Pursue the male species

Lubna Abdel-Aziz
Tuesday 14 May 2024


Far from the hell and bloodbaths of agony and distress, the wars wage in distance places.

The sad reality, evident of a parallel universe, is at the heights of frill and frippery. Life marches on, consumed by the business of the human condition. The rat race gallops to the 21st century.

It is no longer puzzled, hesitated or in doubt; it is a veritable reality. It is the age of the male beauty.

Shockingly, the serious politician, in the halls of wisdom, is unabashedly pursuing his outward appearance. Even the sage indulges in polish and fineries.

Gone is the redder, rudder face — the hair less grey and more peppery; the wrinkles, once the stripes of long service, is now plumping up and a quick manicure is de rigueur, before the debate continues.

Moreover, it does not suffice for clothes to make the man or even his colognes. Faded are the memory when coarse men scrub and splash the rugged after-shave, proudly boasting of craggy crinkles.

Why, Cyrano de Bergerac would rile and rumble at a rough countenance. Were French dramatist, Edmond Rostand alive, he would emphatically refuse. In this era of youthful beauty for males, would Cyrano scoff about an oversized nose: “I am proud of such an appendage, since a big nose is the proper sign of a friendly, good, courageous, witty, liberal brave man such as I am.” That nose would promptly attend to the surgeon’s knife, posthaste.

One of the most popular procedures for men, women and teenagers nowadays is nose re-shaping or rhinoplasty, common in all countries.

A historic fact is little known, but true. Until the mid-1800s, male fineries were prevalent, stylish, and fashionable. A fated event happened during the reign of queen Victoria of Britain. The oppressive queen deemed cosmetics vulgar and an abomination of crown and church. The use of make-up was “the devil’s work”, creating strong widespread associations with vanity and femininity.

As religious values continued to permeate cultures around the world, mainstream definitions of masculinity narrowed.

Long before the strict Victorian era, the Elizabethan period indulged in puff and fluff, with a maximum application of powder and paste. Likewise, the French court of Louis XVI partook in the extravagances of make-up and hair products. Louis went bald at the age of 23, and subsequently forced the aristocracy of France into an obsession with wigs.

Things were normal and sane in the world of male cosmetics. Ask which gender wore make-up first, the answer would be obvious. Men while their hours fussing and messing with meticulous care for thousands of years, evolving, changing, and improving.

As early as 4000 BC, make-up played an important role in ancient Egyptian culture. Men painted black pigments to create cat-eye designs that were considered attractive and a symbol of wealth and status. Kohl eyeliner and green malachite eye-shadow finished the look with red ochre lips and cheeks. Green eye-shadow was believed to evoke the gods Horus and Ra, warding off hazards.

Greeks and Romans lighten their skin with powder and paint. They used a near-perfect red colour for their nails and their rouge and lipsticks always dazzled.

The male make-up regimen sailed smoothly until queen Victoria stopped them in their tracks. A long period of two centuries, from the 18th to the 20th centuries were akin to the dark ages of self-expression.

By the late 20th century, the modern movie-men emerged.

Clark Gable’s polished look was “perhaps the first example of the metrosexual beauty”.

It was hardly mainstream at first. Some exceptions of stage make-up, the camera and a few rock n’ rollers were valiant, but the male population at large was remained kittenish.

Step by step, adventurous men ventured into the realm of cosmetics starting with colognes and deodorants, reaching the personal care market for men.

Old-fashioned restraints aside, the male species is forging ahead, regardless.

What do men do? Everything. From face-lifts and liposuctions, to botox and fillers, in constant strive for the absolute beauty. Proudly submitting to the surgeon’s knife, they chip and chisel until they rest. “They urge to wax, exfoliate, primp, and pamper their vanity” in endless efforts, unafraid to reach out to their feminine side.

They dress better, remove unwanted hair and “never looked so good or felt so confident.”

The global men’s grooming products market size was valued at $74.8 billion in 2021, projected to reach $132 billion in 2030. The sky’s the limit.

What do women think of this boom in male cosmetics? Delighted. For decades they have been derided for their shallow vanity, now the tables are turn and it is time for the men to get some of their medicine, or elixir.

The effort to look young and attractive is beyond gender and culture. Obsession with appearance for centuries ago is back again and the male is comfortable and courageous.

There is one caveat. The clock is ticking and there is no longer a dark secret. “All would live long, but none would be old.” We keep inventing ways of delaying the onslaught of age, and Maurice Chevalier said it best: “Considering the alternative, it’s not too bad at all.”

We continue to powder and puff, nip and tuck, cover and camouflage, but in the end we must keep all in perspective, for “if wrinkles must be written upon our brow, let them not be written upon the heart.”  

“No Spring, nor Summer beauty hath such grace/ As I have seen in one Autumnal face.”

John Donne (1572-1631)


* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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