January 26th, 2011
Men and women share a deceptively similar relationship to fashion, however men usually attempt to distance themselves from fashion in due to its gendered connotations. Men feign disinterest in fashion to avoid the superficial, silly stereotype. They select sober dress as “a sign of duty, discipline and devotion” (Arnold 114) often connected to activities like the workplace. Tailored suits with sharp lines read as powerful and competent, hence the female adoption of business wear in comparison to softer traditional feminine silhouettes. In actuality, men cultivate their appearance just as decidedly and obsessively as women and abide by even stricter etiquette.
Body image for men seems to rotate between robust musculature and gaunt spareness. Just as Barbie’s outlandish proportions have distorted little girls’ perceptions of beauty, GI Joe provides an unattainable portrait of virility for young boys and encourages muscle dysmorphia, or “the conviction that one is too small.” GI Joe represents the macho “ripped mega muscular warrior” (Dickinson 162) prototype to the extreme. In reality, GI Joe would boast 27-inch biceps most likely accomplished only through steroid use (Dickinson 162). Furthermore, publications like Men’s Health and GQ have labored to sell products or give self-improvement tips much like women’s magazines do. They create the illusion that they can offer the “ultimate alpha male package” (Cottle 175) to attract females and accumulate image success for a fee. Most “men never suspect that…they share women’s insecurities” (Cottle 177) even though cosmetic procedures, supposedly inside the female realm, have steadily increased for males. In 2009, 308,000 men received Botox and 66,000 obtained nose reshaping (American Society of Plastic Surgeons). Generally, men prefer minimally-invasive procedures, such as laser hair removal and chemical peels, to surgery but the numbers have increased about 10 percent since 2000 (“Marketing Cosmetic Procedures for Men”). On the other side of body image perfection, though, men suffer from eating disorders.
Eating disorders, like fashion, have long been considered women’s territory (Goode). Consequently, men are much less vocal than women about their anxieties (Dickinson 162). Pope et al. , in The Adonis Complex, contemplate how the prevalence of eating disorders has risen as a result of shifting body standards as the current trend prefers a leaner physique (129). Or, perhaps men have simply become more outspoken or doctors more aware of the mutual gendered issue. Grant, for instance, mentioned in The Adonis Complex, adhered to a strict gummy bear diet where he ate whatever he wished for breakfast and then gummy bears for the remainder of the day. He lost over thirty pounds and weighed 158 pounds at 6 feet tall (Pope et al.127). Steve another case, dieted down to 89 pounds at 5 feet 6 inches at age seventeen because he felt fat (Pope et al. 133). Then at age eighteen he began weightlifting and became so entranced with getting larger that he took steroids and eventually weighed 189 pounds (Pope et al 133). The National Runner’s Survey on Dieting and Eating found that 21 percent of 2,640 men were “terrified of gaining weight often, usually or always” (Pope et al. 134). And recently, male models have quit bulking up in favor of slimmer measurements. Now designers search for “long necks, pencil thighs, narrow shoulders and chests no more than 35.5 inches in circumference” (Trebay). Ironically, while the public has started to appreciate curvier female figures like Crystal Renn and Christina Hendricks, men have become downright bony instead.
