Men go natural, women go made up?



Within contemporary society a shift has taken place in representations of the male body in mainstream visual culture, with a greater emphasis on the male vanity market with the advent of ‘metrosexual’ man. This suggests that there has also been an impact on the grooming regimes of young adult males and that Bartky’s construction of male grooming practice as the “soap and water, a shave, and routine attention to hygiene” (1990:71) is no longer valid.



Gloria Steinham wrote: “The more I talked to men as well as women, the more it seemed that inner feelings of incompleteness, emptiness, self-doubt, and self-hatred were the same (1992, p. 5)’’ and so I decided to investigate the beauty/grooming practices of both men and women.

2.1 Gender, Appearance, and beauty and grooming regimes

The work of social scientists such as Douglas and Butler demonstrate that the body’s surface and comportment as well as the cultural beliefs and technologies concerning its maintenance, alteration, or improvement vary radically, both within and between cultures.

De Beauvoir in ‘The second sex’ (1949) attacked what she saw as the cult of female beauty and its servant, make up. Women’s interests in beautification are political and contribute to the oppression of women.




To her, any imposition of femininity on women is an invitation to soul destroying alienation. She presents the proposition that women can never be free as long as there is an objective idea of what it means to be a woman. The relation between the bodies surface and systems in the work of Mary Douglas in ‘Purity and Danger ‘(1966) are centred on notions of femininity and masculinity layered on the body. Her studies of systems of taboo and dirt led to her typology of cultures in which there are two defining forces on culture, grid and group. Grid in the amount of classification that is imposed on people and group is the force that holds people together. Of interest to my research is the grid and how our culture imposes on us our notions of femininity and masculinity and how we maintain, alter or improve our personal appearance.

In addition, Anthony Synnott in ‘the sociology of beauty and the face’ (1990) suggests that appearance, especially hair, is political. Fascism is visual. Gender is a social construct that is used to describe the socially constructed differences amongst men and women. Both males and females present themselves differently, and the different ideals of beauty or handsomeness are expressed in and reinforced by different aesthetics and make up. His ‘sociology of hair’ (1987) was of great importance to me in drawing up my questionnaire.

The same notions of symbolism can be found in the work of Judith Butler. Gender is regarded as not just a process, but a particular type of process, ‘‘a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame’’. In Gender Trouble (1990) Butler viewed bodies as surfaces or scenes of cultural intervention and inscription. The way that females strive to match the ever-changing ideal of feminine beauty is a vicious cycle of fear, conformity, resentment, and self denial that is established and internalised in the individual. Butler’s notions of performance and perfomativity is of interest to my research as it reflects how individuals present themselves via repeated acts in order to sustain their gender. This relates to what beauty regimes are about. Performativity is ‘the capacity to produce what it names’. Although not all women go to great lengths in pursuit of beauty, the majority feel pressured into conforming to the feminine ideal. Men and women in contemporary society have to conform to dress codes to gain social acceptance and to avoid the scrutiny of others. Also of interest to my research is Butler’s ‘heterosexual matrix’, an ideological framework that shapes sexual difference and requires men and women to present and perform their bodies’ in particular gendered ways’.  Therefore, men do not wear makeup (at least in the West) and women do not grow moustaches.




Naomi Wolf in The Beauty Myth (2002) considers how appearance is maintained through a regular process and how the power of looks matter when they should not. Wolf declares that it is ‘‘… a woman’s right to choose what she wants to look like and what she wants to be, rather than obeying what market forces and a multibillion-dollar advertising industry dictate’’ (Wolf 2002:2). Wolf warns that she is not saying that as individuals we should avoid things such as makeup, grooming, and working out. She acknowledges that we gain and lose social power depending on our physical appearance and figures beauty structures keep women under control in an unequal society.

Foucault writes: “Knowledge is not made for understanding, it is made for cutting. Cutting characterises contemporary embodied selves … cutting of hair is a style consistent with the latest fashion, cutting skirt lengths. Cutting is a practice by which power/knowledge …

Foucault and bodies subject to control and surveillance. The impact of a disciplinary society on the body and how power is exercised over the body.

Foucault’s notion of the gaze has led women under scrutiny to use their bodies as a form of resistance.

