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The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

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Metrosexuality & the Selfie

Mark Simpson was recently email interviewed by Beverly Parungao for a Sydney Morning Herald piece titled ‘Are Men Becoming Too Metrosexual?’ . Below are his unapologetic, uncircumcised replies.

BP: What is driving the metrosexual movement?

MS: Self-love – and a certain amount of self-loathing – is certainly a powerful dynamo.

But ultimately what we’re seeing here is nothing less than a revolution in masculinity in particular and gender relationships in general.

Metrosexuality isn’t about flip flops, facials or manscara, or about men becoming ‘girly’ or ‘gay’ – it’s about men becoming everything. Everything that they want to be.

Why are men today more concerned with their appearance?

Because they’re worth it. As advertising has told women for decades. Men make up c. 50% of the marketplace and need to pull their weight in the shopping mall if consumerism is to survive. They certainly seem to have upped their game rather a lot in the last decade or so….

We’re also living in a culture in which women have enthusiastically taken on previously ‘male’ preserves – from drinking pints to joining the world of work to actually having orgasms. Men, especially younger men who’ve grown up with all this as the norm, have worked out that they too can now appropriate products, practises and pleasures once deemed ‘gay’ or ‘girly’ and therefore out of bounds. The much greater acceptance of gay people has also reduced the stigma associated with men stepping out of their stereotype.

Most of all, we’re living in a visual, looking-glass culture of selfies, Facebook, Twitter, reality TV and Men’s Health covers. Metrosexuality represents men’s adaptation to this new world order – men can’t just ‘act’ any more they have ‘appear’ too, to be looked at. To be noticed. To be a brand. To be wanted. Male vanity isn’t empty and indulgent – it’s a survival strategy.

In our shiny, highly reflective 21st Century the sexual division of looking has thoroughly broken down, and men now ache to ‘objectify’ themselves.

Even and especially sportsmen who used to be the embodiment of ‘blokes’ and ‘regular guys’ who were supposed to be only concerned, ‘at the end of the day’, with ‘the team’ and ‘doing their job’, have become glossy, inked, pneumatic sporno stars.

You might be forgiven for thinking a lad only plays football or rugby these days as a way of starring in those saucy ads for Armani underwear and those tarty rugby and rowing calendars.

Manscaping is one the rise, but so too is male cosmetic surgery (in Australia and America). Do you view this as trend as part of the metrosexual movement?

Absolutely. The male body, once the last frontier of consumerism, has been totally commodified. Masculinity has been thoroughly aestheticized. I would add to the trend for cosmetic surgery and manscaping man-bits the way that men uses tattoos to shade and emphasise their worked-out muscles. The male body has become a living work of art.

Ironically the total ubiquity of beards at the moment is proof of that. No longer a secondary sexual characteristic or badge of blokedom they’re just another sweet male accessory. Another way today’s chaps ask you to adore them.

Should women be concerned that the metrosexual male is now mainstream?

They should certainly get used to it!

Many women I know welcome the fact that men nowadays are not only better turned out, more worked-out, sensual creatures who are rather better in bed as a result – but also the fact they’re more independent. Self-maintaining. They might spend forever in the bathroom but they are much more likely to be able to operate a cooker or washing machine and even buy their own underwear. Which is an advantage in a job market where women might be working while their partner is not – and where men might be staying at home looking after the kids.

Though for some women, perhaps with more traditional ideas about sex roles and the ‘complementarity’ of the sexes, adjusting to the new metrosexual order could be difficult. But then, a lot of chauvinistic men had trouble adjusting to the changes brought about by women’s lib.

In their quest to be desired have men become too sexy, too feminised and therefore less desirable to women?

You should probably ask women about that…. Though women aren’t always completely truthful in their answer to that question. Quite a few assert that they find a man who spends longer than them in the bathroom – which probably means just as long as them – a total turn off. But then they go completely bananas over a guy who clearly spends hours in the bathroom and every evening in the gym. Trust me, men have noticed this discrepancy!

The only hope for heterosexuality is double ensuite bathrooms.

Mark Simpson’s Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story is available from Amazon in Kindle form and also in physical/fondle form.

Selfie Narcissus image taken from here

Metroessexual

Dan Osborne, the wonderfully, shamelessly tarty star of The Only Way is Essex and now beautifully brazen underwear model for Bang Lads, photographed deliciously by Darren Black.

Dan shows us the girth of his Xmas cracker. Or what we’ll be doing after it goes ‘bang’.

Dan2

Dan, who is clearly a very shy lad, shows us his obliques, his biceps, his tatts and his elbows.

 Write-up by the DM on the shoot here.

Oblivion

(I also quite like the song)

Tip: Natty

Today’s men are obsessed with their bodies – but is that so bad?

Yours truly in today’s Guardian.

Sexy and I Show It: Parading Cadets (& Olympic Divers)

Last year metrodaddy declared the LMFAO dance hit ‘Sexy and I Know It’ an anthem  for the Jersey Shore/Geordie Shore/The Only Way is Essex/The Hunks/Men’s Health Magazine generation of metrosexy young men and the metaphorical (and not so metaphorical) spangly Speedos they’re flaunting themselves in.

But I have to say I was a tad ambivalent about the heavily ironic hipster promo video.

Fortunately, it’s been remade by non-hipsters. In shape non-hipsters. Cadets from the USAF Academy, no less. Now, in case anyone objects that this is conduct unbecoming future officers (and apparently some killjoys have) perhaps we should remember that one of the lesser known meanings of ‘cadet’ is ‘pimp’. Though here of course they’re pimping their own bodies. Like the rest of today’s young men.

Not to be outdone, US Navy cadets have also taken up the challenge (see below). Which do you think is sexier? And which one knows it most? Air Force or Navy? Or neither? So far I haven’t been able to locate an Army or USMC version – but something tells me it won’t be long.

Tip: Roger Clarke and  Towelroad

 

UPDATE

UK Olympic diver Tom Daley and his chums have recorded their own Speedo-tastic version (I especially like Tom’s Carmen Miranda moment):

Ciao Bello! Mark Simpson interviewed by Italian mag ‘Studio’

English (unedited) version of Q&A with Mark Simpson by Michele Masneri for Italian cultural  magazine Studio in which he talks about the Italian roots of sporno, the next stage of metrosexuality – and the Silviosexual

Studio: What do you mean by the word “sporno”?

