Men In The Mirror

Manicures, makeup and plastic surgery are no longer just for women.

August 22, 1999|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Staff

Who would have thought sexual equality would come down to this?

Today's men seem to have become just as obsessed with their appearance as women always have been. Manicures and facials are perfectly acceptable. Liposuction to take care of love handles is only slightly less so.

Got a hairy back? Get it waxed.

And, of course, the male cosmetics market is booming. Sorry -- I mean toiletries.

In 1997, according to a study by the international market analyst Euromonitor, American men spent $3.5 billion on toiletries. Naturally, no one uses the M-word (makeup). Along with traditional shaving-related items, these toiletries include such items as skin-care products, concealers and bronzers.

"Believe me, men have been dipping into their wives' eye cream for decades," says Charles Hall, director of sales development for the skin-care company Decleor. "Men today are just a bit more candid." Hall himself uses a cleanser, toning lotion, an aromatherapy oil and a sun-protective moisturizer for his daily skin-care routine.

In a survey conducted earlier this year by the polling firm Roper Starch Worldwide, 70 percent of men interviewed were amenable to or actively engaged in grooming activities such as getting manicures, using tanning beds, coloring their hair and having cosmetic surgery.

Speaking of getting those little nips and tucks that make you look younger, the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery reports that nearly 30 percent of facial plastic surgery procedures these days are requested by men.

Conventional wisdom has it that men are going under the knife to remain competitive in the workplace. In today's high-tech society, it's often the kids in the company who are the experts. They know the new software and the new marketing strategies, and they know what's hip. Youth is equated with adaptability to change; and rapid change is, of course, what's happening.

"There's even less of a premium placed on gray hair in the corporate world than there was 10 years ago," says Dr. Barry Cohen, a Washington plastic surgeon.

But that doesn't explain why the most sought-after procedure, according to the AAFPRS, is rhinoplasty (nose surgery). Maybe men just want to look better, but it sounds less vain to say they're having plastic surgery to enhance their careers. Surely men, too, gaze longingly into the bathroom mirror, thinking that if they could just change the shape of their nose it would change their life.

Probably they always did, but these days they're doing something about it.

That's not to say men are completely open about their vanity -- or, depending on your point of view, concern over their personal appearance. Cohen has a Web site (www.totalskincare.com) that sells skin-care products available only through plastic surgeons and dermatologists. Men like it, he says, because of the privacy involved. Many of those who want to take care of their skin still hesitate to buy beauty products at a drug or department store.

The same goes for hair coloring.

"Men are getting very much into it," says Natercia Jackson, owner of Indulgence salon in Brooklandville. "But they are still very shy. They are more prone to do it at home."

Those who are shy about improving on nature tend to be older men, whose fathers thought anything more than after-shave was unmanly. Men in their 20s are much more comfortable with having highlights or streaks put in their hair, getting multiple body piercings or wearing nail polish. The most flamboyant of them wear Hard Candy's line of nail enamels for men in colors like Testosterone (silver), but even quite conservative men may go with a little clear polish.

"Manicures are an extension of other types of grooming," says Eric Brotman, a sales manager at a local insurance and investments company who gets them regularly. "My hands have to look like a million dollars for work. And besides, it's incredibly relaxing."

If clear nail polish is OK, can mascara be far behind? In a survey of men with household incomes of more than $75,000 conducted by Esquire magazine, 48 percent thought that in the future it will become socially acceptable for men to wear makeup.

As for what this magazine-survey group is doing now, 83 percent of the men say they wear fragrance and the average number of fragrance products owned is five.

Which brings us to the subject of men's magazines. Traditional men's publications like Esquire and Playboy have been joined by Men's Health and Men's Journal, which are guaranteed to make any male who isn't Tom Cruise feel insecure about his appearance.

Anyone who thinks men read Men's Health primarily because they're concerned about their health also thinks that's the main reason men (and women) spend hours at the health club every week. The Men's Health subscription form, for instance, promises just these three things: "Gain Muscle, Lose Fat," "More Sex, Better Sex" and "Get Abs Like These."

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