China's 'Love-Beauty Men'

Yang Yong gets a facial at the Extraordinary Space Spa in Beijing Tuesday June 15, 2004. China's male beauty market, ignored until recently, is booming, with hundreds of salons springing up in Beijing and other major cities, targeting male customers.
AP
Pop music wafts through the Extraordinary Space Spa as Su Xin sinks into a chair, skin glowing and mood mellow after a facial and aromatherapy massage scented with lavender and sandalwood.

"I just feel so good now," said the 37-year-old travel agent, who comes every two weeks to the airy, plant-filled spa in a luxury Beijing apartment complex.

Beauty salons are well established in today's look-good China. Sales of cosmetics and designer fashions are surging. But something sets Su apart: He's a he.

Hundreds of salons like Extraordinary Space are springing up in Beijing and other cities, targeting male customers with eye-bag and weight-loss treatments.

China's booming male beauty market reflects the enthusiasm of a newly prosperous society to look and feel good — and the eagerness of Chinese and foreign companies to cash in.

Cosmetic surgery is wildly popular. Gyms are packed. Pharmacies sell pore-cleansing strips and facial foams for men.

They cater to "aimei nanren," or "love-beauty men," China's equivalent of the West's metrosexuals who embrace facials and other traditionally female grooming rituals.

"It's a new way of thinking," said Su, whose wife persuaded him to get his first facial in 2001. "I came to the spa once, twice, three times, and before I knew it, it was part of my routine."

The mammoth China International Hair and Beauty Festival this summer in Beijing will showcase the growing range of male beauty products, says its sponsor, the China Hair and Beauty Association.

"Beauty products are regularly used only by rich men and models or actors now," said a spokeswoman, Peng Shengguo. "But more and more ordinary guys are beginning to do the same thing."

In November, Chinese men will get a chance to flaunt their new look in what organizers say is the country's first Mr. China beauty pageant.

It comes less than a year after China hosted Miss World, its first international beauty pageant.

"We want people to appreciate manly beauty, which represents strength and courage. It also represents the spirit and the image of our nation," said Ren Qiao, head of Mr. China's organizing committee.

Competitors will be judged not only on appearance but knowledge, outdoor survival skills and public service activities. Prizes will go to Mr. Welfare, Mr. Health, Mr. Gentleman, Mr. Wisdom and Mr. Honest.

"A few years ago, if you let a male get on a catwalk, it would not have been acceptable," said the beauty association's Peng. "Right now, many men want to show off on stage."

So far, about 100 hopefuls have signed up.

"I think people would spend time and money to watch the competition," said Zheng Yuan, a 22-year-old who paid the $12 registration fee. "They have seen so many female contests, but this time they can watch something which is more demanding and comprehensive."

Wang Ping, the Minnesota-based author of "Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in China," pins the changes on China's exposure to the outside world.

"Beauty is flourishing once again," Wang said. "The tradition which cherished the delicate, refined features and mind for a beautiful man is now infused with the modern, Western ideas of sexy, athletic and wealthy."

At Extraordinary Space, display cases over such exotica as "dark chloasma cream" and "viable cell nutritious cream."

Manager Wu Qiang, his hair permed and teased, said more people are realizing the importance of appearances.

"Really, they are key in life," Wu said. "With women, it's almost a form of politeness to put on some makeup and look pretty when they are meeting friends.

"I feel there should be the same form of respect with men."

Su, the customer, is dressed in a sheer black polo shirt and khakis. Besides facials, he has dieted and exercised, dropping 33 pounds.

"The quality of people's lives is getting better and the demands are increasing," Su said. "This kind of luxury is something that is becoming more necessary. It's something that goes beyond the basics of life."

By Audra Ang