Cuba Headlines

Cuba News, Breaking News, Articles and Daily Information

For a number of reasons, Cuba has not been spared from so-called "metrosexuality," but is it a sign that Cuban men are becoming more liberal, or less sexist?

In Cuba as elsewhere, theres always room for the handsome and the not so handsome. Who knows if its because of a trick in the dictionary or just common sense playing a practical joke, but some "pretty" men feel absolutely at ease with themselves. Grateful for having been born in perfect harmony with the prevailing cultural canons of, they are usually more pleased with their physique than are others around them.

Theres no shortage of linguistic novelties in the market - metrosexual, technosexual, ubersexual, retrosexual, and even the alpha-man. Still untouched by the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language, these are floating around in the ether of human speech. The western media, however, have catapulted these into the public arena, much to the pleasure of the business world.

These multi-prefixed classifications, which in the final analysis seem to indicate a given "sexual" behavior, but by no means point to any specific form of conduct, orientation or preference, are only a set of descriptors of some mens attitudes toward their looks and a supposed key to "mens lib."

Perhaps if we look to the past well see that the entire concern about being handsome or otherwise is nothing but peoples eagerness to be accepted by their peers, to win themselves social recognition, or to make it to the height of public acclaim.

In the ancient world, men took conscious care of their outward aspects, though their interest can be linked in most cases to their social status and public image. As time has proven, beauty products and services sell more because international media have validated the emergence of a "new man" "who is actually anything but that" oblivious to any boundaries set up by a phallocentric culture. They are portrayed as regular customers at beauty parlors, highly selective about their clothes, and fond of jewellery - deemed until a few decades ago by social norms as being exclusively female attributes. A shallow picture at best, heedless of a mans humane standing, spiritual evolution and political uniqueness.

We could hazard a guess and say that any such trend in our country would be at odds with the impact of the "special period" (the economic crisis experienced in Cuba resulting from the collapse of the eastern European socialist community). Yet, a short walk down the streets in Havana will suffice to be struck by the frequent sight of men with shaven arms and legs, polished nails, plucked eyebrows, earrings and other -until very recently- female attributes.

Regardless of whether or not the assertion that metrosexuality exists as just a market strategy, the fact is that some men in Cuba appear different these days.
Mirror, mirror on the wall

"Its the crisis of the Mexican 'macho man, " says University student Roberto Labaut, referring to metrosexuality. Some young Cubans understand this as the renunciation of manliness as we know it, like turning your back on the image that Humphrey Bogart stamped on western taste long ago.

But how has metrosexuality been perceived? It was British journalist Mark Simpson who, in 1994, who used the term to define the bearing of a young man living in a metropolis, fond of sophistication, mindful of his body, wearing designer clothing and ready to have his nails done without a qualm. According to Simpson, metrosexuals take themselves as their own objects of love and are obsessed with being trendy. It was written in the New York Times a short time later that "These are impatient, uniform men willing to embrace their feminine side."

Bordering on narcissism, metrosexuality entails no specific sexual orientation, as its hedonistic approach to physical appearance is shared by homosexuals, heterosexuals and bisexuals alike.

Dr. Julio César González Pajés, a professor at the University of Havana and coordinator of the Red Iberoamericana de Masculinidades (Ibero-American Masculinity Network), holds that "todays man is much more androgynous and 'feminine - not effeminate, but feminine from the female standpoint of socialization."

Some metrosexual icons have world-famous names: Los Angeles Galaxy soccer teams newest star David Beckham has set enough trends and fashions to become metrosexualitys global paradigm. Beckham has admitted that he likes to polish his nails and pluck his eyebrows because it makes him feel better. The British team captains haircuts -a different one each season- and hairless arms and legs, visible in popular media campaigns centered on his image which reaches every corner of the world, are a hallmark his fans always rush to imitate. Other no less "manly" figures have also succumbed to the fever, such as Mexican singer Alejandro Fernández, a.k.a. 'El Potrillo (The Little Colt), who has declared himself a "metrosexual cowboy [1]."

Cuba has not been spared this effect of globalization, despite the countrys attempts to distance itself from the publicity machine. It is a small wonder then that some men are embracing this mania, in most cases unaware that by doing so theyre turning into potential metrosexuals.

JRs social research team interviewed 60 people across Cuba, all between the ages of 14 and 30, to obtain their insight into the workings of this new tendency toward the «stylized man». Indeed, they had noticed Cuban mens increasing use of traditionally female attributes, namely waste-high tight pants, plucked eyebrows, long dyed hair, shaven or waxed body, thin-strapped tank tops, polished nails, lipstick, facials, stylish hairdos, hair bands, pierced navels, and so forth.

