Photographers' Blog

Macho gives way to metrosexual in Manila

June 10, 2013

Manila, Philippines

By Cheryl Ravelo

Filipino males have long been known as “macho,” preferring to go to barbershops rather than to salons for men and women to highlight their masculinity. But in the Internet and Facebook age, macho has given way to “metrosexual,” with aesthetic beauty clinics catering to men sprouting all over urban areas in the Philippines. Most of these clinics spend millions of pesos to get male celebrities and politicians to endorse their services and prove that being vain does not diminish one’s masculinity.

I sent out email requests to almost all major players in the aesthetic beauty industry, but it took about three months to get approvals, and only from a handful of clinics.

My first stop was Flawless, one of the pioneers in the aesthetic beauty industry in the country catering to both men and women. I am not a stranger to beauty centers, but bright pink tiles and couches in the reception area, and the same loud color for attendants’ uniforms could be a shock for most men.

I spent days on the pink couch waiting for male clients who would agree to a few photographs and an interview. A handful of those I met were first-time clients, but most were regular customers.

One Tuesday afternoon, a gentleman entered the clinic dressed in the Filipino formal shirt called a “barong”, black pants and black leather shoes, and headed straight to the reception for a scheduled treatment. He kept glancing at his watch as he waited for an attendant, and kept asking if it was his turn. I introduced myself and asked if he would be willing to be photographed. He begged his way out of photos but willingly answered all my questions, saying he usually goes to the clinic for facials in between meetings or during his lunch hour.

The next day, I met a man in another Flawless branch with color highlights in his spiked hair, looking surprisingly younger than his 58 years. He said he was a regular client for 10 years and was getting the latest cell booster infusion mask on that particular visit, a procedure to combat and protect the skin against the effects of destructive free radicals, nourish the skin cells and encourage tissue regeneration.

Later, a young man walked in with his mother followed by another male who didn’t bother to take off his headphones. They both went for a treatment called “advanced real gentleman facial,” saying they regularly have those treatments to boost their self confidence and look good for their partners.

A few hours before the clinic closed, Jan Saguinsin, 32, with tattoos on his arms, lay down comfortably on a pink bed, his hair pushed back using a pink embroidered headband and his hands were covered in a pink hot moist pack while an attendant gave him a power skin peel treatment. I smiled to myself seeing his tattoos pressed against the pink bedsheet.

I got a call from another facial center called Paradise Bliss late on a Wednesday night. The person on the other end of the receiver said a group of male friends just entered the clinic. I rushed to the place and saw three of them already comfortable on beds lined up next to each other. Instead of the usual drinks on a boy’s night out, these men were having facials. One of them was obviously familiar with the treatment, smiling even as he clenched his fists and let out painful moans as an attendant pricked his blackheads.

In a regional study conducted in 2004 by global market survey company, Synovate, 84 percent of men in Manila agree that looks are everything. The same is true even for rural menfolk. They do not have the money to get facial treatments or buy whitening products, but they care about how they look.

“We already have dark skin, we’ll be ugly if we get even darker,” said Romeo Apelado, 59, a fisherman at Laguna de Bay in Taguig City wearing a worn out face mask made of pieces of fabric sewn together and a long-sleeved shirt to protect his skin from the sun as he goes out to the lake to fish for six to eight hours every day.

Whether it is just a normal facial or an expensive power peel, pricey whitening skin care products or a cheap, improvised facial mask, looking good and flawless is a top priority for the Filipino “macho” man.

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