Beauty is the beast

By Michael Leung

Dr. Jim Romano is a cosmetic surgeon based in San Francisco. Aside from the usual array of corrective surgeries for women, Dr. Romano also offers cosmetic surgeries for men–services like “male nipple reductions” or “chest enhancements.”

"In the two years alone between 1997 and 1999, the number of men undergoing liposuction alone rose an incredible 82 per cent," says Romano’s Web site. "Need I say more about the growing popularity of male cosmetic surgery?"

It appears not. His business, like the rest of the male beauty business, is booming. According to the 2000 novel The Adonis Complex: The Secret Crisis of Male Body Obsession, American men spent $2 billion on commercial gym memberships in 2000, $3.5 billion on toiletries (hair dye, moisturizers etc.) in 1997 and had 54,106 liposuctions in 1996, among other cosmetic surgeries.

It’s no secret: Men are more concerned about their appearance than ever before. Fed by images of muscle-ridden meatheads in popular culture, most men now subscribe to the "bigger is better" mentality.

University of Calgary Faculty of Communication and Culture professor Dr. Rebecca Sullivan, whose research focuses on gender and popular culture, agrees that more modern men fret about their hairlines, bodies and appearance.

"Take a look around you," she says. "Male cosmetics lines are everywhere. Men’s magazines that promote relationships, fitness and beauty regimes do great on the newsstands. I think we have a more open-minded concept of masculinity now."

According to the Adonis Complex authors, most men now strive to have toned, muscular bodies–ideals portrayed to them even at a very young age.

"Indeed, we remember one toy dealer who told us a story, perhaps apocryphal, about Mark Hamill," the book reads. Hamill played the well-known character of Luke Skywalker. "Upon picking up the 1995 plastic rendition of himself, Hamill is said to have exclaimed, ‘Good God, they’ve put me on steroids!’"

Indeed they did. A photograph in the book shows how the 1978 Star Wars figures actually resembled the bodies of Hamill and Harrison Ford, where as the 1995 versions had broad shoulders, ripped thighs, and arms that could rival a wookie’s. Much like the well-known disproportionate Barbie dolls, toys for boys now portray a more ripped male.

Judging by these trends, the ideal man now has perfectly cut arms, washboard abs and more definition than is humanly possible. Worse yet, men think they can achieve this if they work hard enough.

However, the authors demonstrate the level of "fitness" portrayed in health magazines is impossible without chemical assistance–namely, steroids. Statistics in the book indicate men are nearly as dissatisfied with their bodies as women. Sullivan believes this should not be mistaken for a sick form of gender equality.

"We can say that all these ‘positive’ trends are really masquerading moves by the beauty industry to target new and highly lucrative markets," she cautions. "All the tactics used to make women feel like they have to always be working on their appearance in order to feel good about themselves are now being used on men. I don’t know if I’d really call that progress."

Cosmetic industries now see a market previously unexplored–surgeons like Dr. Romano and companies like Clinique have whole new realms to profit from. Mounting evidence demonstrates this results in more males suffering from body image disorders–while some men share certain disorders like bulimia with women, the majority of men are more apt to perceive themselves as inadequately tiny. This perception in normal-sized men is a disorder commonly called muscle dysmorphia.

Men now visit the extremes of beauty that women have suffered with for years. Sullivan’s belief that the middle is better for everyone is an appropriate way to understand these issues.

"The politically correct thing to say is that everyone should be released from this tyranny of beauty, with all it’s demands," she says. "But let’s be realistic. I like good-looking men who pay attention to their health, hygiene and their fashion. And I like taking care of myself so that I feel attractive and powerful. It’s about striking a balance. There’s a lot of fun in playing the beauty game. You just need to stay in control and not let beauty or fashion rule you to the point where it actually endangers your health."

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