Metrosexuality traces its roots to a single source: Looking Good: A Guide for Men by Charles Hix (1977). Do some checking around and you will find that the book is kind of a cult gay classic, despite being overtly ungay. You could make some sort of case, perhaps a convincing one, that a book on personal grooming for men written today could have few, if any, homosexualist overtones (it’s Russell Smith’s and Glenn O’Brien’s métier), but 1977 was an era in which not everything was as it seemed.

Double-page spread has headline TOOTHSOME GUIDES and shows a muscular freckled man blow-drying his hair The first give­away is the book’s photo­graph­er: Bruce Weber (yes). The gig is pretty much up right there, isn’t it? But it’s too easy to laugh. I had long since stopped laugh­ing after having read “It All Started Here,” by the actually sometimes quite troubles­ome and obstruc­tion­ist David Kamp, in GQ, October 2007. Kamp docu­ments the history of Weber; his “sister” David Sterzin (my term, and a bit reductive); and Weber’s muse and Sterzin’s crush, a former water-polo player named Aquilon.

Twenty years in, I realize the Weber æsthetic is only that, an æsthetic. Photographs of naked men grooming, men in shorts weighing themselves at the gym, and, most curiously, men in jockstraps firing like a rocket straight up from a swimming pool may be suggestive or ridiculous, but I defy anyone to honestly call them sexual.

Now, this does not prevent Looking Good from falling prey to overripeness. If we grant that the photos are Weberian (almost undatably so – they could be from any generation), what does the writing tell us?

Well, it’s typeset in a nice loose Optima and is easy enough to read, assuming one overlooks the display type. Let’s talk about hair care.

Investigate what you’re doing to destroy your hair, then set about healing it. Avoid harsh shampoos; avoid the sun; avoid anything that’s hampering. If at-home corrective conditioners fail, rush to a salon for professional hair/scalp treatments. Quick. […]

Beware the dangers of mechanical abuse. Don’t brush overzealously. (Some theorists suggest no brushing ever, a rather extreme view.) Also avoid sharp-toothed combs. Too much hair spray clogs the pores on the scalp. Too strong a stream of hot air from blow dryers can be lethal. In short, treat your scalp gently, lovingly, and tenderly.

It actually takes a bit of work to find passages like that one. The rest of the advice is a tad gassy and, viewed from the 21st century, unscientific – one clamours for Paula Begoun to explicate the full list of ingredients in a bottle of “texturizing” shampoo. (The first entry in the index, perhaps coincidentally, is “Abdominal muscles, exercises for.”)

Weber was a giveaway, but what loses the game are the headings. Every chapter hed and subhed (set in Avant Garde Gothic) and sub-subhed (set in Times Bold!) is some kind of half-assed pun or joke, an elbow in the ribs. See for yourself: Here’s the complete list.


Making headway: Hair & scalp care

  • View from the top: Hair structure
  • In a lather: Shampooing
  • Temporary employment: Conditioning
  • Holding pattern: Grooming aids
  • Headaches: Hair problems (“Dull, lifeless hair”; “Fine, flyaway hair”; “Fine & clinging hair”; “Greasy mish-mash)
  • Loosening up: Scalp care

All the trimmings: Hair styling

  • A cut above: Choosing a style (“Nosing in: The nose”; “Sound advice: The ears”; “To the fore: The forehead”; “Side by side: The sideburns”; “The blahs”; “Berserk”; “Perfection”)
  • Cutting barbers to size: Choosing a stylist

Going straight, making waves: Chemical reactions

  • Nothing kinky: Straightening
  • Curl talk: Perms

Do or dye: Hair colo[u]ring

  • Tarnished surface: Comb-through-coloring [I’m just going to leave the American spellings intact from now on]
  • Wash day: Temporary coloring
  • A sometime thing: Semipermanent coloring
  • Lightweight: “Lifters”
  • All the way: Permanent coloring (single process)
  • Take it all off: Permanent coloring (double process)
  • Half measures: Selective coloring
  • Salad days: Vegetable dyes

Tooling around: Hair implements

  • Lots of hot air: Dryers
  • Toothsome guides: Combs
  • Boaring: Brushes

The bald truth: Hair loss

  • Down the drain: Hair recession
  • Making more with less: Styling considerations (“The swirler”; “A downer”; “Off-balance”; “Crowned”; “Vanishing act”)

