Metrosexuals

The term metrosexual, which was first coined by British cultural critic Mark Simpson  in a 1994  article  for the  Independent and  in a 2002  discussion of the  English soccer  star David  Beckham written for www.salon.com, burst onto the American scene  with  three  specific  developments in  2003:  the  publication of a New York Times article  titled  “Metrosexuals Come  Out” on  June  22, 2003;  the  airing  of a VH1 documentary called Totally Gay in which  metrosexuality was identified as an emerging trend; and  the  premiere, on  July 15, 2003,  of Bravo Television’s smash hit  Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. All three  of these  events  elevated  the  status of this supposedly new version  of American masculinity and prompted a national obsession with men’s skin care and the general  state of early-21st-century American manhood.

Defining the Metrosexual

The  metrosexual is most  commonly understood to  be  the  consummate male consumer:  narcissistic, preoccupied  with  physical   appearances, and  obsessed with urban culture. The  creation, in part, of capitalist producers of men’s  clothing,  skincare, and  hair  products; savvy hairstylists; and  the  media,  the  metrosexual is frequently characterized as the embodiment of a new form of feminized masculinity; a man thought to enjoy the pleasures of both female and male attention.  The  pleasure-seeking and  fashion-obsessed metrosexual’s  desire  to  show off and  be admired is also seen,  by some,  as a subversion of the traditional masculine  gaze; a reversal  of the  historical male  prerogative to travel freely through urban spaces  in pursuit of the visual and sensual stimulation derived  from viewing women, as objects of desire,  in public  places. While  the  general  assumption is that  the metrosexual is, in fact, a heterosexual who has embraced the aesthetic and  consumerist  sensibilities of  gay men,  this  definition tends—according to some  critics  who  see the  metrosexual as being  gay, straight, or bisexual—to be rather limiting.

Precedents Of The 18th And 19th Centuries

While   the  term   metrosexual is  a  recent invention, the  idea  of  the  fashionconscious  and   appearance-obsessed  young   man   possesses  a  much  longer history  in  Anglo-American  history.  In  mid-18th-century  England, the  term macaroni was used  to  describe men  whose  interests in  extravagant powdered wigs, continental fashions and  mannerisms, and  elaborate forms  of dress  were thought to exceed  the bounds of propriety. Similarly,  the word dandy  also came to  be used  to  describe middle-class men  like George  Bryan  “Beau”  Brummell (1778–1840) who,  in the  late 18th  and  early 19th  centuries, aped  the  mannerisms  and  styles  of  the  upper classes  in  Europe (most  notably in  Britain  and France)  and  were  known for their  fastidiousness of dress  and  their  obsession with appearance. These trends, which  had  their  American counterparts, continued  throughout the  19th  century and  culminated in the  aesthetic movement, reflected  most  notably in the artistic  poses  and  sartorial styles of people  like the poet  and  playwright Oscar  Wilde in Britain  and  the photographer Fred Holland Day, the  architect Standford White, and  even Mark  Twain  in the  United States. These men,  especially  when  they  visited  the  western territories of the  United States,  might  be  negatively  labeled  as dudes, a term  of ridicule usually  applied to men  who were criticized  for their  overly fussy forms  of dress,  speech, and,  in some  cases, gestures.

Precedents Of The 20th Century

The  precursors to the modern metrosexual are equally varied in the 20th  century. By the  1920s  and  1930s,  the  appearance-conscious  fashionable man  could  be found in several  distinctive places.  The  bachelor, who  was a prominent feature of the  urban landscape by the  early 20th  century, took  special  pride  in his  appearance, as did the  gangster and  the  Chicano and African American zoot suiter in the  1930s  and  1940s.  The  image-conscious man  also entered popular culture through literary  characters like F. Scott  Fitzgerald’s  Gatsby  and  advertisements, especially  for products directed at fashionable men,  such  as Arrow  shirts. In the more  immediate past, authors like Charles Hix (a stylist and journalist who wrote for Gentlemen’s Quarterly [GQ] and  Playboy) set, in his 1978  book  Looking Good, an  impeccably outfitted stage  for the  modern metrosexual. Focusing on  a masculine  beauty  regimen that  included features on  shaving, moisturizing, hair  and beard  care, and  genital  odor, Hix helped to establish, with this  book,  the  current fixation  with  masculine attractiveness, a trend he furthered with  the  publication of Dressing Right (1979) and Working Out (1983). The current metrosexual emerged out  of the  commodification and  marketing of this  new  masculine ideal, a trend that  culminated in the publication, in 2003,  of Michael Flocker’s  The Metrosexual Guide to Style: A Handbook for the Modern Man.

Reactions

The  metrosexual’s rise has not,  however, been  viewed in an entirely  unproblematic  manner. Almost  as  soon  as  the  concept was  popularized in  2003,  attacks from a variety of different sectors emerged. Most  critiques, generated by men  and women alike, focused on the problems associated with the feminizing tendencies of the metrosexual. One  female contributor to the online ESPN  magazine Page 2, for  example,  expressed open  reservations about the  “icky dude  who’s  in  touch with his feminine side” and called for a “resurgence of masculinity.” Reservations about the  metrosexual also  appeared in  a variety  of popular cultural forms  in the  years after 2003,  including the  animated television series  South Park; marketing campaigns for Burger  King and  Old Spice aftershave; and  films like Talladega Nights (2006). In all instances, the message was clear: reject metrosexuality (and by implication the feminine) for an essentialized version  of a true  man,  identified by some  as a retrosexual. This  reactionary figure—identified as a man  who is aggressively and virulently heterosexual, sports-obsessed, macho, and ultimately unconcerned with fashion, refined manners, or beauty  regimens—points to just some of the ways in which  the emergence of the metrosexual has forged yet another crisis of masculinity in modern American society.

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