Do We Really Want Men To Feel As Bad About Themselves As We (Sometimes) Do?

A little part of me fills up with glee when I see the increase in male grooming products. Then I think "OH NO MEN! Not you too! We can't BOTH be the physically insecure sex."
Publish date:
December 28, 2012
ageing, daniel craig, male grooming, growing old

It is a running joke (though not funny ha ha) that women buy women's magazines in order to feel bad about themselves, looking at clothes they can't afford draped on models and actresses they don't (and won't ever) look like, reading the never-tired diet plans (New Year, New You article anybody?) and coveting beautiful trinkets to decorate the flat they don't own.

Ok fine, it could be argued that these magazines are intended to be aspirational. If you don't want to feel like a flop, don't buy them. Sorted.

Hey, why don't you take your fat ass down to the cinema instead with all that magazine money you saved? That way you can watch beautiful young actress after beautiful young actress falling over herself trying to attract a man twice her age and (let's be really shallow here, for argument's sake) not half as good looking as she.

Because in Hollywood that's a woman's lot, work hard to look beautiful, stay young and get what you're given. Provided you say please first.

BUT! Times they are a-changing and in the name of progress (ie: capitalism) men have been forced to ask: 'Can people see my pores from here?,' or 'Do I look tired?' or worst of all, 'Does my skin need... recharging?'

Those man shelves at the chemist's have started to fill with pots of rehydrator (never moisturiser), facial scuffs (never facial scrubs) and soothing balms for after shaving. You know what the really sad thing about that is? If men's grooming is going to be all about soothing then the biggest joke in Home Alone is going to be lost on the next generation. LOST.

A little part of me fills up with glee when I see the increase in male grooming products - I find the whole thing a weensy bit schadenfreudelicious. I can't wait until some bigwig finally comes up with a marketing scheme for male hygiene products and I can watch awkwardly acted TV adverts for ManFresh spray.

But, 'cos my mind is intricate and all that, I am able to simultaneously think “OH NO MEN! Not you too! We can't BOTH be the physically insecure sex.”

Because I look forward to a time when the only person who has any autonomy over your body is you. That might include moisturiser (or REHYDRATORIZERS) it might not. But no one should think they owe the world something visually because of a constant onslaught of images of What Looks Officially Good.

At 71 writer Richard Cohen at The Washington Post has enjoyed many a decade comfortable in the widely-shared view that all men age like a fine wine. Then he went to see the latest James Bond film Skyfall and it made him feel bad.

“Craig is 44, but neither gravity nor age has done its evil work on him. Nothing about him looks natural, relaxed - a man in the prime of his life and enjoying it. Instead, I see a man chasing youth on a treadmill...”

YEAH, stupid treadmill, stupid youth, stupid incredibly buff Bond actor. This is incredibly similar to those snarky opinion pieces in women's magazines, criticising the obvious Botox an actress has had, how strained and skinny she looks in her latest film, you wouldn't want to meet HER for drinks blablabla.

However, instead of noting this is something women have put up with throughout the entire history of film, Cohen notes Skyfall “says something about our culture that, in the autumn of my years, I do not like.”

It makes Cohen yearn for the days of old when leading men were... old. Specifically Cary Grant who, at 55, was the devastatingly handsome lead in North by Northwest where he “represented the triumph of the sexual meritocracy - a sex appeal won by experience and savoir-faire, not delts and pecs and other such things that any kid can have” Oh to suffer a cruel world that judges you harshly on your lack of pec.

Oh guys, remember that time when “Gary Cooper in High Noon wins Grace Kelly by strength of character, not muscles. He was about 50, and Kelly was a mere 23.” Crazy days...

My first response to this piece was HAH! Welcome to lady world! Where leading ladies baulk at the idea of anyone finding out they are over 25, as do their critics and therefore so do I. Where female character development remains an afterthought in most films and I don't even want to talk about the Bechdel test.

But really, I don't want us all to be unhappy. When I talk about equality I don't mean I want us all to be equally miserable. What direction are we going in if, instead of freeing people from image and age politics, we're watching more people be ensnared by it?

I would like Cohen to conclude with a hearty YOLO and announce he shan't be on the treadmill any time soon. I would like for when people realise they're not seeing people like them on screen or in the media to demand change. Not change in yourself or your image but the images we see everywhere.