Between going back to class and getting selected as a grand jury alternate last week, I couldn’t find the time to address last week’s Times article about the rise of cosmetic use among a certain class of men.
The Dude has his vanities, fer sure, but I don’t know that he’s rarin’ to buy or use “brow groomer” or “corrector.” Certainly I’ve heard him bemoan his pallor or whatever, I don’t know that he’s even ever thought about cosmetics–of the face-painting variety–as an option. Most guys don’t, I would imagine, although I had a friend whose fresh-scrubbed Aryan looks turned smoldering with the addition of a little guyliner. (His verdict: okay for debauched all night dance parties, inappropriate for anything else. My verdict: ROWR.)
The incompatibility of vanity and masculinity–itself a relatively recent phenomenon–seems to be eroding as quickly as new, masculine portMANteaus (see what I did there?) can be coined: mandals, manpris, mirdles, manbags (menbag?), mansturizer, manscara…
I see this not as a triumph of gender equity, but of commercialization/corporate dominance. Not content with destroying the self-esteem of slightly more than half the population, Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, and it’s unsavory brethren have turned their sites on the dudes. Which, really, is only sensible, since they’re still pulling down more money than we ladies.
To do this, of course, they’ve had to butch up the products’ design (sleek black, charcoal, and/or silver packaging seems common) and description (“body detailer” rather than “shower pouf,” and my favorite: “lip agent,”) and make appeals based on traditionally masculine roles like breadwinner or ladykiller, but this is primarily about vanity, regardless of how it’s framed, as in this quote:
“Women use cosmetic products to beautify, but men have a totally different approach and totally different goals,” said Mr. Hewryk [founder of a men's cosmestics company], who holds degrees in applied chemistry and biology. “Men use cosmetic products in order to cover up or correct imperfections, not to enhance beauty.”
Correcting imperfections /= Enhancing beauty. Mmm-hmm.
I’ve not been surprised to see gender-benders, moneyed elites (those assholes can get away with anything), edgy youth and/or insecure teens use these products (a guy I sat next to in nearly every class in high school for alphabetical reasons was clearly buying the tinted zit cream marketed to me) but plumbers reaching for anti-aging cream? Lumberjacks and bus drivers applying undereye concealer? Maybe someday, but I don’t know that cosmantics, which seem to be rather pricey, will gain a foothold at least until the economy starts to recover (for real, with jobs and protections for the working and middle class). For now, it seems to be an affectation for the already-affected.
To be clear: I don’t have a problem with men buying and using cosmetics on gender-based grounds. I dig androgyny. I’m even curious to see how, or if, this changes the rhetoric surrounding women’s purported vanity (uh-oh, I smell fresh bickering over who gets space in front of the mirror!). Is this the birth of a new field of competition in the gender wars? Will this result in increased sympathy and ultimately rejection of lady-make-up (please, please!)? What about product safety? As men become consumers, will testing, labelling, and regulation get more rigorous? What does it all meeeeaan?