You’re So Vain


J.D. December 2 2002

You’re So Vain


J.D. December 2 2002

Actor Peter Keleghan didn’t have to look far for inspiration for his narcissistic TV character Alan Roy—men are dolling themselves up as never before, with cosmetics, spa services and surgery

You’re So Vain


WENT TO A SNAZZY midtown lounge the other night to meet some people and quickly realized I was new to this planet. After being seated by the hostess, I surveyed a bar area choked with people who belonged on a movie set. Their hair, their clothes, their skin and their smiles all appeared to glow. Even the men. They were in the 30 to 45 range, professional and apparently single, and very comfortable in that setting, chatting easily while twirling the ice in their cocktails or fiddling with their car keys— Porsches and Bimmers, presumably. Sure, it was a pickup spot, so the players would all be in their Thursday-night finery. But these dudes were way better turned out than the guys I remembered seeing in bars when I was still single 20 years ago.

I, on the other hand, was arriving straight from work, frayed as the overstuffed nylon briefcase in my hand, hair everywhere, big bags under my eyes, middle-age spread, the whole sorry sight. In the brighter lights of the foyer, I realized I had splotches of crusted apple sauce on the toe of my right shoe, residue from serving the kids breakfast that morning. I was not even close to being dressed for the occasion.

That’s the problem with trying to keep up with life via television. I thought the vain male thing was a TV fiction, a device to make characters like Alan Roy on the CBC comedy Made In Canada funnier. Like in the episode when the Pyramid Productions boss tells his staff he’s going to a spa when in fact he’s off to a clinic to get his pectorals enhanced with implants, then has to get them removed because they’re leaking. Or the one in which he shaves off his pubic hair because he’s found a single grey strand down there, and someone has told him it will all grow back in its original colour.

But those guys really do exist. Peter Keleghan, 43, is the actor who plays the

smarmy Roy, and when he was posing for this week’s Maclean’s, he was quick to point out that he isn’t the same narcissist in real life. That said, he knows that lots of men really do obsess about aging and appearance, and their efforts to stay youthful have gone way beyond comb-overs and two-minutesfor-looking-so-good hair colouring products. “When I was looking for inspiration for Alan Roy,” says Keleghan, “I didn’t have to look very far.”

Gays may have been the first to sample the new just-for-men products and services, but straight guys are now lining up at the beauty counters too. They’re buying moisturizers and manicures and magazines touting grooming techniques and fashion tips. Younger guys are using dietary supple-

ments and steroids to accelerate their work in the gym and achieve those male-model abs and pecs. Fiftysomething execs are getting facelifts and Botox injections to smooth over the wrinkles so that customers or employers don’t get the idea they’re too old to play hardball anymore. And those pectoral implants? Men get those too, among other things.

It’s a weird time to be a guy. The popculture signals all seem to be crossed, so it’s no wonder men are confused about appearance and grooming and all that stuff. Used to be there were different looks for different ages. Now, older guys are trying to look younger; suburban boys are trying to look like they grew up in the ’hood. The men’s mags would have us universally buff and coiffed. Music videos offer the fantasy that barely-able-to-shave rappers with dental issues are charismatic bikini-model magnets. As if.

On TV, fops like Roy blunder through life promoting the philosophy that authority and respect go with wearing $3,000 suits and having your nose hairs trimmed. Offset them with the male action “heroes” who appear to have spent most of their lives at the gym, including, if what comes out of their mouths is any indication, the time they should have been learning something—anything—in school. My favourites are the mouth-breathing oafs who pass for “regular guys” on sitcoms, like the Jim Belushi character on According to Jim, or Damon Wayans on My Wife and Kids. These are adult males who wipe their noses on their sleeves and wear mismatched socks to work. But through the magic of Hollywood, they have beautiful if long-suffering wives and live in really nice houses. In real life, their characters would struggle to get a date, let alone marriage to Courtney Thorne-Smith. Ask yourself: how on Earth



could everyone love Raymond? The big lug struggles with the most mundane of daily concepts. Last week’s show was about his inability to tell his wife that he loved her. If these are regular guys, we’re doomed.

But it gets so much worse in so-called “reality” TV dating shows. Tune in—you won’t be alone. Last week, millions watched ABC’s final episode of The Bachelor, and what they saw was 28-year-old Aaron, a beefy bank exec with an MBA and a lot of teeth, choose one woman from the 25 who, for reasons I’m sure their parents still don’t understand, began vying for his affection seven weeks before. As it’s so sensitively explained in his bio on the show’s Web site, “While his educational and career achievements may be impressive, Aaron would like to share his life with that special woman.” So naturally he went looking for that special someone with millions watching. The only surprise was that he chose the slim brunette when the other finalist was blond and busty, the American ideal, not unlike the woman who “won” the previous edition of the show. Not unlike Aaron, for that matter, the male equivalent.

