Back in 2008, I had a thoroughly enjoyable stint as male columnist for U Magazine. After this article was originally published, in April 2008, I was charmed to receive a large box of male grooming products from Nivea For Men. I have just rediscovered the ‘Thank You’ mail I intended to send them but failed to. So, if the lovely person who was kind enough to send that along is reading this – thank you very much indeed. Of course, I still have some of it left, which means I probably haven’t read the instructions about frequency of use…
Do you want to know how thick-skinned I am? I’m pretending I’ve been on the receiving end of a backhanded compliment instead of taking umbrage at bearing the brunt of a woman’s generalisation – it would just have been nicer if the backhand hadn’t been wielding a baseball bat at the time. During a break from work, I was casually complaining to a female colleague about the nuisance of having to shave regularly when she launched into an immediate, and all-too well-prepared, tirade. “It’s not fair,” she screeched. I backed away immediately, closer to the coffee machine. “You men have much thicker skin than us! You bastards never age, even shaving keeps you younger. And don’t even think about complaining when you get older, I mean, how come men are always ‘rugged’ and ‘distinguished’ when women are called ‘haggard’ and ‘grey’? I hate you all.”
Rather than quitting while she was ahead, her rant moved on to the curse and inherent unfairness of menstruation, but by then my cappuccino was ready and I legged it. She was right, though, we do have thicker skin, and it really is unfair that women have to suffer periods, thin skin, premature ageing and, even worse, the longevity to endure the whole miserable process for way longer than us chaps do.
I know how important perceptions of youth and beauty are to women; your ageing process has a ten year start on ours, it obviously induces some degree of panic and paranoia among you. You see, I’ve seen the contents of this particular angry woman’s handbag – she carries around more beauty products than my local Avon rep. Lugging around that amount of stuff on a daily basis would age anyone, I get backache even thinking about it. If that’s her portable set, her work-day maintenance kit, you can only imagine what a vast range she keeps at home. There’s me whingeing about having to use a razor every day or so, when her whole life must revolve around what’s tantamount to facial reconstruction and deconstruction. All that cleansing, toning, moisturising, makeup – I often wonder if she’d be better off with a set of coloured pencils and an eraser.
Manufacturers and advertisers have been taking advantage of women’s beauty obsession for decades, sometimes with the most preposterous claims imaginable. They used to panic you into believing your skin would crumble like an autumnal leaf if you didn’t smother it in lanolin, now they try to convince you that Andie MacDowell is somehow older than she looks. Well she isn’t, and whoever believes that is as mad as the spaced-out, bleached-out middle-aged woman in that ad for some miraculous product I can’t recall – you know, the one where she’s stumbling and guffawing around her furniture-free house in a black dress yelling, “I’m 55!” at the camera, as if we’ll all gasp in admiration and disbelief. Well we don’t, of course you’re 55, you look every second of it, Mrs – you may well have “reduced the appearance of wrinkles”, but once that bright light’s off you, they’ll still be very evident to everyone else.
It begs the question, what is beauty – is it something you have or something you do? The term ‘beauty products’ is somewhat euphemistic and, for many, blindly optimistic; in tandem with the manufacturers’ claims, it suggests that it’s effectively an elaborate illusion, a multi-part magic wand that will work as many wonders for the plainer woman’s self-esteem as beer goggles will for her sex life. Shouldn’t it be enough that they induce a feeling of cleanliness and well-being? Isn’t “reducing the appearance of wrinkles” just the application of that old sci-fi device, “willing suspension of disbelief”?
From a man’s point of view, it’s wonderful that women care so much about their appearance but the whole routine is robbing us of precious time with you – particularly at the latter end of the day. All that attention to the scrupulous cleanliness of every pore, face masks, facial scrubs, eye creams, eye gels, anti-ageing creams, plump-up serums, and all those luxury Molton Brown products that sound like they’re named after Bob Geldof’s children – no wonder it’s almost morning before you get to bed. And even when you do, you might smell lovely but you’re cold, shiny and slimy from all that lathering – it’s like lying beside a fragrant, flannelette slug.
And the effect it has on the dynamic of our shared bathroom is devastating; the more “improved” products that appear on the market, the more new stuff appears in our homes and gets piled on unfinished tubs and tubes. Even the most organised woman has overflow toiletry bags stuffed into spare corners of the room, all bursting at the zip with new or used potions – and let’s not even describe your masochistic range of mediaeval hair-removal implements. Plucking, scraping and shaping the relentlessness of hair regrowth is obviously a full-time job for many of you. As I say, we men doff our metaphorical hats at your dogged determination to snatch beauty from the jaws of oncoming ogrishness.
But there’s a habitual arrogance to this. You have all this space for your products (the cupboard above the sink, the floor under the sink, the windowsill, the shower, all around the bath) and we’re expected to make do with a mug, into we’re expected to fit our entire beauty regime – basically, a toothbrush, a razor and maybe a dog-eared sachet of Nivea for Men that fell out of a magazine.
Well girls, the revolution is here. If they haven’t begun already, your men are about to start scrubbing themselves to a whisker of their former selves, as cosmetics firms chase our precious Euro in the way that tailors have done for years. In a sense, this is what you’ve been demanding of us – unless you’re the sort of woman who finds dishevelled human shrubberies like Glen Hansard attractive. No more will men think that leaving the house looking like a torn-out fireplace is acceptable; nostrils and ears will become fluff-free zones; that awful dry-frosting on the faces of the unmoisturised will become a thing of the past; and there won’t be that aromatic, lingering fragrance of Denim, lager and KFC family bucket any longer. But don’t think this means we’re going soft.
Yes, girls, it’s time for bigger or, better still, separate bathrooms, please. We now need space for our new, revolutionary range of “male grooming” products (such a masculine name for beauty products, isn’t it? Comes complete with a handy horse-association too): mood-enhancing shower gels and bubble baths; some phallic implements to sandpaper away years of skin-neglect; pre-shave scrubs and post-shave balms to help search for the hero inside ourselves; finally, we’ll swathe our bronzed torsos in lashings of musky, hormonal gloop which have you all rushing out of your fluffy dressing gowns the second we appear in the boudoir with a mighty “Shazam!”
Oh, and don’t forget to say, “ooh, is that firming cream on your moobs, or are you just pleased to see me?” before you embrace us with a moist, romantic squelch.