Far from the image of a grizzled Robinson Crusoe slaughtering goats on the beach in a loin-cloth, today's idea of masculinity is far less text-book. In fact, 64% of modern men now agree that 'we are free to shape our identities and transform ourselves in whatever way we want'1.
As modern men, it seems we're keen to carve our own paths through life, without bowing to the stereotypical idea of what a man should be. Today we're openly embracing new lifestyles, careers, hobbies and habits once dismissed as wholly 'girl territory'. For instance, we're now 10 times more likely to give up work and become stay-at-home-dads than we were a decade ago2 (providing we actually have children) and studies suggest the fear of being caught with a travel-pot of moisturiser in the glove-box is finally on the decline.
Today, our self-worth is in our hands, not our trousers. Success and happiness is about having the choice and freedom to be whoever we want to be.
A massive 80% of young men say they use external appearance to express their identies1 - helping male grooming to become one of the fastest growing sectors in the global beauty industry. 'Male grooming' encompasses products and treatments for nails, skin, facial hair, body hair, head hair and general well-being.
Male grooming: what is it?
As a term, 'male grooming' is pretty new to our vocabularies. It was coined a few years ago by clever marketing people who wanted to open up the lucrative (but very feminine) beauty industry to the other half of the population. Of course, the word 'grooming' was carefully selected for its own connotations: dogs are 'groomed', chimps 'groom' each other - it sounds primitive enough to attract even the most bull-headed pub-goers. If they'd called it the 'male pampering' industry, the financial forecasts probably wouldn't be quite as impressive as they currently are (an expected value of £54.2 billion worldwide by 20143. That's an incredible increase of £41.5 billion from 2007).
This section will explore the rise (or return) of the male grooming industry by tracing it back to its roots in ancient culture right up to its place in modern society today.
Beauty - It's a man's world
Today, people speak of the 'metrosexual man': the suave, sleek-looking guy who's just as happy downing lager in a football stadium as he is choosing upholstery for his girlfriend's new sofa suite. In tabloid articles, the 'metrosexual' is often described as the 'new breed of man', a brand new phenomenon storming the modern Western world, like some kind of nice-smelling alien. This happens to be a complete myth. The 'metrosexual', with his man-bag and mysteriously long bathroom rituals, may be radically different from the 'manly man' of the 20th century (wouldn't be seen dead in the women's aisle of a supermarket, let alone in a beauty salon), but he's certainly not a 'phenomenon' - in fact, experts think the metrosexual man is really nothing more than a return to form.
The truth is that men have traditionally been plucking, waxing, moisturising and styling themselves pretty much since the dawn of time. For example, historians reckon ancient Egyptian men spent hours every day removing every single hair from their bodies, applying blossom perfume to their skin and even drawing dark kohl eye-liner around their eyes in a bid to enhance their appearances. It's not just the Egyptians, either - not long ago, two 2,000 year old 'Bog Men' were uncovered in an Irish peat bog. One of the bodies, the shorter of the two, had a perfectly preserved coiffed hairstyle that appeared to be moulded into place with an ancient form of hair-gel. Archaeologists believe the man may have been using his hairstyle to compensate for his distinct lack of height.
Quite clearly, the metrosexual man is not a modern phenomenon.
History tells us that it is perfectly natural for both men and women to spend time perfecting their appearances. Humans are, in general, pretty vain creatures. So why then, has such a stigma developed around men and their beauty regimes? Even now men are only just beginning to accept the fact that it's ok to care about their appearances.
Experts blame the war. When soldiers returned home after WWII to find their wives running the country - and running it very well at that, they suddenly felt a desperate urge to claim back the dominance they'd been bought up to believe was inherent. The whole purpose of their being - to protect, to provide, to conquer - had been completely undermined by the realisation that women could do it all too. So the men felt forced to get back to their hunter-gatherer roots and reclaim their 'rightful place' in society while the women went back to domestic duties.
Beauty as a distraction
After the war, women did relinquish their jobs and go back domestic duties...at least for a while. It was during this time that the female beauty industry really took off, especially in affluent America.
The new legion of bored housewives were happy enough at first to look after the children while their husbands went to work, due to the fact that they had a whole host of new cosmetics and pampering treatments to experiment with. With the rise of Hollywood came a renewed desire to look glamorous. The sense of purpose lost when they gave up their wartime jobs was replaced by a desire to emulate the beautiful, preened stars of the silver screen.
With men trying their hardest to be nothing at all like women, all things cosmetic suddenly became completely off limits for about four decades. Men back then needed nothing but a razor-blade, a bar of carbolic soap and a good scrub of boot polish to face the world.
