From the Greek myth of Narcissus to classical Greek and Roman sculptures, male vanity has historically been present in many forms. Grecians created myths to signify their ideologies and concerns; Narcissus was a man so beautiful that when he saw his reflection he fell in love with his own image. This ancient story warned that this self-obsession led to his demise. We are witnessing a pronounced shift in modern society. A new expression of the male gender is developing. A commercially driven modern culture is demanding the same ideals in men that historically have been demanded of women. The beauty industry has found a new group of consumers to target, and the more insecure the better.
As society becomes more consumed with an almost pathological obsession with youth and beauty, people have drifted away from the shame and secrecy associated with plastic surgery. Tom Cruise’s rhinoplasty and Michael Douglas’ facelift are just two examples of actors openly admitting to cosmetic procedures they have undergone. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery says the number of cosmetic procedures performed on men increased 243 percent from 1997 to 2005, and non-surgical cosmetic procedures increased 749 percent.
Are we slowly being brainwashed by a profit-hungry industry and image-obsessed media, or are we hard-wired to respond on an aesthetic level? Some studies show that people who are ‘attractive’ are treated better than people deemed ‘average’ or ‘unattractive’. Nancy Etcoff, in her book Survival of the Prettiest, notes that even when a person does not like someone, he or she is still more likely to help the other person if they are attractive. She goes on to say, “The penalty for ugliness might be even greater than the reward for beauty”, citing studies that show attractive men have better opportunities, including greater chances of employment, higher wages, and faster promotions compared with unattractive men.
In the past, the beauty industry targeted women, unsettling them with images of unattainable beauty and demanding that they spend vast sums of money to conform to their airbrushed ideals. Today, industry sights are increasingly being trained on men.