Liz Hoggard: A male beauty crisis? Join our club

Women live all their lives with the uneasy feeling that they don’t pass
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The Independent Online

A friend has just had dental surgery. They put her on morphine. “What does it make you feel like?” I ask. “Normal,” she tells me brutally. “For the first time ever, my body didn’t feel out of control. I didn’t worry about my stomach, my legs didn’t feel like giant Alice in Wonderland limbs.”

So excuse me if I don’t worry too much about the crisis in male beauty. Women have been feeling alienated from their bodies for centuries. No wonder we have to be medicated to feel normal. At the weekend, the story broke that male actors were suffering.

The rugged look is out as Hollywood signs up young pretty-boys (Twilight’s Rob Pattinson, babyfaced Ed Westwick and cherubcheeked Chace Crawford in Gossip Girl). Gone are the days of macho A-listers such as Russell Crowe and Jack Nicholson, what we want now are androgynous male beauties whose symmetrical faces spell fidelity and warmth.

The New York Observer says the formula for the “new male beauty” is stringent: wide-set eyes, narrow nose, childish puffy cheeks, wispy strands of layered hair. Even Justin Timberlake wouldn’t make the grade – too grizzled.

It gets worse: movie directors admit that these boys with the faces of adolescent girls are perfect fodder – they can replace one with another with barely a pause for thought.

I had to laugh out loud when I read that one. As women we’ve lived through decades of identikit blondewomen. I hate the fact that there are 14-year-old girls pretending to be 30 on my magazine covers – who weigh less than my hanging rail.

Because increasingly, femininity is a performance art. It’s not enough any more just to brush your hair and wear a nice frock, there’s a whole new bag of tricks.

Stripper nails, Brazilians, Botox injected into your armpits. And we’re expected to believe this is “empowering”, a radical way of reclaiming sexuality. Of course, the media loves it when blonde women are interchangeable. Allow a woman to be original and she has power. Better to keep her pliant, terrified of being replaced by a younger rival.

So bring on the stories of men suffering for their art. The panic aboutmalepattern-baldness and man boobs. The waxing of back, crack and sac (Sacha Baron Cohen’s Brüno has everything removed, bar a runway of hair running up to his navel). The pressures that have long weighed on women to conform to unrealistic ideals of beauty are now falling onmen. My favourite BBC expenses story was that Tom Paulin (poet, critic, Trotskyist) charged Newsnight Review £90 to have his hair dyed – because of the pressure to look good before the cameras.

Welcome to the club. Women live all their lives with the uneasy feeling that they don’t pass. As Dennis Potter wrote feelingly: “I will never forgive you for the way women have been made to feel about their bodies.”

I don’t want anyone experiencing the body as a site of distress. I think it’s a political act to be rude about appearance (just like racism and homophobia). The part of Michael Jackson’s story that breaks my heart is his body dysmorphia. Life is too short for self-hatred.

So gentlemen, if you’re panicking about the adoration of the baby-faced at the expense of normal, regular men, surely we can reach a truce? I won’t mention the intimate waxing, if you don’t.

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