For a lot of young guys, that could be a defining image. They watched 25 stunning women line up for one man. They no doubt understand it was just a TV show, but what were they thinking afterward, sitting alone in their apartments and houses? Aaron set a reachable intellectual target—he wasn’t a complete dope, but he wasn’t terribly complicated either. And the other stuff he did have, and what the camera really played up, were those all-American-boy looks and that in-the-gym-all-day body. These are things that, these days, a guy can go and get.

That’s where the men’s fashion magazines come in. They’ll tell you what hairstyles and gels are the rage, what clothes to buy, what cologne women like. Personally, I’d stay away from the fashion advice. A recent issue of Men’s Journal extolled the virtues of the corduroy suit, and I’m old enough to remember that the previous corduroy suit fad lasted about 19 days before the suits became laughable. Never mind. A lot of guys buy into it anyway. A gay friend—he calls himself a “failed” gay because he’s not very fashion conscious—tells the story of a pal

from university days who visited recently. They were in his living room, and the visitor was looking through a stack of magazines. “You don’t have GQ?” he asked, looking perplexed. “How do you know how to dress? ”

THE BODY-TREATMENT room at the spa

beneath Toronto’s Royal York Hotel is actually an old bank vault, complete with heavy steel door and dual combination

locks. Inside, though, it’s been transformed into a peaceful grotto outfitted to promote relaxation. It’s warm, humid, scented and dimly lit, and a small fountain gurgles away pleasingly to one side. There’s soft background music playing, too. But lying on the treatment table while a woman named Mimi covers me in black mud, I don’t revel in the detoxification of my tingling skin or listen to the plaintive piano. I’m thinking about how the golden, amoeba-like shapes being projected on the ceiling by a liquid light remind me of the light show at an Iron Butterfly concert 30 years ago. So in my head I’m humming In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, complete with drum solo.

It takes time to be vain, and a certain frame of mind. For nearly four hours last week, I was scrubbed, rubbed, buffed, exfoliated and extracted. There was the “sports body experience,” and then the “executive facial.” It was worth the time just to under-

stand what so many guys are doing these days. It’s lawyers getting manicures and sales guys getting pedicures. It’s hairy guys getting their backs or unibrows waxed. Tina, who did my facial, told me a player from a visiting basketball team stopped by for a facial on the day of a game against the Raptors. Wanted to “freshen up,” she explained. She says guys feel it improves their appearance and gives them an edge. I’m not sure. It felt great, and the women at the spa told me I looked so much better. But I got the impression people were staring at me on the subway ride back to the office, like I’d turned green or something.

I don’t have the best credentials for this beat. It wouldn’t hurt me to lose 10 pounds, or even 15. My idea of blow-drying is leaving the sunroof open on the drive into work. When I moved from Vancouver to Toronto in the 1980s and met the woman who later married me, she told me my wardrobe looked like shrubbery, and she was reluctant to introduce me to her parents before I got my hair cut. In the 15 years since, I’ve patronized exactly one barber, a fastidious Scot named Graham, and one clothing merchant, a big Hungarian named Tom. I still fall well short of fashionable, and it doesn’t bother me.

Still, it’s impossible to ignore the pressure on guys to hone their look. Go on-line and you’ll see Web sites that sell things like the Men’s Deluxe Eyebrow Grooming Kit (it includes instructions). Another site declares that “REAL MEN EXFOLIATE!” and proceeds to explain all the products you need to replace your bar of soap. And in the pages of men’s magazines, the male models set impossible clothing and body standards. I complained to a representative from one of the big cosmetics companies that her firm was selling to men the way it had always snared women—by telling them they have a problem that they didn’t know they had, and then offering the products to fix it. “Yeah?” she said, smiling in mock innocence. “So?”

She’s smug because it works—men, vain creatures, are buying. Industry stats show that nearly 30 per cent of people going to spas nowadays are men, double the number from a decade ago. The cosmetics giants


have entire men’s lines, most popularly the hand and face moisturizers. It isn’t a huge chunk of their overall business, but it’s enough to justify making space on the shelves, and it’s a growing market.

The youth and appearance plague is par-

ticularly cruel to men around 50, who are increasingly turning to cosmetic surgery to mitigate the vagaries of age. Among the most popular procedures are liposuction on love handles and pectorals, and delicate surgery to take away the bags under their eyes. “We get men who’ve been downsized and they’re competing with 30-year-olds for jobs and clients,” says Heather Hodgson, practice manager at a prominent Toronto cosmet-

ic surgery clinic. “They’re talented and experienced, but nowadays, appearance is more important than ever in business. They’re just doing what they have to do.”

