Sunday Lifestyle

Was Jose Rizal our first metrosexual?

- Wilson Lee Flores -
I’m quite obviously not the world’s most handsome man – I’m the world’s second most handsome man! –Robbie Williams

Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart. –Kahlil Gibran

It’s weird that Time magazine’s latest Asian edition is only now trumpeting the metrosexual trend on its cover. Last May, Summit Media boss Lisa Gokongwei-Cheng’s Philippine edition of Men’s Health ran a totally divergent article by Joe Queenan that said: "No trend has come and gone faster than the ‘metrosexuality’ craze that erupted early last year. Metrosexuals, so the theory went, were an entirely new breed of straight, urban young men who unhesitatingly drowned their bodies in raucous cologne, who obsessed about their body hair, who spent an enormous amount of time and money shopping for chic, upscale clothing, and who were not afraid to be confused with gay men."

Britain’s Guardian newspaper concurred with a report on October 22: "It’s good news for traditional American men. The metrosexual is dead: long live the übersexual. After dominating US style and fashion for several years, the ideal of the modern male as someone who cared about fashion and skin care as much as a woman did is about to be swept aside by a return to old-fashioned, masculine values: fine wines, cigars and red-blooded heterosexuality."

The Guardian added: "While metrosexuals were obsessed with self-image and lifestyle, the übersexual is politically aware and passionate about real world causes. The metrosexual has women who are his best friends, while the übersexual respects women but retains men as his closest confidants. The metrosexual grooms his hair: the übersexual grooms his mind. The metrosexual reads Vogue and Cosmo, the übersexual The Economist and the New Yorker. Celebrity metrosexuals include Jude Law, Orlando Bloom and David Beckham, whose good looks can be seen as slightly womanly. Their übersexual counterparts include George Clooney, Donald Trump, Pierce Brosnan and Bill Clinton, who are fashionable and wear tasteful clothes, but are unashamedly masculine, not least in their often complicated and very heterosexual lifestyles…The world’s leading übersexual is the rock star and anti-poverty campaigner Bono. But all this is unlikely to provide much comfort for the ordinary man, who is now being told to dump his feminine side and try to become an alpha male."
Dr. Jose Rizal: Not Gay, But Metrosexual
Due to Time magazine’s report on the rise of Asian metrosexual men, this is my rare chance to finally defend the manhood of our late national hero Dr. Jose Rizal, whom some adventurous scholars in recent past have claimed was gay. De La Salle University’s Dr. Isagani Cruz wrote on the centennial year of the hero’s martyrdom in 1996 that Rizal was gay. Two years later, on the centennial year of the short-lived Malolos Republic, historian Ambeth Ocampo wrote that calling Rizal gay is not the worst thing that has been said against the national hero. To him, the worst was that Rizal’s greatness and heroism were all fabrications by the American colonizers.

I am not biased against gays, but I believe Rizal was heterosexual. Going by modern-day standards, Rizal could be classified as Southeast Asia’s first and most well-known metrosexual. Remember how the national hero always looked so well-groomed, neatly posed in all his photos and fastidious about the latest European fashions? His wardrobe, combs and other paraphernalia are publicly displayed in Fort Santiago for all to see as incontrovertible proof of my assertion that Rizal was our first metrosexual.

Metrosexual is a word that was originally a satirical concept concocted by British journalist Mark Simpson in 2002, and which became a worldwide phenomenon, to the delight of department stores, beauty companies, fashion houses and spas.

Rizal is not the only Asian in history who had impeccable grooming, tasteful clothes and high culture. Metrosexuality may have been a new and now dying fad in the West, but there were many metrosexual guys in East Asia long before the West coined the term. Time said that in Japan’s peaceful Heian period between 794 and 1185, for example, both men and women powdered their faces white. Chinese University of Hong Kong Prof. Anthony Fung said maleness in the West connotes "muscles, dark skin and strong bodies," but East Asia has had more flexible definitions of masculinity for ages. In China’s Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), men were depicted in paintings as ethereal, metrosexual-like beings.
Hope For Asia’s Newest Convert?
I have to confess that I used to be a stubborn fashion philistine – a stingy, self-styled Chinese with a devil-may-care attitude towards looks. But now, with or without the metrosexual fad or Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, I am a born-again guy trying to be more physically and sartorially vain.

Thank goodness Time magazine came out with its metrosexual issue. The article continues, "A few years ago, it may have been considered sissy for a guy to be fussy about his clothing and appearance. Real men demanded the world accept them on their own uncouth, unkempt terms. But in Asia nowadays, the definition of masculinity is undergoing a makeover – and narcissism is in, thanks to economic growth, higher disposable incomes, shifting gender roles, and fashion and cosmetics industries eager to expand their customer bases. No longer content to be the drabber sex, Asian males are preening like peacocks, perming, plucking and powdering themselves to perfection in an effort to make themselves more attractive to their bosses, their peers and, of course, to women. Vanity, thy name is ... man. The ranks of sartorially self-aware males are growing so fast…."

With or without the much-hyped metrosexual fad, I believe it is the duty of all guys to look and smell good. The trend of men beautifying ourselves is irreversible, with Euromonitor International research firm estimating that worldwide sales of male-grooming products will increase dramatically by 67 percent to $19.5 billion between now and 2008. But is that all there is to male beauty? Shouldn’t we also spend money, time, efforts and energies to improving the lasting inner beauty of our mind, our heart and our character to become better human beings? English novelist and poet Alduous Huxley wrote: "Real beauty is as much an affair of the inner as of the outer self."
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