Cubans have a variety of views about their metrosexual countrymen, whose ways are seen by many as either an effort to keep up with fashion or a sign of rebellion and protest "in the case of teenagers" and as a foreign cultural fallout by others. Still others call it a male recipe for self-esteem that men can use to undergo an aesthetic alteration. It is thought to display the subjects open-mindedness like a neon sign.

In Julio César González Pajéss opinion, "the line between hetero-, homo- and bisexual has now been broken everywhere, and Cuba is no exception. The aesthetics of being a man is more and more indefinable and not at all a sign of his sexual leanings."

Miguel Vargas, 47, is a tourist taxi driver at Varadero Beach for whom metrosexuality "is about the loss of values and ethics. Those guys have no principles, probably since they were children." A student of Nuclear Engineering from Havana, Carlos Lugo (24), says "our youth are riding roughshod over national culture; by mistaking culture for freedom they are breaking the mold of Cuban manhood."

A beauty academy professor and member of the Pelarte project, Guillermo González Lezcano sees metrosexuality in Cuba as a sign of the crisis the country has been through: "theres a loss of cosmetic identity because everything went down the drain, everything declined with the special period."

Most of the population ascribes it to fashion, foreign cultural values imported by different means, and rampant consumerism. "The market hold sway over these people -assures Zuleika Andrés, a 30-year-old dentist from Havana- either through magazines or a certain kind of films where these values are extolled in a mans physique embodied in heroes, superheroes, athletes, etc., who all achieve success and therefore encourage consumerism». Gretel Téllez, 18, would rather call it «evolution of thinking and influence of European fashion."

Julio César González Pajés is even more categorical: "What is beyond question is that Cuba is under the influence of that global movement and our youth are ever more eager to look like their peers overseas."

Some simply put it to a true shift in aesthetic and behavioral concepts. "Rather than a copy, its typical of the evolution of species; our mind changes, our taboos have gradually come apart, and social and technological progress goes hand in hand with human development," says Nuclear Engineering student Filiberto de la Cruz, while Danny de los Santos, a National School of Arts student, describes it as "a wish to do things differently; an aesthetic transformation."

At the fashion house La Maison we found some Cuban males whose job as models makes them pay lots of attention to their outward aspect (they asked to remain anonymous). They dont stick to "metrosexual" as a label, since "a man who fails to take care is a man who attaches very little value to himself," and dont mind saying that in their field "everyone cares for his image, lives for his body, works out, shaves, wear creams and is on a diet..." True, they admit, society frowned on us at first: "What first comes to peoples mind is that were gay." And its even worse at home: "Many of our parents were reluctant in the beginning, for they find it hard to see you shaved, with your eyebrows plucked and your hair dyed a different color."

Mariana Pérez (23) and Katia Suárez (24) are two sociologists for whom metrosexuality in Cuba "happens because men are now more aware of the importance of their image and health and also leaving behind their sexist views."

But is metrosexuality a sign that the canons prevailing in machismo-oriented societies are being broken? Is it about "mens lib" as some want to call it? Market, market: who in this land is of all the fairest man?

Its no accident that a new standard of male beauty has come up so strongly linked to profit-making interests. A simple search for this topic in the Internet presents the metrosexual as "the new man we love."

Their thoughts almost invariably pervaded by advertising, some people go as far as to believe they will be more beautiful depending on the product they use: Gillette, Palmolive, LOréal, Loewe, Bulgari, Biotherm Homme, Vichy Homme, Lancôme, Channel... and Cuba has its own share of men capable of multiplying bread and fish to look a little better, never mind that the price of those goods suit very few pockets.

According to Havana Universitys School of Psychology vice-dean Dr. Lourdes Fernández, "culture has favored a set of manhood standards based on physical strength, psychological power and male vigor." An Argentinean website called SentidoG, however, brings to the fore the issue of todays man describing him as one who "shares with women the wish to have a soft skin and often more female, delicate looks."

González Pajés assures that "as men turn their heads to the industry of cosmetics sales will increase. Were part of global society, so when our men start to dye their hair, pluck their eyebrows and shave their legs, Cuba will have joined the world market of beauty products."

