Exploring the rise of ‘manscaping’ and its relation to the evolution of a gay friendly society.
Traditional definitions of masculinity have experienced a real shake up in the last two decades.
The metrosexual, a straight man meticulous about his grooming and appearance — with David Beckham as its poster child — came first, followed by men coming out as bisexuals and more recently by the “Yummies” or Young Urban Males. They are the twenty or thirty somethings that, for lack of other life projects, spend most of their money embracing customs and attitudes once deemed the province of women: pedicures, facials, manicures, aromatherapy, eyebrow waxing, expensive haircuts and clothing.
Traditional masculine norms have always included avoidance of femininity, restricted emotions, sex disconnected from intimacy, endless pursuit of achievement and status, self reliance, strength, aggression and, of course, homophobia. “Real” men believe they are not supposed to take interest in their appearance apart from being clean and adequately clothed. They often turn to self-deprecation or embarrassment should anyone make a favorable remark about their looks. In our culture, masculinity is a form of sexuality that it is much cruder, simpler and more binary than its female counterpart. It’s hopelessly defensive, almost an ideal of racial purity. Most straight men are incapable of transcending traditional sexual categories.
Surging tolerance for homosexuality is, albeit slowly, changing all that.
Gay men provided the early prototype for metrosexuality by pioneering the business of accessorizing and combining masculinity with desirability. Shows such as "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” “Will & Grace” and "Queer as Folk” have redefined traditional masculine norms. Men's fashion magazines like Details, Men’s Vogue, GQ to name a few, go after what their editors call “men who moisturize.”
This has been a bonanza for manufacturers of grooming and care products. Hair serums, exfoliating scrubs and eye creams are reaching a wider male audience. Even the most feminine obsession of the last twenty years, Botox, has crossed over to men. In the U.S. alone, Botox treatments for men have seen an increase of 300 percent in the last ten years with an increase of 6 million treatments in 2013 alone.
Researchers say that global sales of male toiletries other than razors and shaving creams will rise 5 percent next year to almost $18 billion. These companies have been able to convince men to pay attention to their looks by stressing the fact that their skin is thicker, tougher and oilier, hence in need of more specialized products. These men are targeted with words such as “resolutely masculine” or “modern and timeless.” L’Oreal, one time the kingdom of women, now appeals to half of American men over 18 who use the brand's moisturizers, facial cleaners or self tanners as part of their daily routine.
A great shave at one of Manhattan's high-end Fellow Barbers costs $40, an old tradition that is finding a new space, and many men think it's worth every penny. Urban gay enclaves have always been dotted with beauty farms, look around Wilton Manors for example, now these establishments are branching out.
A membership men's salon, with a safe "butch" name, Kennedy’s All-American Barber Club, recently opened in Boca Raton. Its concept is to make male customers feel comfortable, not just for haircuts but for manicures, pedicures, back waxing and facials. Complimentary beverages, shaving products that make you think beyond your razor, and other amenities, are available for men who want to be pampered.
And even though a good part of straight society might still see this trend as a rest stop on the “highway to homo” its sociological impact in the long run can only be positive. It’s a form of gender integration and subtle revolution without political overtones.
The concept of what’s accepted as "masculine" will continue to shift and become more fluid, styles and behaviors which were always an integral part of the woman's domain are being absorbed by its male counterpart at an increasing rate. Finally, even bullies who make fun of other boys if they step just a little outside of the rigid masculine stereotype will mercifully become a thing of the past.