Six months ago, a friend got a chin implant. Dennis was surprised, but intrigued. It made a difference. Dennis dropped in for a consultation with a "hot" oral and maxillo surgeon (in an age when such a thing is possible), Dr. Mark Moses, on the Upper East Side. Moses showed Dennis a computer simulation of what he could do with chin and mandibular implants. One week and $3,500 later, Dennis was a retooled corporate warrior.
"People knew something was different, but they didn't know what had changed. I just looked better. They asked if I had lost weight," he says. "It gave me a more powerful jaw, a better profile. I'm no longer worried about how I look. I can just get down to business."
"These days," Dr. Moses says, "stuff like this has really just become an extension of working out."
Bruce, a television-news producer, recently skulked off to the dermatologist for the unthinkable: Botox, after seeing his wife eradicate her crow's-feet.
"I've got a lot of lines in my forehead. It's the only place I really show my age," says Bruce, 40. For $500, the doctor made about 30 tiny injections of botulism toxin along the frown lines traversing Bruce's brow, paralyzing, for six months, the muscles causing the trouble. "It feels a bit strange. You try to furrow your brow, or raise an eyebrow in skepticism, and you just can't. But nobody noticed, and I look five years younger."
A decade ago, psychologists estimated that one in ten people suffering eating disorders was a man. Now, some say, the figure could be as high as one in four.
"The audience for all this is not women," says Feminist Susan Faludi. "This is mirror gazing."
Feminists are certainly intrigued to see the female Beauty Myth foisted upon men. Susan Faludi, author of the male-angst exegesis Stiffed, thinks the modern urban male's overnight Adonis Complex has everything to do with economic realities.
"There's been a shift from the Industrial Age to the so-called Information Age, which has crafted this new vision of what it means to be a man," Faludi says. "Instead of being based on work and brawn, it's all based on what you can buy and put on your body to prove your manhood. It's an ornamental vision of masculinity. The men who are the most susceptible are the men who feel their work is ephemeral. The more it's about pleasing other people instead of producing things, the more they buy into this."
"Appearance has become a class issue," The Nation columnist Katha Pollitt says. "The higher you go in the hierarchy, the more rigidly people have to display this self-control."
Feminists aren't the only ones taking note. "I've had conversations with a number of women who've said their 'Gaydar' doesn't work anymore. They can't figure out what a guy is," says Lionel Tiger, author of the curmudgeonly Decline of Males. "But I don't think this is a case of 'men getting in touch with their female sides.' Men are just doing things that will enhance their maleness."
To be sure, this is not an outbreak of campy androgyny. Nor is it dandyism. "The audience for all this is not women," Faludi says. "This is mirror-gazing."
It is, rather, a detectable shift by a generation of ambitious young urban males who have suddenly come to believe that by co-opting female and gay personal-care rituals, they can construct a more bulletproof masculinity. These products, these procedures, aren't Pentium Age peacock feathers. They're just a new suit of armor for the bloody corporate wars.
Six years ago, I was sitting across a Lenox Room banquette from William Lauder, a president at cosmetics behemoth Estée Lauder, fêting the launch of Tommy Hilfiger's Lauder-backed cologne, Tommy. Lauder began to speak in general about the selling of beauty. The problem was that the women's market was mature and the male market, at that point, was almost wholly unrealized -- an Alaskan North Slope of untapped consumer potential. In answer to this, Lauder explained, his company had unveiled the unisex body-care line Origins to help bridge the gender gap. All men needed, he said, was to be educated.
Five years later, men apparently are in grad school. Last fall, the conglomerate's Aramis division unveiled a men's-cosmetics line of a very different sort, Surface. There was Surface Healthy Look Gel, essentially a self-tanner, and Surface Skin Smoothing Gel, basically a concealer.
"We knew we couldn't call it makeup, that's for sure," says Aramis marketing vice-president Terry Darland, who helped create the brand. "The M-word is taboo. It couldn't have color. It couldn't be detectable. Guys don't want to paint themselves. They have a real problem with that."
Zirh Skin Nutrition, the product of a Lauder-like vision by a group of Arizona entrepreneurs a half-decade ago, has since moved to New York and gone international. The core product is a series of face treatments -- packed into aluminum canisters shaped like artillery shells -- that sound like they were named by a Parris Island drill instructor: Prevent, Clean, Correct, Restore, Scrub. Some handy product-placement cameos in Sex and the City and Eyes Wide Shut haven't hurt sales, either. Last year alone, receipts at the Zirh counter in Bloomingdale's rocketed 307 percent.
"All of a sudden, products that would be called Windsong Majesty for women were being renamed Lab Series Scruffing Lotion for men, as if it was something you'd use to work on your carburetor," writer Paul Rudnick says, laughing.
It was a propitious collision of forces: At the very moment that anxious urban careerists were beginning to create a male-beauty market bottom-up, the beauty-industrial complex (encompassing medicine, cosmetics, fitness, fashion, nutrition, and personal care) was already well into a major effort to pry open this market from the top down. "It's a chicken-and-egg question why this has all happened," says image consultant Lauren Solomon.