Russia’s male beauty bloggers are often asked if they’re making a political statement. By applying pink eyeshadow and leading lip contouring classes for thousands of captivated online followers, are they trying to prove that makeup isn’t just for women? Pushing against draconian anti-LGBT laws? Hoping to make strides against the country’s traditional gender roles?
Not at all, says Moscow-based beauty blogger and celebrity makeup artist Sergey Naumov. For him, makeup is simply a form of self-expression.
“As someone born in 1991, I consider any gender divide in terms of work to be complete rubbish,” said Naumov, who has a line of beauty products and runs an Instagram show where he replicates each guest’s makeup on himself. For him, makeup is an endless form of creativity and a profession he’s passionate about, rather than any kind of grand statement.
Over the last five years, the male beauty scene has exploded at a speed that can’t be stopped. American Instagram celebrities like Jeffree Star and Manny Gutierrez have millions of followers, global fame and collaborations with major cosmetic brands.
In comparison, Russia may not immediately seem like the type of country that would welcome men who apply eyeliner on camera. Even companies happy to promote male bloggers abroad have shied away from the Russian market. Just earlier this year, NYX Cosmetics airbrushed influencer Wesley Benjamin Carter out of their local campaign for their newly-launched Sugar Trip collection.
But despite the backlash, Russia’s male beauty blogger scene is just as vibrant as its Western counterparts — and just as convinced that, no matter what some people may think, makeup is for everybody.
“For a long time, we’ve gotten used to believing that makeup is used only by girls and women. But times change and barriers fall away — I am here to show just that,” says influencer Igor Sinyak. In his instructional YouTube videos, the Moscow-based blogger confidently applies fake eyelashes and creates eyeshadow looks that range from office-ready to extravagant party looks. These are skills that, according to him, he honed from going through his mother’s makeup bag at an early age.
“Makeup is a form of self-expression, so the gender of the person using it isn’t important at all,” he says. “I have never seen a makeup product that says ‘for women only’ on the shelf.”
But while Sinyak’s sharp cosmetics skills have earned him nearly 600,000 followers on YouTube, not everyone in Russia has been as enthusiastic as his fans. This January, Sinyak was leading a makeup masterclass in the city of Chelyabinsk when an angry mob of young men met him at the door and tried to beat him up before being led away by security guards.
“I try not to surround myself with homophobia,” says Sinyak. “There are enough bad people everywhere and I try to avoid them. But it is also important to understand that Moscow is not all of Russia — the environment here is generally more tolerant [toward LGBTQ people] than on its peripheries. That said, I try not to go down into the metro. I prefer not to take any risks.”
“The question [of whether makeup is just for women] might have been relevant in Russia 10 years ago, when I was just starting my blog, and when the question of men dabbling in makeup was hot and controversial,” says Sergey Ostrikov. The Siberia native has been running a beauty blog for the last 12 years and calls himself Russia’s first male beauty blogger. “Today, it’s normal, just another job.”
“The question [of whether makeup is just for women] might have been relevant in Russia 10 years ago ... Today, it’s normal, just another job”
Since moving into the cosmetics industry from fashion marketing, Ostrikov has become a go-to expert for Russian beauty magazines looking for the latest products and trends. He may have encountered some resistance at the start of his career, but now he chooses to focus on developing his two cosmetics brands and promoting Russian products on a global stage.
“I don’t want to prove anything to anybody,” Ostrikov says, when asked whether he has anything he wants to tell the nay-sayers. “I, quite honestly, have already proved everything I wanted to prove to myself.”
Ostrikov’s dream is to see more Russians start to take pride in products that are native to their country — in particular, the herbs and flowers that can be used to create makeup.
“Don’t be ashamed of all that is Russian, but look for what’s valuable in it,” he says. “The French are proud of the Provence region and lavender — we have thousands of things like that, but our Russian mentality stops us from fully understanding and appreciating them.”
“Makeup doesn’t have a gender, because if we go back to its origins — when we were hunter-gatherer, for example — it was used as a form of self-expression, regardless of one’s sexual identity,” says Aleksey Zhidkovskiy, a popular Moscow beauty blogger known for his extravagant style. Pink and sparkly nails, big and immaculately contoured lips and ombré eyeshadow in pastel colors are all within his beauty repertoire. “That is also what I’m doing right now.”
Unlike many of his beauty blogging peers, Zhidkovskiy does not come from a cosmetics background and never tried to enter the makeup industry. He earned most of his 700,000 Instagram followers by posting flashy fashion and makeup looks and humorous Instagram Stories that he often ends with the catchphrase “Pipets, moi horoshye. [Kick ass, my lovelies.]”
“I just liked makeup, the look of perfume bottles and jars, their design. I started finding out more about the quality of the product inside and what it’s made of,” he told The Calvert Journal. “After that, I decided to start giving advice to other people who, like me, are just starting out.”
Zhidkovskiy admits that a lot of his image is built on the surprise of seeing a man in bright and stylish clothes. But when planning his looks, he tries not to take what the haters think into account and goes with what finds fun and fashionable in the moment.
“You can’t, by definition, feel neutral towards me,” he says. “I am a very unique person and usually only get ‘yes, I like it’ or an abrupt ‘no, I don’t.’”
Before starting his own Instagram show and launching a line of beauty products bearing his name, Sergey Naumov honed his skills by working as a makeup artist for Russian celebrities such as the journalist, socialite and former presidential candidate Kseniya Sobchak.
Now, Naumov runs a popular Instagram channel in which he teaches others to apply makeup by bringing in a guest and applying the same look to himself.
“My audience includes everyone from a seven-year-old girl who watches my Instagram show and is learning how to apply makeup alongside me, to a 70-year-old grandmother who criticises me by telling me to switch from an eyeshadow brush to a hammer,” says Naumov.
The bright greens, yellows and blues that Naumov uses to create his signature eyeshadow looks are, for him, a way to express himself. He too has nothing to prove to anyone but himself.
“In my work, I most enjoy the absence of boundaries and constant opportunities for self-expression,” he says.
With nearly 800,000 followers, Petrov is currently Russia’s best-known male beauty blogger. His trademark look includes long, perfectly-chiseled nails, bright lips, and metallic eyeshadow painted up to the brow. When it comes to fashion, high heels, bejewelled sunglasses, and this season’s designer bags also feature frequently on Petrov’s Instagram.
Petrov frequently says that his over-the-top looks help normalise the idea of men wearing heels and liking makeup. Despite the daily deluge of hate comments he receives, Petrov remains unfazed — he regularly screenshots some of the worst abuse he gets and responds to it with his signature snark.
“My dears, you will not get any richer or happier from trying to block my account,” Petrov wrote in a recent Instagram post to the users who repeatedly try to report posts of him wearing makeup as “inappropriate content”.
“I, too, won’t get any poorer because in the last month I made exactly zero rubles from my account. This platform is very poorly monetised these days so I run it only out of habit and love.”
Andrei’s Instagram account was later deactivated — but for now, he’s still posting on his YouTube channel here.