Most people probably only vaguely recall the word metrosexual. According to the dictonary, a metrosexual is defined as “a usually urban heterosexual male given to enhancing his personal appearance by fastidious grooming, beauty treatments, and fashionable clothes.” That’s a pretty straightforward definition if I’ve ever seen one. In fact, the word itself is a blend of metro (urban) and sexual. While metrosexual has been used to describe gay or bisexual men, it’s commonly used to describe a straight man that isn’t so interested in the negative confines of masculinity but embraces the positives.
David Beckham is the archetypal example. To many, he’s a sports hero. But to many others, he’s a fashion icon and a role model. That’s not say that David Beckham is perfect – he’s had his share of incidents after all, but to say he hasn’t had an influence on the ideas surrounding masculinity is misleading at best. There’s a reason that Tommy Hilfiger called him the underwear model of the century (despite the fact that we’re less than 25% through).
Still, it’s important to put this in perspective. David Beckham is a symptom of meterosexuality’s effect on culture, not a cause. That may be his authentic sense of self, but it’s not as though David Beckham personally pioneered the metrosexual movement. The TV sitcom also had a strong hand in it. Sitcoms present characters – like Phil Dunphy on Modern Family and Marshall Eriksen on How I Met Your Mother, who are straight and good male role models but are also in touch with their feminine side. They may not be inherently masculine figures, but they are also not metrosexual. This is how masculinity has been challenged in the past few years – through the power of pop culture.
But does that mean the term and concept of metrosexual is effectively dead? According to an Allure and GQ study (which is inherently liberal), 93% of people seem to think so. But it’s not as though there’s a better term to replace it. Synonyms include: dood, dandy, fop, and masher – not inherently inoffensive terms themselves. In fact, most (including me) would argue that these terms shouldn’t be used in conversation. And it’s pretty inagurable that they’re more dated words than metrosexual.
While language should evolve with the times, the term metrosexual hasn’t. We now just don’t have a neutral word to describe a man like David Beckham. And while I agree we could come up with a better word than metrosexual (or even no label at all), the political culture wars have demanded that we haven’t. In essence, talking about male body image issues is more trouble than it’s worth.
These days, an article like this that is discussing the formation and evolution of language is inherently political. That’s true whether I want it to be or not. But just because we deem the word meterosexual offensive doesn’t mean that the men it describes cease to exist. And for me personally, I find the erasure of language like this more harmful than the term metrosexual.