Mark Simpson: The place where sport and porn get into bed while Mr Armani takes pictures. Beckham and Ronaldo’s bulging packets rammed down our throat on the sides of buses. Dolce & Gabbana hanging around the Italian football team’s locker room. That kind of thing. So once again we mostly have Italia to thank.

Metrosexuality, the male desire to be desired, has become so normal now that it’s pretty much taken for granted. So in order to get noticed you have to go hardcore – and promise the viewing public a gang-bang in the showers. Hence sporno.

Is Italy the most metrosexual country?

In a sense the wave of metrosexuality that swept the globe in the last decade or so was really just the rest of the world catching up with Italia and becoming a little bit more Italian.

Male narcissism is at the heart of metrosexuality – and in Italy unlike in the Anglo world this has never really been properly repressed. Italy, home of Michelangelo, Marcello Mastroianni and Dolce & Gabbana, never seriously pretended that ‘beauty’ was a word that couldn’t sit alongside ‘male’, and pat its well-formed knee.

In Italy, particularly Southern Italy, young men often have an almost swishy but entirely assured way of walking that few Anglos can ever hope to match. And if we try, it just ends up a silly sashay.

Nonetheless, I think full-throated metrosexuality does break down traditional or official ideas about the sexual division of loving and looking even in Italy by undermining machismo and ‘outing’ the queerness of it all. The way that women look at men and men look at other men – and how men get very turned on by all the attention.

Do you know the Fiat-Chrysler CEO, Sergio Marchionne? Is he hummersexual or retrosexual?

I’m afraid I had to look him up. Are you sure he’s Italian? He looks like Jeremy Clarkson’s dad. Do you think he has a wardrobe at home with 365 identical shapeless jumpers and shirts?

Hummersexuals are guys who over-emphasise their masculinity with ‘manly’ accessories in a way that makes you wonder what they’re covering up. Retrosexuals are merely pre-metrosexual.

Sergio seems more retrosexual than hummersexual. Partly because Fiat cars aren’t terribly popular with the US military or Hollywood action heroes  – too small and ‘faggy’, I expect – but mostly because he reminds me of my old chemistry teacher.

And how about former Prime Minister Berlusconi?

He’s quite something, that Berlusconi! But at least, as he keeps reminding us, he’s not queer. Even if he does look like a drag queen.

I don’t think any of the categories really fit Silvio. He’s far too special. He’s in a category all of his own. Silviosexual.

Mind you, his old chum Tony Blair, our former PM and rock star manqué, shared the same drag queen smile. But ultimately Silvio is a reminder to an Anglo like me of the mysteries of ‘machismo’. How something so camp can imagine itself something so butch.

Perhaps we need to go way back in time to locate Berlusconi’s painted, dyed, stretched, terrifyingly cosmetic look. Back to the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt….

Is David Beckham still the epitome of the metrosexual?

Yes, albeit the ageing metrosexual. In English we have an expression, ‘mutton dressed as lamb’…. But then there are lots of men his age and older who also don’t want to give up their sex-object status – so they look to him for inspiration. Though he’ll have to offer them something a lot sexier than those daggy H&M pants and vests he came up with recently.

Beckham’s metrosexual crown has of course been usurped by younger, prettier players such as Cristiano Ronaldo – who also famously stole his Armani undies. At the same time you have a new generation of tarty male reality TV stars, such as Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino and his ‘gym tan laundry’ metro mantra from Jersey Shore. And at the movies you have stars like Tom Hardy, with those pouty, Brando-esque lips, muscles and his openly admitted bi-curious past telling us ‘Don’t be a afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.’

Is metrosexy the “next stage” of metrosexuality? The word ‘metrosexual’ was born in the Nineties. What happened to male narcissism since then?

Funnily enough Justin Bieber was born the same year as the metrosexual. They’re both sweet seventeen. In other words, metrosexuality is still waiting for its voice to drop.

That said, men’s narcissism has become much so mainstream and accepted in the last decade or so, to the point where it is often taken for granted, especially by the younger generation who has grown up with it. Hence the word itself is likely to become defunct at some point in the not too distant future. To some extent Metrosexy is about a post metrosexual world.

However, there are still reaction-formations and kinky backlashes against metrosexuality, particularly in the US which, because of a passionately Protestant history and an equally passionate denial about its own screaming gayness, continues to work out her issues. E.g. those hummersexuals….

Essentially ‘metrosexy’ is the tarty male sensibility that metrosexuals have injected into the culture. Metrosexuality has gone from being a ‘type’ – ‘the metrosexual’ –  to be spotted and pointed at, to being a pervasive ‘feeling’. A way of seeing and being seen.

Also, a glance at the newsstand, the billboard, the TV, and the queue at the bus stop tells us that with many young men the desire to be desired and embody male beauty has taken an increasingly physical, sensual form: their lovingly, painstakingly sculpted and shaved muscles and their elaborate, expensive designer tattoos.

Following the cues of sporno, many seem to aspire to be sexual athletes. Hustlers. Porn stars.

What’s the relationship between hipsterism and metrosexuality?

Although most hipsters would probably rather die than admit it, hipsterism is a form of metrosexuality. But a very middle-class and enervated – or ‘ironic’ – one. It’s patently narcissistic, but usually regards the body and ‘sexiness’ as ‘vulgar’. Which it is of course – if you’re lucky.

What’s the “gay bomb”, Abercrombie & Fitch or American Apparel or Apple?

Abercrombie & Fitch were perhaps the detonator – Apple and iPhones were the explosion. iPhones are of course the ultimate vanity product – they’re really MEphones. The app that comes gratis with every smartphone is dumb self-obsession. And they’re also a great way to take a picture of yourself topless in the gym changing room mirrors to upload to Facebook, or perhaps a more ‘discrete’ ‘social network’…

Are the social networks, i.e. Facebook and especially Twitter, a form of a sublimated metrosexuality?

Inasmuch as they’re all about MEEEEEE! yes. They’re where people compete for attention and try to turn themselves into brands and commodities and market themselves, a hallmark of metrosexuality.

