There are many aspects of modern civilization that we have packaged according to our concepts of binary genders. One of these aspects, fashion, is perhaps the most revealing category of how we have evolved on the issue of gender itself.
Consider ancient Egypt, which is revered as the first, if not the first, civilized society in the ancient world. We have come to know about the ancient Egyptians that they allowed men to wear makeup for the purpose of beautification, among others.
It is important to pinpoint the purpose of beautification because as things stand, we have come to see the intentional and elaborate process of beautifying one’s self as a feminine quality. Apparently, for the ancient Egyptians, there was certainly no problem if men were also committed to painting their faces and thickening their eyebrows so as to be found attractive.
The people did their makeup with what could be found from their surroundings. Writing on the history of makeup, Shannon Boyce noted four substances consistently used by the ancients in Egypt to beautify their faces. These were malachite; kohl or galena; red ochre and henna.
At least two of the aforementioned – kohl and henna – continue to feature very much in Middle Eastern and North African makeup culture. Malachite was a copper ore that gave the shade of green while red ochre gave a shade of red and was sometimes used as lipstick.
The process of producing the makeup itself was thought to be demanding. Animal fat was the emulsifier for the substances. It also helped for the makeup to stick once it is applied to an area on the face. Kohl went to the valley and mound around the eyes making the almond shape we are used to seeing on portraits of ancient Egyptian nobility. Malachite was applied around the same areas too.
Red ochre was lipstick of the time while can also redden the cheeks if a person so wished. Henna was applied forearms and hands, as well. Makeup itself was one of a holistic beauty care practice that included unisex skin and hair care complete with perfumery.
It is important to remember that makeup was not only useful to men of the nobility but also to men among commoners. That is because the activity was not only beautify one’s physical appearance but also to imitate the looks of the gods. This anthropomorphic need for makeup was a religious use of makeup.
But ancient Egyptians also wore makeup for reasons of health. Kohl was thought to prevent eye infections that came from either physical or spiritual sources. It has been shown that some of these makeup substances which contained lead really did fend off infections as the ancient Egyptians thought.