Metrosexuality and hegemonic masculinity

By Matthew Hall

Today, as never before, there are a plethora of men's beautification
products, ranging from simple shaving related products, to hair styling
products, moisturizers and at the more extreme end of the male beautification
market, men’s cosmetics. Indeed 2008 saw a flurry of men’s cosmetics
launched including top names such as YSL’s ‘touche éclat for men’,
Jean Paul Gaultier’s ‘Monsieur’ range and Superdrug stocking ‘Taxi
Man’. In 2010 the market for men's toiletries accounted for a record £868
million, a 20% growth rate in the market since 2005 (Mintel, 2010). This
trend is set to continue with current market analyst forecasts suggesting
that although this phenomenal growth rate is set to slow to a modest 5%,
market revenue will still reach £920 million. Recent research by the UK’s
second largest health and beauty retail chain - Superdrug, amusingly entitled
‘Manity Case’ also suggest men are now dedicating ‘83 minutes of every
day to their personal grooming - which includes cleansing, toning and
moisturising, shaving, styling hair and choosing clothes’. This figures is
in contrast to the 79 minutes for the average woman’s daily beauty regime
(Superdrug, 2010).

Men’s grooming and presentation practices are, of course, nothing new and
can be dated back to the Victorian era, but it was then in the main
relatively invisible due to societal perceptions of ‘a ‘feminine’ realm
of consumption and a ‘masculine’ realm of production’ (Osgerby, 2003:
59). Moore (1989: 179) observed that in the 1980s, consumption patterns began
to be ‘redefined as an activity that is suitable for men – rather than
simply a passive and feminised activity’. Various explanations have been
put forward to account for this, crediting the gay movement (Simpson, 1994,
2002), feminism (Collier, 1992/1993), late capitalist consumer society
(Featherstone, 1991) and the style press (Gill, 2005). But what is without a
doubt, men are now confronted on a daily basis, as never before, with
stylised images of other men’s bodies (models and celebrities) on
advertisements, in the popular and style press, on TV and film constantly
emphasise the cosmetic benefits of body maintenance. The reward marketed for
participating in this ascetic enhancement is a more marketable self.

The British columnist Mark Simpson in his now well-cited article ‘Here Come
the Mirror Men’ (The Independent, 1994) categorised these ‘new,
narcissistic, media-saturated, self-conscious’ men as ‘metrosexuals'. The
emergence of these ‘metrosexuals’ suggests a new kind of representational
practice in mainstream popular culture, depicting male bodies as idealised
and eroticized, which gives permission for them to be looked at and desired
(Gill et al, 2005:38). While this new climate of body-consciousness offers
men previously unthinkable opportunities for self-care, interview research by
Gill et al. (2005), research on men in feminised work environments (Simpson,
2005) and my own doctoral research (Hall, 2009) focusing on online modes of
communication, suggests that for men to engage in health and beauty practices
is to risk appearing vain, effeminate or homosexual, while failure to ‘look
after yourself’ may be construed as a loss of self-respect. The shadow of
conventional or ‘hegemonic masculinities’ looms large here in that men
seemingly still feel the need to frame these typically feminised activities
(e.g. moisturising and hair care) in more conventional masculine ways such as
for self-respect and for sexual prowess.