Whatever happened to the Cheeto-stained cavemen proudly wandering the streets with hair poking from their monster truck T-shirts? When did the male archetype turn from chugging beer and talking hardware to sipping Zima and perusing the latest Maxim at the spa? Not that redneck clichés equal masculinity, but trends point to men becoming more and more like women—at least when it comes to grooming.
Most guys I know are hard-pressed to brush their teeth and slap on Speed Stick in the morning let alone wake up hours before work to steam, exfoliate, buff and tweeze. But big screen examples have been setting a different trend—the kind that has men referring to the Queer Eye crew like they wrote the book on style (oh wait, they did). I can appreciate a man who cares about his appearance, but if he has more styling products than I do, there's a problem. I realize beautification methods are as relative as beauty itself, but where do you draw the line between conscientious and extreme, handsome and plastic?
Answering this question involved some delicate planning. How could I approach the subject without making grand, unfounded statements about what it means to be a man? I have never been one and though I know quite a few, I don't presume to understand the inner-workings of the male psyche. I do know that in general, cultural stereotypes and sexual insecurities make it hard for average guys to feel OK about doing "girly stuff." This includes just about everything beyond the aforementioned toothpaste/deodorant routine, though many men are discovering that grooming can be as fun and empowering as it is attractive—even waxing.
Waxing, or "manscaping" as it has been so glibly called in recent months, seems to be one of the most controversial, metrosexual habits. Unwanted hair on backs, necks, arms, ears, noses and what-have-you can now be eradicated at home or preferably, by a trained aesthetician. But how many men (or women for that matter) are lining up to expose their furry selves to the potential pain and embarrassment of a full-on wax? According to Darcy Robens, the receptionist at Napoleon's (a downtown day spa that caters almost exclusively to men), not very many—at least not yet. She explained that while the regular clientele has continued to grow since their August opening last year, most men draw the line at massage and a shave.
"We have a couple guys who get their backs waxed regularly and a few who do the whole shebang, but it's mostly men whose wives gave them gift certificates that come in just to try it out," Robens said. Sometimes they come back, sometimes they don't, but she insisted that the growing popularity of the metrosexual look has contributed to greater curiosity and fewer issues about experimenting.
Mary-Ann Gillis, owner and master massage therapist/aesthetician of the Seventh Direction Therapeutic Day Spa agrees that both men and women are to blame for all the superficial hoopla. "We have to ask ourselves what sorts of messages we're sending them," she said. "We want them to be a little bit of everything, and they have celebrity examples like Brad Pitt who can dress up really nice or grow a beard and still look hot—how does a regular man compete with that?" For some, competing with Pitt's greased, Spartan Bo-hunk look means going in for regular waxing sessions. Mary-Ann has a few such male patrons but admitted that most of them are body builders or tolerant husbands who have agreed to do a favor for their wives. "Bodybuilders do it because a hairless body shows definition better, but average guys come in to have their backs waxed because their wives want them to. There's a lot of homophobia, but they soon realize that there are no pink robes," Gillis laughed. "I try to make the experience as enjoyable as possible, but men don't tolerate pain well. They should prepare much like the do for the dentist—Tylenol or wine."
Hearing it from the experts is one thing, but what better way to understand male waxing than the testimony of a manscaping survivor? Using my connections in the local spa network, I called up a massage therapist and self-proclaimed amateur waxer named Rachel. Two weeks ago, she talked her husband into letting her wax his upper body. The results were unsurprising.
"He was too embarrassed to come into the spa, so I took everything home. It took me about an hour and a half just to do his shoulders. I wanted to do the rest of his back, but it took so long that he was getting nauseous," she giggled. According to her, the physical result was "nice and smooth" aside from slight bleeding and skin irritation. According to him, the look was indeed nice and smooth but didn't quite justify the pain and hassle.
"I don't know how she talked me into it. It wasn't all that bad really, but after an hour it got a little old. I was glad that the hair was gone, but it wasn't worth it," he said. Despite being the "only idiot" among his friends to have tried waxing, he doesn't see it as an excessive or overly feminine part of upkeep. "If a guy's all that worried about it, it's no different than a girl going in to get waxed. I probably wouldn't sign myself up again unless I had some fatal disease and wanted to do it before I died," he said.
Fatal diseases aside, more and more men are venturing into the once forbidden world of manicured style. When you think about it, being waxed is as normal as trimming nose hair or lifting weights. It's all part of proactive self-betterment, and if it makes you feel good and look good, it must be good. As Gillis says: "If you're doing it for yourself, you're going to feel better about yourself."