The Man in the Mirror
24 Apr, 2019 | Elin Donnelly
Photo: Nick Somers
The Rise of Male Beauty in Bolivia
In 2016, the Latin American male beauty market had an estimated worth of 10 billion USD, a figure that is expected to increase by a whopping 27.4 percent by 2021, according to Euromonitor International. As an emerging trend far too consequential to ignore, Bolivian Express takes a look at why male beauty is booming in Bolivia and Latin America.
Within the Latin American beauty industry, male grooming has the second fastest growth rate of all market sectors, only second to hair removal. Due to the growth of disposable income among the region’s emerging middle class, basic skin care products and specialised beauty goods are making an appearance for the first time in the male market. The sale of sunscreen and moisturisers, as well as traditionally ‘feminine’ goods, like facial scrubs, anti-aging soaps and hand and nail care, has increased among male consumers. Bolivian men are now embarking on more trips to spas and beauty salons and, according to Euromonitor International, the use of general beauty counters by men seeking cosmetic advice has risen by 30 percent. It seems that the young generations of Bolivians and Latin Americans are becoming more open, more experimental, and more concerned with the image they portray to the rest of the world. With the desire to investigate how these statistics compare with the people of La Paz, we spoke with various individuals living in and around the city.
En route to our first interview, we struck up a conversation with our taxi driver, Santiago. Even though the statistics would suggest that the average Bolivian bloke now sports manicured nails and threaded eyebrows, this 36-year-old’s take on male grooming seemed more conservative and, in fact, a little more realistic.
Santiago told us he takes care of his appearance by using styling gels in his hair and sun protection to look after his skin. But grooming, he emphasised, is only important to him in terms of its practicality. He isn’t interested in ‘nada más complicado.’
Other men around the city seemed to share in Santiago’s views and practices, such as 43-year-old Carlos Manuel, who said: ‘To me it’s a farce. Leave the salons and the beauty products to the women. As long as you’re clean, why does it matter?’
Although Carlos Manuel’s stance on the matter is a little more drastic, it seems to reflect the views of many Bolivian men from older generations. It is a generation of young Bolivians that is spearheading the change, leaving behind the older caballeros to enjoy their classic looks in peace.
Barbers in Miraflores and Sopocachi like Juan, who has been in the trade since 1964, have witnessed this change over the past five decades. ‘A true barber,’ says Juan, ‘cuts not just the hair but the beard also. Nowadays everyone does that part at home with their own razors,’ he explains. ‘Caring about your appearance is customary for young people today.’
Due to Juan’s traditional technique, his customers tend to be older men interested in the ‘look clásico.’ But since grooming habits, such as shaving, are more accessible to the masses with the advent of the disposable razor, it comes as no surprise that young men in Bolivia are keener to sport more experimental looks as the power—in this case the razor—is quite literally in their hands.
On the other ‘trendier’ barbershops, young barbers and customers make less of an effort to cling on to Juan’s beloved 'look clásico'. Carlos, a young barber originally from Colombia, explained that experimental hairstyles are becoming popular amongst young men in Latin America, whilst his older clients, just like Juan’s, are more conservative. According to Carlos, the internet has played an important role in changing this mindset. ‘Young people are starting to think for themselves, and with access to the internet and social media they’re exposed to more modern styles and ideas,’ he explains. ‘In places like Santa Cruz and Cochabamba you see this more often than in La Paz. Here we are more conservative, but there’s definitely a change taking place,’ Carlos said.
From flicking through hairstyle ‘catalogues’ and perusing barber shop windows, it’s clear that in addition to the internet and social media, celebrities are the true trendsetters in the industry. Images of Hollywood stars, like George Clooney and Brad Pitt, and of international footballers, such as Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham, often adorn local peluquerías. It seems Bolivians care a great deal about how these figures choose to style themselves and even more so about replicating those styles.
We even encountered a catalogue of hairstyles dedicated entirely to extranjeros, or foreigners. The owner of one of the barbershops we visited told us that the most popular look these days is ‘The Ronaldo’, and that it is common for youngsters to enter his shop brandishing an image of their favourite sports personality, requesting the same hairdo. A customer receiving a ‘reggae-inspired’ trim in the corner of the barbershop said that getting the same hairstyle as your idol is a way of identifying with them.
It doesn’t matter how bold the colour is, or how crazy the stenciled pattern is, young Bolivians love to follow trends set by people they admire. Even Santiago, our taxi driver, confirmed this. Five years ago, Santiago had dyed his hair blonde in honour of his favourite band, Marilyn. Others, however, take their aesthetic choices one step further and decide to tattoo the image of their favourite celebrities onto the sides of their heads beneath tightly trimmed hair, a style aptly named as the ‘Hair Tattoo.’
It seems that in La Paz, a wave of interest in male grooming and beauty is definitely taking shape. The statistics speak for themselves, but the people also confirm it. The older generations prefer to stick to what they know, but the youth delve into increasingly adventurous looks, predominantly through the experimentation of hairstyles. It’s cool to look cool, and with movie stars and footballers sporting modern looks, it comes as no surprise that these filter down to the masses. But even with regards to skin care, Bolivia’s male population is seeing a change in attitude and practice. As one young man asked: ‘If women can use beauty products, why can’t we?’ The times are changing and men are taking more ownership of the way they want the world to see them, moving away from stereotypes and from the ‘social norm’, towards a space where attitudes to male beauty are more liberal and diverse.
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