In the case of Facebook, often the metrosexuality isn’t even very sublimated. Young men can and do upload hundreds of topless pictures of themselves, apparently auditioning for that Men’s Health cover.

You’ve written that “in some ways Obama is the first US President to be his own First Lady.” Is there any metrosexy candidate in the Republican party?

Not in the current line-up of hopefuls. Though Mitt Romney does look like a mannequin in the window of a particularly boring department store.

Aaron Schock on the other hand, the Republican Congressman who stripped off for Men’s Health magazine positively drips metrosexiness – for a politician. He’ll probably end up President one day. Him or Justin Bieber….

Mark Simpson’s Metrosexy is available for download from Amazon.

 

 

David Beckham’s ‘End Result’ – Can You Handle It?

Better order some industrial strength lip balm and practise suppressing the gag reflex.

Shameless sporno star and uber-metrosexual David Beckham is ramming his eye-popping lunchbox down our collective throats again. This time with a media ‘offensive’ for his own line of men’s undies – and strangely shapeless vests – from Swedish-owned high street fashion chain H&M.

“I always want to challenge myself and this was such a rewarding experience for me. I’m very happy with the end result and I hope H&M’s male customers will be as excited as I am.”.

It’s true, you do look very pleased to see us again, David dear. But I worry that my ‘end result’ might not look quite so excited/exciting in your pants.

But Beck’s own palpable, prominent excitement is entirely understandable. He saw the humongous wads of cash Mr Armani was covered in when he brazenly pimped Beck’s designer cotton-clad tackle to the world a few years back. Becks was paid very handsomely for his services himself of course, but seems to have decided he can make even more filthy lucre by designing his packet himself and flogging it to the global punter (H&M is the second largest retailer in the world).

Last year he explained:

“I have had the idea of doing a bodywear collection for some time now. The push to do something of my own really came as a result of my collaboration with Armani. They told me that their gross turnover in 2007 was around €16 million, and after the campaign in 2008 it went up to €31 million, in 2008. It proved to me that there is a real market for good-looking, well-made men’s bodywear.”


Whether or not his finished pants and vests are that kind of bodywear I’ll let you be the judge of. Bear in mind they are a lot more affordable than Mr Armani’s. I think proud-father-of-four Goldenballs is here going for ‘volume’. Metrosexy dadwear. Hence the emphasis he puts on comfort.

And as we’ve seen again and again in the last few years, there is definitely a real market for good-looking, well-made, famous, well-packaged men’s bodies. Advertisers, reality TV and Hollywood have practically had our eye out with them.

Regardless of his advancing years (he’s a frighteningly well-preserved, carb-free 37 this May) and consequently fading football career, Becks will always be fondly identified with that metrosexual revolution and will very likely get his money shot yet again.

He and his endowments, natural and Photo-shopped, always seems to wangle a way to attract the eye. Whatever you may think of his vests.

 

Still Ill: Narcissism is Sick Again

Terrible news! Call off the Xmas Party at Men’s Health magazine! Cancel the male strippers and the buckets of (low-fat) blancmange!

Self-love isn’t going to be rehabilitated after all. At least not by the shrinks. Professionally speaking, it will remain the love the dare not speak its name — even as the culture screams nothing else.

According to this piece by Jennifer Allen in The Sunday Telegraph, in the face of strong criticism, the American Psychiatric Association has backtracked on its plan to remove Narcissistic Personality Disorder from the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Allen suggests the reason they tried to de-list narcissism in the first place was not down to any recognition of how ‘normal’ narcissism has become in the world outside the consulting room, but because of the American psychiatric trend to biologise mental illness (‘Baby, I was born this way’) and prescribe drugs instead of the ‘interminable’ talking cure.

Allen isn’t impressed though by the APA’s backtracking:

I find the volte-face dismaying, not because I’m for prescribing drugs and against talking cures. You don’t need to be a psychiatrist to see that narcissism has shifted from a pathological condition to a norm, if not a means of survival.

Narcissism appears as a necessity in a society of the spectacle, which runs from Andy Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame” prediction through reality television and self-promotion to YouTube hits.

Well, quite. But then, I would agree as I’ve been saying this for years, darling.

Perhaps, being somewhat cynical, the objection to de-listing NPD was driven precisely by the ubiquity of narcissism. It’s certainly a growth market.

I don’t doubt that NPD, or something akin to it exists, and can be an extremely unpleasant experience both for the sufferer and those they come into contact with — here in the UK we’re only just getting over Tony Blair. But even before the advent of Big Brother, Facebook, iPhones and Immac for Men the symptoms of NPD were vague and common enough failings to be applied to almost anyone who had anything about them.

Or, to quote Gore Vidal, anyone better looking than you. According to the DSM ‘narcissists also tend to be physically attractive on first impression, giving them advantages when first meeting people’.

Here’s the full list of NPD sins provided by the DSM:

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  • Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
  • Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  • Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

If you thought that just five of these symptoms might apply to you, then you may have NPD. If you found that they all apply to you then you’re probably in prison serving a very long stretch indeed or have your own TV cookery show and supermarket endorsement deal.

Though I suppose a psychiatrist would probably say that someone with NPD would likely not be able to recognise those traits in themselves. At any rate, that’s what I’m telling myself.

So if you found that none of these traits applied to you then you’re probably Jesus Christ. Or Barbara Streisand.

Review of ‘Metrosexy’ at Italian literary blog ‘Finzioni’

GP Leonardi at ‘Finzioni’ reviews Metrosexy. You can read it here.

The MetroseXY Movement

Hip hop has its own Andrej Pejic. The rapper DPhill Spanglish Man is rebelling against the rap-ismo dress code with something he dubs the ‘XY Movement’ which according to this report, ‘encourages men to get in touch with their feminine sides by donning lipstick and other items, like floral print tights, typically worn by women.’

“A lot of people feel like a lot of colors or tight clothes is homosexual. I feel like it’s more of an expression of me,” said Philips, adding, “The only obstacles are in your mind, that’s the way I feel. I had to break down those barriers in my mind to where I was just confident enough to do it.”

And Philips’s girlfriend, Joy Nguyn, is just as confident, even though she hears negative comments all the time.