THE RECENT Toronto Man Show, a consumer fair in a bleak convention space out on the airport strip, is not the kind of place where you’d think male vanity would be an issue. It was a smorgasbord of other kinds


of guy stuff—sports cars, motorcycles, power tools for the home workshop, car stereo equipment, plasma TVs and high-end home theatre systems. You could arrange golf lessons and attend personal-finance seminars. Even more popular than the beer garden were the booths where UMM girls and Playboy models were autographing copies of their respective periodicals. Vendor Mathieu Black, promoting his on-line entertainment Web site, captured the spirit of the event succinctly. “This is like Maxim magazine in a trade show,” he enthused.

Show-goers were predominantly suburban boomers, and a few had girlfriends or wives with them. The couples gravitated to a booth selling Calvin Klein men’s fra-

grances. “We’re making some sales,” says Mary Torti, the woman running the booth, “but mainly, this is about exposure.” Torti says the company is betting the sports-bar crowd will eventually get interested.

And in some ways, it’s already happening. “You don’t see a lot of downtown men here,” says Tailor James, a pretty platinum-blond who was Playboy's Cyber Girl of the Month last January. “These are guys’ guys,” she says, looking out at all the men looking at her. “They like cars and sports and girls. But I find that the younger men these days are trying to dress better and look better. They’re more into themselves.”

Vanity is an equal-opportunity affliction, but it does appear to have hit younger men

harder. Keir Wilmut is a 23-year-old Toronto banker, and he regards his attention to detail as just doing what it takes to move up professionally and succeed on the dating scene. He admits it’s partly recreational—he’s got the style bug big-time. “It’s fun— I enjoy shopping. But for me, it’s more about self-confidence than anything else. Let’s face it, looks have a lot to do with the kind of first impression you leave, on a client or a woman I’m interested in.” How far will he go to make that impression? “I’ve had my teeth bleached, and if I had a bad nose or something like that, I’d probably get it done. You could make a philosophical argument against doing that, but if you think it’ll help you get what you want, why not go for it?”

Women draw the line between well turnedout and self-absorbed

!N THE FLATTERING SEMI-DARK of a plush Toronto cocktail lounge, where high-heeled and high-rolling singles don’t blink at $15 for a martini, five women are talking about what they look for in a man. They could just as easily be the answer to the opposite questionthey are what a lot of men look for in women. Smart, attractive, fun and independent, they are all well-established in careers in which appearance matters. Calgary native Janet Eger is public relations manager for a national highfashion retailer: Heather Hodgson of Toronto is an actress with dozens of TV, film and theatre credits; Rima Kar, also from Calgary, is a chase producer for a cable TV company; Leslie Lucas of Saskatoon is a producer for an independent TV production house; and Geneviève Parent of Quebec City is public relations manager for an international hotel chain. They’re single and, except for Parent, who’s 26, they’re nearing or just past 30. Which makes them experts for this discussion. Men are going to sometimes hysterical lengths to look good these days, and it would be a wasted effort if women weren’t impressed. Here’s their take on a range of subjects.

CLOTHES (THE GOOD): They’re loath to focus on appearance, claiming clothing, body image and grooming are overrated among the things

that attract them to men. “I like guys who are well-dressed, but ultimately I’m looking for something else,” Parent says. “I cut guys a lot of slack,” remarks Eger, “in fact, I think it’s sort of charming when a guy shows up a little nervous and maybe awkwardly dressed.” CLOTHES (THE BAD); A guy can be too welldressed. “To me, that’s slick,” says Lucas, “and that smacks of ‘player.’ ” Hodgson adds: “With a guy like that, you fee! like you’re Friday night when he’s already had Tuesday, Wednesday

and Thursday. You don’t fee! unique-you’re just his Friday night blond.” There is, apparently, a line. “You want the guy to be stylish,” says Eger, “but not self-absorbed,”

CLOTHES (THE UGLY): Some stuff can’t be tolerated. Clashing-plaid dorkiness is never in style. Same with bad cologne. And the no-


At 54, Peter McGibbon takes another approach. He’s an independent commercial-real-estate broker in Montreal, and he stays fit and youthful with an intense fitness regimen and athletic pursuits, including regular men’s hockey and elite Masters World Cup ski races. “It takes a tremendous amount of stamina to do this kind of work,” he explains from his one-man office. “And mental strength. I get that from a lot of work at the gym.” The motivation is simple—it makes him look and feel younger. “I’m petrified of getting older, because I love my life the way it is right now.” But as with Wilmut, the major benefit is the boost in his confidence. “I’m in a business in which there’s a lot of intimidation and a lot of

big players, so confidence is essential.” I get that. Deal-making and first dates can be unnerving. And it’s useful to have a deep well of self-assurance when dealing with so many aspects of adult life. Regular guys can take their cues from the sports stars who have become fashion plates as much as movie stars have. Detroit winger Brendan Shanahan, a 33-year-old man’s man, has modelled for GQ, and has an understated but elegant personal style. “In hockey, the whole fashion thing has changed with the influx of Europeans in the NHL,” he explains. “That and the big salaries.” What I don’t get are the guys who go to all the trouble, in the gym and the spa and the salon, just for the sake of looking good.

excuse deal-breaker? “White tube socks,” says Hodgson as everyone laughs. This is not negotiable.

