December Issue 2003

By | Society | Published 20 years ago

Oscar Wilde once said that to fall in love with oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance. An ever-increasing number of young men are discovering the truth of these words and embarking on a journey of pleasureful conceit. The new male, avowedly heterosexual but also very much in touch with his feminine side, is changing the way we perceive masculinity. Not since the short-haired, trouser-wearing flappers of the Jazz Age have we had to contend with a demographic seemingly dedicated to blurring the distinction between male and female. Modern men — irrespective of sexuality — are fast embracing beauty culture in all its glossy (or matte) glory. Long considered the preserve of women, make-up and grooming are now being re-discovered by legions of newly aware males.

The typical metrosexual tends to be young, with money to spend, and lives close to or in a metropolis. Facials and mud-mask treatments aren’t, after all, readily available in the back o’ beyond suburbs. Having taken himself as his own love-object, the metrosexual’s sexual preferences are entirely immaterial.

Discarding so-called traditional ideas pertaining to male grooming, men, yea, Pakistani men, are increasingly going where no self-respecting macho-man would have gone five years ago. A host of fashion designers, salons and magazines have emerged to cater to the new male. As stylist Mubashir Khan articulates, “beauty is everyone’s birthright”. Staunch believers of that creed, metrosexuals celebrate style and have no qualms about pampering themselves with facials, massages, and whatever else may catch their fancy. A common complaint, however, is that salons, mostly those catering to a middle-income clientele, push customers to try the proffered services. Though some men, like Bashir Raza, refuse to submit to the coaxing of their stylists, saying they “feel feminine having … [their] face bleached, threaded or massaged”, they are, for the most part, quite alright with others partaking of the new culture. Attitudes towards male grooming are, then, changing. As Carlos D’Souza, a believer in the male beauty creed says, “beauty is not a gender issue.”

In keeping with this male emancipatory movement, the metrosexual is foraying into the heretofore female-only realm of cosmetics — the more intrepid ones using concealers, under-eye gels and lipstick to downplay or enhance what mother nature has endowed them with. Cosmetic companies are catching on, offering a range of products especially formulated for males. An ever larger number of men’s magazines now tell readers that it’s okay to take care of your appearance, that getting a facial and a manicure will not bring your sexuality into question. The traditionally testosterone-fuelled “lad mags” have also moved beyond their purely frat-boy format, with advertisements featuring rugged yet dapper males touting everything from svelte threads to moisturising cream.

The rise of the metrosexual is seen as a recent phenomenon, a result of modern society’s obsession with appearances. In today’s superficial, cut-throat white-collar environment, a pretty face goes a long way. Men, however, have always been careful about how they look. The same ideology that takes them to the salon has, for the better part of the century, pushed them to the gym. Prior to the twentieth century, men dressed as flamboyantly as women — draped in embroidered shawls, wearing brocaded achkans, and twirling carved walking sticks with manicured and bejewelled hands. Like the dashers and dandies of yore, today’s man is not afraid to look good, smell better, and pay a hefty price for it.