“I get mostly negative comments, ‘Oh, he gay… That’s not cute. Guys shouldn’t wear lipstick or tights,’ but I really don’t care,” she said, adding, “It’s fine. I wear lipstick. He wears lipstick. We share lipstick.”

Or as Pejic put it:

“It’s not like, ‘Okay, today I want to look like a man, or today I want to look like a woman,’ ” he says. “I want to look like me. It just so happens that some of the things I like are feminine.”

Tip: Paul

Details Magazine Reviews ‘Male Impersonators’ and ‘Metrosexy’

Look around. Everywhere you turn, the male form is being idealized, commodified, fetishized. On TV screens (the ripped vampires of True Blood), in Hollywood (Ryan Gosling’s toned torso lifting Crazy, Stupid, Love to the top of the box office), and on billboards (towering images of chiseled men in briefs), laptops, and smartphones (the appendages of Weiner and Favre). Now look in the mirror. (And we know you do.) We’ve all become body-conscious to the core (not to mention conscious of our core). Working out more, eating better, dressing in slimmer clothes, getting the hedges trimmed (and maybe even a nip or a tuck). Because, in the end, we all want to look as good as David Beckham does in briefs. Have we entered a grand age of self-improvement? Or is it narcissism? Or homoeroticism? It’s all those things, and more

(There’s a slideshow here)

Tip: Fraser

Metrosexy & I Know It

Finally, a party anthem for the Jersey Shore, Geordie Shore, The Only Way is Essex, The Hunks, Men’s Health Magazine generation of metrosexy young men and the metaphorical (and not so metaphorical) spangly Speedos they’re flaunting themselves in.

Tip: Elly

Anders Breivik: Metro-Psycho


When I first saw the images of Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik, the ones he had so helpfully included in his press pack that accompanied his ‘manifesto’, two thoughts immediately popped into my net-addled head:

a) They look photoshopped. Especially the soft-focus glamour one in the Lacoste jumper with the collar turned up

b) The ‘action man’ dressy-uppy photos look like they’ve been pulled from a gay fetish dating website. Look at all my sexy accessories!

When I compared them with the pictures of the inanely grinning, boringly bovine balding 31-year-old male being driven away in handcuffs in the back of a police car I congratulated myself that I hadn’t arranged to meet him.

Deluded as he is, Breivik seems very aware of the disconnect between the ‘Justiciar Knight’ image he wants to present to the world – which may appear laughable to others, but clearly turns him on like the Blackpool Illuminations – and the more hum-drum reality. According to The Daily Telegraph:

A narcissist and a fantasist, Breivik, 32, refuses to have his prison ‘mugshot’ taken to ensure that the carefully stage-managed photographs he took of himself – in full Masonic regalia or clutching his rifle – are not replaced by more humbling images.

Given his yen to stage-manage everything, even from behind bars, it’s perhaps not so surprising that costuming seems to be a continuing preoccupation of his:

Having been refused permission to wear a combat uniform, he has demanded to wear a red Lacoste sweater for his public outings to court or to the police station. He will not wear anything else.

Well, if you know your signature colour and you have a brand that you feel at home in, why change?

I have no desire to read Breivik’s manifesto. It’s over 1,500 pages long. It’s demented. Worse, it’s badly spelled. Plus there’s the small matter of his murdering scores of people, most of them children, to make me and you do just that. To make us take his delusions of grandeur and purpose seriously. So forgive me if I don’t feel like curling up with him.

There isn’t a ‘mystery’ to Breivik that needs to be unlocked, except perhaps by mental health professionals. And even then, it certainly wouldn’t be in his rambling, ranting cut-and-pasted scrapbook of (mostly American) right-wing nut-jobbery.

But plenty of people seem to take a different view. Legions of journalists and commentators and sociologists are reading the manifesto avidly, searching for clues. Explanations. Keys to unlock the ‘enigma’ that is Breivik and make sense of his senseless slaughter. Perhaps it’s the media’s job to try and find meaning where there isn’t any, but even in seeking to refute or ridicule his arguments – or hold him up as an example of what happens when right wing extremism or misogyny is allowed to flourish as many liberal papers have done – I think they are in danger of flattering him.

There are no ‘lessons’ to be learned from the pathetic creature that is Breivik, no matter how much he might want us to think so and no matter how tempting it is to pander to that. He’s criminally insane. End of.

And yet. Maybe I’m in danger of being a big fat hypocrite here, but it’s increasingly difficult for me to ignore some of the stuff in his manifesto that keeps being discussed. From a nice middle-class Norwegian background, the perpetually single (and “100% hetero”) chap laments that modern men spend so much time worrying about their clothes and their colognes.

He also bemoaned metrosexuals, seeing them as part of the ‘feminisation’ of the culture in general and men in particular which was leaving Europe (wide) open to Islamification:

…men are not men anymore, but metro sexual [sic] and emotional beings that are there to serve the purpose as a never-criticising soul mate to the new age feminist woman goddess.

Other reports tell us that he was an avid gym-goer, took steroids and visited tanning salons. There are also claims that he had plastic surgery in his early twenties on his nose and chin. And then we have those carefully staged, possibly photoshopped images and his refusal now to have his mugshot taken or wear anything in public he considers unflattering.

Breivik was clearly in pathological denial about all sorts of things – his own metrosexuality was perhaps the least of them. But he went to and continues to go to a great deal of trouble to present himself to the world, however camply, however grotesquely, as a ‘real man’, a Christian warrior, while using and displaying many of the characteristics of his hated ‘passive’, ‘weak’, ‘feminine’ metrosexuality to do that.

And in this, alas, he isn’t so unusual – just rather more extreme. There are a lot of metros in denial. Not all of them are out and proud. Quite a few are self-loathing as well as self-loving and diss ‘girlie-men’ metros in the hope that this will prove they’re not ‘that way’ themselves. A bit like how it works, in other words, with your actual homosexuality.

Much of Breivik’s politics was gleaned from right wing US websites, where chaps are always whining about not being able to find a ‘real man’ these days (in much the same way gay bears do), and where ‘metrosexual’ is used as the worst kind of insult. A fag who isn’t actually a fag. Worse than a fag, in fact. A heterosexual who allows himself to be penetrated by the weakness and effeminacy of gay men – spreading the disgusting disease of unmanliness.

