The Brotox Era: Does Male Vanity Even the Playing Field, Or Condemn Us All to Unreachable Beauty Standards?
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A 2005 story in MSNBC described the staying power of what was once “dismissed as a metrosexual fad” (the fact that that word is almost meaningless now is evidence of this)--and most importantly, that it’s not just affecting the privileged set who can afford Botox.
The growth in the market isn't relegated to the high-end products. Sales of men's skincare products surged 68.6 percent at mass market retailers compared to a 6 percent increase for women's products, according to the research firm ACNielsen. Men's shampoo and conditioner sales rose 17 percent while the market for women and unisex hair products was flat.
We’re Not Heading Into a Good-Looking Utopia
But it’s not a utopia to have everyone well-groomed, buffed and toned, and ageless. In fact the above stories about skyrocketing profits off of the imposition of male beauty standards touches on the second deadly aspect of beauty culture (the first being sexism): that’s capitalism and the profit motive.
In a capitalist system, the goalposts of beauty standards will constantly keep moving. New creams, elixers and surgeries will keep being offered, and the magazine cover “ideal”--which we know is created by huge teams of makeup artists, trainers, lighting specialists and photoshoppers--will remain ever unattainable. And the most insidious side to it is the way it works subliminally: the more celebrities and people on the street we see who appear a certain way, the more that look becomes “normalized” and we start to feel inferior if we don’t match it. In other words, men are learning what more aware women know: there are several industries out there that thrive off making us feel bad about our looks. Really bad.
In this profit-driven race, “natural” looks--those which require less maintenance, less trips to the salon or less investing in gym memberships, workout videos or diet products--may never really come back into style. Corporations will always try to sell a magic bullet by making us feel inscure about ourselves, and the bullet will never work.
It should be also noted that lurking beneath this everday angst over our looks is the threat of even more deadly things: depression, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and not to be ignored, a racial and gender bias.
It's also no secret that beauty standards match up with other forms of cultural oppression: women who look "whiter" are deemed more lovely, which adds to internalized racism as well as discrimination at the broader social level. In shop windows and beyond, there's a harmful adherence to gendered “feminine” and “masculine” standards that further marginalizes and oppresses gender non-conforming people.
The peril-laden, corporation-driven conformity of beauty standards needs to be fought back against on an individual and cultural level. And it's already happening--more and more women are calling bullshit on photoshopping, on cultural expectations, and on the idea that they have to look a certain way to succeed. So maybe as men followed women into this mess, they can follow us out of it too.
That's why rather than criticize individuals who give in to social pressure to look a certain way, we need to think bigger. We need to Occupy our collective self-image, if you will. Imagine a world in which fashion and beauty ideals are seen as fun, frivolous not loaded and entirely optional--for everyone, regardless of gender.