Pakistani men love to lounge in beauty salons
Not content with raiding their wives' cosmetics cases, Pakistani men are spending more on beauty products and flocking to salons to get facials, manicures and pedicures and even to have their backs waxed.
The male beauty trade is booming in Pakistan and urban professional men, following a trail blazed by their counterparts abroad, are waxing, highlighting, plucking and primping like never before.
The trend appears to be a durable one, even in tough economic times. "I like to look good and feel good," banker Nauman Zafr told Los Angeles Times. Zafr was languidly relaxing in a "nail bar" while his nails were buffed to a pearly pink sheen. "I'd definitely give up other things before this," he said.
Attention to male glamour is apparent in the public sphere, where the country's new political leaders have demonstrated an affinity for looking their best. Not surprising then that men quiz unrelentingly about the latest anti-wrinkle creams and pore-reduction potions.
Asif Ali Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan People's Party that leads the ruling coalition, has stopped dyeing his moustache a harsh black, letting it grow in silver-gray.
"Moustache-dyeing is seen now as a little passe -- a natural look is more subtle and sophisticated," said Nadia Furqan, who manages Nirvana, a popular day spa and salon in Islamabad.
Nawaz Sharif, chief of the PML-N, returned to Pakistan last year after nearly a decade in exile to lead his party in parliamentary elections. He and his brother Shahbaz had receding hairlines when they left Pakistan in 2000 but sported luxuriant locks on their return, leading to reports of hair transplants.
"They (men) buy everything - hair products, skin products - and they want to talk and talk and talk about which one is the best," pharmacist Riaz Assam said. "They take it all very seriously."
The beauty business is not without its perils. Nirvana closed its doors for more than two weeks last summer after clerics at a nearby radical mosque spearheaded a campaign against "vice", which included the abduction of several masseuses from another establishment.
In still-rare unisex salons, female stylists tend to be either foreigners or Pakistani Christians, because few Muslim families want their daughters to have a job that bring them into close contact with men. Some are cautious about disclosing their livelihoods to outsiders.
For the growing male clientele, attention to appearance has entered previously uncharted realms, some not only expensive but also painful. Lately, hirsute but image-conscious men have been getting their backs waxed regularly.
"Once they start, they don't want to go back to the way they were," Furqan said.
But the metrosexual lifestyle that has taken hold in big cities like Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore is probably a product of globalised pop culture, a growing middle class and female expectations.
"If I like it when a woman looks pretty, I should make an effort too," said Munir Imtiaz, who was booking a manicure. "At least, that's what my girlfriend tells me."