Undercover agents: Hair replacement

  • Overalls: Wigs
  • Piece & happiness: Hairpieces
  • Togetherness: Hairweaving
  • A stitch in time: Hair implantation
  • Supply and demand: Hair transplantation
  • Exposé: Shaving it

Fringe benefits: Facial hair

  • Home grown: Beards & moustaches
  • Bewhiskered: Caring for facial hair

Weather vain: Seasonal considerations

  • The friendly skies: Spring & fall
  • The cold war: Winter
  • Fatherly sun advice: Summer


Clean living: Skin care

  • Cell blocks: Skin structure
  • The dirt about soap: Cleansing
  • Pore boy: Scrubs
  • Fresh face: Astringents
  • Water proof: Moisturizing
  • Clearly evident: Normal skin
  • Shining example: Oily skin
  • Oil embargo: Dry skin
  • Two-faced: Combination skin [early mention of the term T-zone]
  • Touchy: Sensitive skin

Blemished reputation: Complexion problems

[The word “complexion,” with its xion morpheme, is inherently fey.]

  • Plugged up: Whiteheads, blackheads
  • The pits: Acne
  • Heartbreak: Eczema, psoriasis

Morning male: Shaving

  • Edge wise: Shaving methods
  • Rough going: Shaving problems

Masque force: Facials

  • Skin game: Professional facials
  • Peels of laughter: At-home facials

Border lines: Fighting wrinkles

  • X-rated rays: Environmental factors
  • Watering holes: Moisturizing factors
  • Creamed: Cosmetic factors
  • Instant replay: Exercise factors
  • Lit up: Smoking factors
  • Dreamboat: Rest factors
  • That old feeling: Aging factors

Off color: Artifice

  • Keeping a glow on: Bronzers
  • Shady business: Makeup

Job openings: Facial organs

  • On a clear day: Eyes
  • Framed: Corrective lenses
  • Front & center: The nose
  • Sound advice [again]: Ears
  • Lip service: The mouth
  • Organ grinders: Teeth [sic]

The kindest cut: Cosmetic surgery

[Again, this is a book “for men.”]

  • Permanent press: Getting rid of wrinkles
  • Incisive: Nose jobs
  • Excess baggage: Eyelid operations
  • Sound ideas: Ear surgery
  • Spot removal: Moles

Weather vain [again]: Seasonal considerations

  • The friendly skies: Spring & fall
  • Fatherly sun advice: Summer

The body

In hot water: Cleansing

  • Tubs of fun: Bathing
  • Stalled: Showering
  • Whishing: Water jets

On the defensive: Perspiration

Crotchety: Genital odor [again, sic]

Using good scents: Fragrance

  • Liquid assets: Colognes
  • Family planning: One scent’s worth

Un-fun fur: Excess hair

Patch work: Temporary hair removal

Fed up: Diet and nutrition

Double-page spread is headlined FED UP: DIET AND NUTRITION and shows a well-built man in shorts and a towel weighing himself at a gym
  • Waisting away: Dieting
  • Rib caged: Underweight
  • Popping in: Vitamins power [sic]
  • Rapid transit: Fasting

Shaping up: Exercise and toning

Double-page spread is headlined SHAPING UP: EXERCISE AND TONING and shows a man in a jockstrap standing straight up in a swimming pool holding a water-polo ball
  • On the move: Daily doings
  • Body works: Choosing physical activity
  • Teaming with spirit: Sports as exercise
  • Manual labor: Massage
  • Temperatures rising: Saunas, Turkish baths [“Steam rooms are meeting grounds where the body’s problems supposedly drip away in a warm atmosphere”]

Weather vain [yet again]: Seasonal considerations

This whole structure is a repeat.

  • The friendly skies: Spring & fall
  • The cold war: Winter
  • Fatherly sun advice: Summer

Hands & feet

Getting clipped: Nail care

  • Digital watch: At-home manicures & pedicures
  • Nail safe: Professional manicures & pedicures

Arch de triomphe: Foot care

Firm footing: Daily considerations

La grip: Hand care

Velvet-glove treatment: Daily considerations

Weather vain [yet again]: Seasonal considerations

[The fourth instance.]

  • The friendly skies: Spring & fall
  • The cold war: Winter
  • Fatherly sun advice: Summer

Charles Hix dedicated Looking Good to “R.D., who is always there.” That would be Robert Dahlin of Publishers Weekly. Hix had a later career writing about gay literature for that periodical. He needs his own Web site.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2008.06.15 12:13. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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