Then second-wave feminism hit, and the seed of liberation sewn during WWII finally began to blossom. Women missed the feeling of purpose and power that came with having a job. Before long, more and more of them began to cast away what they considered to be the symbols of their oppression - their bras, their razors, and their make-up, before disco-dancing their way into the swinging 60s and 70s, where young adults of both sexes finally found common ground in their mutual fight against 'the establishment'.
With political agendas breaking boundaries left right and centre, female and male fashions began to merge. The punk movement, with the piercings, dip-dyed mohicans, face make-up and leather studded apparel, produced a generation of kids who were refreshingly out-spoken and androgynous; a fresh, passionate generation who were unknowingly setting the foundations for a far more liberal 21st century society.
The dip-dye and nose studs have, for the most part, been left behind - but the radical way of thinking can still be recognised in the comparatively liberal environment we live in today. Of course, stereotypes and gender differences still exist, but there's no disputing the fact that the 'modern man' is finally comfortable enough with his own identity to come out from behind the over-masculinised mask worn in the 20th century (unless, of course, that mask is made of French clay and has exfoliating properties).
Male grooming facts and stats
In just two or three decades, the male grooming industry has gone from not really existing (a dusty shelf at the back of the chemist doesn't count) to becoming one of the fastest growing beauty sectors in the world. Now we have male-only grooming salons, specially formulated male spa treatments, perfumes for men and whole supermarket aisles dedicated to male grooming products. In other words, it's big business. And why? Because statistics show that we're now spending more time than ever taking care of our appearances. Check out the following:
Time spent grooming4
- The average man has an 81-minute-long grooming ritual. This includes cleansing, toning, moisturising, shaving, hair-styling and choosing clothes.
- The average man takes six minutes longer to get ready than the average women.
- The average man spends 23 minutes in the shower every day.
- Men spend 18 minutes shaving - women spend 14 (even though they have more areas to shave).
Thoughts on having a grooming ritual1
- 92% of men in their 20s agree personal appearance is important to them.
- 75% of men believe maintaining a well-groomed appearance is a sign of self-respect.
- Over half of men in their 20s say they keep a tight grooming ritual so they'll be taken seriously in their jobs.
- Younger men are more likely to associate grooming with the likelihood of having sex.
- Two thirds of men find their grooming rituals enjoyable. Men from China and India seem to enjoy it most, with less than 1 in 5 regarding it as a chore.
Thoughts on looking preened1
- 90% of young men would like to look good without looking like they've tried too hard.
- 80% think it's wrong for men to spend longer getting ready than women.
- 73% do not want to look so preened that they stand out.
- 47% of German men believe they stand a better chance in life if they look good.
- Men's Health editor Brian Boye believes men want to look youthful because they're afraid of falling behind at work - technology moves so fast and there's always the assumption that only the 'young and hip' can keep up.
- 63% of men think maintaining a good-looking body is more important than maintaining a good-looking face.
Money spent grooming5
- The average man will spend £75,030 on his appearance over the course of his lifetime.
- Men spend more money looking after their bodies than they do their face, at £220 per face per year and £534 per body per year.
- Men spend £180 a year having their hair cut.
Popular male grooming products6
- Two thirds of men regularly use shampoo, body-spray, shower-gel and perfume.
- 40% of men use some kind of skin-care product.
- 50% say they use hand-cream.
- 42% admit to using moisturiser.
- One third have tried using lip-balm.
- 23% use hairspray.
Drawing the line6
- 61% of men say they will never use wax strips.
- 66% will never use fake tan.
- 60% will never permanently dye their hair.
- 45% refuse to use anti-ageing cream.
What women want7
- 71% of women prefer men to trim their back hair and 33% would prefer a full-on shave.
- 83% of women wish men would remove more hair from their buttocks.
- Over half of casually dating or divorced women think chest hair should be trimmed, although 42% would be turned off if a man shaved all their chest hair.
- 60% of women think there should be some sort of hair maintenance going on in the groin area.
- 52% of men said they would consider shaving if their partner wanted them to.
- 21% of women said they would never bring the topic of hair maintenance up with their partner in case it hurt their feelings.
Male grooming treatments
There are hundreds of male grooming treatments out there designed to help us cultivate that capable, clean-cut, healthy look vital for advancement in life and the workplace. However, going to a salon for the first time, whether unisex or male-only, can be a daunting experience for anyone. Although it can be hard to fight the urge to approach in the dead of night with a paper-bag on your head, it's far easier to simply accept the fact that you want to look good - whether it's for your career prospects, your general well-being, or for that significant other - it pays to be open-minded if you're going to look good at the end of it.
Here are some of the most popular male grooming treatments explained:
The facial is a great option for those who want to ease themselves into the salon or spa experience; all you're required to do is lie down on the plinth and close your eyes. No nakedness, no full-body contact and absolutely no pain.
What does it involve?
