When I joined the British TA infantry back in the late 90s (bit of a long story) and had my medical the (woman) doctor asked a topless me: ‘Do you shave your chest?’ It was still verboten back then to be gay and in the army so I hurriedly said: ‘Er, yes. I do bodybuilding and it shows off the muscle definition better.’
‘Hmm’, she said, sounding unconvinced, and made a note in her file.
How things have changed in the intervening fifteen years. I suspect that Army doctor now quizzes recruits if they DON’T shave their chests, so widespread is body shaving/waxing with young men today. The Bootnecks posing in the recent Royal Marine charity calendar above don’t appear to have an undepilated pumped pectoral between them.
Why do so many men shave their chests now? Because, as I told the sceptical Army doctor, it shows off muscle definition. That’s to say: it shows off. Now that metrosexuality is pretty much ‘normal’, young men think nothing of wanting to be sexy, to be hot. To be PORNO. And what’s the point of going to the gym religiously and spending a fortune on supplements if the world and your mates can’t see the melony fruits of your labours? So scrape that chest fur off, guys! Tits out for the… lads.
Even as they cultivate fashion beards as adorable male accessories men are saving their razors for their chests, abs – and wedding tackle. They want their assets to be easily scoped. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, because no one seems to be listening: men are eagerly objectifying themselves. They want us, all of us, male and female, to see their ‘meat’. And want it.
“Did anyone remember to pack the Veet? My chest stubble is itching something chronic.”
Despite the ascendency of hairless male chests for several years now those smooth chests on the British Lions squad enjoying a group swim on the beach recently caused a stir in some circles. Perhaps because rugby used to be a sport for hairy beer monsters and ‘real men’. But since it went ‘pro’ a while back that has all changed. ‘Rugby player build’ used to be a personal ad euphemism for ‘a bit fat’ but now it tends to mean ‘ripped to buggery’ – professional rugby players are living the Men’s Health dream with their own personal dieticians, fitness trainers and masseurs. Look at how much the England rugby strip has changed in the last decade. It used to flap around in the wind, shapelessly. Now it’s like something a male stripper might wear – towards the end of his act.
And of course some of the tastier and tartier ‘pro’ rugby players have been appearing naked, shaved and oiled for years in the high production low morals Dieux du Stadesporno calendars bought by gay men, straight women – and gay men again.
Though many gays themselves have been re-fetishing chest hair lately, to the point where hirsuteness is now apparently akin to gay godliness. In fact, many gay men seem to want to present themselves as the hairy beer monster real men rugger buggers of yesteryear. The ones that used to chase them down the street.
I still remember the horror of my gay host on a visit to LA a few years back, exclaiming: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!” when he saw me apply a Bic razor to my chest. “No gay man in this town shaves his chest any more!”
But as a hopeless, helpless fan of smooth, classical muscle myself, I’m praying that this is one gay trend that straight men don’t get around to copying.
WARNING: hipsters and gay bears may want to watch this ad backwards.
I’m rather taken with this refreshingly direct ad currently airing on MTV for a Philips Norelco product that promises to ‘shave, style and groom’. And also you’d be forgiven for thinking, suck your cock.
A young man approaches the mirror, face and chest hidden by unruly red hair. He reaches for his versatile buzzing buddy. After tackling his face fuzz, he despatches his chest rug, then his abs fur. As he ‘manscapes’ himself into something sexier (to beardist, hairist me at least) – something pornier – his confidence improves and he tells himself flirtatiously: ‘I’d catch some rays with me’… ‘I’d play beach volley-ball with me’… and the rather adorable: ‘I’d wear silly sun hats with me’.
Finally, by the time he’s reached the third head on his humming toy he’s openly turning himself on: ‘I’d f*ck me’ he says matter-of-factly gazing at his own reflection.
And so would I, dear. So would I.
The ad is funny and memorable largely because it confronts head-on what too much advertising for men’s beauty products, particularly ones for the American market, try desperately to disavow – male vanity and sensuality. Even as they’re exploiting them. It goes so far as to joshingly play with one of the scariest things for marketers about male narcissism – the way it can shade into male homoerotics. An eye for male sexiness, even your own, might just turn into male sex.
