The Ever Changing Male Beauty Standards

Posted on 21 January 2019

The Ever Changing Male Beauty Standards

We all remember the handsome man on the horse from that classic Old Spice campaign. How could we forget? The one who declared that anything is possible when your man smells like Old Spice, and not a lady. At surface level, it was just a viral video; an ingenious example of share-worthy advertising. But the “ripped” male model that sat on that white horse—declaring that he was on a horse, for additional clarification—was saying a lot more than just “buy your man this particular cologne”. He was, in that moment, the embodiment of contemporary male beauty standards, ridiculously high measures that continue to rise.

Image courtesy of Hunter Lab

Obviously, there’s nothing new about the desire to be a presentable kind of guy—it is said that the first barbering services were performed by Egyptians as early as 5000 B.C., using instruments made from oyster shells or sharpened flint. There’s also nothing wrong with wanting to be handsomely groomed and well put together. But, unless you spend most of your time off the grid, and blindfolded, it’s difficult to deny that the pressures on men to look a certain way, dress in a certain style—and smell like a recognisable and/or organic botanical designer musk—have risen to arguably unrealistic heights.

As someone who has worked both for the fashion industry and within the corporate sector, Melbourne local Nick Kenyon admits that, in recent years, the bar has definitely been raised, particularly within environments where how you look is closely linked to building trusting relationships, and earning you respect.

‘I would almost say my male colleagues in the corporate world were more concerned with how they looked, and they were definitely much more critical of how other men presented themselves. If you wore the wrong tie to match your shirt, or you needed a haircut, you’d definitely hear about it. Male models on the other hand are generally pretty confident about how they look, to the point where they will wear whatever they want to castings and shoots, because they knew there will be a stylist and makeup artist and photographer to make sure they look good for the final shot.’

Image courtesy of Hunter Lab

Not all men have access to an entourage who have been hired to make sure they look like they’ve just sprung from the pages of a GQ fashion spread. But in an age where sharing your life—through an all-too-often filtered lens—on the Internet is a common, and highly encouraged, cultural practice, the pressure to be camera ready is present almost always.

When asked about today’s world of social media, and the never ending stream of heavily photoshopped advertising, and the implied pressure that a man must look a certain way, Kenyon says that the expected standard is definitely felt, but it’s not where he likes to keep his focus.

‘I definitely understand that pressure, to look a certain way, and people are often quite vocal about letting you know what they think about the way that you look. But I also try not to worry about it too much. If I post a photo, it’s probably because I like it, or the moment it captured. I don’t really focus on how I, or other people, specifically look in on it.’

Kenyon’s attitude demonstrates the importance of being comfortable within your own skin when it comes to engaging with the standards set by a culture that is driven by perfectionist ideals. Prior to mounting his horse, the Old Spice model instructs all ladies to look at their man, then back at him, pointing out the unfortunate truth that, sadly, those men are not him, implying that in order for a man to be a someone you are proud of, they must exude virility from every pore of their brawny being. It would also help, the model says, if he stopped using ladies scented body wash. And though it’s not a part of the script directly, there’s also a small part of you that has been prompted to question whether all men should be the kind of men who sail yachts, buy diamonds for their partners, and wear white cotton chinos.

Image courtesy of Hunter Lab

But what it really means to be a “beautiful” man has nothing to do with having a certain appearance just because somebody told you that you should. Rather, it’s about looking at these contemporary ideals, and taking them for what they are; models who have been moulded (photoshopped and filtered) into a God-like, unworldly image. They are prototypal portrayals, but they are not real men. You don’t need a particular haircut, cologne, wardrobe, or horse, to be a “beautiful” man. The authentic self behind the filter is always far more attractive, because it’s real. Knowing, and learning to be proud of that self is, in Kenyon’s opinion, down to you.

‘To be honest I think there is always some part of your look you might be interested in changing slightly. I might wonder what it would be like be
ing more muscular, or more lean, but then I always try put it in perspective. [In today’s world] I don’t think there are many situations which wouldn’t be improved with a healthy dose of realism. But do I think that men’s self-image would improve if there were less six-packs on instagram? Probably not.’

As Jay Z says: ‘Remind yourself. Nobody’s built like you, you design yourself.’ The real truth is, the man on the horse wasn’t being completely honest. Not anything is possible when your man smells like Old Spice and not a lady. Anything is possible when you cut (or grow) your hair how you like it, when you wear the cologne that suits you best, and when you dress to reflect your own personal style. Anything is possible, basically, when you become the man you’ve always been.


Kathryn Carter @bykathryncarter is a professional freelance writer based in Australia. She drinks (too much) black coffee and enjoys the sensation of writing with (black) Fineliner pens.

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