February 09, 2007

Vanity, thy name is woman?

Feb. 9, 2006

ACTUALLY, this is an inaccurate quote widely attributed to William Shakespeare. What he actually wrote was: “Frailty, thy name is woman” — which a dismayed Hamlet uttered following the marriage of his mother, Queen Gertrude, to her husband’s brother Claudius only a month after the King had passed away. Nevertheless, the quote has morphed over the years to its present “vanity” form. Maybe it was probably created by some editor trying to think of a good title, a pun really, for his piece on why women are obsessed with looking young.

While it is true that we women spend years scraping the bottoms of hundreds of jars in search of the perfect anti-wrinkle cream or moisturizer, and spend thousands of pesos in weekly visits to our dermatologists for facials, men are no longer far behind in the vanity department. And I’m not just talking about the so-called metrosexual revolution.

As I sit patiently waiting for my regular turn at the dermatologist’s clinic, I have come to notice how there seems to be more and more men sitting alongside me. During a recent visit, wrapped in my white hospital gown and resting on my back, I asked my therapist how many male patients she’s handled over the few years she’s been there. She told me that while she can’t remember the exact number, she believes that she has an equivalent number of male and female patients. In fact, she added, “Naku, ma’am, minsan mas maarte pa sila sa mga babae!” — which, of course, amused me no end.

I asked her if most of the men she had treated were of the, ahem, female persuasion, and she said that while a few of them definitely were, there were also quite a number of straight men who are regular visitors. Of course, there are the usual teenagers with severe acne problems brought in by their concerned mothers, but most of the males my therapist has treated are young and mid-career executive types as well as several artistas. All of them just go to her for facials alone. Some usually come with their girlfriends, while the others just walk in alone. She agreed with my observation that there is an increasing number of men now concerned about protecting and even pampering their skin.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I mean what woman would want to smooch with a man whose face could rival Texas in the number of oil deposits? After all, there was a time that the only concern of men were getting clean-shaven faces. Seeing an opportunity, manufacturers started peddling shaving lotions and after-shave colognes, promising that women would fall at their feet when they smelled the unguents on their men’s smooth faces.

Of course in the Old Spice days, there were already some men who got manicures while getting their hair cut at their friendly neighborhood barbershop. After their nails were clipped and the cuticles nipped and pushed back, clear polish would be swept on the nails of their pudgy fingers. When I was growing up and I’d see one of these men come out of their barbershops, I would let out a silent “Eeew!” in my head. I noticed that most of the men I saw with manicures were mostly old, with toupees and white shoes. Now that I’m older and supposedly more mature, seeing straight men with manicured nails still make me go “Ick!”

These days, men are buying complete sets of skincare and facial treatments. They have their own body lotions, bath soaps, colognes and perfumes, scrubs and body polishes; they even have their own spa, put moisturizers on their face, and—gads!—even makeup! (Now this reminds me of a former senator and ex-cabinet secretary whom my friend and I bumped into while eating at a restaurant. He got down from his van and upon seeing us, he said, “Hindi ako nagme-makeup ha! Galing lang ako sa TV show!” The comment left us briefly speechless because that was the last thing we ever expected to hear from this politician. All we could manage was a weak “Oh-kay!”, afterwhich my friend and I looked at each other, stunned. Whatever happened to “Hello… Kumusta kayo” or “Iboto nyo ako sa sunod na halalan”? Geez.)

So I have a fiftysomething male cousin, very much married and whom we always kid as being so popular among the females in the city he resides in, he could win the mayorship hands down. At the wake of my brother a couple of years back, my mother noticed that my cousin had such smooth skin for someone his age, considering that he spends a lot of time under the sun because of his job. My Dick Tracy of a mother asked him in front of other relatives if he followed any skin care regimen. My cousin was only happy to oblige us with his “beauty secret.” (Pay attention now.) He proudly said that before going to bed, every night he washes his face with placenta soap and leaves the lather on overnight. This is why his skin is taut and tight, he said. He boasted that even his wife has adopted that same nightly skin care regimen, with the same results apparently.

We couldn’t help but laugh our asses off at the thought of our Cousin, a stud by reputation, being so vain about his face! And this is someone who lives in the province where the pace is oh-so-slow, people have dinner at 6 pm and are asleep by 9 pm! Apart from this, my cousin isn’t given to any other vanities and is quite comfortable with his pot belly (the girls still love him after all!) and wearing plain tees with jeans and sneakers, unlike the so-called metrosexuals of this generation who are passionate about dapper clothes and fabulous home interiors.

In the US alone, the men’s skin care industry has been estimated at $150-$200 million alone. A lot of research and development has gone into studying men’s personal hygiene habits. Thanks in part to the “himbo” syndrome and marketing geniuses, growing numbers of men are now conditioned to think that taking that extra step in protecting their complexion isn’t so gay after all. It’s just part of good grooming. Undoubtedly, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy has been a real influence as well. (“Real men exfoliate!” screamed a Boston Globe headline a few years back.) We will probably delude ourselves thinking they’re doing all this upkeep for us. Not on your life. They’re doing this all for themselves. If Shakespeare was living today, I wonder what he’d say about that.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. Photos borrowed from the web.)

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