If Men’s Health magazine had been the client for this ad the final line would have been cut at the first script meeting, along with the silly hat moment (too gay and too funny), and a glamorous beard (of the female variety) would have appeared in the final frame. And judging by their pointlessly Puritanical covers of late, our chap would have had to wear a baggy dark grey t-shirt while shaving his chest.
Of course, it’s taken for granted that Philips’ young manscaper is talking about scoring babes – and his possibly slightly ‘douchey’ auto-flirtatiousness, like the silly sun hat, is meant to be taken as proof that he is secure in his (metro)sexuality. But equally, he’s probably secure enough to experiment with a ‘different head’ sometime.
Most of all the ad communicates the importance of self-love and self-care in modern masculinity. If you want to score with the babes you have to score yourself first.
Dutch-owned Philips have been a consistent trail-blazer in regard to men’s burgeoning desire to be desired and need to be in control of their man-garden – in the mid Noughties they introduced the historic Bodygroom. (I have one myself – with an extendable handle to reach my back: Oh, the horrors of middle age.) Their marketing campaign then was also humorous, but very coy – involving kiwi fruit and an ironically boring man in a big white dressing gown talking about the ‘optical inch’.
In less than a decade things have got a lot more explicit. Probably partly as a result of the HD porn that young men download so much – which is in turn why they are so shaved and trimmed down below anyway. Marketing this new combined body groomer, beard trimmer and shaver Philips clearly feel they can be much more direct about the male body and its intimacies.
Take a visit to their ‘I’d FAQ me’ website. You’re really getting right up close and personal as you zoom around and into this male model’s body.
Don’t know about you, but by the time I got to the end I felt I should have at least offered the guy my number. Or a Kleenex.
It’s always tricky as a writer talking to a researcher for a TV or film documentary. On the one hand you want your ideas to be taken seriously and the historical record to be as accurate as possible. And of course we all like attention. Especially from a visual medium we probably don’t belong in.
On the other hand, you don’t want to give everything away for nowt.
But you can hardly blame researchers for trying. For every ‘expert’ who appears on-screen in a doc, probably a dozen or more had their brains picked.
I don’t recall much of what I gabbled down the phone when I was contacted a couple of years ago by a female associate of the indie documentary maker Morgan Spurlock about a documentary she was helping him develop about the ‘male-grooming industry’. But I do remember that after speaking to her for about an hour I politely wound up the call – after getting that familiar brain-pick feeling. Or maybe I was just embarrassed at how talkative I’d been.
And that was the last I heard from Spurlock & Co. Which didn’t surprise me as I live in the UK, and it’s an American doc (with an Indie budget). True, I’m credited/blamed not just for coining the ‘metrosexual’ back in 1994 but also introducing him to the US ten years ago this Summer, kicking off the national nervous breakdown America had over masculinity in the Noughties and from which it is yet to fully recover. (Sorry ‘bout that, guys!)
But if there’s one thing the USA has no need to import from Blighty it’s talking big heads. They produce even more of those themselves than they do male beauty products.
Last April Mansome as it is now officially dubbed, emerged glistening and groomed at the TriBeCa film festival. With the publicity poseur: ‘In the age of manscaping, metrosexuals, and grooming products galore – what does it mean to be a man?’ And of course they found plenty of States-side experts, plus several celebs, such as Paul Rudd, Judd Apatow and John Waters to answer that question – along with Jason Bateman and Will Arnett, both executive producers of the doc and unashamed pedicurists.
I haven’t seen Mansome myself yet (an enquiry to the distributor’s press office some weeks ago has yet to produce a response), but going by the trailers, the advance reviews – and the title – I have a hunch that even if I’d lived within eyebrow-plucking distance of Spurlock and had been interviewed on camera for days I still wouldn’t have made the final nip and tuck of Mansome.
That ‘ironic’ music in the trailer, reminiscent of Desperate Housewives, seems to be there as a reassurance that none of this is to be taken seriously. That – relax dudes! – Mansome won’t goose you with any pointy ideas or insights. After all, even an indie film costs actual money to make and you have to get bums – waxed or just clenched – on seats to have a hope of getting any of it back. Mansome is selling itself as light entertainment not heavy enquiry. Or as Jessica Bennett at the Daily Beast put it in her review: ‘pseudo-documentary’.
