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The Metrosexual isn’t Dead, He’s Just Power-Napping on the Sunbed

The Times recently ran a feature by Andrew Billen called ‘Metrosexual R.I.P.?’ wondering whether the metrosexual was now dead in the wake of the recent closure of Conde Nast men’s shopping magazine Cargo.  The piece below by yours truly ‘This trend’s not dead – just dead common’ ran alongside.

I wasn’t shown Billen’s piece before penning mine.  Now that I have, there are a few things I’d like to point out:

  1. Metrosexuals are not female-friendly New Men with pectoral muscles. They could be new mannish; but they could equally be very, very toxic bachelors.  See the film version of American Psycho.
  2. Who apart from marketers trying to get a mention in a newspaper as having discovered ‘the hot new thing that’s replacing metrosexuality!’ actually uses witless monikers such as ‘ubersexual’ and ‘heteropolitan’?  By contrast the metrosexual is a cultural and sociological phenomenon.  You can point to him in the street – and people do.  (And he’s flattered by the attention.)  ‘Ubersexuals’ and ‘heteropolitans’, if they exist at all outside of particularly tedious marketing meetings, just sound like metrosexuals in denial.
  3. Whatever the people running them might say, the ‘blokey’ magazines Nuts and Zoo are clearly metrosexual.  Not so much in content as concept.  They are a product – gossipy weeklies – that until now only women bought.  Like moisturiser.  Retrosexual men would have no need of a magazine that breathlessly tells them how to be a bloke. They would be too busy being a bloke and going fishing with their dad. Mediated, commodified masculinity is one of the hallmarks of metrosexuality. Rather than proof of its demise, the phenomenal success of Nuts and Zoo – and their own admitted underestimation of their readerships appetite for grooming and fashion editorial – is more proof of the mainstreaming of metrosexuality.
  4. A week or so after running the ‘R.I.P.’ article The Times ran this piece comparing and contrasting a metrokid and his retrodad, which illustrated rather eloquently how the younger generation has been totally metrosexualised, often to the bafflement of their dowdy dads.  Retrosexual R.I.P.?

This trend’s not dead – just dead common

by Mark Simpson

(Originally appeared in The Times, April 7, 2006)

On the day I was asked to write about the “death” of the metrosexual, I visited the gym. A group of lads in fashionable sportswear with those fussy pop-idol hairdos was in the changing room. “Bugger!” cursed one. “I’ve forgotten me hair gel and moisturiser.” “Don’t worry, mate,” replied two of his buddies, almost in unison, “you can use mine.”

This wasn’t in metropolitan London or Manchester, mind, but North Yorkshire.

The metrosexual isn’t dead, he’s just dead common. He’s so mainstream, even in rural England, that he’s hardly worthy of comment any more. Men’s shopping magazines may come and go, but male vanity isn’t going back in the closet, even a particularly well-stocked one. A whole generation of young men has been so metrosexualised that the guys don’t even know that they should be ashamed of themselves. Unless, of course, they haven’t spent enough time and money on their appearance.

Metrosexuality has won. It’s got your children. A recent survey of 2,000 teenage males in the UK found that, on average, boys admitted to looking in the mirror ten times a day. And 96 per cent of these narcissists used deodorant, 90 per cent hairstyling products, 50 per cent moisturisers and 25 per cent said they “might have plastic surgery”.

This is a generation that has been immersed in metrosexuality since birth. Born after the New Romantic gender-benders, after Nick Kamen’s seminal strip in the Levi’s launderette ad, and before a young buffed hairless Marky Mark got his designer lunch packet out, in the past few years they’ve been exposed to metrosexmania: the media’s insatiable craving for metrosexuals and articles about male manicures, cosmetics and spas. Is it any wonder they turned out like this?

Look at their heroes — go on, they live to be looked at. The most famous metrosexual poster boy, David Beckham, may be out of fashion in the UK, but mostly because the thirtyish footballer has been upstaged by a younger generation of metro-athletes for whom male vanity is just a fact of life: Freddie Ljungberg looks like the man Becks thinks he is. Despite their huge salaries, the entire Chelsea FC squad, led by Fabulous Frankie Lampard, seems to be moonlighting as male strippers. Even rugby, once the sport of hairy beer monsters, has gone raving metro. Pretty boy Gavin Henson recently admitted on national TV to the self-confessed metro chat-show host Jonathan Ross that he shaves his legs, uses moisturiser and fake tan before a match — to “look good for his team-mates”. And this guy is Welsh!

Metrosexuality has gone so mainstream that even the new love-me-or-love-me leader of the once reliably retrosexual Conservative Party, David Cameron, seems a little bit . . .moisturised. Things have gone so far and so fey that James Bond has succumbed. Where Sean Connery was a hirsute beefy playboy, Daniel Craig is a worked-out, depilated, exfoliated suck-cheeked GQ model.

It’s 12 years since I outed the metrosexual as an attractive young dandy about town who might be straight or might be gay but had clearly taken himself as his own love object. The triumph of metrosexual liberation has since been so complete, so terrifying, even in the provinces, that masculinity will never be the same again. Or at least, it won’t suffer flaky skin again. “Real” masculinity, whatever that is/was, has been replaced for ever by aestheticised, mediated masculinity. The soul of metrosexuality, the desire to be desired, once considered the feminine quality par excellence, is something that today’s Dorianesque males clearly possess, or are possessed by.

Paradoxically, it’s those who embraced metrosexuality as an elite identity who are the most shocked by all this. Now that most males are a little bit metro and the younger generation très metro, there’s nothing terribly special about being metro. It’s just — aargh! — ordinary. The immaculately turned-out and ravishingly fragranced paradox of the metrosexual is that he’s now as naff and redundant as he is adorable and indispensable.

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