Mirror, Mirror...
Women are supposed to be the fairer sex, but Asian men are spending a lot of time and money on their looks. Why? Because the girls like them that way
In the Salon
The Pain of Being Pretty
Drab to Fab
Our style guide to male makeovers

Getting Fitter Faster
The new health challenge
How We Got Fat
Asia's struggles with obesity
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Why is the Asian male suddenly in bloom? Kam Louie, who teaches Asian Studies at Australian National University, cites the region's bulging economic biceps. "The East Asian economy is being felt throughout the world," Kam says, "so it makes sense that Asian men have more confidence and have started looking after themselves." Then there's the regional popularity of the U.S. television show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, which ridicules slovenly, typical-guy behavior while challenging couch potatoes to reinvent themselves as stylish gents. Others say fashionable Asian men are simply late-flowering "metrosexuals," an urban subtype first popularized by British journalist Mark Simpson, who in a 2002 story on Salon.com provided this definition of the breed: "The typical metrosexual is a young man with money to spend, living in or within easy reach of a metropolis—because that's where all the best shops, clubs, gyms and hairdressers are. He might be officially gay, straight or bisexual, but this is utterly immaterial because he has clearly taken himself as his own love object ..."

Simpson concluded that no one exemplifies metrosexuality better than David Beckham, the British soccer superstar known for his kaleidoscopic hairstyles, Versace suits, sarongs, sequined tracksuits and use of nail polish. Beckham is wildly popular in Asia. He's favored particularly by Japanese women, so it's no coincidence that he was hired in 2002 as a spokesman (along with his wife, former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham) for Tokyo Beauty Center, a Japanese chain that operates 34 men's salons. Their not-so-subtle marketing message: guys, if you want to score with the ladies, gender-bend it like Beckham.

When it comes to appearance, being a little swish is, in fact, a great way to stand apart from the rutting brown herd. "Women tend to scrutinize men, so if I am serious about looking good, then women get interested in me," says Kazutaka Taniguchi, a 34-year-old Tokyo account executive. "And I can make a conversation lively by raising a fashion subject." Soki Ohmae, president of a Tokyo website-consulting company, says his transformation into dapper man-about-town has boosted his self-confidence. "At parties, if I am neatly dressed and behave properly, then basically any woman will talk to me for an hour or two," says Ohmae. "It's a huge change that now I can talk to many different women and have a good time." Women, for their part, say stylish men seem more attuned to their wavelength. Yumiko Hatano, 38, a textile planner for an apparel company, says her fashion-conscious boyfriend "notices every detail, things one would not expect him to look at in the first place."

For example, Hatano says, he recently criticized a film starlet for having pudgy fingers. "The actress was a beauty by anybody's standard, but her hands were not long and slim, so he said they were ugly." This made Hatano feel better. Points for the boyfriend.

It's not as if men have figured out some secret formula. Behind every love beauty man, there's a love beauty woman nagging her sweetie to buy new underwear. Professor Kim Hyun Mee, who teaches sociology at Yonsei University in Seoul, says men are cleaning up their acts because Asian women are increasingly independent and can afford to be more selective when choosing a mate. "They aren't shy about saying exactly what they want in a boyfriend or husband," says Kim—and what they want are more sensitive partners who smell nice and trim their nose hairs and love shopping. "Men who possess only the characteristics of the 'traditional' male—strength, reliability or trustworthiness—are not attractive anymore," Kim maintains. Dandy House, Japan's leading chain of men's beauty salons (with 59 outlets), got its start in the 1980s because its founders noticed how women were pressuring men to adopt better grooming habits. "We heard things like, 'Could you do something about my son?' or 'My hubby is fat, can't you fix him?'" says Hiroatsu Hirayama, Dandy House's public-relations chief. Even so, the company's first outlet was opened in a back alley of Osaka's Namba district where sheepish male clients could sneak in undetected. "We thought it would be difficult for men to walk into something glaringly visible with a lot of people milling around," Hirayama says.

With male vanity out of the closet, catering to newfound masculine needs has become a growth industry, backed by a plethora of glossy male fashion bibles such as UOMO and Monthly M in Japan, Men's Uno in Hong Kong, and six different Asian editions of Esquire. Global sales of male-grooming products will surge by 67% to $19.5 billion between now and 2008, estimates Euromonitor International, a market-research firm. Business executives say they are pushing men's beauty lines because competition in the traditional female demographic has become overwhelming and sales growth difficult to maintain. "The women's market was so saturated," says Venice Tsoi, one of the founders of Mence Beauty, Hong Kong's leading male-beauty center, which offers high-end slimming programs, facials and permanent hair removal. Mence has opened five salons in the past three years, with sales doubling every year.

Meanwhile, Asian cosmetics companies mount multi-million-dollar marketing campaigns—spearheaded by famous personalities including Beckham, actor Richard Gere, and hunky Japanese pop idol Takuya Kimura—to carry their message of "cleanse, exfoliate, hydrate" to the spotted male masses. Japanese cosmetic giant Shiseido was an industry pioneer. In 1996, the company began offering Geraid, an eyebrow plucking and waxing kit for men that comes complete with diagrams for shaping the ideal arch. Competitors now all boast men's lines, with names such as Man Holding Flower, made by Somang of South Korea, and Gatsby skin and hair care, made by Mandom Corp. of Japan.

1 | 2 | 3 | Next

Metrosexual Matrimony [Oct. 3, 2005 ]
When modern men prepare to wed, many wax, tan and help plan. Here come the "groomzillas"

NASCAR Goes Metrosexual [Feb. 7, 2005]
Ten years ago, a trendy, fragrant hair-care line and a gritty, testosterone-infused sport like NASCAR would have mixed as well as water and motor oil

TIME 100: Heroes & Icons [Apr. 26, 2004]
David Beckham: Soccer's Metrosexual

Web Shopping: For The Metrosexual [Nov. 17, 2003 ]
Think of this as TIME's eye for the straight guy who's not afraid of pedicures

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