Rowan Pelling: Keep the doc off your C-cups, boys

Stop the moob-jobs and stick with the slack-chested, pock-marked, raddled look women adore


Some years back my younger sister was out on the town with a debonair 50-something writer and broadcaster who's renowned as a ladies' man. She accepted an invitation back to his shag pad "for a drink" along with a leggy young woman they'd met at a nightclub. At some point my sister crashed out on the sofa, while the roué lured the other beauty to his bedchamber. Around 20 minutes later my sister was awoken by a piercing shriek of "Oh-mi-gawd, man breasts!" followed by raucous laughter.

It will doubtless comfort the man in question to learn this week that he is not alone in being afflicted by "moobs", as the male bosom has been dubbed. A report from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons revealed that a record 177 men had liposuction on their chests last year - eight times the number in 2003. Perhaps they were goaded by a rash of photos of celeb males basking topless. Snaps of Tony Blair on his hols in Bermuda indicated a provocative swelling that I gauged at just over an A-cup, while Michael Winner and Jack Nicholson both have cheeky C-cups (I can pretty much judge a breast on sight, like the girls at royal knickers merchants Rigby & Peller). My own beloved's cups overfloweth, to his chagrin. "Look at this!" he says, cradling a pert mound. "Stop moaning," I say, "they're far tastier than mine." And it's true, I like my husband's cuddly moobs: they're the sort of thing you could draw a face on and sell in Hamleys. On these chilly winter nights it's reassuring to lean over and cop a handful. I can see what chaps have been banging on about for years.

But just as I've learned to love them, man boobs are under threat. If they carry on being removed at the present rate, moob-jobs will soon outnumber boob-jobs. It's incredibly sad to see men relinquishing their traditional psychological stronghold: namely an ability to look in the mirror and see something rather more ravishing than the true sum of their parts. However annoying it might be to behold a jowly, balding middle-aged man who believes he's God's gift to a 20-year-old barmaid, it's even more infuriating to see an attractive, well-proportioned woman who thinks she's fat and hideous. The vast majority of cosmetic operations are still carried out on women who believe that being conventionally beautiful in the manner of their celebrity heroines will make them happier. Right, excellent logic - because women like Jennifer Aniston and Kylie Minogue are, like, soooo happy and you never catch them saying they want a boyfriend (i.e. a faithful one) or a baby.

Because women are super-competitive among themselves, it's hard to believe another female when she says looks don't matter. But men always appeared to believe the axiom that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". It often seemed to me that men's purpose on earth was to tell women they're lovely, even with cellulite, bingo wings, conjunctivitis, dropsy and chin hair like a Bavarian pine forest. But if men cease to believe in their own beauty, they will certainly cease to believe in the female variety. I blame General Sir Michael Jackson. I know that he had excess eye-lid tissue removed to improve his vision, not his looks, but, all the same, it's bad for chaps' morale. You wouldn't have caught Churchill (presumably a double-D) nipping out for liposuction just because he wasn't too fleet of foot. Where does it all end? Charles Wheeler having laser resurfacing? Dennis Healey with an eyebrow wax? John Humphrys having a brow-lift live on the Today programme?

Hitherto the British male has thankfully not taken his looks too seriously. When you look at some of the most accomplished philanderers of recent times - John Betjeman, Kingsley Amis, the Marquis of Bath, Boris Johnson, Rod Liddle, John Prescott - they're dishevelled on a heroic scale, as if packs of beagles hunted vermin through their nether garments. The only females who like coiffed, buffed, polished males are adolescents who don't yet understand the true nature of sex appeal. When my female friends tuned into cop drama Life on Mars, they weren't lusting after pretty-boy John Simm but bulky, acne-scarred Philip Glenister. I've no idea if Glenister has moobs, but if he does it wouldn't stop any woman I know shackling him to her bedstead, covering him in whipped cream and licking him from head to toe. By contrast, is there anything less attractive than an over-groomed, preening male? Robert Kilroy-Silk, Michael Ball or Silvio Berlusconi, anyone? It seems to me that the ideal man's grooming routine should consist of the following simple manoeuvres: a) washing, by which I mean break ice on water-butt, thrust face in and lather with saddle-soap, b) removal of excessive nasal hair with pliers, and c) clean teeth with stick. Would Daniel Craig have made a sexy Bond if we could have imagined him dabbing on moisturiser?

In any case, it looks like ancient gods of unreconstructed male behaviour (Thor, Mars etc) are wreaking revenge on new man. A report from America links lavender and tea tree oil to breasts in pre-pubescent boys. All the boys examined had used gels, shampoos or lotions containing the essential oils, and scientists at the University of Colorado found they stimulated breast cells to produce oestrogen and inhibit male sex hormones.

Footballers, be warned! What starts as an innocent flirtation with skincare can end with a bloke looking like a Thai lady-boy. How long before the terraces resound to the cry of "Get your moobs out for the girls!"?

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