The Metrosexual is Undead

How many obituaries will the press write for the metrosexual before they finally accept that he’s immortal? Or at least, undead? That every time they cut off his head and pronounce him ‘deceased’ they replace him with even more metrosexuality?

I was recently asked some questions by Maria Paz Lopez for the Spanish national newspaper La Vanguardia about the supposed ‘decline’ of the metrosexual in response to a piece in food and drink retailing magazine The Grocer called ‘Rise of the Retrosexual’, also widely-publicised in the UK — though no journalists here took the trouble to ask for Metrodaddy’s opinion.

It wasn’t really necessary since this twaddle was anyway comically rebutted a couple of weeks later by the this report about how a ‘new wave of metrosexuals’ prompted by reality TV shows like ‘Geordie Shore’ and ‘The Only Way is Essex’ apparently can’t go on holiday without hair straighteners and travel irons.

My Spanish is very poor and I’m not sure what conclusion Paz Lopez comes to, or even how much of me she quotes. But below is the main question she asked, and my unedited response, incorporating some subsidiary questions.

Do you agree that the metrosexual man in Western societies is now in decline in favour of the retrosexual one? If so, why? If not so, why? Or are both models coexisting, and this happens to be a transitional period to God knows what kind of manliness?

 Mark Simpson: I see no evidence of the ‘decline’ of metrosexual man. Whatsoever. Quite the contrary. I just see more marketing mendacity to sell us even more male beauty products.

Since the early Noughties, when people around the world began writing and talking about the metrosexual in a big way, the metrosexual has regularly been declared ‘dead’ every few months – by marketers keen to sell even more product to men. The metrosexual is dead! Real Men are back! And using our Real Man moisturiser!!

You can’t really blame them. It seems to be a foolproof way to get lots of press attention. No matter how many times you do it.

The retailing journal behind the latest announcement of the ‘death’ of the metrosexual are even repeating themselves. In 2007 they produced another widely-publicised ‘report’ that told us: ‘Move aside metrosexuals, real men are back in action.

If they were right four years ago, what’s newsworthy about their claim now? But of course, they were dead wrong four years ago and they’re dead wrong now. Or rather, they lied four years ago and they’re lying again now. But hey, that’s marketing.

Apparently I was the first to use the term ‘retrosexual’ to contrast with ‘metrosexual’, in an essay from 2003. Back then I just meant who weren’t metro – but a decade on ‘retrosexual’ seems now to mean middle-aged, middle-class metros with shaped chest hair, designer stubble and L’Oreal endorsement deals.

The fact that sales of male cosmetics may have reached a plateau in the last year is remarkable only for the fact that this is the first time that market hasn’t grown considerably in over a decade – despite recession and economic hardship for the last few years. Male vanity and its fripperies has proved to be largely recession proof.

But anyway metrosexuality isn’t about male beauty products per se, or manbags, or spas, it’s about the male’s desire to be desired in an increasingly mediated world. And there’s no sign that that is going away. Instead it has become increasingly ‘normal’, especially amongst young men, many of whom take a great deal of care over their bodies and their appearance – and the pictures of themselves they post on their Facebook profile.

Of course, fashions come and go but metrosexuality isn’t a fashion – it’s an epoch. It represents a fundamental shift in what men are allowed to be and to want. Men are now permitted to be ‘passive’ – inviting our gaze.

Metrosexuality represents a totally aestheticized, self-conscious masculinity. And gays have been aestheticizing and accessorizing masculinity for longer than anyone else. Hence the current supposedly ‘rugged’ and ‘retrosexual’ fashion for facial hair (as yet another male accessory) was actually pioneered by gays some years ago. ‘Retrosexuals’ are aping homosexuals.

Much has been made of L’Oreal’s adoption of stubbly Hugh Laurie star of the US TV series ‘House’ as their poster boy. But no one mentions that L’Oreal have for some time been targeting middle-aged men with ads that appeal in coded fashion to their anxiety about getting old (Laurie is 52). Middle-aged men who, with their more traditional mindsets, are probably the last hold-outs against metrosexuality. Unlike their sons who just take it all for granted.

And anyway, their sons don’t know who Hugh Laurie is, or watch TV — or read newspaper articles about alleged ‘retrosexuals’ — because they’re too busy updating their topless photos on Facebook.