I am going to look so pretty, is what I tell myself—and the chorus of posturing macho jocks, a gang of grizzled Clint Eastwood types jeering at me from an adolescent and outdated corner of my imagination—as I head into Blushington on a Monday afternoon for a skin peel, some eyebrow maintenance, and a little light contouring.
Well-groomed men are in. This magazine told me so. Old notions of masculinity, reinforced by an unjust patriarchal society and oppressively limiting gender roles, are rightfully crumbling. Men moisturize now. Peels and, sure, a touch of concealer, aren’t that much further down the road of chemically assisted beauty. Give me fat glittering gobs of makeup, while you’re at it. Why would I want to be dusty Clint Eastwood when I can be radiant David Bowie?
Assured in my manhood, I am filled with a different kind of fear after walking up for my appointment at the makeup and beauty lounge (“where feeling pretty is priceless!”) on Oak Lawn: The Anxiety of the Schlub. The two other men here for this test run of Blushington’s new in-store male grooming package are handsome, fashionably attired, with the sharp confident poise of dudes who put some work into looking good and know it paid off. I buzz my head with an electric razor once a month, wash my face with a bar of soap slightly more often than that, and neither of my two pairs of jeans really fit me. Is this a trap? I was worried about getting teased by the tough guys when I should have feared the withering gaze of the well-dressed.
I want a drink, but opt for a glass of water over wine, reasoning that too much pampering will impair my ability to respond if the trap is well and truly sprung. My car is parked outside, but it’s too late for an early getaway. I’ve shaken several hands already. Whisked into a seat, a Blushington pro begins priming my face for Step One: the BEAUTYRx PEEL.
STEP ONE: THE BEAUTYRx PEEL
I fill out a questionnaire and sign something that essentially assures Blushington my face can handle this. Involuntarily, I think of the face-melting scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I do not mention this aloud, because I still have some hope that the Blushington stylists will assume I am a normal, if charmingly schlubby, person. I start in on the self-deprecation, hoping for some charitable laughs. Maybe I get one. The cleansing and toning begins, followed by the peel itself, which is really more of a dabbing, as the product is applied to my face.
It is around this time that I hear the first mention of Dr. Schultz, whose name is spoken at Blushington in the same reverent tone one reserves for holy men and the spiritually insane. Neal Schultz, sort of the Moses of glycolic acid peels, brought down from Mount Sinai a skin treatment used by thousands upon thousands of satisfied customers, an increasing number of them men. The New York Times was all over Schultz and the phenomenon of man-peels more than two years ago, and the Yankee dermatologist’s Ten Commandments of male skincare have at last made their way south to convert the men of Dallas.
Schultz has also treated celebrities, the publicist hovering nearby in the salon assures me, and I begin to feel famous by association as a pleasant tingle shivers from my chin to my forehead.
After two minutes of tingle and chatter, the makeup artist neutralizes the peel with water and a cotton swab. The tingle fades. I’m told to feel my softer, lighter face with my finger, and I meanwhile look for a halo surrounding my head in the mirror.
STEP TWO: BROW MAINTENANCE
This is lovely. Every man should tame his unruly eyebrows. Why have I never done this before? This guy is a wizard with a pair of tweezers.
STEP THREE: COMPLEXION
A new makeup artist comes in. Have I ever worn makeup before? Twice: Once as an extra in a commercial for outdoor lawn furniture, once for Halloween. This is different. I am going to look so pretty.
Tinted moisturizer is applied, and the sun protection factor on my face must be strong enough by now that I could spend days locked in a tanning bed without so much as turning pink. Next is the concealer, vanishing zits and the dark circles under my eyes, which I had thought baked into place by chronic sleep deprivation and the glow of too many screens. Finally, some light contouring—if I had any cheekbones to speak of, this may feel more significant. As is, I feel like the makeup artist has turned the “glow” knob a little further to the right.
We’re done here. The whole process takes about 30 minutes. I get up from the chair, drop my thank yous and goodbyes, and step out into the world, dazzling.
I send a selfie to my significant other, who compliments my pout and later remarks that I look airbrushed. I think this is good. Models and movie stars in the glossy pages look airbrushed. Mere mortals don’t get digital touch-ups IRL. I can’t stop taking pictures of myself. I’m ready for my close-up, and in the 21st century, I can do it all by myself. I learn that I love mugging for my own camera. Most of the time this would feel lewd. With a $100 peel and touch-up applied, it feels like Christmas and Halloween together. Nobody else will ever see these photos. My own private holiday.
I don’t see the man-peel becoming a regular part of my grooming regimen. I can’t afford this kind of pretty, for one thing. My face is not a natural money-maker. While I’m looking forward to the promised days-long afterglow of the peel — for several days I do, indeed, feel clean and pristine and shiny — I’m ready to wash that final layer of makeup off after my fevered selfie session, already a little embarrassed by how enthusiastically I was snapping myself seconds ago, Narcissus with a smartphone. Should I tweeze my eyebrows more? Probably. But I won’t need anything this thorough that often. I’m not a model or a movie star.
Sometimes, though, I think I might want to feel like one. And for a few hours, I do, with little concern of what the rest of the world thinks.
There are times when all men could benefit from a little extra glamour. Photoshoot for your online dating profile? First date? Engagement photos? Television appearance? Job interview at an especially fashion-forward office? Self-esteem boost? Go get yourself man-peeled, brother.
A little later, joining my roommates at our neighborhood dive bar, I wait for them to notice the difference. With a little prompting, one says that something’s up with my eyes. The other glares at me for a while. It is dark here. He is noncommittal.
Screw them. I look so pretty.