NO RENOVATIONS: You can dress a guy up a bit, but you can’t take him out of his comfort zone. “We’re the first generation of girls weaned on Oprah,” pronounces Lucas, “and the first thing our mothers iearned on Oprah is that you can’t change a man. Can’t. Won’t happen.” HAIR ON THE HEAD: “It’s great when they have it, but it’s not essential,” says Kar.

HAIR ELSEWHERE: “I’m glad that chest-waxing thing’s over, because S iove hairy chests,” Hodgson says.

BODY TYPE: “The manly man-1 like a big guy who can do stuff with his hands, buiid things, that sort of thing,” Hodgson says. “There’s no point in having two people in a household who don’t know where the fuse box is,” Eger agrees. Parent is tail herself, “so taller men appeal to me. But muscles? I don’t look for that.” As for Lucas: “It’s not like we’re looking for a guy to look after us, but there’s something about a big, tall guy with broad shoulders that just makes you fee! very comfortable.”

ONE SIZE DOESN’T FIT ALL: There is no can’tmiss body type. “! think we’re less critical of men’s bodies than we are of our own,” Parent says. Kar agrees: “The guy has to be reasonably fit—I’m only asking for what I’m putting out there myself. I’m looking for someone whose height, weight, iooks-ail of thatsomehow fits, like my missing sock.”

YOU WEAR YOUR ATTITUDE TOO: “I don’t think women have that many physical dealbreakers,” Kar says, “but if you’re talking behaviour and emotional stuff, then yeah, we have a lot of those.” Examples? “Dishonesty and disrespect,” Hodgson declares. “Total turn-offs.”

YOUR BEST FASHION ACCESSORY: Five out of five say confidence is a man’s best look. “A guy can dress in rags,” Lucas says, “but if he’s confident and comfortable with himself, he can pull it off.” j.D.


MR. FIX-IT used to focus on home improvements, but now he’s beautifying himself. Options for male self-renovation:

FIX THE HAIR YOU’VE GOT with emu oil treatments, dye jobs, perms and extensions.

GET THE HAIR YOU WANT with transplants, permanent hair pieces and growth-promoting products such as Propecia and Rogaine.

GET RID OF THE HAIR YOU HATE with laser hair removal or chest, back and unibrow waxing.

SPIFF YOURSELF UP with manicures, pedicures, massage, facials, chemical peels, pokahu (hot stone massage), aromatherapy and even balenotherapy (a blend of oils, mineralized sea salts and algae homogenized in a hydrotherapy tub).

PROMOTE PULCHRITUDE using products that beautify skin, hair and smell, along with cosmetics like bronzing powders, concealers and beard shaders.

PUT ON A NEW FACE with cosmetic surgery to reshape noses, eyes, cheeks, chins, lips or ears.

GET INSTANT RESULTS from liposuction, especially on love handles, jowls, necks and hips: some men are even getting their breasts defatted with a combination of liposuction and surgery.

BURN OFF THE YEARS with one of the fastest-growing male cosmetic procedures-laser skin smoothing, which vaporizes sun damage and wrinkles; men are also scraping away flaws with dermabrasion.

SMOOTH OUT THE WRINKLES with increasingly popular Botox treatments, as well as fat or filler injections. There’s also a surge in heman implants in the pecs and calves, and penile enlargement.

Seems like such a waste of time if that’s all they get for their efforts. Last month in Esquire magazine, actress Molly Ringwald, asked if muscles attracted women to a man, said: “Ultimately, being able to play a piano impresses us more than being able to pick one up.” And there’s a price to pay for looking too good. Women I know tell me they steer well clear of men who are too particular about their appearance. But clearly, there are a whole lot of other women who like pretty boys. A supermarket tabloid,

the National Enquirer, polled female readers on who was the perfect man. The largest number of them chose Brad Pitt, and the results were printed alongside an photo that made the shaggy-blond movie star look like one of those over-coiffed yapdogs that you see in the purses of well-kept Parisian women—a cute accessory who’s loyal and occasionally amusing.

If that isn’t enough to keep guys from getting too vain, then I can only remind them of an old joke. A young Catholic guy

goes to see his priest at confessional and says, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” “What is it, my son?”

“Father, I have committed the sin of vanity. Twice a day, and sometimes more, I gaze at myself in the mirror and tell myself how beautiful I am.”

The priest considers this for a moment, and looks through the screen at the man before responding. “My son, I have good news,” he says. “That isn’t a sin. It’s simply a mistake.” lifl