Mark Simpson on how protests over male make-up are just fake-tanned hypocrisy (Guardian CIF, 13 August, 2008)
Oh, the gnashing and wailing of (bleached) teeth and pulling of (gelled) hair recently in some sections of the UK press over male make-up after UK High Street Superdrug’s launched a new line of male cosmetics! The way some commentators went on, you’d think that instead of selling concealer, ‘manscara’, and ‘guyliner’, Superdrug were actually selling home castration kits.
Rather clenched articles by male journos in liberal metropolitan newspapers such as the Guardian and The Times decrying the trend reminded me, in a mealy-mouthed way, of the uglier farm boys in the North Yorks market town where I live who call prettier lads ‘faggots’ for wearing make-up (though the farm boys mean the word more affectionately).
The fuss wasn’t so much about cosmetics being used by men – we’ve been here many, many times before over the last few years, and what men today don’t use moisturiser/conditioner/mousse/teeth whitening toothpaste/fake tan/eye gel – or Immac for Men? Especially farm boys and journos. No, male make-up brought out some in a rash because it’s out-of-the-bathroom-closet male cosmetics. Shameless metrosexuality. Metrosexuality without hypocrisy or apology. Metrosexuality that literally gets in your face.
Most metro cosmetics until now have been about enhancing male beauty behind closed doors, leaving at least a notional amount of discreet deniability that saves everyone’s sensibilities: ‘Oh, no, I don’t use product: I just wake up looking like a million dollars’. Maintaining, however laughably, the fiction that male attractiveness, unlike the female variety, is entirely unselfconscious and unaffected. Like metrosexuality, male make up smudges consoling stereotypes about what is ‘gay’ and ‘straight’, ‘male’ and ‘female’, ‘normal’ and ‘freaky’. It outs the masculine need to feel pretty. After all, once they’re given permission, men who prefer the ladies are probably more likely to be interested in make-up than the kind who prefer men – which is why some of them protest so much. They know that if they give in to their urges they’ll look like Louis XIV.
Besides, the future is already made-up. While ageing journalists raged against the abomination of male make-up in the (dying) print media, the pretty, pumped, usually half-naked young male celeb wannabes on Big Brother were regularly flaunting foundation, eyeliner and black nail varnish, just like their Emo heroes. Meanwhile at the Olympics in Beijing the 14 year old Brit diver Tom Daley was showing off a fake tan so dark it looked like foundation.
The arrival of male make-up on the British High Street shows that in the age of metrosexuality nothing that women do or use to be beautiful can be considered off limits to men. In a post-feminist, mediated world, today’s young males aren’t going to allow the ‘fairer sex’ any unfair advantages – including being able to look fabulous after the morning after a heavy night out. Or being the only ones that can leave their face on someone’s pillow.
© Mark Simpson 2008