May 31, 2010

"Real men" like to get Spanx'd: masculinity, body image and advertising

That’s right, since Spanx released a new line of “shapewear” or “profile-enhancing underwear” for men in February, the “body compressing” tanks, crews and v-necks have become undeniable “retail hit,” as reported in the New York Times. Thanks to Spanx, men can be cool, classic and contained. But Spanx isn’t the only company tapping into men’s growing insecurities about their midsections. According to the New York Times article, Equmen, Sculptees and RiptFusion have also released popular products for men, including a sort of  (ssshh) “push-up bra” for men.

While these expensive products are racking up sales, most guys keep this new line of roll squishing undies on the down-low. In fact, online sales outweigh in-store sales. Why all the hush-hush shopping for such these hot new retail products?

Publicly fretting about your midsection isn’t “manly.” That stuff is for girls and women. While rates of muscle dysmorphia, the body image disorder most commonly associated with men, have been discussed for years the truth is that all manner of body obsessions commonly associated with women have come to increasingly impact men. From increasing rates of eating disorders and plastic surgery to increased consumer sales of “manlydiet foods and men’s workout boosters, it is clear that unhealthy body preoccupations are not just for girls and women anymore.

How could men not become targets in a consumer culture that profits from insecurity? After all, there is more money to be made off the other half of the population. But how do you sell “wimpy” diet food or body compression garments to men when it isn’t seen as “masculine?”

Just as it took time for men to embrace beauty rituals they considered effeminate — remember when moisturizing used to be a metrosexual thing? — so has there been a learning curve for shapewear. “The biggest obstacle is to get a guy to understand it’s a new category, and it’s O.K. to wear it,” Mr. Kleinmann said. “It is still a little taboo.”

In essence, marketing. Create campaigns that speak to men in stereotypical masculine fashion so that said sausage-y men seeking sleekness can retain their sense of manhood.

Some clever semantics may help. Mr. Wooster of Neiman Marcus suggested that one way for men to think of a foundation garment (as he called Spanx) is that it is about “problem solving, and another way of feeling secure and prepared for life.”

Mr. Wooster understands gender 101. Rationality, control, reason and intellect are associated with masculinity.

RiptFusion advertises its line of compression shirts by stating :

RIPT FUSION is a classic men’s undershirt injected with steroids. Immediately, he will look and feel better in all of his clothes with a heightened sense of confidence.

Along with the brand name, their tag line “get Ript” and the super-hero guy on the home page say it all.

Spanx advertises: Man Spanx (play on words, perhaps?) and the Spanx’d out dude boldly proclaims “Game On.” In other words, Spanx ain’t for wimps.

Equmen plays up the whole “_____ and get laid” advertising approach (wear this/drink this/eat this/whatever and get laid).

This trend in expensive, body sculpting underwear is part of the increasing focus on men’s bodies and mounting male insecurity in a consumer driven, body-conscious, instant gratification society.  While we see men being targeted and impacted by body standards, body image and beauty is still gendered feminine and associated with girls and women. To sell products and services to men, advertising campaigns must convince men that they will be able to retain their masculinity in the same was corporations coined the term “metrosexual” in order to sell men beauty products and services without the fear of being labeled gay. In the same way that dieting and body image insecurity is still labeled a woman’s issue, men’s rising insecurities and body image disorders are still issues too often swept under the rug. After all, insecurity, self-doubt and self-loathing is still a “chick” thing. That sentiment is a disservice to women and men

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