Phnom Penh Aside: Men's grooming etiquette

Phnom Penh Aside: Men's grooming etiquette

In the dim and distant past, men's grooming products consisted of a bar of soap, whatever shampoo was left around in the bathroom by someone else and shaving foam or cream. "Modern man" has a whole supermarket aisle dedicated to his body.

In the '70s, feminists told us that women's liberation was also men's liberation. The development of the modern man was a direct outcome of that social change, but it seems that whereas women achieved equal pay and maternity rights, men just got a bathroom shelf full of things their fathers didn't need.

Take shaving razors. The variety of razors is huge: one, two or three blades, with or without a soap-strip, disposable or ones that fit into a handle.

Then there's what used to be a can of foam or, before that, a bowl of soap with a shaving brush. We now have gels and foams for every skin sensitivity and taste.

Once only women had facial-care products, but today men have decided that they, too, get unsightly wrinkles. So we have exfoliant scrubs, moisturising eye creams and face packs to keep blemishes and dehydration at bay.

What has happened? Have we discovered needs our fathers didn't have or have we merely been subjected to marketing campaigns that have coaxed us into developing those needs.

For centuries,  Englishmen used to believe that too much washing made one weak, but today our bathroom shelf contains toiletries that would make our fathers blush.

Hair now needs conditioning as well as washing. Faces need cleansing (not washing) with tubes of stuff that is only good for cleansing faces.

Whereas another generation was happy to get by with just a pair of toenail clippers, modern man also needs devices to remove the nasal and ear hair that his grandfather sprouted and wore with pride.

In the past, a pot of brilliantine sufficed when a man wanted his hair slicked back like in the movies. Today, there are decisions to be made between gel, wax and foam - however, hairspray for some reason remains the preserve of females.

Cambodia mixes things up

The limited impact of the West can be seen in Cambodia in the almost total lack of aftershave in the pharmacy - only shelves of toilet water.

In fact, the much higher alcohol content and lack of emollients make toilet water completely unsuitable for application to a face. Toilet water is simply perfume for chest hair so that it smells nice if anyone should go rummaging through it.

An interesting feature of Cambodian society concerns the blurring between men's and women's fragrances.

In the West, whether a product is for men or women is always made perfectly clear by the way they are shelved in the shop, and the box of a men's product almost always announces "For Men" in case any confusion should arise.

In Cambodia, perfumes for men and women are all shelved together and are selected purely on the basis of what they smell like.

Perhaps this just reflects that Cambodian men haven't been bombarded with marketing like Westerners, or maybe it means they're just more secure in their sexuality than Western men.

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