As bummed (that’s putting it mildly) as I am about the cultural beauty ideals that women are pressured to achieve—and as much as I feel that the average male is sometimes complicit in the ideals’ prominence in our culture—I don’t think the solution is to foist the same restrictions and fantasies on men. Which is pretty much what seems to be happening these days.
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, chemical peels, laser hair removal, and other cosmetic procedures on men are up 45 percent since 2000. Similarly, current reports reveal that there’s been a 30 percent rise in male Botox users. Boots, the cheap-and-chic British cult pharmacy, recently acknowledged that sales from its men’s skincare products are growing faster than the rest of the chain’s lines. And a 2009 study at the University of South Florida found that more than 80 percent of 360 male students had removed body hair. So what gives?
Well, the current issue of Details magazine is calling it a new era of male body obsession: “We’ve all become body-conscious to the core (not to mention conscious of our core),” they write on their site. “Working out more, eating better, dressing in slimmer clothes, getting the hedges trimmed (and maybe even a nip or a tuck).”
Some experts chalk up this new male vanity to men’s stress about unemployment. In other words, as men compete for today’s scarce jobs, they’re increasingly judged on their looks instead of their intellect or achievements. In fact, men are complaining that they forced to compete with increasingly younger candidates—and need to look good to do it. Whoa. Harsh, dudes.
Another reported reason is the fact that guys today are consistently inundated by photos of perfectly groomed celebrities and rugged sports stars courtesy of gossip mags and other media. In other words, every average guy with a family, work responsibilities, and a mortgage is now comparing himself to guys whose job it is to look good—guy who have armies of professionals organizing their food, physical appearance, fitness regimen, wardrobe, etc. And it’s hard on them, poor things.
Then there are guys complaining about the whole “skinny jeans” trend, which requires intense body maintenance in order to be carried off. Oh, amen to that, brothas. I feel your pain.
“Look around,” the Details web site continues. “Everywhere you turn the male form is being idealized commodified, festishized” (their italics). No arguments here—that is bad news through and through. But the whole “Sound the Alarm! This body obsession stuff is getting kinda crazy and we don’t like it!” leaves me kind of speechless. Because really, what else is there to say except, “Welcome to our world.”
— Audrey D. Brashich