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Fighting demons with War Paint For Men

Bullied from the age of 12 for his appearance, the founder of male make-up range War Paint For Men, Danny Gray, opens up about his battle with body dysmorphic disorder

March 11, 2021
Contributor - Amy Wilkinson Lough

Here at Project bYouty HQ we pride ourselves on telling the truth. Therefore, full disclaimer, grab the tissues and a green tea and prepare for tears, as the inspirational Mr Gray takes you on a rather emotional journey.

“I was picked on for my protruding ears, relentlessly, for two years,” says Gray, looking down at the table. “It’s something that has never left me and has affected me right up until now.”

At just 12 years old and now in secondary school, Gray had a procedure to pin back his ears. “My ears stuck out at right angles to my head,” he explained. “Kids would tease me by pulling on their own ears and singing the lyrics to I Believe I Can Fly.”

Until this day Gray says he still can’t listen to the popular, number-one hit by R Kelly, or any other of the singer songwriter’s hits.

The impact was huge and over time Gray realised he had become uncontrollably self-conscious in many ways. Even when the teasing stopped, and despite being part of the “in crowd”, as well as captain of the school football team, Gray remained riddled with a lack of confidence and body dysmorphic disorder. He even had a hair transplant at the age of 30.

“Before I was bullied I never thought anything of my ears or any of my features. The first day that it was mentioned to me was the day my life changed,” he says. “I went from not having a care in the world to thinking that I was strange and that my ears stuck out. As the years went by, the anxiety and obsessive behaviour became greater until I just couldn't handle it anymore – make no mistake, suffering with body dysmorphic disorder has impacted every single stage of my life.”

"My ears stuck out at right angles. Kids would tease me by pulling on their own ears and singing I Believe I Can Fly by R Kelly"

Danny openly admits he still suffers with body dysmorphic disorder today and remains self-conscious about his appearance

But instead of letting it beat him, Gray turned his experiences upside down and used them to create something positive — War Paint For Men, a range of make-up for men, was born.

“There is a huge number of men out there who would potentially try make-up, but would never use, and definitely not purchase, a product that has been targeted at women,” he explains. “At War Paint we just want there to be an option so men can make up their own mind if it’s in fact for them.”

The ultimate goal for Gray and his team is to eventually break down the stereotypes that seem to surround the world of men's make-up today. In his teens, and somewhat thanks to his own insecurities, Gray began secretly using his sister's cosmetics to cover teenage acne, something he describes as “life-changing” due to the confidence it extended him.

'It just allowed me to get out of the house,” he says. “My sister knew how much I was struggling and she stepped into help and show me what to do and how to do it.”

As he got older Gray discovered there were many men struggling with the taboo around make-up for men and eventually he decided to create War Paint For Men, a safe space for men to ask the questions they might not be comfortable doing in person.

“My best mate told me to stop talking about it and just do it – so I did,” he says.

Investing Dhs250,000 of his own money into the project — essentially his life savings at the time — Gray began with a basic website, business plan, and some manufacturers who helped him put his ideas onto paper. Holding down a full time job he designed everything from scratch and left nothing to chance.

“I had a young family so I still needed an income,” he explains. “Juggling a job and a new business was intense – but I was honest with my employer who gave me the space to do what I needed as long as it didn’t interfere in my work. It started out fine, but as we geared up to launch I was on WhatsApp all day everyday talking War Paint.”

Produced in London, War Paint for Men launched in November 2018 and has stayed true to its brand roots ever since. Sales and revenue continue to grow 30% month on month, and today, War Paint For Men has some pretty impressive partners around the world. The products are available exclusively in the Middle East for the first time with Project bYouty.

“I cried when I received my first order, I couldn’t believe someone liked the brand,” says Gray. “It was a feeling I won’t forget.”

This is just the start. The shift has changed in the same way it did for men and moisturising. “Men no longer laugh at the idea of a skincare routine, they actually discuss it,” he adds.

“Concealer is our best-selling product, followed by the full kit which tells us that men want to try it all because suddenly it’s available to them and, essentially, only for them.”

Danny and the entire team at War Paint For Men HQ – we salute you.

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