So, in a sense Breivik’s anti-metro tirades are just copying and pasting again. Likewise his camply conflicted personal presentation seems to European eyes very American.

You don’t need to read A European Declaration of Independence to know that this ‘Christian warrior’ mass-murderer clearly desires to be desired. The manifesto, those glamour shots and probably even the awful crimes are one enormous, mega-creepy personal ad. Not so much metrosexual as metro-psycho.

The worst of it is that to some extent Anders Breivik has achieved what appears to be his main goal. Not starting a war against the Islamic invasion of Europe and ‘cultural Marxism’. Nor getting people to read his bloody manifesto.

He’s become a celebrity.

Tip – Bat020

 UPDATE 17/04/12

It seems Breivik tired of the red Lacoste jumper and decided to go for something more formal, but still designer (with very padded shoulders) for his court appearance this week. And a fashion beard that accentuates his ‘heroic’ jaw-line. Quite the dashing ‘Christian warrior’.

From his meticulously crafted appearance, his rehearsed clenched fist salute, to the tears on viewing his own propaganda film, to to his lack of response to the tapes of the final moments of the people he slaughtered to get this gig in front of the word’s media, it’s obvious that Breivik is thoroughly enjoying the attention and won’t let the small matter of all those dead bodies spoil his week.

UPDATE 24/08/12

Breivik was originally diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and thus not responsible for his actions – i.e. criminally insane. This caused an outcry in Norway and, highly unusually, two more forensic psychologists were called in. This time a much more popular diagnosis was delivered: they declared that because of the way he meticulously planned his attacks he couldn’t be crazy.

Today the Oslo district court where he has been on trial for mass murder went with the second diagnosis, declared him legally ‘sane’ and sentenced him to 21 years in prison – though he is unlikely to ever be released.

Everyone seems happy with this verdict. The survivors. The families. Norway. The media. Breivik is perhaps the happiest. Unless he was playing an Oscar winning Br’er Rabbit, the thing he appeared to fear most was being ruled insane and thrown in a specially built psychiatric unit indefinitely. In his mind he is now a ‘political prisoner’ not a highly dangerous mentalist.

I can’t say I blame Norway for perhaps moving the goalposts to make sure he was found criminally responsible. But in a sense, his ‘Christian warrior’ delusions have been endorsed. 

The Earring Wars are Over

Last Saturday’s The London Times Magazine ran an extract from ‘The Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt’, a memoir by Jon-Jon Goulian ‘the New York Review of Books first cross-dressing staffer’. I haven’t read it yet, but the extract inclined me to do so very soon.

Here’s Goulian on the semantics of earrings in the 1980s – a semantics which I also recall as having a very definite and decisive import when I was at school in the UK back then which you ignored at your peril, but which now seems as daft as Crystal and Alexis mud-wrestling:

In 1984, in La Jolla, California, as was true in most places in this country, a huge amount of significance was attached to which ear an earring appeared in. If it was in the left ear, that meant you had a liberal conscience, and that you wanted people to know it. It was essentially like having a bumper sticker on the back of your VW bus that said NO NUKES. It was a gesture. Nothing more. So no one took it seriously.

An earring in the right ear, on the other hand, meant that you were gay, and that you wanted people to know it. That, people took more seriously. An earring in the right ear could get a bag of Tater Tots thrown at your head, which I saw happen to a gay kid at La Jolla High School. In La Jolla, Tater Tots. Other places, bats and bullets.

Earrings in both the right ear and the left ear were unclear. They meant that you were a) gay; or b) that you were not only gay but also a budding transvestite; or c) that you were not gay but only a budding transvestite; or d) that you were not gay and not a budding transvestite but, just weird and confused and in need of some sort of counselling.

When my mother set eyes on me, the same thought ran through her mind as would have run through the mind of any middle-class woman who grew up in Park Slope, Brooklyn, in the Fifties – ‘Oh, my God! I don’t understand! Is he a or b or c or d? Or all the above? This is not a fair test! I don’t understand the question!’

His poor mother.

Nowadays, the monosexual semantics of earrings on boys has broken down. The earring war is over. It ended, like most things have in this new century, not in white doves and petals and earrings being beaten into plowshares but incoherence.

Or as someone on this thread put it, in answer to a quaint question about which side was ‘gay’:

‘Um. Are you stuck in the 80s? It doesn’t mean anything any more.’

Which is perhaps bad news if you wanted like Jon-Jon seems to have back in the day, to make a statement that ‘people took seriously’. But then, it’s not just earrings that have suffered that fate.

 

Scrape Me With a Strigil! The Grooming Guru interviews Mark Simpson

The Grooming Guru, alias Lee Kynaston, interviews Simpson about how Top Gun made a generation of young men ‘gay’ and why the Romans knew a thing or two about exfoliation. A snippet:

GG: Many commentators complain that men are ‘becoming more like women’ with their grooming/beauty regimes. What would you say to this?

MS: I think it’s more a case of men no longer tying one hand behind their backs when it comes to the increasingly important business – both in private and public life – of looking good. Happily married Lord Sugar, for example, sometimes seems to display a weakness for an attractive, nicely turned-out male candidate. And of course, more and more bosses are female.

Instead of men becoming ‘more like women’ what we’re seeing is men being less inhibited in their behaviour by worries about what’s ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, ‘gay’ and ‘straight’. In much the same way that women have been since the feminist revolution of the 1970s. Likewise, ‘male beauty’ is no longer a completely verboten conjugation that has to always be euphemised with ‘male grooming’.

Read Kynaston’s interview in full here.

Interview with Mark Simpson in Portuguese National ‘Publico’

English version of interview with Simpson about his new book metrosexy by Bruno Horta (Publico, June 16, 2011)

Why did you decide to collect these texts in a single volume?

I wanted to bring together my essays that document and analyse the profound revolution in masculinity that metrosexuality represents. But which has been mostly trivialized by the media as being literally skin-deep – Oooh! men having facials!! Oooh! Manbags!! That kind of thing. Metrosexuality isn’t about men becoming ‘girlie’ or ‘gay’. It’s about men becoming everything. To themselves.

