Mental health, especially for men, has become a huge news story in 2017 and rightly so. Much of the discussion has been sparked by the male suicidal rates released, of which I have many thoughts, but are not the subject of this particular article. Instead, I want to start with a simple, general observation about communication: women love to recommend things to their friends, and men don't really do as much. In fact, women don't just love recommending to their friends, they tend to share their knowledge with anyone and everyone: families, colleagues, strangers, and, you guessed it, the men in their lives as well. Could offering some shampoo related advice be the basis of developing the network of intimate friendships which has been proven to help battle mental health problems?
I recently spent a year working for the premium high street fashion chain, Whistles, and was able to observe and experience the positive culture of recommending on a daily basis. The store I worked in sold only women's clothes with myself the only male staff member, and the positivity between ourselves and customers, who are just strangers when they first walk in, was uplifting at times. Admittedly, many interactions started with someone asking for help, which is a different and complex problem with regards to mental health, but a lot of times it started with a casual observation or statement from myself or one of my colleagues.
"This here is my favourite t-shirt of the season, washes amazingly and you'd be surprised how versatile the colour is."
(By the way, fashion note here, burgundy and khaki are considerably more versatile than black. I always feel the need to debunk that myth.)
It seems pompous and commercial, but if it comes from a genuine place, it makes a real difference. A good recommendation can mean immediate elation from the customer in the fitting rooms, the satisfaction of making a purchase due to quality service, the self-confidence of a stranger's compliments and time, and the long term benefit of trust. Because, and here's the real improvement, people would come back to the shop and get to know us, and instead of being a customer, they because Janine*, our friend. And soon, Janine would be coming every couple of weeks and opening up about her mother in hospital, her struggles with work-related stress, and feeling that little bit less alone in the world.
*Note: Janine is just a random name for the collective of regulars we had.
Translating the concept to the first source any young person goes to in times of struggle, the internet, and store assistants become bloggers, who can get the ball rolling on recommendations. Now, I have some issues with the validity and trustworthiness of fashion and beauty blogs which get too money focussed, as discussed here, but for this argument, let's assume the blogs have a net positive effect on readers' lives. In 2016, Vuelio ran the largest ever survey of bloggers in the UK, and discovered that 27% of female ran blogs were about fashion and beauty products, compared to just 4% of male ran blogs. Add to that, the result from the same survey that 77% of all blogs are female ran and 62% of all blogs are ran for personal reasons, and the blogging network provides an online support network for women looking for personal interactions and recommendations. Again, I usually argue some of these blogs are misleading to young women trying to make the best of themselves, since clothing and cosmetic items can look great on one person but not another, but it cannot be denied that fashion and beauty provide a common interest and point of trust for establishing friendships and support.
"Instead, I pitch to men the idea of opening up about their cleansing and grooming routine as a precursor to more trusting relationships."
But what can men recommend to each other? Men's fashion, with more flamboyancy than it traditionally has had, is finally being embraced off the catwalk, and I, for one, am an advocate for men investing more thought and ambition into their wardrobe. However, due to the simple body shape of us males, there are far too many who will always be satisfied by their tried and tested plain shirt, or tee, and jeans, maybe with a simple v-neck jumper from M&S to mix it up once in a while when it's cold. So, instead, I pitch to men the idea of opening up about their cleansing and grooming routine- a trend which has seen a renaissance of the old school barbers, dating back to 2013- as a precursor to more trusting relationships.
Who doesn't want perfect, enduring skin? And who is bored of trying to imitate the beautifully bearded men of Game of Thrones? I certainly fall into both categories, and I am still searching for advice on being blond and looking good with a beard (please recommend something - seriously). Below, I give my absolute essentials for the bathroom.
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser and Moisturising Lotion
Cetaphil provide the basis of a daily routine: a simple cleanser and moisturiser combo. I discovered the products as a teenager recovering from serious acne. I had tried many different solutions, most of which had grand marketing claims directed at my exact demographic at the time. All I wanted was a way to ward off further acne without aggravating the scarring I was left with. For the past four years, that has been Cetaphil. If I stay a night at a friend's, these two handy bottles are up there with my phone charger as overnight priorities.
Clinique for Men Charcoal Face Wash
Clinique has a fantastic, albeit expensive, men's range. I use the sneaky tactic of getting family to buy me bits and bobs for Christmas and use them sparingly from then on. This charcoal wash is a harsher cleanser, and is best applied to a wet face, post shower, and then really rubbed in, with extra emphasis on the crevices around the nose and eyes. I only ever use it pre-shave, so I can't vouch for its everyday functionality, but it feels bloody fantastic on application.
Clinique For Men Anti-Fatigue Eye Gel
I would claim this is my greatest recommendation. I would expect most men to have some vague idea of cleansing and moisturising, and, as such, do not claim to know much better. But this, on the other hand, is a unique item more men should have. I stumbled across it when I attended a free sample session at a Clinique concession in John Lewis. The best way to describe these sessions to all unknowing men is like a face massage but with lots of creams and gels being put on you. If you're stressed, sacrifice your meaningless masculinity and book one of these free badboys, the equivalent of a dentist for your face. You come away with all these new habits you promise you'll maintain, e.g. face masks instead of flossing, and you return a month or so later desperate for that quick fix again. Anyway, during this most relaxing of half hours, I confessed one of my greatest insecurities to the lovely lady: my self-named black ballsacks which used to sit beneath my eyes. And, much to my surprise, she had a solution and it's a quick roll around the eyes every morning with this little life companion. Ignore the price as well, it may seem expensive, but if used correctly, this should last you years. And now I only have the one ballsack.
The Bluebeard's Revenge Shaving Cream
Not much to comment on here, other than it's an amazing shaving cream. It does need to be properly lathered using a shaving brush and hot water, but the barbering trend has a lot of men looking for a more traditional close shave, and products like this, and many more similar, will help you achieve that more than a foam.
To follow up on my objections to many blogs pitching products they have used once and get paid to sell, who overhype and steal my favourite word for recommendations (lifesaver, if you hadn't guessed), then I can confirm I am not getting paid by these brands and have been using each of them for at least 18 months. Therefore, I can confirm they enjoy a longevity of function, and will continue to resist hypocrisy another day.
To conclude this mismatch of an article, fellow men: share your ideas and knowledge with other men, and look after your skin, hair, and most importantly, your mind.