Make Me Mansome

Make Me Mansome

Pushing the Limits of Self-Improvement

In today’s society, there’s an entire micro-economy dedicated to self-improvement. Whether it’s weight loss, hair removal, or beautification, an array of uplifting rhetoric and often excruciating services exist to further humanity’s quest for actualization, improvement, and ultimately happiness.

Historically, of course, this is nothing new. For centuries, humanity has been trimming, flexing, thinking, and suffering in the name of beauty and betterment.

The dawn of the Industrial Age changed everything. By the Edwardian era, improvement and cosmetics became a commercial industry. Mass publishing saw mass profits, and mass profits saw mass messages.

Television, print, and of course the Internet are now saturated with instructions directed at both sexes. Do this, shave this, use Clearasil, you pimply teen!

But what if physical improvement were taken to the extreme? With Critic’s 24 hour issue in mind, how much could one man transform in a day? With rather reckless abandon, and with my idol Christopher Hitchens firmly in the front of my mind, I threw caution to the wind and submitted myself to the will of Joe Stockman for my first Critic feature of 2012. His agenda included a personal trainer, a wax, and a facial – three stages of weight loss, hair removal, and beautification. This is what happens when you pick feature topics at 6am.

Would I be happy? Would I suddenly fall in love with Tony Robbins and become a better person? Or would I end up a mostly hairless mess of failed dreams, shivering on the Critic couch while clutching my copy of Personal Power?

Step one was the gym

Firstly, I feel I should provide a caveat/a brief self-examination of your author, who is at the peak physical age of 20 years old. Until this piece, I had never set foot inside a gym with the intention of doing exercise. In a brief poll of the Critic office, I was lovingly described as both “a wimp” and a “stereotypical 98-pound weakling”. I am not a manly man. Scientifically, I am an ectomorph (Wikipedia that, yo). I am lanky, skinny, and about as far from the masculine ideal as one can be. I’m the type of person who decides “I don’t have have time to watch this three-minute YouTube video” and then proceeds to mindlessly browse the Internet for the next three hours. Would this session be the end of me?

I’ll unleash your self ...

Entering Les Mills, I was greeted by a scrawl on the wall urging me to “unleash yourself”. I was quickly given a release form to waive any liabilities following “harm or injury”, which I assumed was about to be delivered by a personal trainer for my introductory course. At this stage, panic set in as I began to imagine the hulking mass of man and taut flesh that would be ordering my slight-frame around for the next hour. When he arrived, I was not disappointed. Muscles rippling under his tight shirt, his name was Tiger.

As we warmed up on the cross trainer – an experience somewhere between a bouncy castle and moonwalking – I asked Tiger about his usual male clientele.

“They’re usually a pretty big mixture. Overweight people who want to lose weight, and skinny guys who want to bulk up.”

“Like me?”

“Usually not as skinny.”

I was feeling in fine form as we moved upstairs to begin the real work, my University years of sloth, gluttony and general self-destruction seemingly inconsequential to my overall fitness. Little did I know that in less than 45 minutes I would be doubled over in the Les Mills bathrooms dry heaving, as Tiger tenderly rubbed my back.
My first obstacle was the TRX Suspension Bands and my own body weight. Easy.

As I jumped repeatedly onto a box carrying a 10kg bag, Tiger was oh-so assuring with familiar gym-speak.

“You’re doing so well!”

“What strong leg muscles!”

“Just one more rep!”

Within half an hour, things started to go seriously downhill. Not being an athlete, I can only imagine that this was the infamous “wall”. Of course, not wanting to embarrass myself, I pushed through. Retrospectively,
I made a mistake.

After pushing a 35kg sled back and forth across the gym carpet, my head started to spin. My throat was drier than a nun’s tit (of course I hadn’t brought a drink bottle). All I felt was burning lactic acid. The dietary regret, the wonderful endorphins, it was all too much.

What followed was one of the most dignified walks I’ve ever made, Tiger trailing behind me.

I entered the bathroom.

