Although we’ve still a long way to go, we’re experiencing a cultural shift towards an inclusive and equal society that recognises those of all genders, sexual preference, age, race and ability. We’re seeing companies embrace their diverse customer in refreshing ways – from Simply Be championing women of all sizes, to River Island stating that ‘labels are for clothes’ and Illamasqua embracing the weird and the wonderful. Brands are continuing to add a diverse mix of skin tones to their foundation range, with mega names including L’Oreal working towards representing those of all ages, backgrounds and ability (even if they have fallen short politically.) ASOS has long been celebrating every stretch mark and back roll, Virgin Atlantic have featured the first ever same-sex couple in an Indian advert, while even Nike Mexico have released the most incredible campaign that shows together women are unstoppable.
We no longer have to fit into boxes, but are free to make our own choices; we’ve collectively never celebrated the individual as we have now, nor have we stood up for or represented those previously unrepresented. It’s a truly exciting and refreshing time, and I’m loving seeing industries I love so much adapt to the new normal and take on new challenges. But one thing that’s been niggling at me for quite some time is the old fashioned concept of ‘gendered’ beauty products that still fill the shelves of our favourite chemists and supermarkets.
Twenty years ago the only way you could get a guy to buy a beauty product was to chuck a great big ‘MAN’ on the front of it and take away any feminine trigger (scent, shape, colour) that could hurt their delicate masculinity; apart from a pot of budget hair gel and a can of deodorant that promised to make them irresistible to women, a man’s bathroom was a place to catch up on soft porn while having a poop – not a place to be pampered and preened.
But times, they are a changin! According to Mintel, cosmetic launches targeting men increased globally by 70% between 2007-2012, while the UK market grew by 12% in the same period from £512 million to £574 million. Rather astonishingly, Mrporter.com reported a 300% growth in men’s beauty and grooming products in 2015 – and that figure is only getting even bigger.
Attitudes towards grooming have totally changed, with more and more men spending almost the same amount on their regimes as their female counterparts – and husbands up and down the country willingly sneaking a pump or two of their other half’s super luxury shampoo and face cream. It seems that in a world driven by social media and selfies, it’s more acceptable than ever to look after every inch of your body and take pride in your appearance (even if that doesn’t involve brow shaping and spray tans for the majority.)
Male grooming products are providing a huge opportunity for the beauty industry, and a whole new market to focus their efforts on. Too many brands to mention have literally re-packaged their best sellers in darker bottles with the word ‘Man’ on – and the dudes are falling for it. When a couple bottles of Aussie’s new male grooming range landed on my desk I admittedly had mixed feelings; my first thought was that finally I could get my husband to wash his hair with something other than the first bottle he found in the shower, but my second was that this felt a bit out of place in a world making so many positive steps to remove gender stereotyping.
Do we really need to continue the notion that women should stick to their delicate feminine products, while the men focus on buying everything in a dark matte bottle?
The Aussie shampoos in question feature ginger, lime and honey alongside ingredients that apparently boost thickness and remove product build-up – but they feel very much like someone has identified an opportunity and pretty much repackaged existing shampoos with manly descriptions on them. I don’t doubt they do the job (and my husband’s reaction was ‘THEY’RE FOR ME, YEAH!’ when he saw them on my desk) but is this notion of ‘male’ and ‘female’ products actually counter-intuitive when we’ve made so much progress elsewhere?
From my own experience I know the majority of men like to buy and use products they feel are ‘masculine’, appealing to their inner desire to look and feel good without being effeminate, but most would use pretty much anything in front of them if given the chance. (From my own experience I know my husband uses body wash to clean his hair and foot cream on his face – even though I give him all manner of products suited to his every need!) Perhaps the ‘MAN’ on the front of a bottle will help these lost souls find their way around a confusing beauty industry, but does this mean a step back for gender neutrality and equality?
Should we just be focusing on creating products that are effective and universal, rather than attaching a gender to them?
On the one hand I do think it a bit ridiculous that something as generic and universal as shampoo needs to be gendered; as long as it cleans hair and isn’t in a pink sparkly bottle, does it matter? On the other hand, however, I know how useless the majority of men can be when it comes to beauty – and anything that helps guide and encourage them to look after themselves is a good thing. The male grooming industry is still very much in its infancy, so perhaps it’s just that the female beauty and fashion industries are strides ahead of being inclusive and non-binary; we’re so used to seeing diversity within advertising that it feels odd to take a backwards step, but if that backwards step means more men with clean and bouncy hair is it one worth accepting?
Honestly, my feelings are mixed. But I guess the fact that we’re metaphorically having this conversation is proof that we’re more aware than ever of the importance of inclusion and equality – even if it’s just shampoo.
What are your thoughts on gendered beauty products?
The Aussie ‘Man’ shampoos are available now, priced £4.00 each. More info available on their website.
(Thanks to my husband Josh for being a great hand model!)