“I believe in taking care of myself with a balanced diet and rigorous exercise routine. In the morning, if my face is a little puffy, I’ll put on an ice pack while doing stomach crunches. I can do 1000 now. After I remove the ice pack, I use a deep pore cleanser lotion. In the shower, I use a water-activated gel cleanser, then a honey almond body scrub, and, on the face, an exfoliating gel scrub. Then, I apply a herb-mint facial mask, which I leave on for 10 minutes while I prepare for the rest of my routine. I always use an after-shave lotion with little or no alcohol, because alcohol dries your face out and makes you look older. Then moisturiser, then an anti-aging eye balm followed by a final moisturising protective lotion.”
That was Christian Bale in the opening scene of the 1990s cult thriller American Psycho. Who can forget his compelling portrayal of the irresistible narcissist, Patrick Bateman, especially in the eerie opening scene, in which he talks into the camera, as he’s getting ready for another power-packed day on Wall Street. An hour later, buffed, coiffed and dapper, he steps out of his Manhattan studio, swinging his Bally manbag, and proceeds to slice a few human throats with the casual insouciance of a gourmand tucking into foie gras. Bateman is a man driven by perfection and luxury. He’s all about style and execution, pardon the pun. Curiously enough, a decade later, the ghost of Bateman has come back to haunt all womankind. He seems to be hovering around, smirking at us in the gym mirror every time we catch our better halves lingering lovingly over the curves in the reflection — pecs, hams and quads, their own of course. We can almost hear Bateman sniggering as we helplessly watch our hunks morphing into salon sluts, jumping in and out of capes, spas and wraps with reckless abandon. Yep, we’re a bit spooked, boys.
As much as I hate to blame his sublime ass for anything, it’s clearly David Beckham who started this slippery slide. A perfect specimen of manhood who lost his, umm, marbles somewhere between Manchester and Madrid, pulled on a hair band, waxed his chest and unleashed a chain of events across the world that has grievously endangered the survival of the XY chromosome. Particularly those scrumptious Y bits. After plunging mankind into a Dante-esque dilemma, he spends his retirement languishing by the poolside in Victoria’s sarong, looking posher than Posh ever has, while she kicks herself for having shared Victoria’s secret. Women share, that’s our thing. But had we known that you’d toss up your action figures for Ken dolls when you grew up, we’d have cheerfully sent that wily wretch Barbie to the gallows decades ago! Bad enough she battered our self-esteem with her impossible vital stats, now she’s sabotaging our men with her pretty boyfriend.
Look, this is obviously just a big misunderstanding. And misunderstandings happen between creatures from two different planets all the time, right? I mean, all we Venusians did was hint that we weren’t crazy about beer bellies, untrimmed nails and bodies that felt like sandpaper and smelt like desert camels. Translated into manspeak, this simply reads ‘crunches, nail clipper, moisturiser, deo’. Finito. How in the name of Kenneth Cole did this turn into an epic ritual of exfoliating, buffing, waxing, tweezing, pore-unclogging, face-masking, body-buttering madness?
Six packs are awesome. Six-in-one packs, painted on your face every weekend, err, not so awesome. Nike swooshes are cool on gym gear and firm rears, but when you replace your unibrow with two plucked little inverted swooshes… mojo-killer alert. Scars are sexy; they keep your story alive in our minds and hearts. Now, why would you go get them surgically erased or ‘deblemished’, and leave us nothing to remember you by apart from a residual scent of shea butter? And seriously, if you’re going to flash bronzed glistening cleavages à la Jersey Shore, then the ‘Situation’ demands some serious GTL-style action. We’d like to Get up, Turn around and Leave. Call us old fashioned, but we prefer a guy who still goes ‘cheese’ and not ‘squeeze’ when facing a camera.
What’s that you say? ‘‘Chill woman, haven’t you heard of the metrosexual”? Here’s the thing. Mark Simpson, creator of the term ‘metrosexual’, defines this species as a metropolitan heterosexual man who is meticulous about his grooming and spends a significant amount of time and money on looking good. He seems to have omitted the part about a man who weasels his way into female turf uninvited, invades her bubble bath, runs amuck with her loofahs, bottles and jars, and then refuses to leave. Simpson said nothing about a normal reasonable man turning into a squatter. Hey, we know you’re not the first guys to boldly go where no man has gone before, but you’re certainly the first blokes to get super comfortable there and refuse to be beamed back up.
Don’t get us wrong, tetrapeptides, hyaluronic acid or collagen boosters make great buddies, but try shooting pool with them. Definitely not the sort of friends you can slouch over and just let it all hang out with. It’s awfully chivalrous of you to toss us your blackhead nose strips, because you feel we ‘look like we could really use some’. And it truly is a blessing that there’s always a pair of tweezers in your toilet bag, in case our pet pair goes missing just when we need it the most. But sneakily spritzing away the last two drops from our precious reserve of Moroccan hair oil is taking the poaching game to a whole new and ominous level. How can we put this gently, there’s a fine line between dapper and dandy, hunk and punk. And you know how fuzzy your vision is when it comes to fine lines.