It’s told-you-so vanity on my part, but I also thought it was necessary to bring these pieces together into one collection so that if someone wants to find out the real story of what has happened to men and to sexuality in the early 21st Century they can. Even if it’s just historians of the future trying to work out why civilization collapsed.

The kind of texts you write and the tone you use (ironic and camp) is not common in Portugal but as far as I know is common in English language authors. Could you comment? Is the tone of your writings autobiographical or is just a rhetorical mechanism?

Are you calling me camp, Bruno? I try my best to be entertaining when I write, as I’m extremely dull in person. Also, I think when it comes to subjects like sex, sexuality and gender a sense of humour is absolutely necessary. If someone can write about these subjects straight-faced then they probably don’t know what they’re talking about.

Did you realize you were creating a worldwide concept when you first wrote about “metrosexual” men in 1994? How proud do you feel about having seen before others a social tendency?

The newspaper article in which I apparently coined that term was written to publicise my first book Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity. I used metrosexuality as a kind of shorthand for what I was talking about in the book – about the way that an increasingly mediated world was changing masculinity and how it was becoming much more narcissistic and exhibitionistic – and ‘objectified’ in that feminist-speak.

In other words, masculinity was no longer always heterosexual never homosexual, always active never passive, always desiring never desired, always looking never looked at.

The enforced association of masculinity with capital H heterosexuality was breaking down even in the early 90s – you only had to look around the culture to see it. And I’ve always been something of a voyeur. The desire of men to be desired wasn’t something I was going to ignore.

Though, of course, people don’t always want to see things that are happening around them. Which is probably why it took another decade for the concept to catch on.

And yes, seeing some things before others want to does give me a certain mischievous, perverse pleasure, but it isn’t necessarily something you’ll be thanked for. Look what happened to Cassandra….

You say in the 1994 text that “metrosexuals are the creation of capitalism’s voracious appetite for new markets.” Do you think sexuality is nowadays more an economic issue than a ‘natural’ or ‘primary’ behaviour?

Not really sure that sexuality has been a ‘natural’ behaviour since humans became social animals with elaborate rules and codes, languages – and religions. It’s certainly been even less ‘natural’ since the industrial revolution. What’s clear though is that the productive/reproductive impetus of early capitalism has been replaced by sensual/consumerist imperatives, even and especially for men.

You see this even in China, where after a period of rapid productive growth consumerism is now rampant and encouraged by the Party as the next step in China’s economic development – and hyper-metro behaviour has been observed amongst a lot of Chinese young men (the so-called ‘herbivore’ phenomenon). Plus of course, population growth is not something China exactly needs.

It’s fairly clear that men have always had a capacity for sensuality and vanity – and a desire to be desired – but for most of history it has been rather closeted. Especially since the Victorian era. Men were meant to be warriors or labourers or empire builders. They weren’t meant to be beautiful. The sexual division of looking that the Victorians codified decreed that women were beauty and men were action.

But now that men have been encouraged to get in touch with their vanity and sensuality it seems there’s no stopping it….

Is the concept of “sporno” a proof that our Western culture is being constructed around pornography and sex? Camille Paglia wrote some months ago that American middle-class society is desexualized: men act like children until 50 and women are so thinner that men hardly fell attracted for their bodies. What should we conclude?

America is a conundrum. Sporno doesn’t really exist in the US, except via imported Armani advertising campaigns (which don’t feature US sportsmen). Sporno is a European phenomenon. The Protestant component of American culture is still very strong today and America still makes a quasi religious fetish out the notion of the Real Man.

The US is the only country that had a backlash against metrosexuality in the mid-Noughties. In many ways the ‘menaissance’ as it was called was men-dacious and hypocritical – often it was just a more uptight version of metrosexuality that was being sold. And in fact the US as a hugely consumerist country has continued of course down the metrosexual path – it can hardly do anything else.  But it’s still in terrible denial.

Sporno represents an intensification of metrosexuality – from a soft core to more hard-core gay porn sensibility.  It’s too out-and-proud in its metrosexuality, ramming it’s designer-clad packet – or ass – down your throat. America’s not really ready for that. America is, as everyone knows, one of the ‘gayest’ countries in the world but it’s the last to know it.

Why do we see rugby and football players acting as “sporno” stars but rugby and football are still homophobic areas?

I’m not so sure that rugby is that homophobic – partly because it’s all about male-male physical contact.  And it does have one or two out players/ex-players. Football is a different matter however. Pretty much the whole point of following football is to prove you’re not gay, my son….

To some extent the fashion houses deploying footballers in their spornographic advertising campaigns are exploiting the homophobia of the sport – the images are especially striking in their ‘gayness’ and their ‘passivity’ because they use men who live by ‘activity’ in a sport renowned for its homophobia.

In fact, David Beckham’s media career has also been based to some degree on exploiting the homophobia of football. If football wasn’t homophobic the notion of a footballer who ‘loves my gay fans’ and wears sarongs and his wife’s knickers wouldn’t be so newsworthy.

But of course sporno – and Beckham and Ronaldo – also change expectations and challenge prejudices. There is a time-lag between the pansexuality proffered by sporno images used to sell clothing to young football fans and attitudes on the terraces and in the changing rooms. But this will change. Things have already changed enormously in just a few years.

What is really, strikingly, shockingly apparent in these spornographic images is the lust young sporting heroes have to be… sluts. This apparently insatiable appetite for tartiness and sluttiness of men is something that metrosexuality has unleashed and isn’t going back in the closet any time soon.

How do you see the way gay men, or more accurately gay activism, behave today: they demand gay marriage, they want to adopt children and they claim family values? What’s happening? Has the “heterosexist” society just contaminated the previously subversive gay culture?

A lot of gays seem to have decided that they want respectability. Of course they call it ‘equality’. But perhaps they have an equal right to be respectable if they really want to be.

Just as straights appear to be going ‘gay’, given the chance, in the form of metrosexuality and recreational, kinky sex, gays seem to be going ‘straight’. It’s the inevitable result of the breakdown of the division between ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ and the crossover between the two.  Sexuality no longer dictates lifestyle.

And it’s not so surprising that it turns out that a lot of gays have made a fetish out of ‘normality’ and respectability – because it was denied them for so long.  I expect though that many will tire of it rather more quickly than a lot of heterosexuals have.

