As a society, the typical stereotypes for girls was to grow up loving pink, dolls, and easy bake ovens; and for boys to love blue, action figures, and toy guns. As a boy grows up, he is culturally expected to become a “man”. The definition of a man has always been to be strong, not showing any sensitivity, never allowed to shed a tear, and most definitely not to care about their appearance. Men were supposed to like to get dirty, not care if their pants didn’t match their socks, or let alone wax their hair.
Sam Killermann, creator of It’s Pronounced Metrosexual, social justice advocate, comedian and author in fact says that metrosexuality is “part of an ever present, and likely, never ending evolution of gender” changing just to match the conditions of our contemporary social climate.
Coined by British journalist and author of Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story, Mark Simpson, the “metrosexual” man refers to the urban, sophisticated, straight men who perform grooming rituals that are considered to be feminine. In other words, it is the new age man who is in touch with his feminine side and not afraid to show it.
Simpson claims to have first used the term in an article for the British newspaper, The Independent, twenty years ago in 1994. He explains: “The piece was about my visit to an exhibition organized by GQ magazine – full of exhibits by their advertisers it was called ‘It’s a Man’s Word’. I reported that I had seen the future and that it was metrosexual. I joked that consumerism had decided that heterosexual men were obsolete and were to be replaced by metrosexual ones instead. But I was being quite serious too.”
Simpson states that he used the word as a means to ‘out’ male vanity and passivity and highlight how masculinity was “no longer always active, never passive; always looking, never looked at; always hetero, never homo.”
In fact, according to Simpson, the metrosexual man has existed for a long time, but became largely normalized since 1994. “Back then it was considered a ‘niche’. But by the “noughties” (2000s) it had gone mainstream”, says Simpson, who claims that the popularity of it caused a bit of a panic in places like the U.S., which had quite traditional ideas about masculinity. “In this decade it’s pretty much taken as a given, particularly by the younger generation who have grown up with male vanity as a fact of life.”
Part of the phobia about male vanity in the past was precisely the fact that in order for a man to look good he had to look at other men- and appreciate what he saw. “In the past all of this had to be projected by straight men into gay men– and repudiated. This is no longer the case – or certainly much less the case than it was.”
Simpson believes that metrosexuality has in fact speeded up the acceptance of homosexuality. “Men in general are more accepting of homosexuality because they’re more accepting of themselves,” he states.
Images of machismo such as men being rough and hairy have been replaced and accepted with images of clean-cut metrosexual icons such as soccer star, David Beckham, who Simpson states is the “ultimate metrosexual”. Beckham used his football global corporations to spread his brand to then sell product to his fans. “He was and remains a truly global-level self-publicist and master of the power of male aesthetics. Has any man in history generated so many column inches over his hairdos?” questions Simpson.
Simpson points out that we have reached a stage where masculinity has been effectively commodified. He refers to the overuse of the “Man-“prefix to sell products, practices and pleasures that have been previously associated to women as ‘the manly strap-on’. “Manscara. Manbags MANicure. HEgan diet etc. On the one hand it’s ‘knowing’ and ‘ironic’ – and on the other hand… it’s not,” he says.
“With some brands the masculine packaging and presentation isn’t just about dispelling anxiety about effeminacy, or differentiating from the (very similar) beauty product aimed at women – it’s also as if the cream or gel itself will somehow enhance your ‘masculinity’”, says Simpson. Just like with women’s cosmetics, these products will not only enhance your appearance but also make you more feminine.
Men now feel the need to take more pride in their appearance in order to catch the ladies attentionTraditionally, it was always assumed that a woman could only attract men through her appearance and taking care and pride in it. Now, roles seem to be reversing as men and women have become more equal than ever; men are now the ones who feel the need to take more pride in their appearance than they ever did in order to catch the ladies attention. Thus, men will inevitably purchase beauty and grooming products that aid them in taking pride in their appearance.
We, as a society, have just been taught to assume particular gender roles and to express ourselves in certain ways solely based on our biological sex.
Being metrosexual is about breaking those old-fashioned gender roles. Being kept in “good condition”, usually a role for women who go to spas and salons, is now becoming a role that men have to keep up with as well. Long gone are the days when the “I don’t care” male mentality worked. Nowadays, men are measured by their style. They have begun to occupy a previously female-dominant space not only in the home, but as consumers as well, showing metrosexual tendencies such as waxing their eyebrows, going for facials, embracing yoga, shopping, and the purchase of beauty products.
But although commonly considered to be homosexual or “girlie”, they are in fact very secure in their sexuality. They are completely and entirely comfortable in their skin and getting a manicure does not make them feel any less of a man at all. As Simpson explains, being metrosexual has nothing to do with being ‘gay’. In fact, it is about expressing oneself without worrying about any of the stereotypes. Metrosexuality is simply “the male desire to be desired”.
“I appreciate a man who takes pride in his appearance,” says Heather Vanandel, a fourth-year Business student, reflecting on how women are now more interested in well-groomed men. “He doesn’t have to constantly be in a suit and tie; but there’s plenty of different ways a man can dress well. He just needs to be clean, organized and demonstrative of effort. A man who can show me that he invests on himself, is a man worthy of a second glance from me.”
As Simpson puts it: “It’s not about flip flops or facials or manbags or manscara – or even about men becoming ‘girly’ or ‘gay’. It’s about men feeling more at liberty to become what and who they want to be. A collapse of more repressive, stoic ideals of masculinity – ‘real men’- and their replacement by more sensual and sometimes self-centered ones.”
But being metrosexual can be quite strenuous as Killermann explains: “Right now, it seems that the ideal man is unkempt but still totally manicured. Slightly tousled hair (but tousled in just the right way), around-the-clock 5′oclock shadow, smart casual dress, and contrasting sock/pant/shoe combos. It’s meticulous in its casualness, and, to be honest, it can be a bit exhausting”.
As seen on Emerge published on Jan. 14, 2014.
First place in The Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s 32nd Gold Circle Awards program in the Digital Media Essays category.