Fiona McCade: Male grooming is a right Carry On

Picture: Sean Bell
Picture: Sean Bell
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Surely the trend for facials and a well-trimmed physique is at odds with the Celt’s rough and rugged masculinity, writes Fiona McCade

Perhaps I shouldn’t be writing this column. Perhaps the subject should be kept very quiet instead of being published across the land, because it has worrying parallels with the plot of Carry On… Up The Khyber.

In that glorious pinnacle of the filmmaker’s art, the Highland regiment of the 3rd Foot and Mouth – otherwise known as the Devils in Skirts – terrorises the local Afghan tribes, because the soldiers are believed to wear nothing under the kilt. This reputation for brutish, Celtic severity keeps the peace until one day, one Private Widdle – who makes Graham Norton look like Bruce Willis – is revealed to be sporting a pair of (shock! horror!) underpants and so, it transpires, is half the regiment. The locals stop taking the Foot and Mouth seriously and a full-scale rebellion breaks out. Only a mighty show of true Scots’ bare-cheeked butchness saves the day.

Many Scotsmen like to think that they are part of our country’s proud tradition of rough and rugged masculinity. So what are we to make of new data which suggests that Scottish manhood might be rather more fastidious than previously imagined? It’s true. This is not about underpants – although there are probably many so-called Scotsmen who would prefer to feel organic M&S cotton next to their family jewels, rather than fresh air – but it is about honour. It’s about the burgeoning popularity of the whole male grooming industry which might well compromise our men’s once-unassailable reputation for brawny toughness.

Last year, 53 per cent of Scottish beauty salons reported an increase in male customers and about the same number said that they would need to take on more staff to cope with the growing demand for treatments.

Gone are the days when the nearest any self-respecting Scotsman got to exfoliation was having his top layer of skin removed by a swipe from a claymore. In 2013, male customers in Scotland had facials more regularly than in any other part of the UK – once every 3.8 weeks on average.

I suppose these figures could have been skewed by Englishmen, Welshmen or Irishmen coming to Scotland specifically to get gorgeous, without fear of being seen doing so in their home towns, but I doubt it.

My husband is one of those grizzly Northmen who believes that staying as hairy as possible is the best way to avoid any necessity for personal care. In winter, the rain and snow simply run off his thick pelt.

In summer, if I can catch him, I shear him, but that’s pretty much the extent of his toilette. So when I asked him if he – or indeed any gentleman of his acquaintance – had ever had a facial (I knew the answer, I just wanted to see what he would do), the only printable thing he said was: “What’s a facial?” Then, after I explained that it was a cleansing, toning and moisturising treatment for a glowing complexion, he looked puzzled and said: “But you can do that yourself at home, can’t you? Why would you risk being seen coming out of a beautician’s?”

I can’t fault the logic, but these days the descendants of the tribes who put the fear of Jupiter into the Roman legions are evidently up for a bit of pampering. So are the Scots really going soft?

It’s possible, but I’m wondering if this trend has less to do with the-man-in-the-street genuinely wanting to look like Australian cricketing legend Shane Warne and more to do with wish-fulfilment in this age of austerity.

When women go for a beauty treatment, feeling like Cleopatra is part of the deal. Men, on the other hand, have traditionally been relegated to steam baths and expected to rub themselves down with nasty, rough towels – when they weren’t flicking them at each other in finest homoerotic locker room tradition, of course. Yet I can’t imagine Julius Caesar turning down the chance of a dip in the asses’ milk bath, so why should modern men be any different? Just because most Scots are descended from the barbarian hordes rather than the squeaky clean Romans shouldn’t mean that they never get a chance to be waited on, and feel like an emperor for a short while.

The feel-good factor of having someone else tend to your every cosmetic need shouldn’t be underestimated, yet for a long time it has been considered a mostly female preserve. It’s only fair that men should also have the opportunity to experience highly-trained handmaidens devotedly plucking their brows and declogging their pores. According to the survey, the average male customer is now spending £1,038 a year on making himself look and feel good, and if this translates into more jobs in the beauty industry, surely everybody wins?

I would certainly benefit if my husband took a bit more care of himself. After all, I’m constantly criticising him for only showering if the month has an “f” in it (and even then, he only does it once, in case he catches cold). He acts as though his Celtic and Viking heritage demand that he treats soap like the Ebola virus, but the facts don’t stack up.

Of course a Scot can be both tough and well-groomed at the same time. Think Sean Connery as James Bond. Hard, ruthless, dangerous, but always immaculately turned out. The ancient Picts might not have been famous for being particularly perfumed, but they took their self-decoration very seriously. They had woad, we have guyliner. They turned blue, in tanning salons across the Central Belt, we turn orange. Likewise, the Norse warriors weren’t averse to plaiting their hair, or wearing jewellery, but it didn’t stop them being absolutely terrifying.

My husband says he doesn’t know any bloke who follows a beauty regime, but looking more closely at some of his friends, I’m wondering if there might be a little dermabrasion going on. If the hard men of Caledonia have had a little help to look lovely, they’re not prepared to admit it. They just keep quiet and carry on.