Shock horror: we found out this week that the brutish, unreformed Wayne Rooney actually cares about his appearance. He’s insecure about his thinning hair so has decided—even without Coleen’s prompting—to spend his cash on a hair transplant. He joins the growing league of other alpha males, including Gordon Ramsay and Shane Warne, who have indulged in this kind of expensive grooming.
Metrosexuality, it seems, was not just some early noughties craze, embraced only by eccentric, urbane men within a three-mile radius of Soho. Enhancing your looks is slowly becoming an acceptable face of modern-day masculinity. Just look how the male grooming market has expanded: it tripled in value between 2002 and 2006, and the sale of men’s lotions, gels and creams increased by 77 per cent. No wonder we have feckless youths: masculinity, and proper male models, are disappearing.
But embracing metrosexuality is actually the height of masculinity. It is a way of improving one’s status in the 21st century mating and employment markets; of gaining a competitive advantage in a more materialistic, image-obsessed society.
Women, happily, are more economically independent due to improved education and employment opportunities. This means a man’s earning power is less important for women when they seek partners. And the erosion of repressive moral norms has triggered higher divorces rates and frequent re-partnering. Men face a more competitive mating market, and boosting their attractiveness is a good way of improving their chances. What’s more, attractiveness—the way you dress and look—is critical for doing well in general.
Over the past few decades, jobs have moved from the manufacturing to the service sector, with employees having to focus much more on interacting with and impressing clients. As economists Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle have found, good-looking people can earn up to 13 per cent more in this climate. Similarly, American sociologists Murray Webster and James Driskell have found that attractiveness improves popularity and perceived competence; essential qualities for securing and thriving in management positions.
On this side of the pond, a narrow and repressive view of masculinity has long prevailed. For a man to artificially enhance his looks is still widely viewed as “effeminate.” Though the tide is turning, in too many social networks such techniques threaten ostracism and humiliation, as well as absurd and prejudiced accusations of homosexuality.
Look at secondary schools: one paper, “Leading lads,” conducted research on 1,400 young men in Britain and found that the overwhelming were fearful of appearing “feminine” in the classroom. Anecdotal evidence from teachers also suggests that homophobic bullying is common. But enhancing your attractiveness—both in your appearance and how you express yourself—is associated with improved educational attainment. Research even suggests that teachers invest more time and effort in attractive children.
The truth is, that Wayne Rooney is being rather helpful—showing that grooming is not just for effete Beckham types. Rooney is a pioneer in a savagely “masculine” profession. More men might now be liberated from the conformity of so-called masculine traits. They might become better able to address their insecurities and advance themselves in competitive labour and mating markets.
Of course, there is a real debate to be had about whether how you look should really have such importance on your life outcomes. But since attractiveness is clearly a key ingredient for doing well in this sexualised world, men are behaving rationally by investing in grooming. The challenge is to break repressive social norms in certain communities so that all men, from all social backgrounds, have the opportunity to groom and enhance their prospects.