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Metrosexual

Metrosexual (along with the concept, metrosexuality) is a term coined in 1994 in an article in the The Independent by British journalist Mark Simpson; shortly after the publication of his book about contemporary masculine identity Male Impersonators: Men Performing Masculinity.

In his seminal essay, Simpson described the effect of consumerism and media proliferation, particularly the men’s style press, on traditional masculinity. The metrosexual, he says, is an urban male of any sexual orientation who has a strong aesthetic sense and spends a great deal of time and money on his appearance and lifestyle.

Narcissism and Changing Masculinity; the Metrosexual

Narcissism is an important element of the metrosexual concept. The metrosexual in its original form, as Simpson intended, is a person who desires to be what he sees in magazines and advertising. In On Narcissism, Sigmund Freud analyses the psychological aspect of narcissism and comes up with the following explanation for narcissistic love:

“A person may love: (1) According to the narcissistic type: (a) What he is himself, (b) What he once was, (c) What he would like to be, (d) Someone who once was part of himself.”

Simpson’s metrosexual would in this case be a type C narcissist; the metrosexual loves what he would like to be, or in other words, what he sees in magazines and advertising.

The concept of masculinity has changed over history. Changes in culture and attitudes toward the male body have changed the meaning of masculinity. Metrosexuals made their appearance after cultural changes in the environment and changes in views on masculinity.

Simpson explains in his article Metrosexual? That rings a bell… that “Gay men provided the early prototype for metrosexuality. Decidedly single, definitely urban, dreadfully uncertain of their identity (hence the emphasis on pride and the susceptibility to the latest label) and socially emasculated, gay men pioneered the business of accessorising – and combining – masculinity and desirability.”

In its sound bite diffusion through the channels of marketers and popular media, who eagerly and constantly reminded their audience that the metrosexual was straight, the metrosexual has congealed into something more digestible for consumers: a heterosexual male who is in touch with his feminine side – he colour coordinates, cares deeply about exfoliation, and has perhaps manscaped.

It is important to note that there are two sides of the metrosexual concept: the commercial side and the sociological side. The commercial concept of the metrosexual differentiates itself demographically from the original psychological and sociological concept. This may be due to marketers trying to broaden the appeal and maximise the profitability of the metrosexual.

Although the sexual preference is immaterial in Simpson’s tongue-in-cheek definition, the idea of men breaking gender roles without changing their sexual roles is novel, and the term has been applied primarily to straight men for that reason (and also, perhaps, because this reassurance is convenient to marketers).

Common usage

While included in the original definition, gay men are not “metrosexual” in common usage, since such interests are stereotypically considered gay. When used in this way, “metrosexuality” could be considered a type of cultural appropriation of gay culture by straight men. On the other hand, the existence of the term at all suggests an increasing awareness of the possibility that stereotypical behaviour cannot be used to read a person’s sexual identity.

In major urban areas such as San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, NYC, and Seattle, the metrosexual may be seen as a modern day fop or dandy. Like Victorian-era gentlemen, metrosexuals are sometimes considered especially masculine in the sense that they can relate to and empathize with women in an attempt to foster a relationship (or a sexual tryst) with them.

In some circles, however, metrosexual is used to refer to a closeted gay man. This usage developed as a rejection of the idea that style-conscious men could be straight, and as a focus on the cultural cues by which gay men have sometimes been identified.

Evolution of usage

The origin of the term traces to a 1200 word article titled “Here come the mirror men” dissecting the new urbane man by Mark Simpson, published on November 15, 1994 in The Independent, a major British daily. Barely any usage of the term in print publications can be found in the same decade. Beginning around June 2003, the term frequently appeared in the British press.

A June 22, 2003 New York Times article titled “Metrosexuals Come Out” inaugurated fashionable usage of the word in the American media. The rising popularity of use followed the increasing integration of gay men into mainstream society and a correspondingly decreased taboo towards homosexuality (and, by extension, the appearance of homosexuality or effeminacy).

Over a short span, Canada introduced same-sex marriage legislation, the US Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy statutes as unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas, and gay characters and themes, long present on TV shows like Will & Grace, made further inroads. In particular, the Bravo network introduced Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, a show in which stereotypically style- and culture-conscious gay men gave advice to their heterosexual counterparts.

In August of 2004, New York-based journalist and author Peter Hyman published a collection of essays entitled The Reluctant Metrosexual: Dispatches From An Almost Hip Life. In an essay called “Tending Toward Flat Fronts: Notes from a Reluctant Metrosexual,” Hyman expands on the definition of the term, which he refers to as being “just gay enough.” He also expands on its history, tracing its usage from Simpson in 1994 to a dubious survey of male habits undertaken (and overly promoted) by an advertising conglomerate in 2003, which lead to above-cited article in The New York Times.

However, the book is far from a celebration of metrosexuality (thus his “reluctant” position). To the contrary, Hyman attempts to debunk the term, which he compares to “Generation X.” Here, the author reveals his belief that metrosexuality is, more than anything, a marketing ploy:

Why, all of a sudden, has the possession of an entrenched sense of personal style and proper manners given rise to a neat-sounding neologism? Why are advertising agencies putting surveys in the field to study the “masculinity-related issues” of well-tailored male respondents aged 21 to 48? And why have a host of middlebrow media offerings, developed to give the average Joe a one-stop shopping cart of helpful hints, been rushed to an anxious, fashion-anaemic public? Well, mainly because there is a stupendous amount of money to be made from this emerging psychographic (and, moreover, those who can be convinced that they must aspire toward it).

The metrosexual revolution is not so much an uprising as it is a more efficient way to sell expensive face creams, allowing marketers to trade on good, old-fashioned insecurity (a method that has been successfully imposed on women for decades). Men with disposable incomes who like to shop, it seems, are this year’s black.

Retrosexual: The Anti-Metro

A retrosexual is a man with a generally poor sense of style — not necessarily a boor; rather, someone who rejects being finicky about physical appearance. It is the opposite of a metrosexual.

The term’s first usage was in a Salon.com article entitled Beckham, the virus by Mark Simpson. In it, he wrote:

David Beckham is the uber-metrosexual, not just because he rams metrosexuality down the throats of those men churlish enough to remain retrosexual and refuse to pluck their eyebrows, but also because he is a sportsman, a man of substance — a “real” man — who wishes to disappear into surfaceness in order to become ubiquitous — to become media.

The retrosexual lifestyle is most popular and societally accepted among men aged 18-24. However, the term is rarely used as a self-descriptor by such men, as they tend to prefer such terms as “real man”, “old school”, or “masculine” and see “retrosexual” as symptomatic of the very pretension they reject.

Individuals

Media explaining the term often rely on citing a few individuals as prime illustrations. David Beckham has been called a “metrosexual icon” and is often coupled next to the term. Amply referred to individuals usually include personalities such as Brad Pitt, Arnold Schwarzenegger[1], and George Clooney but even Donald Rumsfeld has been mentioned as a metrosexual in “an antediluvian way”.

Notes

  • Simpson, Mark. (November 15, 1994). “Here come the mirror men”. The Independent (London), p. 22.
  • Freud, Sigmund. The major works of Sigmund Freud. Chicago: William Benton, 1952
  • Simpson, Mark. (July 22 2002). “Meet the metrosexual.” Salon.com.
  • Chrisafis, Angelique. (June 16, 2003). “Spot the salmon pink shirt”. The Guardian (London), p. 6.
  • Dowd, Maureen. (August 3, 2003). “Butch, Butch Bush!” The New York Times, p. E11

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