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'Die in hellfire': This male make-up artist had to deal with gender bias and hate comments

She can, He can is an original AsiaOne series where we showcase Singaporean men who are working in female-dominated jobs and their empowering personal journey in overcoming stereotypes.

When Riyan Rashid's mum first saw him in full drag queen make-up, she told him not to visit the 7-Eleven store "looking like this".

It was back in the early days when Riyan was finding his footing as a make-up artist, with the drag queen look being one of the first things he picked up from his make-up classes.

Having started out as a celebrity stylist in 2011, it took a while for his family to warm up to this unconventional career. But he eventually gained their acceptance, and even went on to do his mum's and sister's make-up for his sister's wedding.

Now 42, the full-fledged make-up artist and stylist has overcome gender bias, hate comments and other tribulations in pursuing his passion in make-up over the years.

Speaking to AsiaOne, Riyan shares what keeps him going and how he is paying it forward by helping other aspiring male make-up artists.

Building his foundation

It was a passing remark from a celebrity that led to Riyan's journey into the world of make-up.

Three years into his stint as a celebrity stylist, one artiste suggested that he pick up make-up skills so he could value-add and offer his services as "one package".

Through lessons at Ida Offenhauser Makeup Singapore and Make Up For Ever Academy, meeting fellow make-up artists and browsing social media, Riyan gradually built up his repertoire of make-up skills. 

While the classroom environment was very welcoming with students from diverse backgrounds, the world beyond turned out harsher than Riyan could have imagined.

As a male make-up artist, he found himself on the receiving end of some nasty comments on social media, such as "when you die, the ground won't accept you" and "you'll just die in hellfire".

"It took me a while to understand how to cope with all these bad comments," said Riyan, adding that there was a point in time when he felt really down, and "had depression and anxiety".

Nine years later, these comments have become a force of motivation for him.

"To those who comment on my career choice, look at me now, this is all [due to] my hard work," said Riyan, emphasising that such comments only push him further and will not bring him down.

Overcoming the roadblocks

Besides dealing with the outside noise, Riyan faced yet another hurdle when he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2012.

The diagnosis completely changed his life, said Riyan, sharing how he lost hair on his head and eyebrows. In an attempt to hide his thinning hair, he started wearing a turban which later led him to be dubbed The Turban Stylist.

In 2018, Riyan went on to establish the Turban Team Singapore, which he describes as a network of make-up artists who offer services for celebrities and events such as weddings.

As a one-stop service provider, they offer make-up and hair styling services, fashion styling, beauty classes and artist management. To date, they have amassed a whopping 2,000 clients across Singapore and Malaysia, with a main clientele base of celebrities and TV productions.

While most clients are generally indifferent to the gender of the make-up artists, Riyan recounts an incident where he was rejected to do a bride's make-up due to religious reasons.

"Malay weddings are very traditional. We are quite strict in a way that a male cannot touch a female's skin," explains Riyan. Even though they shared with the bride's mum that Riyan could wear gloves and a mask, he said they still preferred a female make-up artist.

In the end, Riyan's assistant took over the role of the make-up artist while he oversaw the process.

"We have to understand the client's situation and why they are rejecting it," said Riyan, adding that this was the only instance when he was declined because of his gender.


Paying it forward

As someone with first-hand experience in navigating a female-dominated industry, Riyan hopes to impart his knowledge to other aspiring male make-up artists.

That's why he takes to social media platforms like TikTok to share his experiences and make-up tips with some 2,600 followers.

In fact, Riyan said he's not alone in this, as he has noticed more male make-up artists going on these platforms to gain greater visibility and opportunities.

"The reason why people are seeing more male make-up artists [online] is because we are trying to show the public that we are here too, and on par with female make-up artists," he said.

Emphasising how make-up has no gender, Riyan believes that make-up is all up to one's individuality.


On social media, Riyan finds himself crossing paths with those from rural areas, in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, who may not have much exposure to make-up.

One aspiring male make-up artist he met online was a 25-year-old man living in a kampung in Selangor, Malaysia. 

For six months, Riyan taught him make-up online for one hour each day – which Riyan shared was a whole different ball game as compared to imparting the skills in person. Case in point, it took him four days just to teach a simple technique of drawing eyebrows – a skill which involves a lot of factors, such as a person's eye shape and size. 

But Riyan saw the fruits of his labour when his student – who used to take care of his father's food store – realised his dream of becoming a make-up artist for TV productions.

Unknowingly, when your teaching has helped them achieve success, you'll feel very happy that you are a part of their success, said Riyan.

"My mindset is, if you have the skills, just share them. Because [when] you pass on, you cannot do make-up [anymore], so why not leave your attributes and experiences to others who need them more?" he added.

To men also keen on taking the path less travelled into female-dominated industries, here's what Riyan has to say: "Don't be afraid, just come in with open eyes and an open heart. Believe in yourself, follow what you want and your passion, and work hard."

And if you fail? Just prove to yourself that it doesn't stop there and push yourself further, he said.

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