NEW YORK — There’s an uncomfortable question that rears its sleekly pomaded, well-moisturized, and immaculately trimmed head throughout Morgan Spurlock’s new documentary “Mansome,” and the answer is not pretty.
Are men more vain in 2012 than any previous point in history?
The answer: A resounding yes.
“We’ve created this society where what you project externally matters, almost more than anything else,” says Spurlock after a screening of “Mansome” in New York last month. The film opens in Boston and select cities on Friday . “To say it doesn’t matter how a man looks anymore is untrue.”
Spurlock, best known for his gut-churning documentary “Super Size Me,” follows a diverse group of men in “Mansome,” including a champion beard grower, a pro wrestler who regularly wages war with his bounty of body hair, and a barber who specializes in creating custom toupees. Between these vignettes, there’s commentary from actors Jason Bateman and Will Arnett, debating what it means to be a man (as they are pampered with luxe spa treatments). Experts also weigh in.
The underlying message is that there is a growing obsession with appearance among men from all walks of life.
“I think male vanity has lived in many different forms,” says Ben Silverman, an executive producer of the film. “But it may be entering its most superficial era ever. It was once tied with Darwinist elements such as procreating. Now it’s about six-pack abs and fake tans.”
To be clear, “Mansome” is not about the much-derided term “metrosexual.” The metrosexual movement played itself out in the form of heterosexual men getting plucked, waxed, and exfoliated in the mid-2000s. It was popularized ad nauseam in television programs such as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” and movies like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”
Less than a decade later, that faded fad created a new normal in men’s grooming. Spurlock never quite pins down a word for it, but he says that we now live in a post-metrosexual world.
“It’s now considered part and parcel of what it means to be a man,” says Jason Chen at Details magazine. “Just within the past three or four years it’s changed and I guess the best word for it now is escalated. You have Ryan Gosling in ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love,’ saying that what it means to be a man is that you take care of your haircut and what you’re wearing.”
The numbers bear that out. According to the market research firm NPD Group, US department store sales of male skin care products rose to $81.7 million last year, up 13 percent from 2010. The men’s grooming industry is expected to grow nearly 40 percent worldwide, to $28 billion, in 2014, according to the National Retail Federation.
Gents are purchasing more than shaving cream and cologne. About one in four men uses facial skin care products, according to NPD.
That may explain why spas such as Skoah in the South End are seeing a sizeable number of male clients.
“I would say that 35 to 40 percent of our clientele is male,” says Peter Dziedzic, owner of the facial-focused spa on Tremont Street. “I think a lot of people would say ‘Oh, you’re in the South End, so it’s probably gay guys.’ But that’s not true. I’d say the majority of guys who come in here are straight.”
Lev Glazman, president of South End-based Fresh, has noticed a similar trend with his cosmetics and skin care company. He said about 30 percent of the company’s customers are men, and the number is rising.
Naturally, not everyone agrees with the post-metrosexual definition of manhood, and Spurlock enlists several well-known comedians to weigh in. Zach Galifianakis says his solution to grooming is not looking in the mirror. Adam Carolla cantankerously dismisses the trend, while Paul Rudd longs for the days of Aqua Velva.
But Chen of Details doesn’t see male vanity as anything new, pointing to examples such as John Travolta blow drying his impressive coiffure in “Saturday Night Fever,” or Richard Gere strutting like a peacock in “American Gigolo.” The only difference is that men are talking about it more, or at least looking for more information on the topic.
Professional wrestler Shawn Daivari is profiled in “Mansome” because his job requires regular shaving of his body — from arms to legs to back. But in a phone interview, he confesses that he not only frets over his appearance for the ring.
“I was talking to a girl and she was flipping though a celebrity magazine,” Daivari says. “She pointed to a guy who had these perfect eyebrows and she said ‘Oh my God, that’s so sexy.’ My whole world changed. I had no idea that women paid attention to men’s eyebrows. Then I was wondering ‘Do I have good eyebrows?’ It’s another thing I have to worry about.” Continued...