As to Cuba, designer Guillermo González Lezcano thinks "theres a market-driven aesthetic freedom, and this beauty market is important to preserve a countrys beauty values. Were at the mercy of that market because we have no beauty department in Cuba to lay down provisions regarding our aesthetic ideals. We look to all schools while we have none, therefore we must study them all in order to find our own. Cuba has just

In his view, this market is also drawing the line between masculine and feminine. Its goal "to convince men it doesnt matter if theyre broad or narrow in the hips, or very thin, fat, short or tall... they all wear the same pants. In other words, morphology doesnt square with the need to make special designs for them." Metrosexuality, therefore, is the markets brainchild, and it rose from it riding on the medias back.

Nonetheless, some think society is not the only motivation behind a mans great care for his looks. "Haircare products are unisex," says Sarah, 35, a saleswoman in a shop at Habana Libre Hotel. "We all like to take care of our hair, and there are things for every age and every stage. We sell to all kinds of people, from young men eager to dye their hair blonde to older ones looking for products to cover their white hair or asking about something to prevent hair loss."

On the other hand, its clear that metrosexual norms have found some room in this Caribbean island, and the market has seized the opportunity to increase its sales. Sarah ventures to suggest a reason: "cosmetics are at the very essence of human beings."

In Habana Libres beauty parlor we find Nereida Pérez, who has been doing hands and removing hair for 15 years. "We must understand that men are like women, they all want to look nice. The way you look is always very important to both men and women."

Anti-wrinkle creams, hair implants, nail polish, lipstick... a whole range of products for men which would have been a big plus for the Grimm brothers male characters and a good reason for Snow Whites stepmother to go pale with jealousy. The beauty industry has led men to wonder who is the fairest man of all and answered the question for them: "all men are fair, but none are as fair as the metrosexuals."
Metrosexuals... the mirage of "mens lib"

"Im a greaser in a gas station. Dont you think that I look a mess at the end of the working day?," asks one of the models we interviewed. "All that grease sticks to the hair on my hands and body. When I finish work I clean up and always dress properly. No one can guess Im a greaser because I wear perfume and cream and go around very well dressed. Most of what you need to take care of you is expensive, and thats why we have other jobs in addition to modeling. Its the only way to make ends meet, since cosmetics cost a lot of money."

Another one reflects on the apparent change of roles induced by metrosexuality: "My girlfriend says I go out shirtless to show off, and she doesnt like it. So you see, weve moved from the 'I-dont-want-you-to-go-out-in-tights line to the 'I-dont-want-you-to-wear-that-little-undershirt-outside warning by our women."

Lourdes Fernández is convinced theres no such thing as 'mens lib. "I call it a sign of change, not 'liberation. Its just that some stereotypes are demanding attention and young people are obliging, and in a great variety of ways. I think theres an urgent need for change with an emphasis on more autonomy and physical beauty. Yet Im not so sure whether a man who shaves is no longer a sexist man. He does it to be handsome and pick up a lot of women, and then he ends up 'ranking high in the list of coveted men. Yet,thats not 'liberation, just more of the same. It used to be Rodolfo Valentinos greased hair, then the sideburns, then Elviss tight curls and The Beatles bangs... there have been plenty of fads. Men seem to be more flexible, but its only more of the same as it is about the body," she remarks.

"Theres no such a spontaneous 'mens lib," González Lezcano says. "Man has been brainwashed, but the old prejudice is still there: they keep trying to look good to score among women... or as a disguise, because when it comes to sexuality the trend is not to rate man, but allow him more leeway and make him more like God instead... any androgynous considerations notwithstanding. Man still has sexist and homophobic thoughts."

To González Pajés, "it has been seen in social debate as the change expected of men. That is, men with other 'mannerisms, which is in no way a change in their sexist views, only in their aesthetic approach. And were seeing all this in urban settings; I dont think its common in the countryside."

Pajés acknowledges we cant talk about "mens lib" the same as we did about womens. "When women got rid of their social ties, they also threw away their clothes, aesthetic considerations and ideological mindset, unlike what weve seen in this aesthetic change some call 'mens lib. Do men have new conceptions? Absolutely, but theyre not as significant as womens were. Should it take place, 'mens lib will be much more superficial. This is not a change worthy of reflection. Of course, when the norms change, however cursorily, other types of change come along."

Is it a change in the essence or just on the surface? The answer remains uncertain, as the keys to this question lie in societys evolution... and the beauty market. In the meantime, ninth grade student Jorge Sotolongo asked us: "When you publish this piece in the paper give me a copy, I want to show it to my dad because he wont let me wear several colors on my hair."
(Juventud Rebelde)

Related News