Mirror mirror on the wall, who's the fairest man of all?
Is it he of towering height who walks tall?
Or he of sun-kissed skin to make all eyes stall?
He of burly brawn to make the bravest bawl?
It is he who heeds Beauty's call
Who can make any mortal fall?
The ability to make any mortal 'fall' (in love that is, or even in lust) has long been sought after. However, doing this through beautification of the body was previously seen as the domain of females in the West. Men were thought to command attention by other attributes: wealth, power, and knowledge. While good looks and physical beauty may have featured somewhere lower down on this list, they certainly were not seen as the most sought-after, desirable or even necessary traits for men. This is not to say that history has been completely indifferent to beautiful men; the male form and male beautification has certainly commanded great attention (take ancient Greece's obsession with muscular definition or Louis XIV's elaborate dress style for instance). However, the social capital gained from male beauty was generally less than the social capital gained from other sources of male power, such as intelligence, brute force, athletic ability, wealth or political influence.
In the West, this started to change when Mark Simpson introduced the term 'metrosexual' in the 1990s. While the metrosexual has been declared officially extinct by its originator (or at least, the metrosexual has 'evolved'), this concept captivated collective consciousness soon after it was first coined. It was not that there were no words used to describe men who paid attention to their appearance previously - take the word 'dandy' for instance - it is that the term metrosexual made a very explicit reference to the male in pursuit of beauty and somewhat preoccupied with his physical appearance. While the term dandy encompassed a lifestyle and was open to varied interpretations, the term metrosexual referred to a very specific man who sought to organize his world around the pursuit of a perfect appearance. Being metrosexual had nothing to do with sexuality per se; both straight and gay men could claim this status. However, it did have a fair amount to do with being sexual as it was the primary means through which men could increase their sexual appeal. Through perfect grooming and a resplendent wardrobe, these men could immediately improve their appeal; it was time for men to fully embrace the ability to use any and all tools at their disposal to improve upon their outward veneer, as women had been doing for centuries.
Suddenly the ways in which men could beautify their bodies became important. Beyond the traditional domains of shaving and haircuts, men began to branch out into nail care, skin care, tanning and procedures such as laser hair removal. As Naomi Wolf predicted when she first wrote the Beauty Myth in 1991, men have become increasingly preoccupied with their physical appearance, and ways in which to maintain a more youthful exterior. The advent of the metrosexual male meant that not only did men have to think more about their appearance, but they had to spend more too. And this did not necessarily just pertain to celebrities - men everywhere had a new ideal to live up to. Along with this pre-occupation with looking good also comes a desire to halt the ageing process. Ageing is no longer merely a cause for concern for women: increasingly men have to keep up with younger (or at least, younger-looking) men in various industries. Ideals of attractiveness are closely linked to youth in our Instagram-filtered reality and maintaining the illusion of youth is becoming increasingly important.
While this is nothing new for women who have sought out anti-ageing creams, cosmetic procedures and other ways to halt the ageing process for decades, it is relatively unexamined territory for many men. When it comes to anti-ageing techniques, it's not that men don't do it, merely that they don't talk about it. My interest in this topic started a journey of exploration into what exists out there for men, especially the tricks that would remain hidden up a man's sleeve when in a business meeting or when having after-work drinks. Beyond the procedures that we know men typically get done (such as hair implants), I wanted to delve more deeply into what is available for men, what they commonly request and what ageing concerns bother them the most.
I chatted to Shannon Leeman, anti-aging consultant extraordinaire, about popular surgical options for men. Shannon has clients from around the globe: not only A-list celebrities but also tycoons of industry and males who need to maintain youthful appearances in order to compete with younger counterparts. About 30-35% of her clients are males and many of them are straight. Thus, the stereotype that gay men are more concerned with aesthetic appeal than straight men is clearly unfounded when it comes down to seeking out help with looks. After chatting to Leeman, it is clear that males are increasingly as concerned with their looks as females, regardless of whether or not they are constantly in the public eye. 'Just because you're not on screen, doesn't mean that you don't look in the mirror,' Leeman explained. 'For men, the most common concerns fall into 4 main categories: hair, jawlines, eyes and waistlines.' These are the areas that typically reveal signs of decline in men. 'As a man, you either wrinkle or you melt,' Leeman elaborated upon 'melting' by explaining that men tend to lose definition in areas such as their jawlines and thus seek out surgical techniques that can restore shapely or 'cut glass' jaws. Men also show concern over 'moobs' (male boobs) as they age and this is another area where surgical intervention is frequently sought. Leeman acts as the bridge between those seeking out anti-aging procedures and attaining the best possible results through a calculated and seamless process of locating the best specialist, fast-tacking appointments, pre-operative preparations and post-operative care.
However, Leeman also offers words of caution: 'It can be difficult to do surgery on men and you have to be much more careful. The effects can be much more pronounced and the resulting effect can feminise a man's looks if it is too extreme.' Thus, less is definitely more when it comes to surgical interventions for men. She also mentions that she occasionally has clients who believe that surgery will fix issues that it cannot fix. These are deeper, psychological issues that no amount of physical perfection could ever remedy. These men tend to become obsessive about anti-aging procedures and are seeking the Holy Grail that leads from physical perfection to overall wellbeing and satisfaction. However, no such miracle procedure exists and Leeman takes a realistic perspective on what surgery can achieve and what it simply cannot. 'If a client does not know what they want to get done, then it is usually best to get nothing done until they are sure about what is bothering them.'
Amongst surgeons, an acronym that is used to describe males who tend to become somewhat obsessive and seek out unrealistic results is SIMON: single, immature, male, over-expectant and narcissistic. Ultimately, Leeman is there to ensure that clients are aware of what the best possible options are and to advise against getting unnecessary procedures done, having unrealistic expectations, or to forego safety concerns in the quest for aesthetic beauty. And she is clear about what the process will entail; one of her catchphrases is pain + price = payoff. Thus, a client needs to be prepared to spend the right amount and be realistic about the discomfort and downtime involved to get the best possible results.
With more men than ever before delving into the world of aesthetics and cosmetic surgery, the old adages remain as true as ever: there are certain things surgery can't fix and less is definitely more.