Feature Archive

Metrosexuals: It's a Guy Thing!

An emerging breed of man, the metrosexual, shows his soft, sensitive, feminine side.

By Richard Trubo
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

There, deep in the hair-care aisle, carefully selecting the product du jour, or in the salon having his nails buffed to the perfect shine while checking out the latest fashion magazines -- it's not a bird, not a gay man, it's a metrosexual!

And judging by the popularity of the new TV program Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, many more once slovenly men want to join the ranks of this new breed of Renaissance man.

Not yet familiar with the new buzzword, "metrosexual"? Some social observers and product marketers believe it's just a matter of time until "metrosexual" becomes part of your vocabulary -- and perhaps a description of your own lifestyle as well.

So what makes a metrosexual man? He's been defined as a straight, sensitive, well-educated, urban dweller who is in touch with his feminine side. He may have a standing appointment for a weekly manicure, and he probably has his hair cared for by a stylist rather than a barber. He loves to shop, he may wear jewelry, and his bathroom counter is most likely filled with male-targeted grooming products, including moisturizers (and perhaps even a little makeup). He may work on his physique at a fitness club (not a gym) and his appearance probably gets him lots of attention -- and he's delighted by every stare.

Blurring Gender Lines

Curiosity about metrosexuals climbed considerably in June when Euro RSCG Worldwide, a marketing communications agency based in New York City and more than 200 other cities, explored the changing face of American males in a report titled The Future of Men: USA. As part of this research, men ages 21 to 48 throughout the U.S. were surveyed on masculinity-related issues. The conclusions? According to the report, there is "an emerging wave of men who chafe against the restrictions" of traditional male roles and who "do what they want, buy what they want, enjoy what they want - regardless of whether some people might consider these things unmanly."

The metrosexual male is more sensitive and in some ways more effeminate than his father probably was, says Schuyler Brown, one of the architects of the study and associate director of strategic trendspotting and research at Euro RSCG Worldwide. Metrosexuals are willing to push traditional gender boundaries that define what's male and what's female, she adds, but they never feel that they are anything but "real men." Yes, a little primping and pampering were once considered solely female indulgences, but they are becoming much more permissible for men, too.

Metrosexual men "are very secure in their sexuality," says Brown. "They're comfortable getting a facial or a pedicure. It doesn't make them feel any less masculine or any less heterosexual."

The Future of Men report noted, "One of the telltale signs of metrosexuals is their willingness to indulge themselves, whether by springing for a Prada suit or spending a couple of hours at a spa to get a massage and facial." They might devote an afternoon to choosing their ultrafashionable attire for the night. They may don an apron and prepare a mean and meatless pasta dish for friends.

Beyond Testosterone

So what's prompting men to think outside the box of male stereotypes? They might be influenced by a new breed of male-oriented magazines such as FHM and Maxim, which are devoting an increasing number of their pages to fashion. These popular magazines are encouraging men to dress to the nines and fall into line with media images of men with washboard abs and bulging biceps.

Members of the homosexual community also appear to have influenced their straight brethren. Even though metrosexual men are absolutely heterosexual, the gay movement has helped society as a whole accept so-called effeminate characteristics and lifestyles. "As a society, we're more comfortable with homosexuality today," says Brown. "It's no longer taboo, it's portrayed on prime-time TV, and heterosexual men have become more comfortable with the gay culture."

Ironically, if one of the metrosexual's goals is to transform himself into a "chick magnet," some of his efforts -- particularly those spent pumping iron in the local fitness facility -- might be misplaced. Some research suggests that his straining and sweating to inflate the size of his muscles may not be as interesting to women as he might think. According to Roberto Olivardia, PhD, co-author of The Adonis Complex: The Secret Crisis of Male Obsession, the average male thinks that women are attracted to men who are 15 to 20 pounds more muscular than what women actually find attractive.

Coming to Your Neighborhood

Who are examples of prominent metrosexual men? Brown points to the flamboyant, makeup-wearing Johnny Depp ala Pirates of the Caribbean at one end of the metrosexual continuum and Bill Clinton at the other. The former president, she says, "conveys a personal concern for body image, and is a publicly sensitive guy who wears his feelings on his sleeve." The list of metrosexual-style celebrities includes Brad Pitt and George Clooney. British soccer star David Beckham (whose wife is Victoria Adams - a.k.a. Posh Spice) may be the quintessential metrosexual icon, sometimes attired in a sarong and embellishing his nails with colorful polish.

While you're most likely to find metrosexual men in big cities, particularly media centers such as New York and Los Angeles, they are certainly not confined there. "Because of Hollywood and the fact that many of the male glitterati exhibit metrosexual qualities, you can see the imitation and the experimentation among men in many smaller cities as well," says Brown.

Yet facial plastic surgeons such as Seth M. Goldberg, MD, whose patients in his Rockville, MD, office include politicians, lobbyists, and attorneys in the Washington, D.C., area, question whether the label "metrosexual" is one that is really catching on in the nation's capital. At the same time, however, he notes that "in the last few years there has been a tripling of the number of men who are coming into my office for cosmetic surgery or office-based cosmetic procedures such as Botox injections. A generation ago, we wouldn't have seen any of these men in our office."

Olivardia points to a Psychology Today survey showing that 43% of men are dissatisfied with their overall appearance, and 63% are unhappy with their abdomen in particular. So they might seek out the services of a cosmetic surgeon for some major or minor retrofitting. Abdominal liposuction to wipe out love handles is particularly popular. The number of lip augmentation procedures in men in the U.S. increased by a startling 421% from 2001 to 2002, according to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

"It's definitely more acceptable for men to undergo these procedures than it once was," says Olivardia, clinical instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. "Even so, there are still many men who won't tell anyone they've done it; they won't volunteer that information."

Goldberg says that when men opt for cosmetic surgery, it's often the last step in their personal campaign to improve their appearance. They tend to be well dressed and well groomed, and then thanks to their affluence, can afford to move on to plastic surgery -- for example, eyelid procedures, chin augmentation, or laser skin resurfacing.

But can a metrosexual's preoccupation with his physical appearance be carried to extremes? Olivardia says that if your preoccupation with maximizing your looks is interfering with your relationships, your job, or your schoolwork, perhaps you should talk to a therapist and work on creating a healthier balance and a more sensible approach to your physical exterior.

Published July 28, 2003.