Beauty In Resistance: How Nigeria Is Breaking Gender Norms

By Conrad Omodiagbe | August 4, 2022


Adebayo Oke-Lawal’s designs have been featured in publications like Vogue, Vanity Fair, Elle, L’Officiel and The New York Times. PHOTO BY @BLUENOTNICE
Adebayo Oke-Lawal’s designs have been featured in publications like Vogue, Vanity Fair, Elle, L’Officiel and The New York Times. PHOTO BY MIKEY OSHAI

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All over the world, several men are repudiating stereotypical concepts of masculinity, choosing individualistic modes of expression and rediscovering themselves through beauty products. Moving the needle in Nigeria, the most populated Black nation in the world, these men are approaching fashion and beauty in a bold, loud and unapologetic way—thus occupying space in a country that often views them as a deviation from the norm.

Adebayo Oke-Lawal, Designer

Adebayo Oke-Lawal (@theorangenerd) has always been a conversation starter. Launched in 2011, his fashion label Orange Culture has morphed into a cultural movement, gaining fans in stars like Lupita Nyong’o and Jidenna. Oke-Lawal’s work and personal style have redefined the zeitgeist, confronting traditional gender stereotypes in Nigeria. But when it comes down to it, Oke-Lawal is just a sucker for an eyeliner that “pops,” explaining that his love for beauty products and fashion has only gotten more experimental with age. “I got older and started to care less about people’s perception of me,” reveals the designer. “I’m simply living and expressing for myself.”

Tope Okunuga’s titles also include model and influencer. PHOTO BY MIKEY OSHAI
Tope Okunuga’s titles also include model and influencer. PHOTO BY @BLUENOTNICE

Tope Okunuga, Content Creator and Brand Strategist

“I believe the fabric of my being is beautiful and I want to always express this beauty through my outfits, nails, hair and makeup,” reveals 25-year-old Tope Okunuga (@tope_o), whose decision to finally start exploring beauty was motivated by the pandemic-inducing seismic shift of 2020. Maintaining the ethos of his style despite working with mainstream brands in the country, Okunuga is insistent that he has no desire to ingratiate himself with other people’s perceptions of masculinity. “Beauty is the essence of my being,” he says. “I believe I was put on earth to show that you can be your own definition of what it means to be a man.”

Enioluwa Adeoluwa, Digital Creator

At just 22, Enioluwa Adeoluwa (@enioluwaofficial) has successfully built an empire off his wit, likability and signature lip gloss look. Snagging deals with Fenty Beauty and MAC Cosmetics, the influencer and late-night TV host credits his mother with inadvertently setting his career in motion. “I started trying out beauty products with my mum when I was younger,” he says. “By the time I was in university, I had started investing in products of my own.” Leading a new generation unencumbered by the weight of societal pressures or demands, Adeoluwa is conscious of the vital role social media also plays in his narrative, referring to it as a tool that allows young Nigerians “see more than what’s in front of them.”

Uche Uba, Model and Creative Director

Uche Uba’s (@vcheuba) Instagram bio describes him as “The Optimistic Pessimist,” which more or less encapsulates what it feels like to exist as a nonconforming man in a country like Nigeria. “While we’ve come a long way from where we were and how we approached beauty in this country, there’s still so much we have to learn and unlearn about how we express ourselves as men,” he succinctly states. Going on to speak about his current beauty obsession, the Lagos-based model and creative director reiterates the importance of clean, healthy skin. “I’m currently taking out time to do the bare minimum and drink lots of water. Our skin needs to breathe once in a while,” he says.

Uche Uba recently worked on designer Andrea Iyamah’s spring/summer 2022 campaign. PHOTO BY GEORGE OKWONG
Uche Uba recently worked on designer Andrea Iyamah’s spring/summer 2022 campaign. PHOTO BY GEORGE OKWONG

Denola Grey, Actor and TV Host

Denola Grey’s (@denolagrey) first brush with beauty came during a photo shoot back in 2010. “I remember being uncomfortable because of the makeup. Even though it was a fun shoot, I wasn’t sure how the images would be received,” he explains. Now, with over a decade in front of the camera, the actor and media personality has crafted a distinct look that places him in the pantheon of fashion game-changers, wielding great influence over different generations of Nigerian men. “Fashion and beauty are like my armor,” he says pensively. “It gives me this feeling of boldness where I can enhance parts of myself I wish I could own more of.”

Denola Grey starred in Netflix’s drama series Castle & Castle and can be seen in the films D.O.D: Day of Destiny and The Bling Lagosians. PHOTO BY FLAB MOSURO
Denola Grey starred in Netflix’s drama series Castle & Castle and can be seen in the films D.O.D: Day of Destiny and The Bling Lagosians. PHOTO BY FLAB MOSURO

Photography by: All photos courtesy of subjects