One of the biggest challenges I face in dating, and in a lot of other situations, is reminding myself that insecurity isn’t a gendered trait, or specific only to single women in their 30s. When I show up to drinks with a new guy, I’ll spend the whole night worried about what my outfit conveys about my personality or whether I sound smart when I talk about politics. I never stop to consider that perhaps he’s totally in his head too—while wondering if I can see his bald spot or if I think his stories are boring.
We all carry doubts and shame and embarrassments around our bodies and our selves, as well as how we attempt to maintain or improve upon them. They make us feel alone, even though they are a thread that links us together as wonderfully imperfect people.
The good news is—this other-ness we feel as a result of our insecurities is fading fast. It’s becoming more and more acceptable to not only care about our appearance and grooming habits, but to talk about them, too!
So join me, I want to take a deep dive—an unruly cannonball, even—into just how far we’ve come in openly discussing self-care and taking pride in our efforts. Grab your water wings my friends, because we’re going to hang out in this my-feet-can’t-touch-the-bottom pool for a while.
We spoke to some extremely intelligent women who know intimately the ways that, especially for men, big ideas like confidence, shame, and pride are linked to seemingly small things like your morning grooming routine, going to the doctor and introducing yourself to a stranger.
Below, the best men’s grooming advice from women:
WE ALL CARE. A LOT. AND THAT’S OKAY.
I blame the internet for a lot of things (Remember planking?! And The Dress?) but I’ll admit that it also deserves a fair amount of credit for removing the stigma around discussing your insecurities openly and honestly—as a man or a woman. Right now, it is really and truly is cool to care your appearance because, well, our appearance is always coming up.
From Instagram to street style roundups and even dating apps, we’re seeing a lot more; of ourselves, of people we know, and even of complete strangers. All this comparison fodder at our fingertips makes no qualms about whether you’re male or female—it has come for us all. But like I said, I think the internet has allowed all of us to be more forthcoming about how much we care about how we look, and taking price in our appearance. That doesn’t make us vain, it makes us human.
“For a long time, it wasn’t accepted to talk about confidence or ‘being a better man,’” says Cassandra Campa, a personal stylist at Next Level Wardrobe. “And I was surprised myself, when I started my styling business, to hear guys finally vocalize that they feel uncomfortable about certain parts of their body.
“Today, I have clients who are super comfortable working on their personal style, and then afterwards, see it as a catalyst that helped them go further in their self development—taking courses on how to talk to women, work on social skills, public speaking, that kind of thing.” Just the pure fact that her profession exists (and ours!) is proof positive that you, men of the world, are taking ownership of your appearance, and are willing to invest in it, too.
Bobbie Thomas, beauty expert and Style Editor at The Today Show, notes that a lot of guys kind of get this whole effort thing backwards.
“Grooming has always been gentlemanly, it really is about taking pride and investing in yourself. Things like trimming and grooming your beard regularly or using anti-aging products, for example, they help you project confidence and self esteem—which is really in stark opposition to this fear a man might have of coming across as vain or insecure. Men who avoid self-care are actually missing an opportunity to appear more self-assured.”
Jenna Birch, the co-founder and CEO of Plum dating app and the author of The Love Gap, (a book about dating that I treat like gospel) is particularly aware of how much more willing we are to work on ourselves than generations past. “Millennials are really into self-improvement, and more emotionally intelligent than any other generation,” she says.
“They want to grow, and part of that is confronting the insecurities that are holding them back.” She adds that women are still more openly supported in pursuing their self-improvement efforts, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. “I think the more we talk about breaking gendered barriers, the more we’ll see men be more vocal about their insecurities and how they’re tackling them.”
THERE’S NO SHAME IN YOUR SELF-IMPROVEMENT GAME
Right alongside the shifting attitude towards improving your appearance, there’s been a noticeable breakdown of the shame surrounding acting on those desires, too. According to Dr. Michelle Henry—a dermatologist who works closely with patients experiencing a range of insecurity-inducing issues, especially hair loss and hair thinning—men come into her office and basically lay themselves bare.
“Patients [with hair loss] come in very emotional,” says Dr. Henry. “There’s a lot of hand-holding. There’s a lot of talking to them and kind of breaking that shame and letting them know that everyone has hair loss.”
