Negotiating Masculinities in the Beauty Market

Forget about men - they don’t know what’s going on.

Echoing discussions of masculinities in the first chapter, Tony Gedge, business consultant at Marketing Pirates of Dentistry, articulated the above statement as he asserted that all marketing efforts by cosmetic surgical providers should be aimed at women. However, as Barber (2016: ix) has noted, it would be “a mistake to think of men as nonparticipants in the beauty industry”, particularly in light of widespread consumer capitalism and changes in demography, economics, and ideology (Edwards 1997).

This chapter builds on discussions of masculinities in previous chapters as it explores how the beauty/grooming market for men addresses both heterosexual and gay male audiences, through advertising and features in men’s and women’s lifestyle magazines (see Sections 8.1-8.3 and 8.5). Central to this analysis is a consideration of the (stereotypical) male values and activities - e.g. sports, violence, and practicality - that are employed by advertisers to market their products and services. Complementing the analysis of the magazine data, a detailed discussion of the (group) interviews with my male participants is provided in Section 8.4.

‘Because Men and Women Will Always Be Different

Although male beautification practices have a long and significant history (cf. Holliday & Cairnie 2007), “more recent social memory ties beauty to women’s culture and to the feminization of bodies” (Barber 2016: 2). This association between beauty products and women poses a problem for brands attempting to market beauty/grooming2 products for men. As several authors have mentioned, the beauty industry is finding it “difficult to find the right tone” to address men (Taylor 2005: 41) and must “reassure [men] that by using skincare and other toiletries they are not relinquishing their masculinity” (Tambe 2003: 1). In light of this, then, it is hardly surprising that beauty brands marketing to men are “striving after more ‘securely’ masculine imagery” (MacKinnon 2003: 97) and highlight (stereotypically) masculine values and interests (Griffiths 2006: 59). One of these defining characteristics of (heterosexual) masculinity is to avoid and undermine anything that can be seen as (stereotypically) feminine (Benwell &C Stokoe 2006: 190).

One way that grooming brands have emphasised the masculine nature of the brand and/or product advertised is by literally ‘masculinising’ or ‘maling’ their name or logo by including the word ‘man’ or ‘men’ (cf. Coupland 2007: 57). Nivea for Men, for example appeals to “men who dare to care” and Clinique provides “skin supplies for men”. Moreover, L’Oreal not only rebranded itself as L’Oreal Men Expert but also temporarily adapted its well-known slogan to “you’re worth it too” in an attempt to include men into its marketing embrace (as seen across the FHM 2006 issues).

An advert for The Bluebeards Revenge (as found in the January 2015 issue of FHM) also rejects the feminine connotations of grooming products, claiming it is “the ultimate shaving experience for real men. Not for girls!” Reinforcing this verbal message, the advert includes an image reminiscent of a stop sign which depicts a halting hand alongside a (highly sexualised) female form. Like the print campaign, the TV advert also draws on heterosexual sex appeal as it includes two scantily clad young women (see Figure 8.2) shaving a guy’s face after he’s shown jabbing a punching bag (see Figure 8.1). The setting of a (boxing) gym is significant here as it illustrates one of the most common themes - i.e. sports and fighting - that is implemented by beauty brands to appeal to men, as will be discussed in the next section.

Interestingly, in one of the group interviews, James ridiculed the explicit marketing to men as he remarked how a woman’s product apparently is “not strong enough to handle your hair demands or whatever [pause] and obviously [male products] come with like powerful symbols like there’ll be some lightning or whatever shit to suggest it’s stronger”.

Still from The Bluebeards Revenge Train Hard Shave Easy (0:28)

Figure 8.1 Still from The Bluebeards Revenge Train Hard Shave Easy (0:28).

Still from The Bluebeards Revenge Train Hard Shave Easy (0:49)

Figure 8.2 Still from The Bluebeards Revenge Train Hard Shave Easy (0:49).

Male Values and Activities - Sports

The sports theme is used extensively in the grooming adverts in the men’s magazines. Whereas only 1% (N=4) of the beauty adverts in the women’s magazines refer to sports, nearly a third of those in FHM (31%, N=11) and 50% (N=11) of those in the Gay Times include a reference to the theme. However, instead of portraying the action generally associated with particular sports, the references are predominantly passive; several brands, for example, advertise that they sponsor particular sporting events or clubs - the Gillette 2006 campaign highlighted that the brand was the “official sponsor of the 2006 FIFA World Cup” and sports nutrition retailer My Protein emphasised being the “official sports nutrition supplier” to Southampton FC, London Irish RFC, and the Northampton Saints (FHM February 2010: 127).

A different way to incorporate the sports theme in adverts is through the inclusion of sportspeople as models for a brand. Supplement brand Wellman, for example, includes various sports heroes, such as swimming world champion Mark Foster and “England’s No.l wicket taker of all time” James Anderson (who is symbolically holding a cricket ball). Although it may be less surprising for a supplement brand to include sportspeople, Wellwoman - the female equivalent of Wellman - features model and TV presenter Tess Daley. So, even though Vitabiotics, the company behind both Wellman and Wellwoman, promotes both products “to help maintain health & vitality”, the brand uses ambassadors from different sectors. This focus on a particular type of celebrity is mirrored in the rest of the advertising data: sportspeople are only endorsers in the men’s magazines whereas advertising in the women’s magazines relied on actresses or celebrity models.

Interestingly, sportspeople were not only used in grooming adverts; 8% [N=3) of the adverts for cosmetic procedures in FHM referred to and depicted sportspeople to promote providers’ services. An advert for The Harley Medical Group, for instance, includes a picture of Glen, a “former Professional Boxing Champion”, who underwent “corrective nose surgery”. Moreover, the medical provider’s description for nose and ear reshaping procedures highlights how these surgeries are “common in correcting sports injuries”.

As mentioned above, 1% (N=4) of the beauty adverts in the women’s magazines refer to the sports theme. Similarly to the depictions of sports and sportspeople in the men’s magazines, the four adverts in the women’s magazines portrayed sports passively. The only suggestion of an actual workout in a woman’s magazine can be found in an advert for Slendertone (as discussed in Chapter 5), even though it is important to note that it is the model’s shadow doing the workout rather than the woman herself. Unlike the adverts in the men’s magazines, which include a variety of sports, such as football, surfing, cricket, and swimming, there is little diversity in the sports that are shown in the adverts in the women’s magazines; Slendertone shows sit-ups and both Nivea and Bourjois refer to ‘stretching’ - however, as there are only four adverts in the women’s magazines referring to sports, this lack of diversity is not surprising. In addition to the different nature of the activities, neither of the references in Cosmo and Marie Claire appear to take sports very seriously; the Bourjois advert for the Coup de Theatre mascara, for example, shows a black and white cartoon of a woman3 who claims to be “in the middle of a rigorous workout”. However, unlike what may be expected from a ‘rigorous workout’, the woman is depicted as lounging in a ball chair whilst she is applying makeup. The copy of the advert clarifies that it is the mascara that is involved in the workout as it is a “revolutionary stretching program for eyelashes”.

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