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V is for male vanity, and the elusive V-shape


He watches himself intently in the mirror, gut sucked in, sweat streaming, muscles rippling, teeth clenched.

"Finally, I can fit into these size 31 jeans," he says triumphantly.

Meet the new breed of man.

He's sleek, he's slim and he's doing what women have been doing for ages: He's openly talking about his body. He might do it under the guise of health and fitness, but deep down, it's plain old-fashioned vanity that drives him in his quest for the perfect physique.

"Men have gotten away with murder in the eyes of women and other men in appearing to be less vain," says Dr. Barry Glassner, author of "Bodies: Overcoming the Tyranny of Perfection."

"Men are terribly vain and always have been," says Dr. Glassner, chairman of the University of Southern California sociology department.

In the not-so-distant past, men could get away with a potbelly and a $4 haircut. And an unsightly blemish would never keep a real man from leaving the house.

But times are changing.

"Men are coming out of the closet with their mirrors," says Beverly Hills psychologist Susan Krevoy.

Nowadays, not only do men spend loads of money on beauty supplies and subject themselves to exotic procedures, they even obsess about their weight.

Just check out the local gym.

The number of men buying health and fitness books is also on the rise: At Crown Books in the Westwood section of the city, sales to men have risen 20 percent to 30 percent in the past year, says assistant manager Stacey Florence. These buyers are not obese but are average guys -- "suits" in their 30s and 40s and students.

"There are also more books for men," says Ms. Florence. "Not Arnold Schwarzenegger books, but 'gutbuster' books targeted toward everyday guys. They're more open about caring what they look like."

Indeed, the illusive V-shape is becoming almost as important to men as, well, the car they drive.

"The body obsession is transferring from women to men. Plus no woman wants to be seen with a man with a potbelly. It's unsightly," says designer Maggie Barry, whose clothes are made with Lycra spandex.

A decade ago, men wouldn't have been caught dead in her form-fitting fashions. Now they're a statement.

The "ideal man" these days -- as portrayed in magazines and movies -- is not only fit, but he's getting thinner. A spread in People magazine recently featured Michael Douglas, Dwight Yoakam and Luke Perry flaunting their under 30-inch waists.

These days, men can choose from a plethora of attractiveness-enhancing procedures, from cosmetic surgery and liposuction; to hair, calf and pectoral implants; to chest-hair dying and face patterning.

About 20 percent of cosmetic surgery is done on men, up from about 5 percent just 10 years ago, according to the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery.

Cosmetics companies have product lines for men, and the men's grooming industry has grown to a $2.5 billion business annually. These services and products are not aimed only at a certain type of man; they are being used, if only in small measure, by everyman.

Ten years ago, the only magazine focusing on men's appearance was GQ. Now there are M, Details and Esquire, as well as a number of European magazines.

"The images in the media has influenced the average guy," says Vahe Shaghzo, who runs the men's division of LA Models. "Men's concern about their looks is absolutely catching up to women's."

"Ultimately, we're selling sex, and women like to see men with nice bodies, broad shoulders and the V-shape," Mr. Shaghzo says.

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