She says that by the time male patients have taken the leap to booking an appointment, though, they’ve already done the hardest part. They’ve admitted to themselves that they’re not happy, and that they want to see a change.
Saying you want something to happen—like slowing down hair loss or dressing better or improving your dating life—vs taking the steps to make it a reality is like the difference between drawing a picture of a house vs actually building one. One is easy and mostly theoretical; the other is crazy-hard and likely to come with a lot share of setbacks. But that’s not to say it’s impossible, in fact, I’m sure that if you’re reading this, you’ve already well on your way.
We know this stuff is way easier to talk about than to actually put into practice, which is why, along with this big ‘ol permission slip to care, we’re sharing a handy three-step action plan you can reference any time you feel one of those pesky insecurities lurking around in your brain.
STEP 1: IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS, GO GET ANSWERS
First thing’s first: The internet can be really great at answering some questions, like, How old is Jeff Bridges? (He’s 68.) But Google is not, I repeat not, a doctor. It does not have a PhD, and cannot tell you if all that hair fall you’re experiencing in the shower is normal or a sign of male pattern baldness.
Start with small steps that feel “easy,” like calling your parents to find out if you have a family history of any issues. Then, you might book an appointment with a specialist in whatever field you’re curious or worried about. A stylist, a matchmaker, a personal trainer, a dermatologist—go right to the source so you can get all the information you need and make a plan.
STEP 2: OWN THE EFFORT AND DO YOUR HOMEWORK
If asking the right questions is taking a swing, consider the homework and effort you put in afterwards to be the follow through. Any sports expert (like me) will tell you that this is the most important part! Once you’ve identified what your issue is, whether it’s social anxiety, hair loss, weight gain or whatever, remember that the journey is going to feel more like a marathon than a sprint, and that’s okay.
Cassandra shared a story about a client of hers that had recently lost 50 pounds, but was still dressing as if his physique hadn’t changed. “I had to literally show him in the mirror, how he looked when he wore clothes that were two or three sizes smaller—his actual size. Later he said that he couldn’t bring himself to change at first because he wasn’t ready mentally. He didn’t see himself that way yet. Even though men don’t vocalize their insecurities as much, they experience those same challenges we do.”
In researching her book, Jenna found that many men become obsessed with ticking off a whole checklist of achievements before they believe they’re “ready” for the next big thing, like, say, a relationship. “I heard them saying things like, ‘I have to have the best job, be the most interesting person in the room, have the trendiest wardrobe,’ etc, etc,” she recalls. “These are often societal ideals. No one is actually judging a guy by these metrics, but they assume the women they date will be. It’s projection. And it can cause a lot of unnecessary anxiety!”
And listen, we’re not saying you have to go around telling everyone you meet that you’re using Rogaine, but don’t be embarrassed about it! Or anything else you’re doing to better yourself! Whether it’s seeing a therapist or committing to a new fitness routine, working on your perceived weaknesses will makes you a stronger, happier man from the inside out.
STEP 3: COMMIT TO A CHANGE BY ADJUSTING YOUR ROUTINE
The major point that Dr. Henry kept trying to drive home for us in our conversation with her is that being proactive in your pursuits, as early as possible, is key, especially when it comes to hair loss and thinning hair. But really, this applies to any issue you might coming up against.
“This is something you’re going to be dealing with for your entire life,” she notes. “It is easier and more effective to treat it early. In doing so, you’re adopting a routine. In the same way that we wash our face every day to prevent against acne, all the routines we have are just a part of self-care and maintenance. Once you understand that, it’s a lot easier to commit to the fact that you’re going to be using this every day for a long time—and it’s okay!”
To those guys out there who are wary to add another step to their routine (we see you, lazy boys), Dr. Henry has no sympathy. “Throw that away! Once you start using it, it’s very easy.” She notes that simple visual tricks can help you integrate a new step and form a habit. “Keep your Rogaine next to your toothbrush. If I told you today you have to brush your teeth twice a day for the rest of your life, that’s nothing. Once it becomes a part of your routine and it becomes a habit, it’s seamless.”
See what I mean? We’re all out here treading that deep water together. All any of us can do is try every day to be a little more self-aware, commit to the habits that make us healthier and happier, and not be so damn hard on ourselves.
Got more questions about hair loss? Watch this video:
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