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Associated Press Newswires
Waxing, Manicures And Other Marks Of The New Male Appear In Lands Where Machismo Is Still King
By PAISLEY DODDS
November 22, 2003
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Smearing hot wax on Harvey Soto's back and unruly eyebrows, a black-clad aesthetician presses down on Soto's skin and with a quick tug delivers him into the world of the metrosexual man.
The pain, puffiness and red patches are small prices to pay for being beautiful, says Soto, a 42-year-old graphic artist in San Juan.
"When you think of men here, you think about machismo or being rough," says the burly Soto. "But that image is changing."
In a region where images of unshaven men once ruled the billboards, machismo remains king, but the markings of manliness are changing in Latin America. Wild-haired revolutionaries like Che Guevara have been replaced by clean-cut metrosexual icons like soccer star David Beckham, musician Ricky Martin and Texas Rangers outfielder Juan Gonzalez.
It's not that bravado has vanished. Many men still play Casanova, but more are fitting beauty appointments in between the seductions.
Metrosexuality -- a word coined by British journalist and author Mark Simpson in 1994 -- refers to urban, heterosexual men who wax, exfoliate and perform other grooming rituals some consider strictly feminine.
The trend that took off in Europe and the United States is starting to influence tastes in Latin America and elsewhere, with metrosexuals seen from the islands of the Caribbean to the spice-scented alleys of India.
They represent a booming $8 billion-a-year industry, according to beauty analysts. In the United States alone, the male grooming market was worth more than $2.4 billion last year. In Europe, the market was worth $3.8 billion, says Alissa Ostriwosky, with the Mintel Group, a Chicago-based research firm. Latin America is far back, with estimates on annual sales ranging from $800,000 to $3 million.
"We're seeing skin care products for men, hair color products, and even things to make your skin lighter," says Bill Steele, an analysts who follows the household products and cosmetics business for Banc of America Securities in Ashland, Ore. "It's a growth industry, there's no question about it."
That's good news for companies like Neutrogena and Nivea, whose male grooming products such as moisturizer and face scrub are disappearing from supermarket shelves faster than rum and coffee.
But it's bad news for men who are beginning to feel the same pressures women have felt for centuries.
"When my eyebrows start to grow, my wife makes me go back to the barber immediately," says Raphael Torres, 24, a messenger for Airborne Express in San Juan.
He emphasizes that metrosexuality has nothing to do with sexual orientation: "I'm not gay. I just like to look good."
Most men say having less hair makes them feel cleaner, and having manicures makes them feel pampered. But contrasts abound.
Biceps bulging under their blue uniforms, barrel-chested cops stand on Puerto Rico's cobblestone streets with one hand on their pistols, the other fingering perfectly arched brows.
In Argentina -- land of the rugged gauchos -- growing numbers of men see plastic surgeons for nose jobs. In Brazil, some men are going for enzyme treatments to fade stretch marks. In Mexico, where faded pictures of leathery skinned male movie stars line cantina walls, executives are dashing to salons for makeup jobs.
"I think there are two things happening with the Latin man: You have a long-standing tradition of defined masculinity, but you also have a strong metrosexual swing," says Schuyler Brown at the New York office of Euro RSCG Worldwide, a trend-spotting firm.
Euro RSCG did a study this year to track the metrosexual trend, polling 510 Americans and 519 Europeans ages 21-48. The poll did not break down the ethnicity of the sample group.
The study found that an increasing number of men are showing "metrosexual tendencies" and a "willingness to indulge themselves whether by springing for a Prada suit or spending a couple of hours at a spa."
San Juan's Zen Spa, where Soto gets regular waxings and massages, is doing booming business with men.
"We used to have just one day for men," says Michelle Arce, the manager. "But because we had so many of them wanting to come for massages or facials, we offer services to them five days a week."
In Mexico, some men are even going for light makeup enhancement before business meetings.
"I have more men than women," says Xelha Leyva, a manicurist in Mexico City. "And the men are more vain!"
Dr. Fortunato Benaim, with Argentina's Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, says the number of men getting plastic surgery there has grown by 10 percent to 25 percent over the past five years. Common operations include liposuction and nose jobs, he says.
Latin Americans seem to have taken the lead from their counterparts in Europe and the United States, where the topic of metrosexuality has saturated the media. For example, the TV show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" uses gay men to transform styleless heterosexuals into worthy metrosexuals.
The subject has even crept into American politics. Syndicated columnist Maureen Dowd recently questioned whether President Bush should consider a metrosexual makeover.
And talk show host Bill Maher recently told Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards that his polished locks are being compared to the Breck shampoo model's. "I look better than the Breck girl!" the North Carolina senator quipped.
"The trend seems to be that it will continue to grow," says Jan Hall, president of Neutrogena in North America, who says beauty companies are developing even more specialized products for men.
But back in San Juan, Marta Rodriguez says some men go too far.
"I don't like how a lot of the men are making their eyebrows so thin. Sometimes they look like girls," the 29-year-old jeweler says.
So, will men stop at nothing to be beautiful?
"Bikini wax," says Soto. "That's where I draw the line."