WHEN a man hits 50, he feels as if he can relax a little.
Time and life have taught him a little self-knowledge. He has usually, in the words of Mrs Patrick Campbell, “swapped the hurly-burly of the chaise longue for the deep peace of the marriage bed”.
He doesn’t need to impress anyone any more. He can let the belt out a notch or two. The extra weight suits him, so everyone says.
But then, one day in the barber shop, he catches sight of photo of Brad Pitt.
Turning 52 in December. Still fit and toned and damn handsome.
Next, he happens to see something about Lenny Kravitz on YouTube (his son shows him how to load it). Just turned 51. Slim and fit as a flea.
He ignores the nagging thought that maybe he has “let himself go” a little early.
Then, when he’s watching the football over a pint, he spots José Mourinho. Nearly 53, trim and cool.
By now, he’s feeling a little down.
“Why don’t we rent a movie and open a bottle of wine?” suggests his wife. They download The Monuments Men, starring Matt Damon and George Clooney.
While the movie is playing, he flips open his iPad and Googles their ages. Damon is only a boy at 44, but Clooney is 54, and still as suave and elegant as ever.
Although he isn’t fully aware of it, our 50-year-old man is being bombarded by media images of ‘HOFFs’ — men and women who are ‘hot, fit and fifty’. Middle age is not spreading any more; it is working out, dieting, waxing, tanning and buffing.
Female HOFFs are scarily fit too. Christine Brinkley (61), Michelle Pfeiffer (57), Sharon Stone (57), Elle McPherson (51), Courtney Cox (51), Julianne Moore (55) and Monica Bellucci (51) show how it’s done.
Mature men in Ireland are being besieged from all sides; it’s no wonder they spend €109m on grooming products, according to Euromonitor.
There is a long history of societal pressure on women to look a certain way. But now it’s happening to men too. Older men are subject to a subtle pressure by exposure to images of sportsmen such as David Beckham and Christian Ronaldo.
It’s almost impossible to avoid images of Becks, ripped torso and all, poured into a pair of briefs or boxers. And Ronaldo seemingly can’t pass the ball without ripping off his shirt and posing for the crowd.
So just when they reach an age when they expect to crack open a six-pack of beer without remorse or guilt, they are in thrall to the six-pack of the abdominal variety.
So much for the “dad bod” — the slightly paunchy physique apparently preferred by women because men with this physique are likely to care more about their partners than they do about themselves.
At best, the dad bod seems to have niche appeal. Most women prefer men who still make an effort. And the Irish male, contrary to come reports, is not in crisis; he is in electrolysis, hair restoration and skin peeling.
The range of products and procedures for men is growing: hair transplants, calf implants, liposuction, fillers, plumpers, Botox, and bum implants are just some of the options.
Middle-aged men are getting Botox implants under their arms to prevent excessive sweating, and some are even getting eyebrows tattooed on to add definition when their hair starts to grey.
Irish celebs are ‘early adapters’ here.
James Nesbitt (50) is a standard bearer for hair transplant surgery, Bono (55) has dyed his hair and, in perhaps the most startling Irish celeb make-over, Louis Walsh (63) was almost completely transformed thanks to a range of procedures and styling advice.
Younger men are definitely setting the pace here. According to figures from Boots, the average young bloke’s “grooming ritual” takes 80 minutes, and they spend over €100,000 on their appearance over the course of a lifetime.
They also spend 15 months in the gym over a lifetime, compared to two months by women, and spend 3,000 hours shaving. (Hipsters excepted, of course).
“The male grooming market didn’t really explode,” says one salon owner, “it just went from infancy to a fully fledged market.”
It’s not just moisturiser, mind: the manicures, shaves and spa treatments that have been part of a Middle Eastern barbering culture for centuries are now attracting Irish customers.
The revival of the barber shop is also connected to the hipster love of facial hair and a general trend towards more styled haircuts. I blame Leinster rugby player Ian Madigan.
‘Below the neck’ hair is also getting attention. Back, sack and crack waxes are popular, and there is even a trend in Britain for the ‘boyzillian’, a complete pubic hair removal procedure.
As a non-HOFF, or possibly an anti-HOFF, I like think I am immune to this trend.
Yes, to look like George Clooney would be nice. But the exercise, waxing, grooming — not to mention the hair restoration surgery — involved is not for me.
I now accept the fact that I will never fit into anything from Zara Man, and that even Tommy Hilfigger is slipping away from me.
Maybe I am a HOFF after all, just a different type: Happy, Fat and Fifty. (Well, 51, to be exact).
Dressing properly for your size can have the same effect as slimming down. For the middle-aged man, a little thought about what you wear can work wonders.
nothing shouts “who ate all the pies?’ more than shirt buttons strained to popping point. Don’t go baggy; just move up a size so that your paunch doesn’t try to escape.
black, navy and charcoal all have a slimming effect.
bespoke tailoring is expensive, but an expert tailor can help you hide your gut.
layers of dark clothing are the stealth bomber of dressing slimmer. Try different shades of the same colour for trousers, shirt and jacket.
vertical stripes can make you look slimmer, and pinstriped shirts are recommended, but avoid horizontal or diagonal stripes at all cost.
most men can carry off slim-fit jeans or chinos. After all, your paunch is higher up. A trim lower half helps the overall look.
this tactic tidies up your whole look.
some men hunch over to disguise their belly, but standing upright flattens your stomach, makes you look taller and helps you carry your weight better.
a single-breasted suit draws the eye downwards, while a double-breasted suit draws it across.