In a sense, women have more freedom in regards to dress. Women have finally claimed male garments for business and casual wear, but men can’t borrow female garments (Hegland 181). For example, in 1995, a London man was prohibited from wearing a skirt to his job by the Hackney Council because it too directly challenged the status quo (Arnold 117). Men who select womanly attire receive abuse motivated from a fear that questions their sexuality and virility. This video ad from 2009 insists that skirts will become fashionable for men and idealistically champions modern society as open-minded and credits historical styles like the Roman toga and Asian sarong. Yet, thought the skirt is “adapted to the masculine body” (France 24 Fashion) it features shorts underneath. This design markets hidden shorts by asserting its inherent practicality and lures reluctant customers with safety and familiarity of the shorts. Truly, this is more of a hybrid skirt, or skort, rather than an actual skirt. The popularity of the male skirt feels dubious. One man questioned calls the male skirts “cool and trendy” (France 24 Fashion) but when asked if he’d wear one, he immediately responds, “No, I’m a man” (France 24 Fashion). With such firm gender standards it’s hard to imagine the average male population donning skirts and dresses any time soon. Gender differentiations attract and perpetuate eroticized images. Masculinity relies on unvarying formalities since it embodies law, order and control within society and any deviations from the norm create “great unease” (Arnold 111) for the dominant culture. Women generate images of authority when they ape men whereas men degrade themselves by dressing as women, which further proves the negativity associated to femininity. As Jane E. Hegland points out in “Drag Queens, Transvestites, Transsexuals: Stepping across the Accepted Boundaries of Gender”, we possess an instinctual approach to gender even without a “direct knowledge of a person’s genital sex, we know what a woman or man is supposed to look like.” (180-1) thanks to our ironclad delineations.
Our patriarchal society judges the sartorially inclined male as a threat to moral power, and flamboyant groups like the Macaronis and the Incroyables risk exposing masculinity as a purely imaginary concept (Arnold 112). Dandies especially infuriated prudent bourgeoisie with their “inconspicuous consumption” (Arnold 112) and “sexually ambiguous status” (Arnold 112). Regardless of their tastefully immaculate outfits, their dedicated infatuation to fashion above all elicited concern and suspicion. Moreover, undistinguished Dandies could surpass class borders and fit in amicably with aristocrats due to their simple, pristine wardrobe. Later, in the twentieth century, the emergence of glam rock superstars decked out in glittery makeup and the New Romantics love of frills and pirate get-ups have toed the boundaries between appropriate gendered wear. Following in the footsteps of the dandy, the contemporary metrosexual has refined a new breed of men unabashedly concerned with appearance but of indeterminate sexuality. Metrosexuals, as defined by Warren St. John, are “straight urban men willing, even eager, to embrace their feminine sides” (“Metrosexuals Come Out”). They make easy targets for men’s publications due to their adoration of “$40 face cream…and custom-tailored shirts” (St John) and they wear pink and go shopping with women because they enjoy effeminate, aesthetic pursuits and feel secure in their sexuality. In 2003, Bravo capitalized off the growing vibrancy of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy where five gay men educated clueless straight men in the art of style without sacrificing their masculinity. However, the metrosexual is a figure bound to large cities, and men predominantly stay shackled to conservative apparel.
Furthermore, power wives and celebrity cougars have locked their sites on an accessory better than a Birkin: the trophy husband. The day of the trophy wife hasn’t yet gone by, but more and more, high profile women are marrying pretty boy partners. Demi Moore picked Ashton Kutcher, a former male model fifteen years her junior and Victoria Beckham found the ultimate metrosexual in David Beckham, a star footballer known for painting his fingernails pink. Even Brad Pitt and Kurt Cobain arguably qualify; Angelina Jolie and Courtney Love pursued them for their sex appeal and success to straighten out their own bad girl reputations. Gender equality is approaching, but not in an idealistic, egalitarian sense with the erasure of distinctions or disposal of physical imperfection woes. Tension and obsession over appearance is steadily developing men, just like women. Thanks to overwhelming media pressure, “guys are no longer pumping up and primping simply to get babes, but because…it’s something everyone expects them to do (Cottle 177)” by nature and not by option. In our current culture, men are “becoming hysterical over the first signs of crows feet” (Cottle 177) just as women are over those last five pounds. Everybody, women and men, care about appearance, but fashion isn’t easy on anybody.
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Cottle, Michelle. “Turning Boys into Girls.” The Meaning of Dress. Ed. Mary Lynn Damhorst, Kimberly A. Miller-Spillman, Susan O. Michelman. New York: Fairchild Publications, Inc, 2005. 173-8.
Dickinson, Amy. “Measuring Up.” The Meaning of Dress. Ed. Mary Lynn Damhorst, Kimberly A. Miller-Spillman, Susan O. Michelman. New York: Fairchild Publications, Inc, 2005. 162.
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