“Just a Normal Hydrating Sort of Moisturiser Stuff”

Although all men indicated they use (some) grooming products, they use various techniques to indicate that they are not overly involved or interested in their appearance or the grooming market; moreover, Shaun in particular emphasised several times that he did not feel too familiar with grooming or the beauty market, stating that he “[doesn’t] know enough to be eloquent about it”. Even Matt, who indicated he is comfortable being labelled as having a keen interest in grooming, sometimes employs these techniques.

Firstly, all of the men use vague words such as ‘stuff’ and/or ‘thing’ to refer to the grooming product and/or practice they are describing, which may indicate that they are not entirely familiar or comfortable with the vocabulary associated with the beauty market. In addition to this, (the use of) the product is often ‘belittled’ in various ways - Matt, for example, states that he “dabbles in a bit of grooming”, uses “a bit of beard oil”, and does “a bit of tanning once in a while” (my emphases). The phrase ‘once in a while’ is also significant here as several participants emphasised the infrequency of product use or occasional involvement in the grooming market. Having been teased for looking as if he was wearing mascara, Daniel, after indicating that he sometimes wears concealer17, for example, hastened to add that he does not consider concealer to be “a grooming product as much as just a common piece of makeup that I very occasionally wear”. It is noteworthy that Daniel appears to think that using ‘a common piece of makeup’ may be more acceptable for men than using a grooming product, particularly as the word ‘makeup’ is more closely associated with feminine beauty practices. Lastly, it is important to note that both Daniel and Matt, despite considering undergoing a cosmetic procedure, emphasised that they have “no immediate plans” (Daniel), but rather that this may interest them “at some point” (Matt).

A final way in which the men appeared to create distance between themselves and the grooming market was through the use of metacomments about the industry and advertising in general. Shaun and Daniel in particular - who both indicated they did not feel entirely comfortable and/or suitable to discuss the topic - tended to provide a commentary of the mechanisms underlying the adverts that they were shown. In an assessment of a Wellman advert (Gay Times May 2016: 135), Shaun, for example, argues that the advert “needs an epi- well not an epitaph it needs a description ‘cause otherwise you wouldn’t recognise it”. Moreover, Daniel refers several times to corporations as “profit- maximising” and references various works on advertising and the media, such as Herman and Chomsky’s (1988) Manufacturing Consent. Perhaps knowing rhe academic background and aim of the researcher elicited these meta-comments from both the male and female participants.

A possible reason for the men asserting distance from the grooming market could be that they perceived the beauty market, and cosmetic procedures in particular, to be “emasculating” (Shaun), as belonging to the feminine - or gay - realm. Matt, for example, pointed out that “I wouldn’t think ... a huge amount of men going for cosmetic surgery. I would think it’s much more women but maybe they do, I’m just not aware of it”. The gay connotations of the grooming market pose significant issues for beauty brands targeting (heterosexual) men. In their analysis of idealised male body images in advertising, Elliott and Elliott (2005: 10), for example, found that “almost all the male respondents expressed dislike or aversion towards adverts they perceived as being ‘too feminine’, ‘not manly enough’ or ‘gay’ ”.

Although not expressing dislike or aversion, when Matt discussed working out in the gym, he was keen to note that “you’ll look at other guys in a non-gav wav and go wow they’re quite a good shape” (my emphasis). When I asked Matt what he meant by a ‘non-gay way’ he became uncomfortable, laughed, and explained, “well ‘cause, ‘cause, ‘cause whenever you say well oh I’m looking at guys that that has I suppose gay connotations but so that I can appreciate I can look at guys and appreciate oh wow he’s got a good body”. In the group interview with James and Shaun - who are both gay - James actually commented on the special status of the gym as a site where straight men can look at male bodies, noting that “there’s this saying of like straight guys appreciate straight bodies only in the context of a gym because that’s straight and outside of the gym it becomes gay”. Moreover, James also pointed out that the men’s magazines seem to have “a very homoerotic thing going on”, indicating that he would expect this in the Gay Times but for FHM he “thought it’s kind of like odd”.

“Eight Quid for a Little Squeezy Bottle”

In line with the male values and interests posited by the beauty brands, some of the male focus group participants expressed an interest in the price of grooming products and/or services. Matt, for example, remarked that moisturisers are “bloody expensive” and Daniel, rather less forcefully, commented that razors “are quite expensive”. Moreover, in his discussion of considering rhinoplasty, Daniel explained that

in the UK it’s really expensive you can, there’s other places like Lithuania, Latvia uh the Czech Republic [where] you can get it done [for] a lot um a lot less money [pause] but then it’s still a reasonable expense, you’re looking at two or three thousand pounds.

In addition to the topic of pricing, ease and simplicity were also highlighted as being important factors in the selection and application of grooming products. James, for example, praised the idea of having specific areas for men in health and beauty shops, as these areas are “really neat [pause] they put everything in one shelf and label it as men’s [whereas] all the female products they’re in different shelves everywhere”.

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