Male vanity on the rise

Vanity has traditionally been considered a female failing, but guess who's primping in front of the mirror now? And they are spending billions to look better.

Teenage boys and men are no longer ashamed to admit to having their eyebrows waxed and swap beauty secrets about what works best to shape, tone and smooth.

Male vanity is flourishing. And with it, the industry to feed and nurture vanity's many manifestations.

The men's grooming product market is growing with top cosmetic houses producing men's ranges to cleanse, tone and moisturise. Nail salons also report that more men are coming in for manicures.

It wasn't that long ago that all a guy needed was a decent job and a little cleaning up to satisfy the basic requirements of masculine self-esteem. Now there are gyms full of men sweating furiously pausing only to check the mirrors or gaze at the washboard abs and defined deltoids of magazine models.

And when the gym cannot do it, more and more men are turning to plastic surgeons for cosmetic detailing. 

  • In a 1997 Psychology Today study of 550 men, 43 percent said they were dissatisfied with their overall physical appearance - a threefold increase from 1970. Sixty-three percent hated their stomachs and 45 percent were unhappy with their muscle tone.

What's causing this new concern among men? Part of it may be our youth-obsessed culture. But author Lynn Luciano also thinks men feel they must look younger to succeed in their careers and in love. "A lot of the male-vanity revolution is not about impressing or pleasing women, but about impressing men, competing with them," she says.

This obsession with appearance has a dark side. Many high school boys turn to steroids to change their appearance. And some men get so obsessed with building muscles and sculpting their bodies that they develop a disorder similar to anorexia, called bigorexia or muscle dysmorphia.

Muscle dysmorphia is a kind of reverse anorexia. Symptoms include a need to exercise every day, shame about body image and, often, anxiety and depression. Men with MD will habitually go on holiday only where there is a gym, or transport weights with them; limit sex to conserve energy for workouts; check themselves in the mirror obsessively; and decline to wear shorts because they think their legs are too scrawny.

Many men with MD obsess about their diets, and apportion their food for the day into plastic baggies or carry scales to weigh food.

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