It’s tough to practice real self-care when the internet’s obsessed with #self-care. Let Mashable help with our new series Me, My Self-Care & I.
Genuine question: Why don’t we invite more men to become their #bestselves?
At the risk of sounding like a men’s rights activist Missing The Point Entirely, self-care really is one of the rare spaces where women dominate the culture, while men face countless gender-based stigmas and barriers to entry. (Don’t celebrate the win too much, though, ladies because we’ve still got the Pink Tax in the self-care industry to disadvantage us!)
“A lot of men when they think of self-care quite frankly imagine a woman in a bubble bath with a glass of champagne — and that’s just not manly,” said Gregory Brown, founder and director of the Green Psychiatry Center and an advocate for making wellness more accessible to men. “They think that if they’re taking time for self-care, they’re losing productivity, time from work. And that goes against what society tells us is masculine.”
We’re still far away from destigmatizing the types of self-care for men that matter most, like more introspective mindfulness practices, work-life balance, or, for some, therapy. But the past couple of years have shown the start of a huge cultural shift around what’s considered “acceptable” for men in terms of more superficial forms of self-care.
While this part of the revolution revolves pretty exclusively around personal care products, this shift does start conversations about the ways preconceived notions of masculinity hinder more wellness-focused self-care. And breaking down those barriers, even if they seem trivial in the larger scope of things, has the power to help men break free of societal limitations.
The market’s there
For years now, brands have seen the market value in changing how they approach personal grooming and well-being for men. Axe, in the past criticized for contributing to toxic masculine advertising, launched the “Is It Ok For Guys” campaign in 2017, questioning negative stigmas with commercials that frame taking time for bubble baths as “bathsculinity.” Meanwhile, Dove’s been pushing a personal care line for men since 2010 with advertising expanding to focus on involved father figures. Allied Market Research projects that the global market for men’s personal care will reach $166 billion by 2022.
It’s not just brands presenting a new perspective for men. Terry Crews — previously the spokesman for traditional masculine ideals through Axe, has opened up about his emotional trauma as a victim of sexual assault. Kid Cudi speaks openly about wrestling with depression and drug addiction. On the lighter side, Frank Ocean and Pharrell are out here talking skincare regimens in high profile interviews.
These gateways allow men to question and have conversations about what it means to be a “real” man in modern times, and taking care of themselves is often at the heart of what’s being reconsidered.
One of the biggest barriers for men in the self-care industry is the lack of entry points.
Women have all sorts of avenues to learn and hear about products that work for them. They talk to friends, watch beauty bloggers, and read magazines. Less so for men.
Brian Jeong, co-founder of Hawthorne, one of the most innovative startups making the personal grooming side of self-care easier for men, considers Hawthorne a doorway for those left out of self-care culture.
Aside from providing high quality products for skin and bath care, Hawthorne serves as a platform that lets men discover what self-care means to them as individuals, outside any new or old definition of masculinity. Their mostly male clientele starts with a quiz on their website that helps them understand their specific skin type or hair needs, for example.
But Jeong’s ultimate vision is destigmatizing beauty products for men. Hawthorne found that much like women, men spend a lot of time researching personal care and beauty products before they buy. They just do so solely online because there’s no other spaces or social structures designed for their participation in self-care culture.
The anonymity of the internet allows men to explore this new world on their own time and in private, which may eventually lead to more IRL exchanges about personal care.
“Men don’t have those conversations. They’re not like, bro, you smell great. What skincare product do you use?” said Jeong.
“It just makes you wonder, why do we have to do this in the shadows?”
Despite what some might presume, this new wave of self-care isn’t only for woke coastal elites. Only 20 percent of Hawthorne’s customers are from New York or California, with the vast majority coming from the Midwest and the South.
As Jeong pointed out, the internet played a big role in allowing this revolution in easily accessible and socially acceptable self-grooming, which for some can be an exercise in self-care.
Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club first got men thinking about and investing monthly in quality self-grooming that can come to them. That paved the way for companies like Hims to rise, too, which emphasizes the convenience, education, and anonymity of the internet to provide men with wellness solutions for everything from hair loss to erectile dysfunction.
A found men outspent women by 13 percent in the industry, seeking beautification treatments like injectables sometimes labeled “brotox.” It predicted that in the next decade, millennial men would increase from 10 percent of the medical spa marketplace to 30 percent.