What’s your opinion about the apparently main-streaming of the transgender culture (last week Daniel Craig in drag; the Spanish magazine Candy, the recent success of the model Andrej Pejic)? Is trans the new sexual/aesthetic model? Are we going “transexy”, as you call it?

I think it’s becoming pretty apparent that in an increasingly intensely mediated culture everything is becoming hyper-real – especially gender.  The increasing use of cosmetic surgery by both men and women, especially celebrities, is bringing about a kind of effacement of sexual difference. Not necessarily because men and women are becoming androgynous, although that is happening too, but because even the attempts to emphasize ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ with cosmetic surgery, designer tatts and beards, steroids etc. etc. tend to produce an ‘over-exposure’ which results in a kind of ‘transexy’ appearance. Sexiness has effaced sex.

Gender has become so artificial and so over-stated that we’re all Pammy-trannies now. Male-to-male and female-to-female transsexuals.

Who do you consider to be the most interesting, sexy, defiant and mythological public person of nowadays? Why?

That’s a tall order. I’m not sure I can think of anyone that really fits that description. But Tom Hardy was the best thing by far about ‘Inception’ and there is something quite inspiring about this pouty-faced yet ruggedly handsome Hollywood star’s open ownership both of his bi-curious past and his ambi-sexual persona. He looks like a good advert for metrosexiness: ‘Don’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.’

I think that’s an excellent motto for negotiating the metrosexy world we’re now living in.

metrosexy is available for your instant pleasure on Amazon Kindle

Sporno Gallery

I’ve added an eye-popping gallery of sporno to the metrosexy Facebook page here. (It’s a lot easier on FB than on WordPress.)

Alas, due to the limitations of the format there are no illustrations in the e-book — aside from David Williams lyrical shower scene on the cover. Metrosexy is 70,000 words long but doesn’t say nearly as much as the buttocks below….

Metrosexual Reflections on Out.com

Out.com have run an edited version of the introduction to metrosexy.

 

metrosexy serialised in The Independent

Today’s Independent carries a (very) edited version of the intro to metrosexy.

It’s quite apt that it should appear in the Indy — the first piece in this collection ‘Here Come The Mirror Men’, the one which first outed the metrosexual, appeared in the Independent, back in 1994.

Muscle: Hollywood’s Biggest Special Effect

By Mark Simpson

(Independent on Sunday 31 March, 2002)

Guys! Do you worry that your body isn’t sufficiently lean and muscular? Do you frequently compare your muscles with other men’s? If you see a man who is clearly more muscular than you, do you think about it and feel envious for some time afterwards?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions it used to mean that you should send a postal order to Mr Charles Atlas to ask for advice. Nowadays, if the myriad articles about the latest ‘disease’ to afflict men are to believed, it means you might need to see a therapist to talk you out of going to the gym so much because you may be suffering from ‘bigorexia’ – the delusion that you’re not beefy enough.

On the other hand, it might just mean that you go to the movies.

We expect as a matter of course that our male leads these days will have perfect pectorals, bounteous biceps and corrugated steel stomachs that speak of thousands of hours of sweat, tears and neurotic dieting. ‘Brad Pitt’ is now Esperanto for ‘six pack’. What, after all, is the point of being a film star if you can’t hire the most sadistic personal fitness instructor in town and feast on egg white omelettes and rice cakes? More pertinently, why should we puny punters pay good money to gaze up at men on the big screen who aren’t themselves bigger than life, but sport waistlines that speak of no life at all?

It wasn’t always thus. In fact, until the Eighties muscles were usually so few and far between on the screen that the oiled man in swimming trunks bashing the big gong at the beginning of Rank films was as much meat as you were likely to get at the movies. It was of course an oiled Austrian action hero and former Mr Universe who changed all that, banging a gong for bodybuilding in ‘Conan the Barbarian’ (1982) and ‘Terminator’ (1984) introducing us to the spectacular male body and changing forever the way we see the male physique.

True, all those steroid-pumped chests look excessive now, ‘tittersome’ even, and screen muscles have tended to come in a more manageable, more covettable size for some years, but a male Hollywood star who doesn’t work out is as unthinkable now as an American who doesn’t floss.

And Arnie, like the cyborg he played in his most famous movie – or a personal fitness trainer from hell – keeps coming back. He refuses to acknowledge that he’s mortal, or, which is much more hubristic, out of fashion. Next week sees the opening of his new action-hero movie ‘Collateral Damage’, in which he plays a fireman seeking to avenge the murder of his wife and son by terrorists. Next month he begins filming ‘Terminator 3’, quickly followed by ‘Total Recall 2’ and ‘True Lies 2’ Single-handedly, and Promethian-like, fifty-five year-old Arnie, who had major heart surgery five years ago, seems to be trying to haul the Eighties back. (Not least because his political ambitions seem to promise ‘Reagan 2’.)

Meanwhile, his former arch-rival and Sylvester Stallone is currently trying to get funding for yet more sequels to his Rocky and Rambo films (6 and 4, respectively if you’re still counting). Also fifty-five years old, Sly hasn’t had a hit movie for a decade. Post September 11th he hopes America is ready again for a muscle-bound, if slightly wrinkly hero and that Hollywood will buy the idea of Rambo parachuting into Afghanistan in a thong and putting the fear of god into Bin Laden and Al Quaeda. So far his attempts to get funding have been unsuccessful, but if the Austrian Asshole succeeds in making a comeback from the knackers yard, who will be able to stop the Italian Stallion?

Of course, Arnie and Sly weren’t the first musclemen to make it in movies – just the first to succeed in making it really ‘big’ business.

Back in the 1930s there was Johnny Weissmuller, Olympic swimmer turned jungle vine swinger in a loincloth. His muscular tartiness in the Tarzan movies was made acceptable by the fact that his physique was practical in origin (swimming, vine climbing and wrestling alligators). He was also an ‘ape-man’. As a (white) noble savage, who hardly spoke except to ululate loud enough to make the tree tops quiver, or shout ‘Ungawa!’ at a startled passing elephant or chimpanzee, he was spared many of the enforced decencies of 1930s Western civilisation. Interestingly, like Arnie he was originally Austrian: ‘Weissmuller’ is German for ‘white miller’; while ‘Schwarzenegger’ means ‘black plough’. Modern bodybuilding owes everything to Aryan farming.