“The opposite sexes present themselves differently; and the different ideals of beauty or handsomeness are expressed in, and reinforced by, different aesthetics and the use of make-up. Most women wear make-up to look ‘good’, i.e. beautiful, but also to ‘feel’ good”. (Synott, 1990:63)

Synnott and hair

British journalist, Mark Simpson is the creator of the term ‘metrosexual’ that relates to the conscious man who is concerned with his outward appearance which causes him to spend considerable amounts of money on products in order for him to better his appearance and lifestyle.



This type of male might be officially gay, straight or bisexual, but this is irrelevant as he has clearly taken himself as his own love object of affection which further suggests that men want to take care of themselves just as much as women do. This is of interest to my study because

Physical appearance as part of self image is the concept, which this research is focused around; therefore it is vital to define it; however this is quite a complex process. When referring to the literature a variety of definitions are used that range from centring on body image to physical assets. Physical traits and features of the face are the most significant differences between male and females. A sociological approach to self and identity begins with the assumption that there is a mutual relationship between self and society (Stryker, 1980). A person’s self-image is the mental picture, generally of a kind that is quite resistant to change, that depicts not only details that are potentially available to objective investigation by others (height, weight, hair colour, genderI.Q. score, etc.)

Charles Cooley’s popular theory ‘‘the looking glass self’’ (1990) explains a formation of self-image via reflection. This self is considered different from the self that is manifest as both body and being. This statement clarifies the notion of individuals forming and maintaining their self identity from the reflections and responses gained by earliest behaviours viewed upon the ‘other.’

2.2 Past studies into the Gaze

Women face judgement into their value of appearance by the media, by cultural expectations of gender, by men and by other women. Women feel pressure from both genders. Foucault suggested this ‘inspecting gaze’ of who linked knowledge with power. The cultural and social knowledge that is internalised allows the woman to be her own overseer, to exercise surveillance over and against herself (Foucault 1980:155).

The objectification of women is shown when women are demoralised as sex objects for the male population to admire. In particular, attractive young women dominate screens, while male appearance doesn’t matter as much and it’s a rarity to see a woman on screen that doesn’t conform to the dominant notion of what beauty is. Some feminists criticise the way women’s bodies are represented as ‘‘they objectify women who are constructed in particular ways so that they are seen as flawlessly beautiful or sexual.’’(Williamson 1978, 1987; Bonney and Wilson 1983; Brown 1990).

This internalization of the gaze alters female’s perceptions of themselves and can result in them viewing themselves as objects.Stereotypes of femininity are shaped by appearance and beauty which are closely linked to sexual identity. The shift to objectification as a source of pleasure for both the ‘looker’ and the person that is ‘objectified.’ Men are viewed as the dominant group and defined as the ‘looker.’

Our culture is saturated with heterosexuality. One indicator of this, as Karen Horney suggested 6 decades ago, is ‘‘the socially sanctioned right of all males to sexualize all females, regardless of age or status’’ (Westkott, 1986, p.95).




The male gaze is a well known phenomenon in film, advertising and other forms of media. The Male gaze has a tendency to view its subjects through the eyes of heterosexual men, even the media is aimed at a female audience, for example, cosmetic ads.

MacCannell describes how the contemporary male is supposed to be tough and strong, but must not display his muscle power. His displays of ‘behaviour, speech and dress’ should not be directed at attracting female attention. Instead, he expresses his manhood through the cultural practice where he claims the right ‘to study, stare, examine’ the female form.

‘The feminine beauty system, including the masculine appraisal of it, and attraction, is the main feature of the cultural terrain between the categories “male” and “female” in our society.’ (MacCannell, 1987:208)

A woman’s self-image when applying make-up and doing her hair is particular for the specific occasion she is dressing up for. De Beauvoir suggested that it is the body’s way of living its situation because your situation and you are not two things.



Putting on make-up is an act of self-construction and a woman applies make-up through the imagined opinions and gaze of others. A woman applies her make-up and looks in the mirror in the context of images of fashionable bodies in the various forms of media. These images encode messages and an ideology while perpetuating an ideal of beauty and femininity.

Written by Elizabeth Boyes

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