Who am I? That is the question for today’s men. Lost, castrated, isolated, they have seen the collapse of two thousand years’ worth of their special preserve: financial and professional power, legal superiority and familial diktats. Since then, he’s been looking for an identity for himself, trying to reinvent himself and evolve. And that is what the publicists, trendwatchers and other elements of the cosmetics industry have understood quite well.
The metrosexual, a specimen that will be quite widespread among us antipodes, has been immortalised by David Beckham, who is known around the world for his streaked and blow-dried hir and his hyped-up look, even down to his cleats. Aside from getting down at society parties, apparently - or so the newspapers say - the man also plays football.
The metrosexual is above all an urbane sort, who puts himself about as fully heterosexual even as he claims his share of femininity and his taste for the aesthetic. He takes great care of his body, doesn’t venture out without having spent at least an hour in the bathroom, and wouldn’t dream of rejoining Morpheus without having put on his Verbena night cream.
There’s another archetype that’s been invented by an American publicist in reaction to the invasion of the foregoing type: the übersexual, often represented by American actor George Clooney, can be told apart from metrosexual by his more virile appearance. Masculine without being macho, he frequently sports three days growth and the blasé look of the adventurer, and comes across as sure of himelf but not pretentious — in short, a man who’s 'beyond male,' and who loves life and what it has to offer.
As for the retrosexual - well, that’s a man who’s said to be 'mature' (read '45 to 60') - and who puts his age about without getting a complex, cultivates a classic elegance, impresses with his natural charisma in company, and knows how to use the experience life has given him. His incarnation among the people? The greying Buddhist and fellow American actor Richard Gere.
The labelling market
For those who want to shine while out of an evening, how about the 'po-mo-sexual', aka the 'omnisexual' - a pale variant of the metrosexual who gaily practices all forms of sexuality. The labelling wave is really in, and the those in communications just love to pigeonhole life’s fashions. Here are some other examples: the hetero-queer modelled on French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier; rather androgynous men who hang out in gay circles but love women. They are not to be confused with malesbians - men who love women but who also feel like women themselves - or with 'heteroflexibles,' men who are often married or are family guys (and delighted to be), but who from time to time allow themselves a little homosexual adventure.
The appearance of these well-packaged rowdies has turned out to be a godsend for the cosmetics and perfume companies who have pounced on the occasion, and by dint of huge ad campaigns have put about the attractive image of the man who 'takes care of himself' to peddle their wares. The sector is in full swing, and in 2005 the French spent almost 800 million euros on anti-wrinkle creams, or padding. Worldwide, this market probably accounts for ten billion euros. In 2007, one-third of men living in industrialised countries use dermatological-cosmetic products, as against 4% in 1990.
If the men’s magazines, a real growth sector, what with magazines like Playboy, GQ, and Men’s Health choc full of advice on hair removal, tanning, and dieting, there’s not a lot left to help the poor neo-modern fellow find his place. What’s become of Marlboro Man? 'Turned into a poodle,' answers Nicolas Riou, author of Why My Homey’s That Way. What to do? Play the hard man and let your sensitivities show.
Eric Zemmour, a French political journalist for Le Figaro, is behind a pamphlet against feminist ideology called The First Sex. He has it that 'a man has another role in the family than changing diapers,' and that he shouldn’t take part in household jobs because that turns him into 'just another child,' under the yoke of an 'all-powerful mother.' Other experts in psychology, in couples’ relationships, and in gardening, advise men to let their 'vulnerability, their soft side, and their feelings' show, in order to get past the crisis and become once again a 'friend of the woman.'
Still, that general 'discomfort' is apparently already having health consequences. Thus, studies in the UK on depression show that it seems the traditional imbalance between men and women is being flipped on its head. So do we now have poor creatures who need protecting as a matter of urgency?