By the 1940s and 50s Sword and Sandal epics, the pre-cursor of the action movie, starring people like Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, and B-movie body-builder-turned-actor Steve Reeves legitimised the display of more naked, shapely male flesh (hence the line in ‘Airplane’ when the pervey pilot asks the lad being shown the flight-deck: ‘Son, do you like watching gladiator movies?’). Russell Crowe of course was to revive this genre in 2000 in ‘Gladiator’ and went out of his way in interviews to claim that his brawny physique had been formed not in the gym but in ‘practising sword fights’ – in a leather skirt. (Some cynics might say that he failed to gain the Oscar for ‘A Beautiful Mind’ because by then he seemed to have lost his beautiful body).

In the Fifties and Sixties, Rock Hudson, epitomised the ‘All-American’ clean-cut hunk. A Tarzan of the suburbs, if you will. He had a body, but was not sexual. His masculinity was pleasingly superficial and unthreatening. (And now we know that there was never any chance that he might do Doris Day at all).

But it was that other fifties phenomenon Marlon Brando who inaugurated a new era – the male as brazen sex object. His tight-T-shirted, sweaty muscularity was openly erotic; his brutish, built but sensual Stanley Kowalski was the streetcar named Desire (‘Stell-la!’). Clift and Dean were faces, but Marlon was a face on a pouting body. There was something androgyne yet virile about the Wild One’s most physical roles. Perhaps as a kind of revenge on the industry, Marlon famously developed an eating disorder (something usually associated with women) and later became notorious for his ‘work outs’ with gallon tubs of ice cream. In an odd way, Brando’s weight-problem is a kind of ‘bigorexia’, and probably even harder work than staying trim in the way that, say, Clint Eastwood has (and having sex in ‘In the Line of Fire’ with his tight white T-shirt at 70).

In the Fifties-come-around-again Eighties, Tom ‘Risky Business’ Cruise somehow managed combine Brando’s erotic narcissism with Hudson’s clean-cut sterility, this time in a pair of Y-fronts. Later, in ‘Taps’ he played an intense right-wing recruit with an obsessive interest in bodybuilding and showering. In ‘Top Gun’, the definitive Eighties movie, he legitimised the new male narcissism as something patriotic and Reaganite. Most of Tom’s oeuvre since then has stuck to the same theme of boyish vulnerability mixed with determination; passivity and masculinity; sensuality and respectability – and the identity problems that this creates (e.g. ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ and ‘Vanilla Sky’). By the same token, his muscles, with the exception of those seen in ‘Taps’ – and his preposterous forearms in ‘Mission Impossible’ – have never been huge, but they have always been very definitely there if needed. Or desired.

The Eighties ‘roided’ bodybuilder action heroes such as Arnie, Sly, Mel, Bruce ‘Die-Hard’ Willis (who for most of the Eighties seemed to be wearing Brando’s unwashed vest from ‘Streetcar’) and the ‘Muscles From Brussels’, Jean Claude Van Damme were less happy to be sex objects. True, these were film stars whose claim to fame rested largely on their willingness to display their bodies, but there was also slightly desperate disavowal of any passivity – hence the emphasis on being action heroes. Arnie and Sly were offering their spectacular bodies for our excitement. Like the explosions and the stunts, their bodies were special effects – in a pre CGI era they were perhaps the most important special effects of all.

Since then the mainstreaming of bodybuilding, the increasing sophistication of CGI and the reconciliation of a new generation of young men to their ornamental role has left their Eighties action heroes’ antics looking rather embarrassing. Today’s male stars work out, but the compensation of hysterically massive musculature, hard-on vascularity and single-handedly wiping out entire armies isn’t needed. Aesthetics have become more important than arm-aments. Arnie may have succeeded in getting Hollywood down the gym, but it is (early) Marlon and Tom who have inherited the World. Keanu Reeves, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Ethan Hawke, and all those close-ups on hunky-but-pretty Josh Hartnett’s long-lashed Nordic eyes in the war movies ‘Pearl Harbor’ (2001) and ‘Black Hawk Down’ (2002) prove this. Even Will Smith in ‘Ali’ (2002) doesn’t really look terribly heavyweight.

And former WWF wrestler Dwayne Douglas Johnson ‘The Rock’ who made his debut in ‘The Mummy Returns’ may be hailed by Vanity Fair as ‘the next Segal, Stallone and Schwarzenegger rolled into one’ (a queasy image), but seems extravagantly ornamental, with his plucked eyebrows, lip gloss, make-up and decorative tattoos.

However, that’s not to say that the new relationship to the male body is any less pathological. When for example we see Brad smoking or eating a hamburger in ‘Ocean’s Eleven’, we can’t help but wonder how much it cost in CGI. (Reportedly he and his wife don’t keep any food in the house and have all their meals calorie counted and delivered to their door). It’s difficult to imagine any of today’s generation of male stars finding anything they’d actually swallow – and keep down – on the menu at Planet Hollywood.

Meanwhile Arnie and Co., the ‘bigoxeric’ heroes of yesteryear’s big screen, seem unlikely to bring back the outsized Eighties not just because no one really needs them or can find a use for them, but because they are looking their age – older actually, in Hollywood terms. The steroids Arnie began using at the age of 14 to produce those ‘special effects’ can hasten the ageing process and may well have contributed to other ‘collateral damage’, such as his heart problems (they have also become mainstream – 7% of High School boys in the US admitted to taking them). Having been convinced by Arnie to put so much faith in working out and getting beefy, the world does not want to be reminded that it can’t keep you young forever and in fact can have the opposite effect.

Yes, in ‘Collateral Damage’ Arnie’s Panzer body is still there, trundling around beneath his pill-box head, but it is faintly embarrassing now – so much so that everyone in the movie pretends not to notice it. He plays a fireman, which is nice and useful and human-scale. But we know, post September 11, that most American firemen, beefy and worked-out as many of them are, do not look like ageing male masseurs. As one of the characters complains, almost surreally, when Arnie turns up unexpectedly: ‘You order cheese pizza and you get German sausage’.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2010

This essay is collected in Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story

Copyright © 1994 - 2016 Mark Simpson All Rights Reserved.