As I threw up, Tiger gently patted me on the back.

“It’s okay. That was super hardcore of you.”

What a gentleman. To be fair though, my biceps did look fantastic in the mirror.

To Rip, You Have to Grip

I wouldn’t consider myself a particularly vain man, but I’ve always maintained a strange sense of pride in my leg hair. Attending a single-sex school, my dark coverage was my only vestige of masculinity in the macho P.E. changing room. It was nothing special of course, but you take what you’re given in these situations.
As I entered Why Not Hair and Body? for my leg wax, I signed my second injury release form of the day. I’m really not paid enough for this.

For those not in the know, here’s what happens. I was instructed to strip my lower half and assume the position. With reassuring commentary, my lower half was covered with talcum powder designed to provide separation between the leg and the wax.

I found small talk difficult under such personal conditions (imagine not wearing pants during a haircut), but as a ruthlessly professional Critic reporter, I felt it my duty to exchange some pleasantries. All the while, the jackhammers from the Lone Star construction next door provided our soundtrack.

“So what kind of men come here?”

“Mostly athletic types.”

“How does this compare to the infamous back, sack and crack?”

“This is definitely up there. Legs can be terrible.”

The liquid hot wax was then lathered over: a warm, smoothing burn. So far, so good.

“I hope you’ve taken Panadol. Are you sure you’re ready?” I was asked politely.

“Ummmm, what?”
And with that, strips of my precious hairs, that were once attached, were torn away. Not once, but many, many, many times over.

Leg waxing isn’t as painful as many of the males reading this article might have been led to believe. In fact, many aspects could be described as pleasant, in an S&M-ish kind of way.

The yelps and profanity began to occur more frequently as we moved towards the back of the upper leg. As my flesh received its mild trauma, I tried to discover the secret to preventing the dreaded re-growth and ingrown hairs.

“You should just make sure you stay away from tight clothing for a while.”

I looked worriedly at Horrors-esque denim jeans on the floor beside me. I guess this is why hipster dudes don’t wax?

With my legs now as smooth as my permanent babyface, I ventured back to the office to show off my completely hairless legs and shimmering Dunedin tan. Take it from me, if you’re a dude looking for a unique conversation starter, “I just waxed my legs today” is totally ace.

Getting facilised

The facial mask was saved for last, a final treat and reward if you will. In a cruel twist of fate, however, I found it to be the most disconcerting and unusual experience of the day.

With my legs still smarting with hundreds of pimple-sized lumps and itching in a manner anyone who has had hair trapped in clothing after a haircut will know all too well, I ripped open the cheap Chinese packet of invigorating facemask Joe had bought me.

The smell was awful. The instructions had warned me that “colours may vary”, and the creamy beige mess I squeezed in my palm was certainly nothing like the watermelon green I had been hoping for.

As I applied the paste it began to harden, fast. I felt like I had looked Medusa in the eyes: I was turning to stone. This is what Botox must be like. Critic’s photographer instructed me to smile. I couldn’t.
Facial folklore informed me I was meant to spend the next 15 minutes relaxing with cucumbers across my eyes. I couldn’t wait that long. This wasn’t cleansing, this was facial ready-crete. I kept thinking of the Lone Star jackhammers, as I longed to break free.

Of course, I still wanted to remain objective. It was time for the final Critic office poll.

“How’s my skin?”

“You look radiant, Sam. Clean and fresh.”

Well, there’s a result I guess? To be perfectly honest, the ultra-clean porcelain doll vibe wasn’t really my bag. I got a McChicken Combo on the way back and ended up rubbing the ice cold drink on my face. DAT FEEL, BRO.


So what have I really learned about male self-improvement in the last nine hours? All in all, this entire idea was probably as logical as shaving my legs to improve my appearance.

But was I happier? Had I reached the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the all-important self-actualization?

Of course fucking not.
This article first appeared in Issue 25, 2012.
Posted 4:25pm Sunday 23rd September 2012 by Sam Valentine.