High-maintenance men

Some of us are born beautiful, but most of us should just take RuPaul’s advice: "You better work!"

When you see Semaj, a Detroit beautician who goes by his first name only, you know right away that he is definitely "working it."

He starts off with an egg every morning, but not for breakfast. He uses it as a part of his everyday beauty regimen, a routine which would rival any woman’s. After using the egg to make a skin mask, he washes his face with a specially formulated cleanser, applies a concealer, then cream-to-powder foundation and a final application of concealer.

While looking in the mirror to make sure his platinum blond fade is tight, he applies liquid eyeliner to his arched eyebrows and checks to be sure his French manicure is still fierce.

Semaj, 24, might sound like a runner-up for a Dennis Rodman look-alike contest, but actually he’s part of an emerging group of men who want to enhance their beauty and good looks, whatever it takes.

Men are taking greater strides to look better – and now they have almost as much help doing it as women get from cosmetics manufacturers and plastic surgeons. They can regrow hair with a pill, dye their gray away, wear a light concealer for perfect-looking skin and go under the knife for instant "abs of steel."

According to Dr. Charles Quist-Adade, a sociology professor at Wayne State University, men are now more concerned with their looks because of societal expectations and pressures.

"Man is supposed to be a macho, healthy provider. This expectation, combined with the inundation of many modern-man images, has accumulated in driving them to look good all the time," he explains, adding that men are driven to be well-to-do financially, good providers, have a wife and children, and be able to satisfy their partners emotionally, intellectually and sexually.

So it’s no wonder that the market for quick-fix products geared to men – or that have crossed the line to be used by men – is expanding. For instance, Revlon and L’Oreal both recently introduced new hair dye lines for men – Colorstay Naturals and Feria, respectively. A spokesperson for the Arizona-based cosmetic line Make Up Forever reports that a large population of the customers who use its liquid body makeup and clear mascara are men.

"A tremendous amount of the gay market uses the body makeup," said Heidi Ouaknina, Make Up Forever’s operations manager. "If you perspire, it doesn’t run."

Craig Bowdry, an assistant shoe store manager and a model, is also a high-maintenance man. He pampers his nails and feet on a biweekly basis, spending, on average, $65 each time. Like Semaj, he sometimes wears nail tips and a French manicure. Bowdry even puts tips on his toes sometimes.

"I started this two years ago because it looked much neater than a regular manicure," he says. "I like the neatness from head to toe."

Bowdry says going the extra mile to pamper himself has subjected him to numerous reactions from people. "Women say it’s nice to see a man take care of himself."

On the other hand, his beauty regimen has one drawback, from his point of view: "Too many gay guys try to hit on me."

While both Bowdry and Semaj are concerned with looking good, there is one major difference: Semaj dates men and Bowdry has a girlfriend who at first wasn’t crazy about his maintenance program. In fact, he says she’s very low-maintenance herself, and he has been unsuccessful in his attempts to get her to a salon. "I’ve tried, but she won’t go," he laments.

Other women think a man with makeup and nail tips is going too far. Detroit schoolteacher LaTonya Gilmore, 30, says, "I guess some men are just as conscious about their physical appearance as women, but they don’t have to be. Women aren’t as critical and accept men as they are."

But for some men, applying a little cover-up isn’t quite enough: Those love handles can’t be disguised with mascara or hair color. That’s when men decide that looking better is worth going under the knife.

Dr. Michelle Hardaway, a Southfield-based plastic surgeon, says she has seen a big increase in men seeking liposuction.

For men, she says, the biggest area of concern is the middle or love handle area, and describes the typical male seeking surgery: "Often, they’re in jobs where they work with people a lot."

It’s not just Hardaway’s practice that’s booming, either. According to the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, liposuction continues to be the number one cosmetic surgery procedure among men. A total of 19,789 liposuction procedures were performed nationwide in 1998, more than tripling the 1992 figure of 6,138 procedures.

Hardaway says one advantage to liposuction is that patients see results immediately. One of her patients, a 40-something teacher who describes himself as "very active," says he finally considered the procedure after years and years of working out to no avail. "Liposuction was the only way out," he says. Five months after the surgery, which cost about $5,000, he says he is sure he made the right decision.

Although he’s sure his co-workers and others have noticed his trim middle, he hasn’t told anyone about the surgery, not even close family – which is why he asked not to be identified.

"A few times I’ve caught ladies looking at me who probably wouldn’t have looked my way before the surgery," he says. "Some of them were quite younger."

Although plastic surgery might seem more extreme than both Semaj’s and Bowdry’s beauty rituals, the teacher says he would never consider cosmetics.

But with the new millennium rolling in, many more will, says Fred Marx, a partner with a communications company and former senior vice president for Hudson’s. "I don’t think there’s the stigma attached to a man wanting to look better," he says. "It’s no longer a question of macho standards."

So, ladies, remember: The next time you whip out your mascara, your boyfriend might ask to use it as well. I just hope it’s his brand.

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