This section discusses the (group) interviews I conducted with two men who identified as heterosexual (Matt and Daniel) and two men who identified as gay (Shaun and James) and the themes that emerged from these interviews. Firstly, the men’s individual attitudes towards grooming products and the wider beauty industry are explored. Related to this, the various techniques - such as using humour and the different ways of ‘belittling’12 products/product use - employed by the men to distance themselves from being perceived as too invested in grooming are discussed. Following this, it is important to consider the pervasiveness of meta-comments the men offered in relation to the beauty and advertising industries as these may also constitute a form of distancing.
“I Like to Take Care of My Appearance”
In contrast to the opening statement at the start of this chapter, some of the men I interviewed showed some - or even an avid - interest in grooming products and/or practices. Both Matt and James were very willing to talk about the (multitude of) grooming products they use. When James was asked to list the products he uses, for example, he indicated he uses “everything”, and provided a list of the products he applies per body part. Matt was also not shy about disclosing that he “[dabbles] in a bit of grooming”, as he makes use of tanning-, shaving-, waxing-, and hair products in addition to beard oil, aftershave, moisturiser, and concealer (although he did indicate that the last time he bought a concealer was eight years ago). Unlike Matt and James, Shaun did not use many grooming products - “just shampoo, some clay for my hair, hair spray as well, toothpaste, mouthwash” - as he proclaimed to be “too lazy”. What is more, Shaun actually expressed disliking certain grooming products as they are “sticky” and take too long to dry. Like Shaun, Daniel struggled to think of any grooming products he uses, initially coming up with just razor blades. As the interview progressed, however, Daniel disclosed using various other products such as aftershave and concealer.
In addition to using grooming products, two of the participants showed some interest in undergoing a cosmetic/reconstructive procedure. Upon seeing an advert for laser eye surgery14 in the stimulus materials, Matt, for example, stated how this “would probably interest [him] at some point”. However, he was very keen to emphasise that it would be a functional rather than an aesthetic decision, explaining that he would no longer “have to faff around with spending money on glasses and contact lenses” and noting he cannot wear lenses “that much ‘cause you get dry eyes”. This justification in terms of functionality reflects Adams’ (2009: 118) finding that newspaper reports on body modification practices rationalise and/or justify procedures when discussing men. In fact, Matt actually condemned some of the cosmetic procedures that were advertised in the men’s lifestyle magazines; when he saw an advert for a male breast reduction procedure, for example, he laughed and commented “or you could go to the gym”. Moreover, although Matt stated that he is “quite into [his] grooming”, he claimed he “would never get any surgery”, making a clear distinction between grooming products and cosmetic surgery. During the interview Matt contrasted “putting on a product”, which “enhances a little bit”, and surgical cosmetic procedures that “physically permanently [alter] the skin” and therefore are “not natural”.
In addition to Matt, Daniel stated he had contemplated undergoing a rhinoplasty “not to improve [his look]”, but because he believes his nose was left “completely skewwhiff” after he was attacked by a taxi driver whilst travelling in Latin America. Echoing Atkinson’s (2008: 75) study of male cosmetic surgery patient narratives, Daniel viewed undergoing a cosmetic procedure as a way to restore nature and to “fade into the crowd as a ‘regular guy’ moreover, he expressed he did not want his attacker to define the way he looks now. When I asked him whether he was still considering a rhinoplasty, Daniel mentioned he is “still in two minds... I haven’t got any immediate plans but it’s certainly something I was considering a year ago quite seriously and I did, I got in touch with a number of surgeons and places”.
“Ob Funny Ha Ha” - Humour as Symbolic Resource
Echoing what has been discussed earlier, joking and laughter were prevalent in the (group) interviews with men. As discussed by Robinson (2009: 264) in her analysis of low-income mothers who smoke, laughter and humour can be a symbolic resource, “employed by people to help them cope with and possibly resolve potentially ‘difficult’ social situations”. Moreover, laughter and humour may have an “enabling function”, providing participants with a way to engage with serious, taboo, or unfamiliar topics (cf. Browne 2016; Chappie & Ziebland 2004), such as the male grooming market (cf. Coupland 2007: 37).
As in Elliott and Elliot’s (2005) focus groups related to images of the male body in advertising, laughter appears to play an important role in the discussions of the grooming products the male participants use. Both Shaun and Daniel seem to use laughter to signal their uncomfortableness with the topic as they indicated they never talk to anyone about the grooming products they use:
I. Shaun: hmm see I’ve never tried [talking about grooming] ‘cause [laughs] it’s not something that naturally comes up in conversation I have anyway.
II. Daniel: [it’s] not something I would openly talk about. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it to anyone apart from you just now quite like [laughs].
James’ account of his grooming routine is also frequently interrupted by laughter; however, whereas this laughter may be a sign of uneasiness around the topic, it needs to be noted that perhaps the presence of Shaun - who indicated he is not particularly interested in grooming and sniggered at James’ list of products - probably had an effect on how James talked about the products he uses.
Although Shaun indicated he has little interest in grooming, his reaction to advertising for hair restoration procedures was striking. As I know Shaun personally, I know that hair loss bothers him; however, he was keen to distance himself from the target audience of these adverts, noting how an advert for hairline pigmentation procedures “obviously plays on a fear that I think a lot of men have when they start losing hair” (my emphases). Moreover, when I asked Shaun whether the adverts appealed to him, he laughed as he pointed out that he himself is “still at the early stages of hair loss”.
Like Shaun in his reaction to the adverts for hair loss procedures, the other male participants used a lot of humour when presented with some of the stimulus materials. Although this may have been related to a sense of unease or unfamiliarity, the old-fashioned look of some of the adverts may also explain the men’s reaction to a certain extent. Especially some of the models used in adverts for cosmetic procedures elicited some snickers; in the advert for Advanced Hair Studio, for example, Graham Gooch’s 1980s look was ridiculed and described as “[looking] like a typical paedo guy”.
Based on the above observations, and in line with previous literature, humour and laughter appear to have an enabling function in the discussion around male grooming, a topic that some of the men did not feel very comfortable with. Moreover, I would argue that by ‘laughing it off’, the participants were able to indicate some distance between themselves and the beauty/grooming industry. The next section will explore some of the other techniques that the men used to indicate they were not (overly) interested in their appearance and/or grooming.