand against the patriarchy), but when I do put it on, it’s usually for a big work thing or fancy event, and so it does feel like I’m arming myself for something, but I never really thought about it before. Cool project.

    • Cassie

      jesus, these ads are so annoying!! Gloss can’t you relegate these car ads to the sidebar??

      • Pip Sadler

        Adblock Plus. Seriously it’s awesome.(Unrelated to post)

        This article is awesome and I think I now need to prep the lipstick and wait for Nick to get home

    • Sarah Hollowell

      My opinion on makeup is always going to be “do whatever the hell makes you happy”.


      I hate people who say that women have to wear makeup or that it’s better to “go natural”. People who are true to themselves and are happy and confident are about ten million percent more attractive than people forcing themselves to be someone they aren’t. If you feel better wearing makeup and like it, cool! If you feel better going without, cool! I don’t really care, man. Do what makes you happy.

    • kj

      So this is a huge meh. OMG WITNESS THE OPPRESSION OF MAKEUP! The men(butch half of the couple – what’s the PC term for this?) put on makeup! Ooooh the HUMANITY.

      I guess that part of it is that the ladies/(femmes) all seem to have reasonable makeup routines – not like, Kardashian levels of makeup, and some of them even look like their men(/butch half) anyways – especially the first couple – so the effect is not that shocking.

      • ash

        I don’t think the artist is going for OMG OPPRESSION!! Did you look the link and see how both partners are discussing how they feel about the whole thing? To me, the shock factor is less in the photos themselves, and more in the way the participants act and seem to understand each other’s differences a little bit more. A lot of the masculine partners seem really shocked that the makeup routine is an every day thing, a thing that is so closely related to self confidence. I also think that it’s interesting that the femmes mostly look the same, but the masculine ones do look pretty shockingly different.

        Also, the artist doesn’t seem self serious enough to be go for a real shock. Feels more like a gentle nudge. A sweet, funny, thought-provoking nudge.

      • ohbrenna

        Thank you, ash! As the creator of this project, a “sweet, funny, thought-provoking nudge” is exactly what I was going for!

      • ash

        Oh wow, hey Brenna! I love your work :)

    • koolchicken

      I didn’t actually start wearing makeup till I was 27. I always had good skin and generally didnt need it, then I got pregnant. It felt like my body was out if control and I was trapped inside some strage being. My skin freaked out, my hair changed, and I didn’t get big so much as lumpy. So I started buying makeup. I felt like it was a way I could excercise some control over what was staring back at me in the mirror. Yeah there was purple on my eyes, because I put it there- not cause it just showed up while I was sleeping. I’m still wearing makeup because I’ve found it to be helpful postpartum for the same reasons. I’m already back to my original weight (plus boobs this time!). But after a very traumatic birth I still felt like I needed something I could control. Some people do the same thing with food, I just find cosmetics to be a healthier approach.

    • Anne Marie Hawkins

      I think it’s an interesting visual way of subverting expectations (and understanding) of gender performance. I started wearing makeup in high school, only for speech team tournaments. Because of that link to competition in my mind, makeup is part of my ritual for “arming” myself to face the world. I’m baby-faced to begin with, and at least 15 years younger than all of my coworkers, so taking the time to prepare myself in the morning is important to me. I also used that makeup-as-armor mentality to get through being a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding last year, because I have PTSD and that kind of social situation is very triggering for me. Because I valued the friendship more than non-panic-attacky days, makeup was a tool that helped me feel more secure in a threatening environment.

    • Katie

      Wow. A lot of comments on this article! Makeup, for me, has nothing to do with oppression or gender roles or a feeling of necessity, I just LOVE it! Everything about it! Researching it, buying it, applying it, wearing it. Its just the best. I thought we were past this “Lets discuss makeup vs. feminism”

    • Sami Jankins

      I wear makeup to cover up the visible signs of the chronic illnesses I have. I look tired otherwise, purple circles under my eyes, and very pale. If I didn’t wear make-up, people would as me if I was feeling alright or tell me I looked sick… and that’s even on days where I’m feeling pretty good.

    • LisaDisqus

      For me make up is not an everyday thing at all. I wear it when I go out, as part of dressing up, very much along the “warpaint” idea. It’s part of the fun of dressing up. Weather I’m going to a party at a friends or a goth nightclub (yes they still exist and yes there are people over 30 there) the make up is part of the whole package look for me. However, there are defiantly times I feel it is socially expected. Like going to a job interview or a public function where I represent a group. I feel like not having the right make up in those situations would be detrimental to others opinion of me. Too much would look unprofessional and none at all I think would come off as lazy.

    • zamedine

      Is it odd I find the guys on here more attractive with makeup?