About a week ago, I fell down an internet rabbit hole and stumbled upon a product that I figured must have been a joke, until I realized it wasn’t.
Called “Zit Camouflage,” it was marketed as a “just for men” concealer that can cover up unsightly pimples. If this product sounds somewhat familiar to you, that’s because, yes, it’s just regular old makeup.
What struck me as unusual then wasn’t so much the product itself, but how it’s being sold: The entire campaign from They Hate Pimples reeks of a desperate attempt to reassure potential customers that it’s okay to use this product because it’s totally not gay!
First up, there’s the name. “Camouflage!” Not makeup, like women might wear. Camouflage! Like a soldier would put on to do manly things! Then there’s the messaging that reassures you the product will result in you not being “ignored by the ladies” anymore. Because we all dig chicks, amirite??
But the most entertainingly absurd part of the whole enterprise — which, again, is to sell concealer, a product that dudes shouldn’t have to feel bad about using in the first place — is that each of the three types available is named after a beer. Because men drink beer! It’s not beer-scented or anything, either: The beer-based names are simply to distinguish the different shades. So where regular makeup might have a threateningly effeminate name like “sand,” Zit Camouflage comes in the shades of Pale Ale, Medium Lager and Amber Ale.
Is your testosterone pumping yet, brah?
As a heterosexual male and beer enthusiast, I decided it might be interesting to conduct a little experiment. For three nights in a row, I’d go to the same bar and try wearing this manly concealer while also drinking the beer style it’s named for. Because, all snark aside, concealer isn’t a regular part of my grooming regimen, and I was curious if wearing it in public would make me feel as uncomfortable as its manufacturers seemed to assume. Additionally, I was just curious if the makeup would in some way complement its namesake, like pairing the right cheese with the right wine.
On the advice of a beer expert friend, I settled on small local bar, The Golden Rail Ale House in Newburgh, New York, so I could be confident of finding my perfect matching beer.
Sunday Night: Pale Ale
For the first night, I wanted to try the makeup closest to my skin tone. Being a white guy of European descent, I figured that the most likely concealer for me would be Pale Ale. (Frankly, I found this to be somewhat insulting). Not having an actual pimple to cover up, I pretended there was one on my cheek and quickly realized that I was not, in fact, a “Pale Ale,” and it was screamingly obvious that I was wearing a big patch of nearly-white makeup on one cheek.
I spread it out to blend things in, and by the time I was done, one entire side of my face was completely covered. Figuring I needed to even things out, I did the other side too, although I didn’t do my forehead because I thought concealer shouldn’t be over my entire face — my wife later told me that actually, that would’ve been fine.
When I arrived at the Golden Rail, I sat in the parking lot for a good 10 minutes just psyching myself up. Despite mocking the company’s uber-hetero marketing, I really did feel enormously self-conscious about going inside. Finally, I mustered the strength and walked in, looking forward to being shrouded in dim bar lighting.
Of course, the bar turned out to be brightly lit, with huge bulbs hanging over the bar.
Now, I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a bit of a beer snob, so I wasn’t going to drink PBR with my man makeup; I have standards, after all. I decided to go with the Lucid Dragon IPA from Glenmere Brewing Company. IPAs usually aren’t my favorite kind of beer — they’re too hoppy for me — but I thought the Pale Ale Zit Camouflage would perhaps accent something in the beer. Sadly, I was wrong, and it was still too hoppy.
I drank slowly, trying to do justice to the idea of my pairing. Seeing myself in the mirror over the bar, I realized that the color of my forehead was dramatically different to the color of my face. I felt completely exposed: The bar had a dozen or so people in it and as much as I hate to admit it, I felt awkward the entire time. It didn’t help that I’d made the mistake of going on a day when the NFL was on every TV in the place. I don’t really understand football, so I always have to fake my way through conversations about it, which is kind of emasculating in and of itself. This, combined with the discomfort of wearing clearly pale makeup, made me incredibly uncomfortable.
I kept thinking about that scene in Mrs. Doubtfire, where Robin Williams returns to his boss’ table wearing lipstick, and has to explain that he just kissed an old girlfriend by the bathroom. There would be no such clever explanation from me if I was found out: I was just some guy wearing makeup. I was honestly relieved to finish my beer, tip the bartender and leave.
Monday Night: Medium Lager
Worrying that I didn’t put on enough concealer the first night, I badly overdid it on the second. I had Boy George levels of makeup on my face, so I had to scrape the stuff off and start all over. I ended up doing my whole face this time, forehead included. Surprisingly, the Medium Lager was much closer to my skin tone. I’d never thought of myself as a Medium Lager before, so this was an interesting discovery.
When I arrived at the bar, the same bartender was there from the night before, and I ordered a Blue Point Brewing Co. lager. It was a good beer that was more like what I usually enjoy, though just like the previous night, the makeup didn’t complement the beer in any way.
There were a lot more people in the bar, and most of them were older, good-ol’-boy types, who may or may not be cool with a makeup-wearing fellow coming into their comfortable local bar. One of these guys seemed to look at me for a long time. I thought he must have noticed for sure, but he eventually turned away. I myself turned beet red. Fortunately, with all that makeup on, no one could tell. A win for Medium Lager!
After eating an empanada, I gulped my last bit of beer, tipped the bartender again and left. Once again, no one said a word.
Tuesday Night: Amber Ale
The final night. I put on the Amber Ale and found it, too, matched my natural skin pretty closely. Though I was wearing just as much makeup, I felt less anxious this time — I was almost getting used to it.
On the way to the bar, I planned to reveal my experiment to the bartender once I finished my Amber Ale, since I was desperate to see if he’d noticed. Unfortunately, I guess this was his night off, because there were two women behind the bar. Worse still, I discovered there was no Amber Ale on the menu.
I ordered a Brooklyn Brewery Oktoberfest — close enough, right? — and quickly became convinced that one of the two lady bartenders had noticed my makeup. Perhaps women are more attuned to these things, because it certainly felt like I got an unusual stare from one of them.
The missing bartender was a problem: He was my control in this experiment, and I needed to know if he’d seen what I was up to. Frustrated, I toasted with a drunk man drinking out of a mermaid mug, finished my beer and left. To stay true to my experiment, I grabbed an Amber Ale on the way home — Speakeasy’s Prohibition — but while I enjoyed it, once again, the makeup had nothing to do with it.
Wednesday Night: The Reveal
With the previous night not having gone as planned, I decided to see if the bartender was there the next night. I showed up and, good news, he’s there! Bad news—it was karaoke night and he’s the D.J.
When a break in his set finally came, I introduced myself (his name was Carl) and revealed my experiment. To my surprise, he said that he hadn’t noticed anything at all. Which means, essentially, that probably every worry I’d had of being spotted each night was purely due to the paranoia of my being a man wearing makeup in public.
It was honestly disappointing to discover that, for all the disdain I’d felt for the Zit Camouflage marketing, I really did feel embarrassed and nervous the entire time I was wearing it. And the stupidest part about it is that, as it turned out, absolutely nobody cared that I was a dude wearing concealer in a bar at all.
Nobody, that is, but me.