Bretman Rock is a familiar name to makeup artists around the globe, but few knew the man behind the glamour lashes and contoured blush. Now the 19-year-old Native Pacific Islander from Hawaii and his nearly 20 million social media followers are changing the cosmetics game.
This year, the mogul made Forbes’s “30 Under 30” list and Time magazine’s “30 Most Influential Teens.” Rock (born Bretman Sacayanan) recently debuted a tropical-themed highlighter palette, Babe in Paradise, with a signature palm tree-shaped brush as a collaboration with Morphe cosmetics.
Rock jokes, “I’m really like Hannah Montana, almost,” because he frequently flies to New York City and Los Angeles, where he’s mobbed by die-hard fans, only to return to Hawaii and serve lunch to school classmates.
Growing up on the islands, Rock recalls he would go to school “in a bikini and no one would give a shit. Third grade, I plucked my eyebrows. I was wearing blush when I was in third grade, so honestly, I just grew up with people who accepted me.”
Much of that acceptance can be traced to a Native Hawaiian embrace of māhū (“in the middle”), often explained by non-natives as a “third gender.”
“They used to [revere] gay people,” Rock says. “It only became a taboo when the Christians came. ... The word māhū quickly became a derogatory term when it never, ever had been.”
Rock says he named one of the shades in his Babe in Paradise palette Mahu to reclaim the concept’s power. “Now that I’m older and wiser, and I know what that word means and what it possesses. ... I’m like, ‘Yes, I am a māhū and you should look up to me!’”
Although Rock’s family was aware of his nonconforming gender expression, that didn’t immediately translate to embracing his sexual orientation. Growing up in a religious Filipino household, Rock recalls his father once saying he “would ‘kill me’ if I ever came out gay.” Although his dad eventually came around, Rock says he can “relate to [people] who are scared of coming out due to religious beliefs or because they’re scared.”
Rock’s unapologetic attitude has struck a nerve with queer and trans youth around the world, especially in countries where being LGBT-identified is dangerous. “They often tell me I help them come out,” he says of the messages he receives from fans.
The love from audiences was clear two years ago, when Rock paid a visit to the Philippines to do a makeup show. Much to his surprise, it sold out. Due to his rising number of fans, he was then asked to host the red carpet for Miss Universe 2017 in the Philippines.
“I was just mind-boggled by how many followers I had,” he reflects. “I knew I had followers in the Philippines, but I didn’t know it was that strong.”
Clearly, the teenage entrepreneur’s career is skyrocketing, but Rock understands what it means to be a role model and he’s taking it seriously. His biggest advice for fans is to live a life unfiltered.
“As long as you are doing things with a smile on your face, and you are having fun, then you are being unfiltered,” he explains. “I’m just going to keep representing myself because I don’t give a fuck. Because I have a voice. And you do too.”