The Irishmen paying a fortune to look good
Forget 'metrosexuals', modern Irish men are into 'manscaping' and 'brotox' and don't care who knows, writes Joe O'Shea
Picture the typical Irishman, pale of skin, a bit scruffy, sporting jeans, scuffed trainers and a €10 haircut, probably carrying a stone too much weight.
His daily grooming routine consists of a quick shower and shave and maybe a generous spray of nausea-inducing deodorant. His weather-beaten face is a stranger to skincare, wiry hairs sprout from every orifice and the clothes have more creases than a beaten betting docket.
But this picture is changing. In fact, there has been a revolution in the way Irish guys are looking after their image.
However, it has been a quiet kind of revolution. Beauty regimes, clothes, shoes and body image are not issues that we Irish men have traditionally talked about. Even with our wives and girlfriends.
That is one of the reasons why I have had an ongoing fascination with the subject, why I have written extensively about it and why I made a documentary for RTÉ Two that examines the boom in the male beauty industry and the changing face (and body) of Irish men.
The Perfect Irish Man is my own voyage through the world of waxing, tanning, preening, plucking and plastic surgery, following the stories of typical Irish guys who do everything from hair-transplants and hair-removal to botox, breast-reduction and even more extreme surgery.
I also wanted to look at the pressures and motivations, how Irish women are prodding their men towards a more groomed image, how TV shows like Jersey Shore and The Only Way is Essex are normalising the ultra-tanned and buff look and how the beauty industry is cashing in on our insecurities and vanity.
The beauty business likes to use buzzwords such as "Manscaping" and "Brotox" and talk about The New Gent (metrosexuality is very last year, now all of us guys are supposed to look like Mad Men's Don Draper).
The sales of cosmetic products to Irish men, marketed using alpha-male sports and movie stars such as Rob Kearney and Pierce Brosnan, have exploded over the past five years.
Companies like Nivea and L'Oréal realised some time ago that they were only selling to half the world's population and set out to put at least one product in every man's kitbag.
These products are very cleverly marketed -- they are packaged in metallic-silver, pump-action dispensers and men are reassured that far from being girly, they are following "extreme skin-care" and using "tools for your face".
The marketing men and the media have done their job well. There is hardly a GAA, soccer or rugby club in Ireland where a man need now think twice about lining up his "products" -- or even arriving in with a suspiciously orange tan.
But an increasing number of Irish men are going beyond moisturisers and fake-tan. And the numbers opting for cosmetic surgery procedures, including hair-transplants, nose-jobs and breast-reduction are rising rapidly.
Hard statistics are thin on the ground (the Irish cosmetic surgery sector does not have an overall regulating body such as the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons or BAAPS).
But one leading cosmetic surgeon that I talked to, Dublin-based consultant Mr Kambiz Golchin, estimates that that roughly two out of every 10 of his patients is now male.
They come to him for eye-lifts, nose-jobs, chin-implants, or full face-lifts as well as non-surgical procedures such as botox and fillers (which smooth away frowns and wrinkles).
Botox specialist Dr Mark Hamilton, who has regular clinics in Belfast, Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway, says that men now make a significant portion of his client base, in some weeks as many as one-in-five.
"It is almost like the secret life of Botox and plastic surgery for men in this country," Dr Hamilton told me.
"Irish men tend to make a joke of it to their friends but then they slip off and make an appointment and have their regular Botox injections."
The pressures on Irish men to look good are wide-ranging. And many inside the industry said the number one concern, of middle-aged men especially, was that their tired faces or receding hairlines could tell against them in an increasingly cut-throat business environment.
The growing number of divorces and separations, which put middle-aged men back on the dating scene, are also a factor.
"Men are competing with other men for women but also in their careers and this is what leads them to wanting Botox nine times out of 10," said Dr Hamilton.
"If a relationship has broken down the man may have Botox to regain confidence. If he is dating a girl in her twenties he will want to look more youthful because her male friends will be in their twenties and he is competing with them.
"When it comes to careers it's the very same. There will be the young buck coming up snapping at your heels. You want to look good to take him on and keep confident. What is wrong with that?"
A growing number of Irish men would tend to agree with Dr Hamilton. The various clinics are still doing a brisk trade despite the recession and you can see the results of their work, and the work of the marketing men and image makers, in any pub or nightclub in the country, every weekend.
After following one young Irish man through breast-reduction surgery, standing in the theatre as the surgeon went to work and then following him as he made his recovery, I could understand why he would want to take a surgical option when a year of strict dieting and daily workouts had failed to shift his "man boobs".
Some might bemoan the dramatic move away from what we would consider the classic Irish man, rugged and weather beaten, dressed in tweeds, woolly-geansaís and sensible brogues.
But whether it's Mad Men, Jersey Shore or Tallafornia, the look of the average Irishman is changing. And most Irish women in particular would probably say it's about time.
The changing face of Louis Walsh
A number of high-profile Irishmen have had cosmetic surgery, including Louis Walsh.
The X Factor judge and Westlife manager admitted he had had a procedure in Los Angeles in 2009 in which he had fat removed from under his eyes to make him look younger.
"Simon [Cowell] said it was essential because of high-definition TV," he said last year.
The 59-year-old's appearance on the current series of the hit TV show has led to speculation that he had more work done during the summer.
Cosmetic surgeon Dr Aamer Khan from London's Harley Street Skin clinic has suggested that Walsh's smooth forehead could be the result of a new procedure: "His brow looks smoother, maybe a little Microtox -- that's tiny Botox injections."
The Perfect Irish Man is on RTÉ Two on Thursday at 10pm.