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The Scholars Say…

The lifestyles of Ma, the fashionista, and Chan, the beauty guru, may seem unconventional and eccentric to many people, but they are among a growing number of men who are redefining traditional ideas of masculinity.

Since the mid-1990s, the term “metrosexual” has been used to describe often heterosexual urban men who spend money on grooming and fashion. Pursuits that were once seen as being effeminate are now being embraced by straight men, according to Wu Keping, an associate professor from the Anthropology Department of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Looks and sexuality are not related,” she says.

Wu says that beauty in men is usually associated with traditional notions of masculinity. But, in fact, when we look into history, there have always been men in China who paid attention to how they look. In old Chinese novels like Dream of the Red Chamber, there are passages describing men’s accessories and jewellery.

In the past, the yearning for beauty was more than just a leisure activity, it was also a symbol of social status. “Class is a very important issue. Being pretty rarely applies to working-class men, they simply do not have the time or money to take care of their looks,” says Wu. But, with advances in technology and the media, men now have a wider selection of cultures to consume and more platforms to share their beauty tips.

The media has been instrumental in changing perceptions of men’s beauty. In recent years, feminine-looking male models, with slender frames and pale skin started to appear in the media.

In the contemporary context, Wu thinks one of the reasons men take such pains with their looks is to appeal to the opposite sex. “In the past, we would look to see whether the man was successful, protective and had money. Now we may also look to see whether they are good-looking,” Wu says.

Outré fashions and make-up may indeed draw people’s attention to Joey Ma and Hamlet Chan but their dedication to their looks may be driven by a desire to please themselves rather than anyone else. “Being pretty is a way to show you love yourself. Dressing up is a happy thing to do, really happy,” says Ma.