So probably the last thing poor Spurlock would have wanted was the English and queer Metrodaddy insisting that metrosexuality is not only male vanity swishing triumphantly out of the closet, but tarty male passivityflaunting itself everywhere too. How men’s now flagrant-fragrant desire to be desired means that modern masculinity is quite literally asking for it.
But I wonder a bit how many bums, male or female, clenched or otherwise Mansome will actually lure into the multiplex. Arnett and Bateman are very droll in their towelling dressing gowns, but really, in 2012 who genuinely finds the notion of Hollywood actors visiting spas or shaving their backs remarkable? Or terribly snigger some? Even in America?
What’s more, the trailers, the credits and the hairlines suggest the masculinity being spotlighted here is mostly middle-aged. (It takes one to know one.)
One reviewer complained Mansome is ‘cute’ but has ‘nothing to say’. I doubt anyone would have bothered to make that complaint if we were talking Mikey Sorrentino’s abs. Or Channing Tatum’s buttocks. Or Justin Bieber’s dimples (Bieber, by the way, was born the very same year as the metrosexual). I certainly wouldn’t.
In the UK many if not most of the younger generation of males have taken metrosexuality as a given and literally fashioned their own bodies into a desirable, marketable product – and facial hair into less of a secondary sexual characteristic, or fetish of manhood, than just another sweet male accessory. Rather than try to define ‘what makes a man’ most would rather visit the gym or the tanning salon. Again.
Or show Metrodaddy their depilated pubes, balls and pierced John-Thomases in the pub. While their girlfriends look on, rolling their eyes. (No, really, this happens to me ALL the time. It’s just one of the many crosses I have to bear….)
Despite all this carping I’m still keen to see Mansome. America – or maybe just America of a certain age – does still need to talk this stuff through, honestly and openly. Especially after the mendacious ‘menaissance’ anti-metro backlash of the late Noughties that shut down the (admittedly rather skin-deep) conversation by shouting: ‘MAN-UP!!’.
Or the retreat into a slightly creepy if meticulously observed hipster waxwork version of Madison Avenue in the 1960s.
And there are some encouraging signs that Mansome might have something to say after all. Executive producer Bateman was quoted saying something rather refreshing in the WSJ the other day, cutting through much of the marketing froth around ‘male grooming’ – i.e. male beauty:
‘What this film confirmed for me was that men are not allergic to the mirror at all, We want to be as pretty as females. Body-hair removal, skin care—men basically do the same things, but are more secretive about them.’
Mind you, in the same article Spurlock himself was quoted as blaming Adam’s vanity on Eve again – in a very familiar and fruitless attempt to straighten out male narcissism:
“Men do crazy things for women, to get them and to keep them,” he said. “If all women were like, I want to have sex with a big, hairy Neanderthal, next thing you know one of the most popular products would be stuff that grows hair on your back and forearms.”
Not so sure about that, darling. (Though I do know a few bears who are already hot for hairy backs.)
And then there’s the manly strap-on euphemism chosen as the title for his doc. The Wiki page for Mansome includes this helpful paragraph about it:
‘Mansome’ is a relatively new word in pop culture. It is defined by UrbanDictionary.com as ‘an adjective that describes a man who is both manly and handsome.’ Mansome, the documentary, attempts to clarify exactly what makes a man “mansome”.
Obviously this is intended as a clever, ironic deconstruction of the way the ‘man’ word is too often stuck on a ‘girly’ product so that unadventurous fellows don’t think their nads are going to fall off if they buy it.
After all, ‘handsome’ is a traditional, acceptable ‘manly’ euphemism for ‘masculine beauty’. Or ‘attractive male’. One that a chap can use to describe another chap without calling into question one’s own whopping manhood.
So, needlessly strapping ‘man’ on an already essentially ‘male’ word would be something you would only ever do to point up the ridiculously camp and self-defeating nature of all these ‘man’ words, wouldn’t it?
I mean, effectively calling your documentary about male beauty Handsome (No Homo) is something you could only be doing to satirise the juvenile homophobia of American culture.
Mansome goes on general release in the US later this month.
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