Funnily enough, in talking to customers, Jeong found that one major gateway men have into the world of personal care products is significant others of the opposite gender. They’d use their lotion or cleansers or even makeup once, and it’d be enough to convince them.
Men deserve to indulge, too.
“And it just makes you wonder, why do we have to do this in the shadows?”
The Man Box
Gender equality advocacy group Promundo did an extensive study in partnership with Axe on what they termed “,” confirming the prevalence of harmful, restrictive ideas about masculinity that negatively impact men’s habits and society at large in the U.S., UK, and Mexico.
The study showed the self-care associated with physical attractiveness (like personal grooming or going to the gym) was practiced more by men who identified as being in the Man Box than those outside of it. Promundo Business Development Vice President Tolu Lawrence explained these activities allow men to meet standards of beauty that are still just ways of performing traditional masculinity and meeting societal expectations of manliness.
However, many core tenets of the Man Box, like self-efficiency and acting tough, prevent men from prioritizing self-care practices associated with emotional and mental well-being.
“In all three countries, men inside the Man Box showed a higher incidence of mental health problems, depression, suicidal ideation,” said Lawrence.
“The piece of the puzzle we see happening less, and that’s the next phase of this work, is wellness that’s beyond skin deep, beyond the surface level, and more towards young men caring for their emotional health and well-being,” she said.
Men need this form of self-care desperately, too. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found men 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than women in the U.S. (though the pattern is global, too). What we might glean from this devastating gender disparity is a message supported by the Man Box study: Men don’t feel comfortable asking for help when they need it.
“Men tend to suffer in silence,” said Brown of the Green Psychiatry Center. In his personal experience, he’s seen how women usually have stronger support systems of friends and are more willing to talk about their struggles with each other. Even the men that come into his office often only do so after reaching the end of their rope. Often, they’re practically being dragged in by a woman in their life.
As a psychiatrist who believes in the power of holistic self-care practices like yoga and meditation to help with depression, he’s hopeful that male attitudes toward these activities are improving. A Yoga Alliance study claims the number of men practicing yoga jumped from 4 million in 2012 to 10 million in 2016.
“Men are catching on that taking the time to pay attention to their mind as well as their body doesn’t just make them feel better. They’re also more productive, able to get more stuff done, have better relationships,” he said. “They’re realizing that they need to learn to take care of themselves if they’re going to be a good husband, a good father, a good boss, a good employee.”
Still, just like self-care products, one of the biggest barriers to getting men to consider this kind of wellness is the lack of social structures encouraging emotional vulnerability with one another.
“They need to learn to take care of themselves if they’re going to be a good husband, a good father, a good boss, a good employee.”
“Unfortunately, while men do have those talks, it’s uncomfortable. And when they do open up, it tends to happen in a bar or over alcohol. So the question is how do we get men to a point where they’re able to have those healthy conversations together outside of the clinic, in more everyday settings?”
Organizations like Evry Man are working on that, through accessible communal activities and retreats designed to connect men to these parts of themselves society tells them to close off. Yoga for Men: Forging Resilience also focuses on introducing yoga to men, particularly men of color.
“That first conversation is usually always the hardest,” said Brown. “But I think once people are able to see how that conversation goes, identify someone they trust, then usually the second and third conversations are a lot easier.”
Promundo also puts a heavy emphasis on the need for safe environments for men to open up emotionally.
“What we’re advising is, in order to break out of these gender stereotypes, we need to create spaces for guys to operate outside of the Man Box,” said Lawrence. Whether it’s in mass media, advertising, entertainment, or just as folks recognizing when the men in their lives are suffering, “the challenge and mission is helping young men understand that needing help or sharing emotions is not a weakness.”
Normalizing self-care in its many forms for men doesn’t just help a demographic that clearly needs it — though that in itself is reason enough. When we help men better themselves, we’re also helping the dominant culture realize the importance of embedding self-care into all our social structures.
“Men currently still drive a lot of the decision-making, hold a lot of position of power,” said Lawrence. “The more men are able to prioritize self-care, the more we all see the positive outcomes, with healthier relationships, and potentially more welcoming diversified workspaces. Just more people able to share spaces with one another safely.”
Because when men can be their best selves — when we begin to dismantle the barriers to letting people just be people instead of keeping them in a box — then we’re all better for it.
If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. For international resources, this list is a good place to start.