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Awareness of and Scepticism Towards Beauty Market
In addition to the use of male values and activities to advertise and discuss male grooming products, features in men’s magazines are keenly aware of the beauty market and at times discuss it explicitly. One of the themes that recurs across articles on grooming products and services is an exploration of how the market has changed to incorporate both men and women. In an article on luxury haircuts (FHM October 2010: 95), for example, author Ahmed Zambarakji comments that, “while superluxe creams were once squarely aimed at women, it seems that men are starting to spend big bucks on small pleasures”. This sentiment is echoed in several articles in the Gay Times, which observe that spa treatments are no longer just “the preserve of ladies who lunch” (June 2006: 110; October 2006: 98). What is more, one of these articles offers an analysis of how beauty brands are targeting men, noting how Champneys Flealth Spa has “muted down [its rooms], colourwise, and filled [them] with the kind of gadgets we boys are supposed to love (like DVD players) and toiletries that won’t make us smell like a rose petal” (Copestake, in Gay Times June 2006: 110).
Interestingly, the Gay Times includes an analysis of the gay male grooming - and cosmetic surgery - industry in particular, noting that “gay men are one of the biggest consumers of cosmetic surgery in Britain” (broad corpus, March 2010: 64). To explain the difference between homo- and heterosexual men, reasons of a greater disposable income and the gay lifestyle are cited. For a further discussion of homo- and heterosexual masculinities in relation to the beauty and cosmetic surgery market, see Section 8.5.
As with the editorials discussed in Chapter 4, the features on the beauty market in the men’s magazines often include various sceptical - if not ironic - comments. An article on grooming products for men in FHM, for example, ridicules Shu Uemura’s Depsea Therapy as it is described as “Japanese seawater scooped up from a ‘special’ area where the mineral is untouched by pollution, UV rays and bacteria, and then sold to you, the slightly gullible consumer” (February 2006: 141). Moreover, magniloquent marketing speak is also mocked; for example, a small article on a Burberry fragrance (FHM October 2006: 187) states, “the ad speak would say: ‘A spicy start, with hints of cinnamon and black pepper giving way to base notes of tobacco and leather’. Smells great, say us”.
Despite the use of irony and humour, various articles in the men’s magazines have a more serious undertone, particularly those concerned with masculinity and (body) insecurities men may experience.
Insecurities and What It Means to Be a Man
As discussed in Chapter 5, advertisers - particularly those marketing products and services related to hair loss in the Gay Times - may construct consumers as lacking in confidence because of an appearance-based ‘issue’. The discussion of male insecurities extends to the editorial content in the men’s magazines, particularly those aimed at gay men.
The two gay male magazines included in the broad corpus - i.e. Attitude and the Gay Times - both published a ‘body issue’ which aimed to address (body) insecurities amongst gay men. Moreover, to get an insight into the insecurities their readers struggle with, the two magazines distributed surveys amongst their respective readerships. The May 2015 issue of the Gay Times presents the quantitative results of the magazine’s survey and includes various ‘experts’ - from a self-proclaimed cosmetic surgery addict and Big Brother semi-finalist to a GP - who interpret the statistics and “help squelch any hang-ups you might have, or help you feel better about any you’ve had in the past” (Butcher, in Gay Times May 2015: 47). In addition to the survey report, several other articles related to particular body issues and practices are included in the May 2015 publication; Edward Dyson, for instance, writes about the popularity of tattoos amongst gay men and John Marrs highlights the “bald truth” about hair loss. Moreover, Marrs also published an article on penis enlargement products and procedures. Considering that this article appeared in the magazine’s ‘body issue’, which emphasises body confidence and ways to overcome negative body image, the overall positive and approving tone that is adopted when discussing penis procedures may be somewhat surprising. Although the article mentions several of the risks of undergoing a penoplasty - e.g. infection, bleeding, and blood clots - these are often immediately undermined; Dr Roberto, for example, emphasises that complications occur “in less than 1% of patients and drain and heal spontaneously” (May 2015: 56). Moreover, the article ends on a positive, stating that “for those who’ve had the operation, they have no regrets” (ibid). Although non-surgical alternatives to penoplasty-such as tablets and lotions, vacuum pumps, penis extenders, and ‘jelqing’11 - are included in the article, they are all said to have a minimal or no effect, constituting penoplasty as the only feasible option. Lastly, the pictures of half-naked, muscular models accompanying the article are interesting to consider, particularly in light of some of the survey results - e.g. “59% [of the respondents] say that [gay and bisexual men] feel under pressure from adonises in adverts with chiselled abs to look the same” (ibid: 51) - presented only five pages previously.
As mentioned above, Attitude also used a body survey as the starting point for their body issue, which was published in March 2017. As part of the survey, men were asked questions such as how happy they were with their bodies and “to what extent [...] magazines affect the way [they] feel about [their bodies]” (March 2017: 9). Moreover, echoing the iove your body’ discourses in women’s lifestyle magazines, the March issue emphasised that “there are all sorts of body shapes and sizes and they can all be gorgeous and desirable” (Joannou, in Attitude 2017: 48).
Unlike the gay men’s lifestyle magazines, FHM seems more hesitant to explore issues of (embodied) masculinities. Of all the issues included in both the core and the broad corpus, only the April 2015 issue of the magazine discusses issues of self-confidence and what it means to be a man. In his opening letter, Editor Joe Barnes highlights the magazine’s contents and introduces various concerns regarding ‘how to be a man’ (broad corpus, April 2015: 3). However, even in this feature the tone is semi-serious as the subject matter is frequently undermined, particularly in the final sentence of each paragraph (indicated by underlining):
Being a man: it should be simple, right? Something that comes naturally to anyone with an X and Y chromosome combination. It is, of course, anything but simple. Life has a habit of throwing all manner of challenges at us, and the sands are constantly shifting under our feet with regards to how we should behave, dress, and ves. pay for meals on nervy first dates.
Luckily, I believe that right now being a guy’s not about posturing or loutish behaviour. The men we look up to are hard-working, compassionate, honest human beings. Some of them, like Vic and Bob (p.44) are also completely and utterly bonkers. Over the next 137 pages (not least in our How To Be a Man special), we’ll be showering you with nuggets of wisdom and advice that’ll help you become an even better bloke than you already are, and make you realise that you weren’t doing such a bad job in the first place. Or. at the very least, we’ll show you how to get whiter teeth.
Personally I loved Alastair Campbell’s guide to being successful (p.92). It’s the sort of stuff you kind of already know, but seeing it written down, hearing it from great people he’s met throughout his career, you’re reminded to stay focused and believe in your self [s/c].
Because if you don’t, who will? (Apart from your mum, bless her.
Have you rune her today?) Enjoy the issue.
In addition to the humorous tone in the text, the picture accompanying the editor’s letter - which shows the editor-in-chief jumping on top of a man’s back - also has a light-hearted, fun element to it, which is emphasised by the overlay text “how to be a man and grow old gracefully (kind of...)”. A different article on ‘how to be a man’ in the same issue of FHM also approaches different insecurities in a humorous way as it is written by comedian Chris Ramsey.
In the same way as the above feature in FHM, the male participants of the (group) interviews employed various strategies to undermine the seriousness and sensitivity of some of the topics discussed, as will become clear in the next sections.