MONDAY, MARCH 19, 2018
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Mourning wood
Is masculinity really under crisis again, or is this just another flaring up of cultural hypochondria? I can't really tell any more. The lumbersexual phenomenon has crept up on America and was first identified in late 2014. The moment the finger was pointed, it seemed to dawn on everyone that there were these pseudo-lumberjacks everywhere, and a humorous kind of hysteria settled in. A certain amount of press has since come up analysing the trend, generally with some derision-but it's always interesting to see where a trend comes from, where it's going, and most pertinently, what does it mean to the Indian male, given that Western trends trickle down to India sooner or later?

But first, an introduction to lumberjacks. Lumberjacks! The greatest North American icon of man versus nature. Behold these bold battalions of plaid-clad Herculeses laughing through their beards as they fell titanic trees, wrestle with grizzly bears, and down barrels of indeterminate moonshine! The lumberjack basically implies an extremely masculine, easy, natural, good-natured, and straightforward man. The look is well-known now, distinctly American with Scottish roots, and can be represented by a single article of clothing: a long-sleeved shirt made of flannel in a plaid pattern. The iconic lumberjack look is otherwise complemented by workman jeans or dungarees (so called because the textile originated from old Bombay's own Dongri), heavy caulk comboots, suspenders, and a woodman's axe. Which brings us to today's lumbersexual. The lumbersexual is the spawn of hipster mom and metrosexual dad, going down this path of dysfunction: he refines the hipster mom's idealised yearning for a return to more organic, raw, unaffected ways; and he rejects the metrosexual dad's alienating, antiseptic narcissism and longs for a more rugged, dirty, masculine father figure while simultaneously nurturing a discreet grooming fixation.

The result is a massively-bearded man who looks and smells like a gritty, woodsy lumberjack as a result of buying highly-priced consumer products designed to create the effect of a gritty, woodsy lumberjack. Consumer products like `950 Lumber Yard Beard Oil (to oil your beard with the scent of freshly-cut wood), or `800 Campfire Cologne (to smell like a campfire), or `6,300 plaid scarf, or (the Olympic gold of lumbersexuality) `2,000 plaid yoga mat bag because, obviously, 19th century lumberjacks used to start their mornings by working scented oil into each other's beards, slapping on some campfire cologne, whipping a plaid scarf around their necks, and getting down to some serious yoga before they started logging. Just to set the record straight: logging is not sexy or glamorous. In the history of human hard labour, it's one of the least desirable jobs there is. It's seasonal, inconsistent manual labour that pays ridiculously low for the significant dangers involved.

In 2012, according to the US Census Bureau, the average American salary was $51,759, while loggers made an average $33,630; and according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American rate of worker fatality was 3.2 per 100,000 workers, as opposed to loggers' 127.8 per 100,000 (40 times the national average).

The work is hard and dirty, and the lifestyle not any better. But that's entirely the point. The purpose of lumbersexuality is to subsume the hard-working, super-masculine lumberjack image with none of the hard work. The lumbersexual trend is considered, sociologically speaking, a reaction to a vague feeling of general emasculation in America. It's a half-baked attempt to return to an idealised masculine mirage. And these are middle-class urban men owning the latest iPod/Pad/Mac and who can readily afford a razor blade.

The beard is the linchpin of the look and the concept. Remove the beard and it's just an angsty guy in a plaid shirt who grooms a bit. And any man wearing a beard or a moustache, when it's not cultural, has grown it out to bolster a sagging sense of masculinity. By cultural, I mean he's grown it out ever since he could grow facial hair, like the Sikhs. In the meantime, the question is whether the trend will hop down to India. And the answer is… no. First of all, plaid shirts are already here and have been for a while, so lumbersexual fashion doesn't offer much in terms of cutting edge. Secondly, plaid shirts work for the North American climate, but not for the largely tropical Indian subcontinent. The third, and most pertinent reason is that India is not America. The lumberjack myth doesn't exist in India; therefore lumbersexuality has no hook in Indian culture. What may translate is a broad sketch of the trend, with thick beards perhaps making a brief comeback, but unless a huge movie star really slams that specific lumberjack look in a huge hit, I don't think even that would last. Besides, if India had to look to its own mythical heroes, men would more likely be rocking the moustache, dhoti, and bare torso à la Bheema. Can't quite see our young, urban, affluent Indians going for that one. And somehow, I also feel Indian masculinity is more honest. Lumbersexuality seems, to me, like dissembling. Metrosexuality is a far more honest idea, and one that is certainly entrenched by now, with many Indian movie stars embracing that trend. Let's also not forget that India has historically tended to the kind of luxury that's more compatible with metrosexuality. To deliberately create a grungy, dirty, shaggy-bearded look from a place of prosperity is counterintuitive.

That's not to say you shouldn't wear plaid and grow a beard. It could be a fun look for a season; or a fraction of a season. I know I've got a plaid shirt (doesn't everyone by now, really?), I might just grow out a beard to try the effect. I certainly won't pass it off as ideology, however. I've heard of men using women as a beard, but using a beard as a beard kind of takes the cake.

Other Sections
Home | Health & Fitness | Nutrition | Sex & relationships | Style & Grooming | Celebrities | Photos
Back Home