John Walsh: Real men just don't care how they look

Click to follow
The Independent Online

What are we chaps to make of the fact that Hugh Laurie has been signed up as the face, no the smell, no, hang on, the ambassador of L'Oreal cosmetics? One's thoughts fly immediately, I'm afraid, to Mr Laurie's most famous TV incarnation Dr Gregory House, in the American medic show that bears his strangely annoying name.

And few of us would wish to get close enough to Dr House to establish the heady scent that hangs around his pressure points (what would he smell of? Top notes of Marlboro Lights, middle whiffs of Wild Turkey bourbon, low aromas of surgical spirit and misanthropic despair? Nice).

In fact Our Hugh is being wheeled on not as a perfume ambassador, but as a representative of the L'Oreal Paris Men Expert range, which features a whole cupboard-load of metrosexual unguents, from exfoliating scrubs to hairstyling wax. The French cosmeticians seem to be aiming their products at a particular, rather familiar-sounding, niche bloke: someone baggy-eyed (for the "Vita Lift Anti-Wrinkle Moisturiser"), permanently blue-chinned (for the "Tough Stubble Shave Gel"), chronically unkempt (and so in need of "Elvive Anti-Dandruff Normal to Greasy Hair"), who is emotionally hard-to-read (a natural for the "Anti-Expression Wrinkles Moisturising Cream") and seems almost invariably shagged-out ("Hydra Energetic Daily Anti-Fatigue Lotion").

They seem, in other words, to be targeting the fictional Dr G House – while signing up the actor who plays him, in order to show what a fit, sparkling-eyed, smooth-skinned and completely different modern geezer you'd be if you embraced the right ointment regimen.

It's a curious double-perspective, like signing up Kenneth Branagh to promote an early-morning gym routine following his sleepwalking-detective schtick in Wallender; or asking Gerard Depardieu to front a plastic surgery clinic after his triumph in Cyrano. But just you try using logic when selling the idea of cosmetics to men. Twenty years of being told that exfoliation removes horrible dead cells from their skin, and men will still yell from the shower, "Darling, this bloody soap's got bits in it."

A quarter-century of lectures on the need to moisturise or die, and men still find that covering your face with putty-hued slime and wiping the residue onto a bathtowel just isn't an attractive addition to one's morning ritual. After 10 years of seeing the words "anti-wrinkle" on jars kindly bought by their spouses, men see only the word "wrinkle" and regard the jar's presence as a damned insult by the memsahib.

As for below-the-waist depilation... L'Oreal, to their credit, know all this. Their response is to ignore all sense and logic, and to offer a kind of foggy idealism about masculinity. The global brand president of L'Oreal Paris called Hugh Laurie, "the perfect example of a modern man: genuine, uninhibited, strong and willing to pursue his passions to the end".

But male genuineness, strength and lack of inhibition are, I would argue, all best expressed in not caring a flying toss about what people think of your appearance. While the stuff about "pursuing your passions to the end" sounds a bit like "doing practically anything for money". Like Mr Laurie I'd be delighted to find out how much it's worth to gaze into the camera (bravely, genuinely, uninhibitedly) and say you're worth it.

Can I check the width of your face, please?

A professor at the university of Wisconsin-Milwaukee had made a study of 192 business students to determine whether the shape of your face is an indicator of your willingness to tell lies and break rules. Men with wide faces, he says, feel more powerful, and more disposed to lie and cheat, than their skinny-faced peers. One thinks of egregiously broad-faced man – Eric Pickles, Henry VIII, Conrad Black, John Prescott, Jabba the Hutt – and wonders if there's something in this. But is it news? Shakespeare's Julius Caesar distrusted Cassius's "lean and hungry look" and wanted to surround himself only with fat-faced buddies. And look what happened to him.

Cheryl Cole turns into a modern-day Moll Flanders

This newspaper is rigorously devoted to elevated subjects and has no truck with celebrities but, blimey, did you see the list of requirements Cheryl Cole has given her love-rodent ex-husband as the price of moving back in with him? A new family home, well away from the Surrey hate-nest they shared when he was up to his rodentish behaviour; a recording studio (with a special miming suite?); a bolthole in Los Angeles so she can continue to apply for jobs as a who-the-hell-is-she TV personality, a holiday home in Dubai, a ring that cost more than the last two (£160,000 or thereabouts) and a sumptuous wedding and honeymoon costing in the region of £10m. Oh, and her mother will be living with the happy couple.

That's the modern way of patching a failed marriage. But wouldn't it be nice if there were just one tiny spark of actual relationship about it – if she insisted, for instance, that the two of them stayed in every Tuesday evening and cooked lamb curry together? Or that he actually talked to her, in an interested and conversational way, for two hours every day?

At present, the lovely Cheryl's list reminds me of nobody so much as Moll Flanders, Defoe's grasping heroine, who employs her wit, beauty, charm and femininity to extract money, homes and status from gullible men, is married five times and ends up being transported to the Colonies to avoid being hanged. I dunno why she popped into my head when I was reading about Cheryl. Maybe it was Moll's line, "I was now the most unhappy of all the women in the world..."