There's Greatness & There's Grooming. Aim For Both.
- Words by Richard Cable
- Pictures by James Pearson-Howes
This is an article about two things. Greatness and - you guessed it - grooming. You could be forgiven for thinking that one has nothing to do with the other, but you'd be wrong. Allow me to explain...
Since the dawn of time, men have been on top. This was achieved by adhering to a well-defined and rigorously enforced set of rules about what it means to be a man.
Now, you could argue that this run of patriarchal dominance hasn’t always been an unqualified success, and you’d be right. And like all those weird, stuffy, anachronistic, men-only clubs, it simply couldn’t last.
Faced with dissent on the inside and assaults from the outside, the masculinity of the 21st century has been forced, at last, to change its ways. All its ritualistic, historical certainties have been smashed up and overturned, leaving us standing in the ruins with no sense of who we are or where we’re going.
Google ‘masculinity in crisis’ and it has its own chapter on Wikipedia. Whole university faculties would cease to exist without it. The next President of the United States may owe his elevation to precisely this phenomenon.
So it’s definitely true.
You may not feel it as you stare, bleary eyed, at yourself in the mirror each morning. You may not feel it as you shower, shave, gulp down your coffee and chase through the front door on the way to work. You may not feel it as you fall in love, or get drunk, or laugh until you cry, or as you gaze heroically into the middle distance, pondering the ineffable paradoxes of human existence.
You may not feel it, but it's there. Right now, your personal masculinity is having a crisis of truly seismic proportions. The odd thing is, not only have you probably not noticed, you may well have been thoroughly enjoying it.
I mean, you can see the appeal. What sounds like more fun: having the freedom to make precisely ALL of the decisions about how you dress, who you hang out with, who you’re attracted to, what you do for a living and how you spend your leisure time, OR having all that decided for you three generations before you were even born by a man in a stovepipe hat whose attitudes were forged in the smog of the Industrial Revolution?
It seems this epochal shift in masculinity might not be a terrible catastrophe after all, but a welcome and overdue liberation from all that bollocks about being a ‘real man’.
This is a good thing, because, in the words of Grayson Perry, the cross-dressing, Turner Prize winning potter and by far our most interesting contemporary commentator on modern masculinity: “We’re a stranger, more interesting bunch than we let on."
More and more men are abandoning the template laid down for them by tradition and deciding for themselves what it means to be a man; actively choosing to kick over the traces for a life of peripatetic wonder, downshifting to embrace the inner artisan, upshifting to slake a world beating ambition, changing roles to be a stay-at-home husband, or simply embarking on a pursuit of the one thing in life that makes them happy, be it cage fighting or needlepoint.
This, for us, is the very definition of greatness; the courage to choose a direction and go all out after it.
So how does grooming fit into all this? Simply put, your attitude to grooming is a barometer of progress from old-school masculinity to the sunlit uplands of the new.
Grooming is important. It’s a primal activity, the thing with which you begin and, very probably, end every day. But it is an aspect of our lives that old-school masculinity would prefer us, at best, to dismiss and, at worst, to neglect.
The loosening grip of this attitude can be felt between the generations. Anyone who has played competitive sport for the last twenty years will testify to an increasingly relaxed attitude to hair product and moisturiser in the hyper masculine bastion of the changing room.
Even so, try telling your friends you’re launching an online magazine with a focus on male grooming and ancient preconceptions reassert themselves pretty damn quickly. Honestly, sometimes it’s like David Beckham wore that sarong for nothing.
We are still, to a large degree, socially programmed to believe that masculinity and grooming are inversely proportional. That the longer you spend grooming and the more care you take over it, the less manly you are. It’s considered vain - womanly even - to expend significant time and effort on grooming.
What on earth does the ability to give yourself a decent shave, or style your hair in the way you want it, or ensure you have clear and well-maintained skin have to do with being a man?
Surely, being well-groomed is a craft skill, pure and simple. Something that, as a grown adult human being, we should all aim to be pretty good at, whether you’re wild and wired, elegant and sensitive, prepped and preppy, slacker chic, leather freak, rude boy, haute couture, nought couture, androgynous goth, rad dad, regular Joe or any of the myriad points in between.
Grooming is essential, because we say so much to the world without ever opening our mouths. In taking the care and time to be properly and competently groomed, we are doing nothing more controversial than ensuring that we are in control of these unspoken messages. We are taking the myriad assumptions and conclusions your fellow human beings come to simply by looking at you, and we are guiding them in our preferred direction.
But caution is advised. Grooming should only ever express the sort of man you want to be, it should never determine it.
If the fading light of old masculinity tells us that grooming is for prima donnas and sissies, at the other end of the spectrum we have the equally corrosive idea of grooming as an end in itself. Beauty for beauty’s sake.
Take a moment to peruse the shelf of men’s magazines in your local newsagent. The GQs, the Esquires, the Men’s Healths. Soak up, if you will, their unchanging depictions of impossible manhood; chiselled, retouched and manicured; a seductive blend of sex and aspiration. These are the last vestiges of a once burgeoning genre; oddly fascinating artefacts of a bygone age, with about as much relevance to the modern man as ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. And like the hieroglyphs, soon the only place you’ll be able to see them is in a museum.
Their light may be sputtering, but their genes have been passed on, expressed through the self-regarding narcissism of the male beauty tutorial on YouTube. The medium has changed, but the message remains resolutely the same. We groom to be gorgeous. We groom so our skin can be radiant even if there’s no light behind the eyes.
That’s fine if your only aim in life is to leave behind a beautifully preserved corpse. But we say life is for living and your corpse should only be as well maintained as might reasonably be expected, given what you put it through.
So go and climb your mountains. Go and conquer your worlds. Go and fall in love, or get drunk, or laugh until you cry. Go and gaze heroically into the middle distance pondering the ineffable paradoxes of human existence, if you feel the need.
In short, go and be the man you really want to be. Go all out for greatness. Grooming just helps you get there.