Fuzzy fine lines were in fact the subject of an impromptu group discussion in the women’s locker room of a popular high-end Mumbai gym. A free spirit in her early 30s confessed her confusion at picking up the sexual orientation of the new age man. “So, here’s this guy I share the bench press with— his V-neck plunges all the way to his belly button, not a follicle of hair on any visible part of his body, not even his knuckles — offering me a recipe for a Quinoa, Fig and Feta Salad. Impossible to tell if he was looking for a girlfriend or a girlfriend,” she said with a wink. This precipitated a deluge of super-animated responses. “What happened to ruggedness and spontaneity? This whole cultivated-chic thing that guys have going on is just so mid-life, you know. You can’t be 25 and so… curated,” shuddered a foxy production intern. And, in a curious homage to Pavlov, an investment banker admitted to instinctively grabbing the TV remote the second her partner tosses a “ready in a jiff” and disappears into the bathroom. Well acquainted with his elaborate pre-party prep, she knows she can catch up on at least two missed episodes of Mad Men, and still be ready before he is. The manager of an upmarket unisex salon sighed that her male clients “weren’t just high maintenance, they were high maintenance on steroids”, alluding to their penchant for excess, not drugs. A 45-year-old regular, she informed us, has just upgraded from a ‘sack and crack wax job’ (ouch) to a full-body laser hair removal treatment (mother-of-all-ouches). “Ladies, here’s my advice: Steer clear of the compulsive groomers unless you want to end up feeling like a slouch. They’ve got only one thing on their mind — and sadly, it’s not sex,” says Jenny-who’s-been-around-the-block-and-back.
All said and done, here’s what we make of the Sitch, i.e. the situation. Women are finally waking up to the smell of the coffee, and their noses are telling them to quit forking out obscene amounts for miniscule vials of potions laced with nanobeads of some unpronounceable whatnot. Not because we’re not worth it, but because the creams aren’t. Mourning the loss of business, the marketing mavens have swiftly trained their sights on newer prospects, who, it turns out, have been closet-consumers for quite a while. You, the purveyors of the XY factor. The Indian market for male personal grooming products, we hear, is approximately Rs 2950 crore, and actual spends could be three times this figure if imported and unisex products were factored in. Quite a staggering stash, coming from blokes who not so long ago were freeloading our shampoos and conditioners.
What is it with men and moderation? Why is it so difficult for you two to get along? For instance, when you whine about needing more space, we take it as our cue to go catch a movie with our besties. Imagine our confusion when we return to find you gasping for air, drowning in an ocean of clothes. Two things. One, your harem of designer labels is beginning to intrude into the most intimate areas of our relationship, sprawled across every available expanse, including our bed. And two, if you need a new closet, here’s what you say, “I need a new closet, there’s no room in the old one.” Metaphoric references to space trigger an ancient female response in us, conditioned by centuries of interface with men who were, well, men. The kind of XY specimens who managed to get by their entire lives without discovering the difference between taupe and teal. And left us to potter around in peace with steaming foot soaks and nail files, without the fear of invasion by ginormous sets of male peds.
A sliver of hope danced across the red carpet, on Oscar night, a couple of months ago. In a hallelujah moment, baby-faced Paul Rudd actually channelled machismo by way of sizzling stubble. Followed by Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Ben Affleck, sporting variations of the sharp French beard. But before we could whoop ‘Adieu chikna chamelis’… bam! An assortment of grizzlies presented themselves, including Yeti, the artist formerly known as George Clooney. Sigh. A little grizzle, admittedly, is grist for the pheromone mill. But free-flowing ZZ Top mode? Really? The biggest blow, though, was dealt just seconds ago, when a scruffy fuzz-faced Timberlake was spotted sauntering across the Croisette in Cannes. Justin Timberlake, the coolest guy alive, has a sea urchin growing on his face. Just so we’re clear, is this the beginning of a new cycle, the post-metrosexual phase? Are the Don Drapers molting their slick skins in preparation for their new avatar, King Kong?
Don’t get us wrong, we like it when you smell good and feel smooth. It’s just that if your smooth is a replica of our smooth, it’s hard to celebrate our differences. But that doesn’t call for the other extreme either. It’s all about striking the right balance between the Xs and the Ys. You are integral to our ecosystem, all X and Y of you. We need you to not scrub away all the Y-ness with that grapefruit body polish you’ve been spending so much time with. This could be our way of saying we love you. But if you still don’t get it, and insist on mimicking everything Venusian, then why not take it up a notch and go the whole hog? The next time you take a tinkle in that loo we share, why not skip the ol’ straddle and splash routine and sit those delectable glutes down. A clean and dry potty seat might just be the only thing in the world worth losing our men for.
Priya mirchandani is an independent writer and editor