Last Word: Get Ripped

Don’t tell me about the success of Fair and Handsome skin whitening cream for men. Don’t send me any more news stories about the growing industry in whisky facials or cucumber under-eye treatment for the metrosexual Indian male. And don’t tell me about the hordes who’re flocking to cooking classes, getting in touch with their softer side, or learning it’s okay to wear pink and magenta.

The truth is that equality between men and women will only be achieved when they join us in the nastier rites of beauty. Skin whitening creams? All that they prove is that men are just as capable of being brainwashed as the erstwhile fairer sex into believing that you can have any colour of skin you like, so long as it’s white.

I deplore this, as the authors of our epics and shashtras would have. They waxed lyrical about the allure of skin with the glow of the evening sky, skin with the eloquent darkness of rain clouds, skin the exact shade of rich, fertile earth under the plough, all shades we’re being persuaded to discard for a uniform shade of bland wheatishness. And all I have to say about facials, aside from the fact that men who shave regularly need them more than most women, is that they require no effort on the part of the customer.

For men who’re celebrating the new metrosexuality, or trying to get in touch with their feminine side, I have two words: bikini wax. We’ll set aside the minor rites of beauty for the moment. Colonic irrigation is merely stomach-churning, but Gandhi led the way for generations of men to come. Threading is mildly painful, whether you’re doing it to your eyebrows (chiefly women), your moustache (chiefly women) or your chest hair (some men); waxing arms and legs or the chest is uncomfortable; but in terms of surviving serious pain, the bikini wax has to be at the top of the list.

This form of sanctioned torture has been around since ancient times, when early writers of treatises on female beauty urged women to use mixtures of honey and sugar to “remove the weeds from the garden”. In the last century, bikini waxing returned with a vengeance when Brazil shrank the swimsuit down to dental floss size.

It’s one of the enigmas of fashion that the shrinking bikini didn’t actually make the public display of pubic hair trendy. At different times, it has been considered appropriate to display various areas of the human body seen as taboo in other eras—we think nothing of displaying ankles or calves, but the Victorians would have swooned in shock at a glimpse of either. Given the recent trend towards “butt cleavage”, it is surprising that the Brazilian style eschewed displaying hair down there in favour of ripping it out by the roots in a region of the body known for its extraordinarily high numbers of sensitive nerve endings.

The metrosexual man has caught up with his female counterpart in several areas. Hair styling, skin care and wardrobe changes are only the most obvious signs—the real change has been, more positively, in areas like sharing parenting skills, being more emotionally open and less attached to traditional male roles. But here’s a tip for today’s man. Skin lotions and fairness creams are surface stuff. You really want to be in touch with today’s women? Get those Calvin Kleins off, let the waxing begin, and trust me—you’ll feel our pain.

(Carried in The Kolkata Telegraph, October 2005)

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