Your facial will involve a combination of gentle massage and the application of a specially tailored product to your face. There are different facials to help with problems such as:
- oily, congested skin
- dull skin
- dry, flaky skin
- broken capillaries
- lines and wrinkles
- enlarged pores
- lack of skin elasticity
- uneven skin tone and texture
- irritation caused by shaving and preventing ingrown hairs
- stress and tension.
How much will a male facial cost?
Treatment costs vary according to the location and reputation of the salon, as well as the kind of facial you choose. Luxury ingredients will cost more, but you can expect to pay on average between £20 and £40.
Find out more at our facial page.
Male manicure and pedicure
Don't worry, this does not involve having acrylic overlays, gemstones and brightly coloured varnish applied to your nails. Male manicures and pedicures are simply designed to give a naturally neat and healthy look to the hands and feet. Treatments usually involve a cleansing soak, a gentle massage, a good rough exfoliating scrub to get rid of hard skin, nice-smelling moisturiser to soften and hydrate the skin and nails, and finally a neat clip.
Manicures and pedicures are recommended for the following:
Men with physical jobs - e.g. construction workers, soldiers, policemen etc. - people who use their hands a lot are more likely to develop callouses, rough skin and thick nails. Having a manicure and pedicure every once in while will make sure your hands and feet stay in top shape and ensure you make a good impression wherever you go.
Find out more about manicures and pedicures.
Some men want the flawless, sculpted and totally hairless look most male models and celebrities showcase, others just want a general tidy-up. Whatever your hair removal needs, waxing is a great-looking, long-lasting and effective option. Benefits of male waxing include:
- no stubble from regrowth
- heightened appearance of muscle definition
- improves visibility for tattoos and piercings
- pubic hair waxing is thought to enhance sexual pleasure
- can help athletes become more streamlined
- can increase body-confidence
- creates a smooth, sculpted look.
And the question everyone wants to know - will it hurt?
To be completely honest - yes, it probably will. Pulling hairs straight out of their follicles is always going to hurt, especially en-mass. However, your beauty professional will always prepare your skin in advanced to minimise the pain as much as possible. Some male grooming salons even offer a measure of whiskey before the treatment. If you think back to when alcohol was the only anaesthetic available for full-on surgery, no more than a few hundred years ago, a few seconds of stinging shouldn't seem so bad!
View our page on waxing to learn more.
Male fake tanning
Hear the word 'fake tanning' and most men will make a run for it. The oiled, bronzed, plastic look isn't everyone's cup of tea. Mention the phrases 'pasty skin' and 'English summer', however, and perhaps those men will reconsider.
More and more health-conscious men are shunning the unhealthy, ageing effects of UV rays for the natural, modest look of a spray tan. There's no doubt about it, a spray tan has its benefits:
- gives skin a healthy-looking sheen
- hides blemishes like spots, red patches and freckles
- makes teeth and eye-whites (and white shirts) look even whiter
- has a slimming effect
- avoids the ageing and cancerous effects of a real tan.
The great thing about the spray tan is that you can control the depth and prominence of your colour. If you want to look like an extra from TOWIE, you can choose a deeper, darker shade. If you just want to create the illusion you've stepped off the jet from your weekend get-away in Florence, you can simply opt for a lighter shade.
Remember- not all fake tans leave you looking orange and unnatural.
Visit our tanning page to find out more.
Male spa treatments
Spas are great for relaxing, unwinding and taking a much-needed break from the stresses and strains of every-day life. Whether you have a fast-paced career, a gruelling work-out regime or a tough personal life, a trip to a spa could help you feel happier and healthier.
Although once they were seen as the sole domain of wealthy, Pekinese-carrying women, now spas are open to people from all walks of life - whether young, old, male or female.
The average spa day will involve lounging beside the pool in a big fluffy robe, snacking on healthy or indulgent treats, enjoying the sauna, Jacuzzi and steam-room fascilities and going for the odd private treatment, whether that be a massage, a body-wrap or a manicure and pedicure.
Popular spa treatments for men include:
- Sports massage - the purpose of a sports massage is to ease any knots, aches and pains from muscles to boost athletic performance and reduce feelings of fatigue.
- Mud wraps - mud wraps are designed to relieve stress and tension in the muscles and soothe the skin.
- Scalp massages - designed to ease tension in the head - perfect for easing the stress of a fast-paced job.
Find out more at our Body Treatments page.
1'Through the Looking Glass: The Cultural Contexts of Male Grooming Today'
2Guardian, 'Rise of Stay-At-Home Fathers Study'
3Market Research World, 'Glowing Growth For European Mens Grooming Market'
4Telegraph, 'Men Spend More Time Getting Ready Than Women'
5Daily Mail, 'Women Spend £133,000 On Face, Hair and Body'
6Marketing Week, 'Interest Rate In Male Beauty Brands Rises'
7PR Newswire, 'Women Want Men To Do More Body Hair Grooming'