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Kiwi males take to grooming products – just not too many

Student in front of Clocktower

Friday 9 September 2011 8:45am

In a country besotted with its rugby and rural heroes, use of cosmetic grooming products has become widely accepted by young New Zealand males, according to a University of Otago Marketing Department study.

But having more than five male grooming products in your bathroom vanity is still a step too far in the femine direction for Kiwi males.

The research “Retailing masculinity: Gender expectations and social image of male grooming products in New Zealand” was conducted by Senior Marketing Lecturer and Otago University International Business Programme Director Dr Lisa McNeill and L’Oreal scholarship honours student Katie Douglas. It has recently been published online in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services.

“In the past, grooming products have been seen as a feminine area of consumption. Now you just need to look around the supermarket to see there are more and more male-oriented grooming products beyond just soap and shampoo, such as scented deodorants, hair products and moisturisers,” says Dr McNeill.

“New Zealand males still hold onto the idea of masculinity in an agricultural or sporting mould; our focus groups talked about the All Blacks as male role models all the time. So, you might think that using grooming products is in conflict with the Kiwi male psyche. But today’s young men have grown up with these products around them and have integrated them into normal consumption.”

Ms Douglas recruited a group of 18 to 22 year-old males to take part in focus groups and in-depth interviews exploring their use of grooming products and attitudes toward cosmetic consumption.

The study indicated that young men’s awareness of their appearance was increasing and that appearance was becoming important at an earlier age. It also showed a strong tie between self-care and looking after your appearance, such as using an aftershave moisturiser to prevent razor-rash.

Dr McNeill says the males in the study were happy to use grooming products, but under rules that tied in to their image of masculinity.

“We don’t want to give the impression that we have a country of men open to wearing mascara and eyeliner. We do have a country of young men who are open to using grooming products while not wanting to take the manliness out of being a man.

“They were very functional about their grooming choices, needing to see the products as practical solutions to specific needs, rather than providers of beautification.

“As a group they were in agreement about product numbers and purpose. It was OK to have about five different products in your cosmetic arsenal, but unless you have a skin problem it was not justifiable have more than that.”

The paper quotes a study member saying, ‘...if you have a few things, that’s sweet, but if you’ve got a whole shelf of stuff, that’s getting into feminine territory’.

“The group talked about general consumption becoming feminised, too” adds Dr McNeill. “For example they said the fashionable clothes in the men’s shops are all tight, but if you have a more traditionally masculine body type you may not feel comfortable in those clothes. They mentioned the feminisation of sporting idols, even rugby players, saying when they appear on billboards they have a slim silhouette or appear ‘pretty’.

“On the other hand, a few of them talked about the prevalent fashion for facial hair as an attempt claim back the manly image. One summed up the conflict by saying, ‘men want to be the pretty boy to the ladies, but around other men they want to be the rugged man’.”

The study also showed the largest influence on whether they bought grooming products or not was their mothers and to a lesser extent their girlfriends. Their mothers would buy a product for them as teenagers, or their girlfriends would recommend a skin care product, which the male would otherwise not have considered.

Dr McNeill says, “The research revealed really positive things about the New Zealand male. They have worked out how to balance the notion of being manly with using products that are good from a hygiene or self-care perspective, but that could also be seen as beauty products.”

For further information, contact

Dr Lisa McNeill
University of Otago
School of Business
Tel 64 3 479 5758

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