The Modern Man and the Pressure of Appearance

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Since the dawn of time, people have wanted to look good. Even before the introduction of society, appearance was akin to a survival technique. The best looking subjects, be they human or animal, were more likely to ‘get the girl’ and carry on their lineage. Of course, courting throughout history has always been a combination of aesthetics and impressive displays: you need the walk in order to back up the talk, as they say.

Women have always been at the forefront of fashion and style; gracing the ballrooms of old with flowing frocks and shimmering dresses. However, back in the Middle-Ages where fashion was very much a commodity for only the richest, Kings often championed the latest trends, and used fashion to set themselves apart from their subjects.

Of course, society is completely different to the days of the Middle-Ages. One of the most notable differences is the presence of media. It is near impossible to go about daily life without your eyes catching a television screen, a newspaper headline or an advert on a billboard, but to name a few. People spend a lot of their time in the public eye, too. Hundreds upon thousands of people will probably see you on your way to work. With increased exposure, so has emerged an increase in awareness of personal image, for both women and men.

With fashion shows hitting American shores at the beginning of the 20th century, women are already incredibly accustomed to the limelight. Men are gradually progressing to become just as prominent, with the Best Dressed Man poll evident as early as the 70s. As appearance quickly becomes a crucial element in every-day life, how is the modern man having to shape up?

To begin with, they are literally having to shape up. Gone are the days where attention is focused solely on a woman’s waist line. Men are beginning to commit themselves to hours in the gym in order to retain not only a woman’s interest, but also the respect of his peers. The values and social norms of society are changing in every aspect imaginable, meaning men are having to adapt. With male celebrities and models posted across the screens that frequent our lives, sporting cutting-edge outfits, hair styles and in some cases, impressive physiques, Men are under increasing pressure to adopt these trends.

A man used to merely dress smartly for work and the occasional wedding or celebration. Now it is acceptable (and possibly expected) to don the shirt and tie combo for evenings out and staff socials. While a suit is not always necessary, there are plenty of night clubs that refuse entry if a man isn’t wearing suitable footwear. Although this is a long way from the torture that women endure from high heels, society is steadily tightening up on male dress.

Another long-standing tradition that men are adopting from their female counterparts is the importance of their hairstyle. Short and spikey isn’t the answer anymore, with longer locks, wavy fringes and even ponytails becoming more popular. It has even become acceptable for young men to justify the possession of straighteners, demonstrating that men are spending more time in front of the mirror than ever before.

Whether this is a step towards equality or unfair scrutiny on the way we look, this surge in male awareness of their appearance does not have to be viewed as a negative. Much like women have umpteen choices when it comes to browsing their wardrobes, men are steadily gaining stylistic freedom. More creative, avant-garde looks are hitting the headlines, demonstrating to the young and the old that choice is out there. Or, is this growing self-consciousness just another pressure to pile atop the list of modern-day worries that men will have to wrestle with?

Matthew Tomlin | News Cult